Friday, December 14, 2012

Winter Solstice 2012

This is a unique time in history. We may not know exactly why, but many of us are feeling it in some way, shape or form. And so all the more reason to take care of ourselves, figure out what matters most to each of us, and focus on (and create) the wondrous.

In some ways, this December feels like the beginning of a fresh start, while also having a profound, ancient quality to it. What’s in between? Time and space to relax, reflect, and mostly, be in the present moment more presently than before. If we choose, we could even re-envision a new future for ourselves. How we think, feel and act today will affect that future more than anything.

As the holidays are upon us, we can find meaning inherent in them (whether we’re religious or not) or create new traditions that speak to the soul. Being with loved ones, slowing down, appreciating our surroundings, realizing the importance of our health, creating and enjoying peace and harmony… We are reminded of the significance of these things this time of year, as it is an opportunity to awaken the spirit. This, however, requires moving past societal pressures while connecting with earthly and spiritual ones.

Eclipses, full moons, solstices, planetary alignments and shifts signal powerful energies lining up. They are natural rhythms that are opportunities for reflection, renewal and celebration. By connecting with the powers all around us we can ground ourselves, release stress, and tap into the most magical and meaningful things – some of which might not yet even exist.

Often, when things shift from day to night, dark to light, full to empty, one season to another, these in-between times reveal subtle places and powers we tend to miss. Time and space converge in a unique way, and we ought to be open, curious, magical in our thinking. But how do we tap into the potential that lies in the in-between moment and the opportunities for us to become more aware, calm and connected?

This is done by holding the two polarities (day and night, light and dark, etc.) together at one time, even if just for a moment. Just notice them and that place where their energies are even; then hold them in awareness without judgment. When we’re in an innocent state something happens in between, something forms between the gap. That’s where the real energy, the real self is. It’s not just happening outside of us; it’s felt in the body too. What’s happening in the universe in also happening in us.

Whether it’s our nature or something we’ve learned, we tend to be antagonistic about opposites, always thinking we have to choose just one and reject the other. But when we begin to experience these polarities working together – when we’re somewhere between ‘holding on’ and ‘let go’ - a special energy happens in the gap and something appears out of that space that is new. This newness can be tapped into by being present and open, and catching a wave of inspiration or insight.

Tapping into nature’s power - the earth beneath us, the energies around us, and the cosmic powers above us – help us tap into our personal power. By thinking of our highest intentions, we can bring about our highest potential, one moment at a time. Simple and profound.

Monday, October 15, 2012

La Dolce Vita – Because You Deserve It

‘La Dolce Vita’ means ‘The Sweet Life” in Italian. You’ve probably heard the term before. So why the sweet life? Why want it, why aim for it, why learn to create it a bit each and every day? Aside from the fact that it just feels good, being happy and content improves our health, gives us inspiration to continue our self-care, and betters our interactions with the world.

Being healthy allows us to participate in the fun things life has to offer. If we’re not motivated toward our own well being, our experiences become increasingly less pleasurable. Ultimately we all want to enjoy ourselves and we want others to do the same… but within reason, of course. And so there’s the balance. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle from day to day can become a rather serious endeavor at times, and yet this is tempered by simply letting ourselves enjoy the finer - as well as simpler - things in life.

Living life to the fullest without doing harm to others is consciously and compassionately-inspired action that brings about more of the good stuff for all. While not every decision we make has to be universally directed, feeling a connection to others is an imperative component to our well being. Enjoying what we do and sharing the rewards that we reap with other healthy-minded, creative individuals allows us to enjoy both the emotional and tangible things in life, such as food, wine, music, art, nature, good company, etc.

If we let ourselves lose sight of the little things that contribute to our everyday happiness because of excessive worry, fear or doubt, health problems, traumatic experiences, relationship or career challenges, etc., we won’t be very motivated to improve our lives. If on the other hand we realize that we all have things to work on throughout our lives – and resources at our disposal in which to do so – we can get down to the business of tending to our well being. Then, letting ourselves experience the rewards of our efforts a little each day, creating and enjoying a taste of the sweet life, it becomes that much easier to envision and welcome in.

This balanced place, or the middle way, where responsibility becomes empowerment and feeling good becomes our ultimate reward, feels like coming home to a place we’ve always belonged. It’s the relief of finally ‘getting it’, and the realization that relaxation is both a reaction of and precursor to peace of mind. In both literal and figurative terms, walking the path of the middle way is a sweet reward for all of the senses.

What we’re creating at Middle Way Health is a place to connect with others, do dream work and healing work, express ourselves, enlighten our minds and enliven our spirits. We are creating a place where it all comes together – our well being and the betterment of our lives; a place where we can share challenges and dreams with others, and together watch the fruits of our labors ripen.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Ignorance, Oblivion and Living in Extremes

We’re all oblivious to something in our lives at any given time. Usually in hindsight – if we bother to look back – we can see it. But how do we do it in the present moment? Are we not capable of seeing it, is it some sort of denial, or are we just not versed in how to see it? How do we start to see what we’re currently not seeing?

Practically speaking, when we focus on something in front of us, we can’t see what’s behind us. We weren’t born with eyes in the back of our heads for a reason, right? However, we do sometimes need to know what’s going on behind us, and we can utilize our senses in order to do so, whether we turn around and literally look or just hone in with general awareness.

But in other situations, we have a feeling we’re missing something; we just don’t know what or where that something is. So how do we know what the right questions are to ask and/or where to look for the answers? Should we stay put and wait for them to come to us or should we go out looking for them?

Often, just talking with someone else is enough to widen our perspective and see something we hadn’t before. But sometimes the problem is that we don’t want to see the other side because we’re hyper-focused on one extreme. For instance, we may choose to not see someone else’s side of things because we’re too wrapped up in our own suffering. We might also be ignoring the big picture because we’ve created a habit of vacillating between two extremes. For example, we might not see that a relationship is unfulfilling because we’ve become too accustomed to swinging directly from misery to bliss, and vice versa.

The problem is that in preferring one specific feeling or bouncing between two extreme ones, we’re ignoring the balancing of our human processes and the work it takes to keep finding healthy middle ground. It takes constant awareness and energy to be flexible in this way, and many of us aren’t accustomed to living like this. But by shedding light on our unconscious patterns, we can free up the trapped energies and utilize them to create more efficient and pleasant ways of living.

Watch for part II - where we elaborate further on 'What We're Missing' - to come~

Monday, August 6, 2012

Reconsidering Time

What does time mean to you? Do you live your life by the clock or try to avoid it altogether? What’s your time worth?

Time is mostly just the way we organize and manage our lives. It’s a way for us all to be marching to the same social beat. It makes important things run more smoothly. And for many, the faster you go, the more you can succeed. But time is also inevitable. Time is change, and change is constant. Exactly how we keep track of time doesn’t even matter much; what matters more is if we agree upon that method.

Some of us have time-dictated careers, where we operate within a strict time-oriented structure. Keeping up with this, then, dictates whether we are successful or not; For instance, doctors, therapists, and those whose days are filled with appointments or deadlines. Others have more project-oriented careers, which isn’t quite as time-specific and may have more flexibility. While there may not be many careers where time is not a factor, how you ‘sync’ up with your livelihood may be affecting your wellbeing.

Which fits you best: Do you thrive under time constraints and find that they motivate you? Do you resent the rigidity of the clock and external pressures? Or do you appreciate the boundaries that the structure of time creates?

As always, extremes are draining. Having too little time may make you too scattered to think straight, let alone stop to smell the roses along the way. But having too much time can make you feel lost, unclear about your purpose, and disconnected from others. Do you thrive from the kind of structure that comes with your job or lifestyle? Or does it not fit with your natural sense of rhythm?

At Middle Way Health we have to use time as a tool for our practice. So in a sense, we have a partnership with time. However, since we don’t want to feel slaves to time, we have to make sure its confines don’t get too narrow and that we have breathing space and downtime. Both business and personal relationships are affected by time – whether productively on not. When each party has a different way of dealing with time, conflict can arise. For instance, a couple may constantly battle with tardiness versus punctuality.

What matters most about time? It affects us all. Whether we agree to meet at noon or when the sun is directly overhead, it helps us create some structure within which we can make things happen. But what also matters is how we look at time and engage with it. Fearing there’s never enough time is going to make that fear come true, because you’re always rushing and never feel caught up. But time is somewhat fluid, actually. The faster you go, the faster it seems to go. The less you have to do, the more it seems to creep along. The more you love what you do, the richer the time and space seem to get. But wasting one’s time… now, that’s another story. If you take time for granted, you may be taking your life for granted. For when you waste your time, you can never get it back.

If your life feels dictated by time to the extent that you resent it, your relationship with time needs help. If you generally disregard time, you may come across as disrespecting others’ time. But if you work with time and create a nice pairing of time-sensitive and free-time, your life will feel more balanced and be more manageable.

We all have flexible time – time that is ours to do with what we will. Even if that time is the seven hours we allot to sleep at night, it’s up to us whether we prioritize our time and create some downtime for ourselves. Sure, sleep helps re-charge our bodies, but our minds and spirits need their own time too. It might do us a world of good to get up an hour early to do yoga, journal, meditate or work on that prized vintage car. The point is, we are in a relationship with time and need to communicate our priorities perhaps more than we have to compromise them.

While most of us would like to throw away our watches and live in a timeless world, the desire to disengage in this way means we’re not relating to time properly. The clock and incessant minute-hand are man-made time keepers, but they are based on nature’s time: the natural rhythms that keep us alive (such as the sun and moon dancing from day to night and our hearts pumping blood and oxygen).

There is a spirituality to time as well, although we don’t tend to think of it this way. Buddhism’s Kalachakra teachings, for example, are about cycles of time and learning to harmonize your time. Things like weekends, getaways and retreats – when you lose track of date and time and are on sun and moon-time – are good for the soul. Letting ourselves “lose track of time” once in a while and experience the freeness of just being elevates the spirit from our mind-driven world. So to take a snapshot of that vacation mentality back with you, think of time as breaths per minute rather than a piece of metal or plastic running your life. It’ll make time a more grounded, embodied, personal and meaningful part of your days.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

2012: Full of Newness....

Here we go again - re-defining our look, our web presence, and our services. Without necessarily intending it, one thing just always seems to lead to another. So deciding to have our website redesigned then led to a new logo design, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube pages, and a re-clarifying of our goals and services at Middle Way Health.

What we learned (or re-learned) along the way is that doing a new website is also a process of self-discovery. What comes to the surface is often surprising, but always beneficial if you know what to do with it. We learned – among other things - how well we compromise and share ideas, how well we actually collaborate, and what we really want to achieve.

Individually and as a team, we want to help others make sense of the world, gain a healthier perspective about their role in it, and create more positive, healthful interactions from day to day. We want to help people heal and give them the tools to continue doing so. But in order to do this, we each have to sweep away what is clouding our vision and no longer serving us. Sometimes this is a fresh start, other times just a good, deep spring cleaning. So we took a collective look at what people need most right now (us included), such as cleaning out cobwebs, relishing the sacred space, and creating positive momentum for our lives.

We’ve been at our new location across from McKinley Park a year now and we’re taking it to a new level. Our new website and social media tools are ways to connect with the community near and far, but they’re also symbols of our new collaboration and expanded vision. We all have to work together to make anything happen – whether it’s a website, business or relationship, and this requires communication, patience, effort and understanding.

Expanding our online presence is also about presenting ourselves more to the world and letting people know what we’re doing at Middle Way Health. We are happy to say that we have some pretty unique features and offer a combination of wellness services that is truly a collaborative, coordinated, one-of-a-kind effort. Newly-expanded programs include:

Embodied Mind Therapies

Embodied Mind Therapies involve the mind-body connection and the empowerment that comes from it. Embodiment means "awakening the body" and much of this is done by arousing the senses, for our sensory experiences create our connection with the world. Thus, it is through them that we can feel truly alive, balancing both mind and body. Examples of Embodied Mind Therapies include Biofeedback, Mindfulness Meditation, Hypnotherapy, and Health & Self-Care.

Biofeedback is the safe and gentle process of learning self-regulation of physical and mental processes, from which we can become much more in charge of our everyday wellbeing. Mindfulness Meditation is defined as moment by moment nonjudgmental attention to what is happening. Through sitting still and being alert we settle our mind and body and develop clarity, balance and focus. It is taught one on one through private interview or an eight-week group-setting course “Mindfulness and Movement.” Hypnotherapy is an ancient technique that uses deep relaxation coupled with positive suggestions to reinforce positive habits and extinguish negative habits. And Health & Self-Care is about the healthy balance of outlook, lifestyle, diet and exercise with psychological and spiritual growth.

Spiritual Guidance & Mentoring

Also offered by Middle Way Health practitioners is Spiritual Guidance & Mentoring, which we feel is becoming increasingly necessarily during these challenging, uncertain times. Under this multi-faceted umbrella fall Buddhist Psychotherapy, Shamanic Healing and Soul Retrieval, and Dream Life Designing. Buddhist Psychotherapy explores the human condition from both a personal and transpersonal side, using the meditative traditions of mindfulness and yoga. The goal of Shamanic Healing is to bring the human spirit into harmony. And Dream Life Designing is geared for anyone ready to take a more deliberate role in the design of their life. It includes Expressive Writing Coaching, which guides you along a simple but profound pathway of self-discovery, where you learn to analyze thoughts, obtain ‘Ah-ha’s and clarify desires.

What We Aim to Provide at Middle Way Health:

A Sense of Place = To help you connect with where you are and feel a sacredness about it.
Nonjudgmental Awareness = A safe space to reveal fears and frustrations, and identify their source.
Expanded Outlook = The fostering of healthy perspectives and expectations that are not limited by the broken record of the mind.
Options & Opportunities = The right to find the freedom you possess and exercise it beneficially.
Support & Guidance = Knowledgeable and intuitive assessments that are aligned with your current pace and progress.

Please stop by and visit our website at Your feedback is appreciated and we hope to connect with you in person soon!

Stephen, Judy & Melanie

Monday, July 9, 2012

Jhado Rinpoche Visits Sacramento for the 2nd Time~

Jhado Rinpoche Lunch Meeting
58 Degrees Banquet Room, Midtown Sacramento
Geshe Tubten Tashi, Jhado Tulku Rinpoche, Lama Yeshe Jinpa, Michael Halfhill, Ray Kerridge, Melanie Noel Light, Gonpo, Baasandorj Altangerel, Norovbadam, Jambaa

The wine cellar of 58 Degrees is a long brick room with a black sleek table in the middle and modern-style candelabra chandelier overhead. A variety of paintings hang on the walls, including an abstract city scene, a bold Impressionist vineyard landscape, an ethereal undersea-scape and a humorous Olde English golf course scene. The lighting is just low enough to be romantic but high enough to be practical. The room is cold.

Immediately upon sitting I begin to experience an otherworldly feeling, as if I’m floating and could fall into a deep trance any minute. The combination of company seems odd to me, and there's a strange rift between the ambiance of the place and the particular feelings I’m experiencing.

Guests include a Buddhist teacher/Psychotherapist, a founder of the Dalai Lama Foundation, a writer/photographer, the City Manager, a disciple of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and several of his students. English is not the majority’s primary language at the table, but it is what is spoken most. There is an interpreter aiding conversation between the English and Tibetan-speaking people.

Conversations include the difference between Tibetan Buddhism and Chinese Buddhism, Unsung Heroes, Dharamsala, Shugdens and the Dalai Lama’s view of them, intelligent vs. dull disciples, Buddhism and quantum physics, Dick Grace’s involvement with the Dalai Lama, and a question that remained unanswered: “What is reality?”

Jhado Rinpoche Lunch Meeting
Rio City Café, Old Sacramento
Geshe Tubten Tashi, Jhado Tulku Rinpoche, Gonpo, Lama Yeshe Jinpa, Baasandorj Altangerel, Norovbadam, Jambaa, Simone Biasiol, Janine Mapurunga, Marie Gillies, Melanie Noel Light

The weather is nearly perfect – sunny and bright, a little warmer than body temperature, and with a breeze that makes its presence known without causing any trouble. I park at the far end of Old Sacramento, near the new Riverfront Promenade, and begin strolling toward my destination. The Promenade is inviting, running someplace in the distance from the south, and connecting with the Old Sacramento merchant dock. There are plaques along the way telling of Sacramento’s early history – transportation, bridges, the railroad, and such. The Tower Bridge, which connects Sacramento to West Sacramento, glistens in the sun like gold (as it should but doesn’t always do), and there’s a long sailboat tied to the dock beneath it. People are walking and jogging the Promenade, and a young businessman is perched on a bench talking on his cell phone.

I take some photos along the way and ingest the unhurried scene as I come across my lunch destination, Rio City Café, which overlooks the Sacramento River. Our waiter Peter seats me at a long table at the far end of the large patio space and I await the group’s arrival. I turn to see the red and gold robes some distance behind me taking photographs on a veranda off the same wooden-plank promenade. They soon disappear, a few minutes later appearing before me.

I’ve met them all before – three years ago and some change – but one never quite knows how to greet holy people, and I fumble in my own ways as usual. Still, they are cordial, casual and good at coaxing smiles. There is a language barrier and no interpreter this time, which could account for the more informal conversations. A large pelican is spotted on a pylon in the river, and then a couple on a jet ski that appears to be having engine trouble. We all peruse our menus and find very few vegetarian options, but luckily the monks love Italian food.

Jhado Tulku Rinpoche travels the world giving dharma talks and dispensing peace-inducing wisdom, called “loving kindness”. His smile emanates warmth and accessibility like a grandfather who effortlessly teaches you what no one else can. He says that it’s very nice in Sacramento, and talking about his travels mentions that Cape Town is a lot like Santa Barbara. We snap pictures with my tiny pocket camera - Geshe Tashi and I taking turns, while Janine and one of Rinpoche’s students take turns with her mega-sized one as well. Jhado Rinpoche flashes a smile and raises his hand, giving the peace sign to the 5-inch lens.

As former abbot of the Dalai Lama’s private Namgyal Monastery in Dharamsala, India, Rinpoche is a highly esteemed Lama in the Geluk tradition. He is known for his gentle demeanor, dynamic teaching style, and ability to engage western students. His weeklong visit to Sacramento last week included public talks and dharma teachings, all free and open to the public. The underlying theme of his visit was to impress upon people the need for sacred space in Sacramento, which is one of Lion’s Roar Dharma Center’s loftiest and meatiest missions.

What exactly is the vision? We'll discuss the lay of that (holy?) land next time...

Monday, June 4, 2012

Creating a Spirited Life ~

How do you connect with Spirit? Some people feel most spiritually or universally connected in church; others in nature. For some it may be through music, uplifting words, or in silence; being alone, hearing the rustling of leaves in trees, or feeling a gentle breeze across your face. Maybe it’s watching children at play, the sound of laughter or immersing in prayer; helping someone in need or being helped yourself; a smile, hymn, memory or feeling…

When I wonder where or how to find spirit I am usually quickly reminded that it is everywhere. Yet we can lose touch with our awareness of it in our fast-paced, pressure-driven, over-stimulated lives. The alarm goes off, the coffee goes on, the kids get up, the shower trickles down, the lunches get made, the breakfast gets eaten, the dishes get done, and our days get going on a collision course for what? More of the same?

Whether you go to church on Sundays or pray daily to the traffic gods, every moment can be rich with spirit if you stop to listen and give it a moment of your time. Whether you need inspiration or guidance, connection or calm, it’s right there from one breath to another – in the sound of a friend’s voice, the buzzing of a bee, the softness of a blanket, the nourishment of good food. Just breathe, open your soul, release the tension, and take in another now-renewed breath. This is your chance to feel connected, cleansed and inspired to do something that really matters to you, like making this moment count.

Monday, May 14, 2012

A Joy-Filled Life with Unresolved Problems ~

A lot of people these days complain about things never being perfect and life being so darn hard. It almost becomes their mantra and they then remain stuck within a negative spiral. We all know life can be challenging and unbelievably frustrating at times. But if we come to believe and expect this is mostly all there is, we’ll continue to find a lot more of the same. If on the other hand we were to accept and embrace the nature of life - with its ups and downs, chaos and uncertainties, action and re-actions – we actually wouldn’t have to be so surprised or upset when “life” just does what life tends to do.

There are moments and situations in each of our lives that may feel perfect, but life will never be perfect all the time. We all know this, and yet we still butt up against life’s imperfect nature and continue to use it as a reason or excuse to not be happy. Thus, we’ll never find the joy that’s always there waiting to be harnessed; ‘there’ being wherever you want to find it.

“A joy filled life with unresolved problems” is how Stephen likes to put it, and we can all have one, starting right now. Since the obstacles and antagonists won’t ever dissolve for good, finding the joy in spite of the imperfections of life should be our unrelenting goal. Find a reason to be happy now - find yourself feeling wiser, calmer and more empowered too!

But people are creatures of habits that don’t suit them. They get so tired, so resentful of having to do the same things over and over again; not realizing they’re fighting the nature of being and exhausting themselves with the wasted effort. “Life is always going to be unresolved to an extent,” Stephen says, “because we have to keep eating, breathing and doing human activities to survive… And there are always consequences to that.” The joy however - which is buried beneath - is found in acceptance rather than stubbornness; and thus not trying to resolve things that cannot be picture-perfectly wrapped.

In each of our lives there are going to be conflicts that never seem to go away - like dysfunctional family stuff, tragedies that change us, intractable oppositions, and impossible situations. “There are always things that just go incredibly wrong and are conventionally unsolvable.” You just can’t make everybody happy, nor can you rectify everything. We fear and fight the existence of difficulties, but have to deal with them as long as we’re here. There’s always going to be something undone, askew or uncomfortable.

So what are we going to do in the meantime? Are we going to let it ruin yet another moment, yet another day, yet another year? The ‘I’ll finally be happy when I get this out of the way’ kind of mentality doesn’t work very well because there’s always something to fret about next. And then here we go again letting another hassle get in the way of our happiness.

Yes, life is a learning process, and learning can be challenging at times, but it’s not an unbearable lesson or test that we’re failing in the meantime. It can just feel that way because similar things keep popping up, making us feel as if we’re spinning our wheels or obstructing the view of that beautiful horizon we so love to dream about.

Do you find yourself needing absolutes in life – like flawless truth or impervious rationale – and then feeling continually frustrated or let down? Would you really prefer to be free and happy instead, creating your own life in the here and now? Just take a step back and see the multi-faceted life that touches and moves us all. Decide to deal with what can be dealt with and commit to returning to happiness as many times a day as possible. All that fretting, worrying and complaining can really choke the life force out of you, and isn’t usually based on much we can control anyway.

So when something goes wrong, instead of operating from a stuck place ~ create a new thought, a new solution or a new opportunity. Resilience plus creativity breed adventurism and character. Forging a new way, a different reaction or a more practical perspective means we’re no longer trapped by our minds’ neurosis. Learn to trust your intelligence, respect what makes you happy and keep chugging along. Become a master at harmonizing with the screwed up nature of things. You know Yoda would be proud.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Communication Styles ~

Dialogue. It’s not something we tend to think about much. We just do it, and fortunately it comes naturally to most of us. But are we really that good at it? Do we think about how we go about conversing with others and whether or not our typical style of communication is actually constructive? Dialogue is important for many reasons, to a large extent because we build relationships through it.

When communicating with someone, do you have to win them over, do you prefer coming to a consensus, or do you often just agree to disagree? Are you an antagonist, pacifist, or reside somewhere in the middle? Do you bounce back and forth, pinging to the edge and then back again? Or do you allow for synthesis to unfold, a third possibility coming to the surface when conversing with someone else? What about your internal dialogue? Are you aware of how it brings even more people into the discussion, how important perspective is, and how multiple perspectives can exist in any given conversation?

Yeah, there’s a lot there when you hold it up to the light.

Personally, I think my style depends not only on with whom I’m talking, but also what we’re discussing. Is there passion in the opinion from the get-go or a conflict already in existence? Are we aware of what the issue is and how we’re feeling about it? Are we on the same page and communicating on the same level? It’s not always easy to tell, and can in fact make relating seem like a science.

Communication with particular people can be highly delicate at times, vacillating between harmonious and volatile. With others, however, conversations may feel downright effortless. So what’s the magic equation for relating? There might be a whole slew of theories and equations, ranging from simple addition and subtraction to complex calculus-like brainteasers.

Most of us would rather communicate clearly and easily – and let’s be honest – not have to think so much about it. But not always seeing eye to eye isn’t necessarily a bad thing and doesn’t have to mean that we’re disagreeing. We each simply view things from our own perspective. Sometimes the exchange ends in agreement, while at other times we’re left with open-ended questions.

“There just isn’t always going to be a resolution,” Stephen says. “Some things aren’t going to work out.” Besides, he adds, “I’m always suspicious when things are too tidy. When I think I have it all figured out, I know I’m getting close to disaster.” He chuckles.

Seated in our cushy chairs, we both look out the window at McKinley Park just across the way. Sometimes I think we’re speaking different languages, but the intention for communion is there, and so that’s usually what we get. Engaging in the act of communication means we have relationships – and that’s a great thing – but as we all know, relationships can be challenging. Dialogue-ing is a process, just like most everything else in life. It requires awareness, practice and patience, repeatedly.

“I always prefer the peripatetic style of dialogue,” Stephen continues, as I give him a perplexed look he’s probably used to by now. “This is when you walk and talk, rather than flying around or being stuck.” I know the style; just hadn’t heard the word before. “You’re not so fixated on body or mind, and the rhythm from the movement helps relax and open you up.” Makes perfect sense to me. “You don’t feel confronted by another or confined by the walls or the room. Walking helps you balance internally because you’re literally going back and forth on two feet.”

“Ah, yes - Aristotle style,” I say. “That’s my favorite too.” Maybe we should try it.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

What is 'Spirit'? ~

When I think of ‘Spirit’, I think of an effervescent energy that emanates from all living things. It hovers within and around the physical form while extending infinitely beyond it, and is in fact not dependent on it. It can appear that some people have Great Spirit, presence or lust for life, and they may in fact be more in touch with the energies they possess and their own positive manifestations. Thus the more they pay attention to the beauty and potential goodness of the world, the more their spirit is fed.

When I think of spirit I think of many things, including the contagious energies of determination, enthusiasm and resilience, people who’ve passed away and their higher selves that seem to remain, and just about anything that is growing or evolving. As an animal lover, for instance, I’ve watched my pets come to life over the years, to the extent that they seem to become nearly as human as the rest of us. I assume it is their evolution or awakening of spirit. The more I pay attention to them in a kind, caring way, the more they connect with me and others, and the more they come to life in subtle but significant ways. I think it’s the same from person to person. The spirit is always there, but we often have to dig to uncover and fully discover it.

Stephen defines spirit as “The sense of panoramic awareness and spaciousness.” Panoramic awareness is a knowing that is energetic; it has its own life to it. Spaciousness is openness, formlessness, a sense of unobstructed space and the ability to move through it. Being intangible, however, both awareness and spaciousness can be hard to pin down, making it easy for us to go to the” shadow side”, in which we may act as a perfectionist, doubter, seeker or wanderer.

Seekers and wanderers are always looking for things outside of themselves, and yet they have a lot of doubt about themselves and the journey. Since they also have perfectionist tendencies, nothing is ever good enough, causing self-confidence issues and endless searching. (See the cycle?). Always having two poles or opposites, shadows can pull at each other and leave us feeling trapped within.

The healthy balance of Spirit, on the other hand, comes from embodying the forms of guide and student rather than doubter and seeker. We can do this by being open to the lessons at hand, accepting and utilizing wisdom that shows itself, and knowing that life is not a monkey wrench-free ride. Since none of us is completely lacking of the shadow sides, we must be willing to be a student and we need a good guide when it comes to residing in the “spirit world” (which is not as bewitching or otherworldly as we think; we often do this without necessarily realizing it). While the space has no form or color and can be hard to see, moving through it is not as predictable or linear as we expect. Like walking through a mansion’s rooms without seeing the blueprint of the whole structure, the exploration can be scary without the awareness of the larger picture and some guidance along the way.

So how do we go about getting this? Considering what the big picture really is and what it means to us; Being open to spiritual or spirit-driven teachers or mentors who help us make sense of things; Making our mental and emotional well-being as important as anything else in our lives; And encouraging others to do the same. Because by including spirit in our healing – integrating with a higher spirit and allowing our spirits to heal – we are engaging the full healing model and all aspects of ourselves.

“When you get the warm, familiar feeling of being home,” Stephen says, “you’ll know you’re not wandering and doubting anymore.” Being in spirit is being in the center of the labyrinth of life: You are operating from a more stable place, you have a healthier perspective and outlook, and you as well become the guide.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Strange and the Familiar ~

Things just don’t always make sense. Sometimes they seem to make sense to someone else, but not us. “If it doesn’t make sense it might not make sense, you know?” Stephen says referring to something we’ve been discussing. “You can’t make something seem rational that’s not. On the other hand, you can’t make someone see something that’s really obvious to us, but not them. We all miss stuff.”

So then are some things just inherently more sensible? And some of us can see that while others can’t? And if so, there must also be things that exist that are less rational. For instance, it makes sense to take care of our health so we are capable of living to our fullest. It doesn’t make much sense to be so careless and destructive that we are living a subpar life or causing it to end too soon. But both of these things happen. And while we can judge one better than the other, we all have the freewill to decide how we want to go about experiencing our lives.

So for things to exist, they don’t really have to make sense, do they? And rationale is not the only way to go. We may rely on it to a large extent, but then, what I think is irrational is not always agreed upon by someone else. So their behavior will be a reflection of where they are mentally coming from. Unless, they aren’t even aware of what or how they’re feeling, and yet they’re acting out nonetheless. Awareness – or we should say lack of awareness - is often the missing link. People don’t always stop and do the work it takes to analyze the basic beliefs from which they’re operating. Which again, doesn’t make sense, but it happens all the time, right?

And then there are the limitations of all that “rational” stuff. Do you ever make a list of pros and cons, and despite the list being weighted heavily to one side, go the route of the other because you ‘just feel it’? And how often are these decisions wrong? In my experience, rational thought will only take us so far. We can rationalize something to death, but still be compelled to act against it, and not regret our decision later. This must mean we’re also guided by other forces or “senses”. What else is there at our disposal, aside from practicality? Intuition, instinct, passion, vision, emotions, thoughts, etc. that seem to come from anyplace but the mind. So is rationale just a part of a larger whole?

Along the lines of yin and yang, sense cannot exist without nonsense. So even when everything turns upside down and we see no sense in sight, it’s always there nonetheless. We might just have to wait it out, but it always shows itself again. When I’m at my wit’s end and it seems the whole cosmos is plotting against me or an aspect of my life, I vent to someone who cares. Or if I’m really feeling trapped, I mentally plot my escape route out of the situation. Even if I’m just humoring myself, I’m really trying to find whatever sanity I can in whatever order seems to be left, which is often hiding in something simple or mundane I normally procrastinate about (like doing dishes or cleaning the frig). And in immersing myself in something I can make sense and order from, I’m letting it all go until the big picture balances itself again.

In one aspect of our lives or another there’s always going to be something unresolved. But if we’re armed with a generally healthy perspective and attitude, we’re going to find joy in something else. One thing going wrong can make everything else feel wrong, but we have to recognize that it’s not. There’s always something good somewhere to hold on to.

“I’m always really interested in the balance of the strange and the familiar,” Stephen says, an acceptance we could all benefit from. But how many of us choose not to be so fascinated by the contradictions in life? We have a strong tendency to fight heartily against them, or give up altogether. But the co-existence of strange and familiar may just be one of the building blocks of our lives, which would make living not just a survival game, but a creative art-form; one that requires varying amounts of certain things… Like the ability to analyze and assess real resources at hand, balanced with a willingness to throw a little caution to the wind. Hey, if both the sensible and the absurd can come at us at once, mixing practicality with a dose of ‘come-what-may, bring-it-on’ adventurousness might sometimes be the most fruitful and freeing response.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Little Blisses ~

Why did Julie Andrews sing about her favorite things in ‘The Sound of Music’? Because she and the Colonel’s children were all distracted from sleep and frightened by a storm. It was probably a metaphor for the political storm building in a much more significant way around them. But we’ve all got “storms” of some sort brewing in our lives or proximity. We can deal with them if that’s an option, but often we have to ‘weather’ the storm: Be heartier and more long-lasting than it. When this is the case, we need pleasant distractions - Or better yet, a genuine desire to note what is uplifting. And when considering this, we shouldn’t judge the quality of the elevating entity by its size, because we’d just be selling ourselves short.

I like to call them ‘little blisses’, and I made a list of some of my favorite things today. Because noting all the sweet and bold things from which we glean pleasure on a daily basis, the significance of our actual burdens lessens somewhat and our trivial worries become that much easier to spot and swat away. Remembering the everyday things makes us stop and appreciate them, and appreciation evokes a state of grace, like a kind of everyday sacredness.

Sure, some days aren’t so productive and some don’t end so rosy, no matter how hard we try. I, for one, did not awake feeling like Julie Andrews bathed in bliss on a mountain top. But I did what needed to be done just to maintain the status quo of my life. It wasn’t until my day was nearly done that I began counting my blessings, inspired by curtains blowing in the wind.

When inspiration and meaning seem out of reach, do whatever it takes to remind yourself of the preciousness in the world and look to all the places where the sacred may reside. Light a candle (number five on my favorite list) and say a prayer or affirmation. Order take-out and give the cook a rest. Take your kids to a park and soak up the nature sounds. Or write down your woes, honor them, and then let them go for the night.

Because when we start looking at what makes us happy – instead of what doesn’t – we invoke little bits of joy. And before you know it, when you look around at what’s truly there, there are a thousand things to love in one instant. And this graceful, appreciative way of looking at our lives brings us back down to an earth that is nurturing, supportive and always providing something for which to thank our lucky stars.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Succumbing to Sickness – Necessary or Not? ~

What’s your take on getting sick? Is it mind over matter or is it only a matter of biology? Can you not “afford” to get sick or are you a bear to deal with when sick? Do you think we “catch” bugs or succumb to only some of them? Does your mental or emotional state have anything to do with whether you get sick or not? For instance, is chronic stress or running yourself ragged a catalyst? Or were you just at the wrong place at the wrong time?

We all have different theories about getting sick. Lama Jinpa believes that getting a little bit sick can build up antibodies. When he fights getting sick, that’s when he tends to get sick, he says. Can you relax into the sickness rather than pushing through it? Can you see it as an opportunity to slow down? Lama Jinpa believes this might actually aid in our recovery.

It’s natural to get sick once in a while, right? Very few of us are lucky enough to be able to say we never get sick (and is this even human?). But if we periodically get sick on the littler levels – like colds and flus – then maybe we won’t succumb to bigger illnesses, Lama la theorizes. It’s like a practice run for our immune systems; stretching them out, working them into a healthy sweat, and making them stronger in the long run.

The holistic view sees us as being healthier because of having been sick. You know that feeling – when you’re finally well again – just how good feeling normal can be, and the clarity that goes along with it? We usually only appreciate our general wellness after recovery from physical ailments, psychological angst or life turbulence. So on the mental level too, maybe getting sick serves a purpose.

Sometimes, people won’t give themselves the rest they need unless and until they become bed-ridden. But can a hearty attitude and healthy outlook actually prevent the need for such human weakness as the flu? Because if there were a way to ensure I would never, ever be sick again, I’d personally be interested in hearing about it. I just wonder if there might be any unforeseen consequences or side effects… and I’m not so sure I’m willing to be the guinea pig on this one.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

A Healthy Level of Engagement

Most days as I drive around town, I see someone standing on a street corner waving a large sign advertising homes or pizzas, and more often than not they’re “tuning out” with headphones on and Ipod blaring. But some days, I spot the older gentleman with his pizza sign and I wave enthusiastically at him. I’ve actually never met him, but every time I see him he’s waving at all the cars zipping by… And it makes we wonder if we are engaged enough in the street-level sense.

Do people gather on front porches much anymore? Are there any more gas station attendants who fill your tank and check your fluids and tires? Do you frequent any neighborhood places where everybody knows your name? Or are we hiding behind our caller ID’s and online social networks so much that we’re losing our nerve or people skills?

The automated check-out lines of The Home Depot are empty whenever I’m there. Raley’s has them too, but I prefer to wait for an available clerk. It’s not because I can’t check myself out, but I’d rather have face-to-face time with a (hopefully) friendly cashier rather than interacting only with machines. To be honest, however, I don’t always choose the human route; I do love the convenience of ATMs, drive-thrus and online shopping. But I want some things to remain as they are before they become obsolete or we lose our sense of nostalgia.

What are some potentially counter-productive things we’ve learned in our modern society? Don’t talk to strangers because they have malicious motives. Don’t engage haggard-looking people because they’re probably going to ask for money. Don’t trust anyone because everyone’s out to get us. Don’t touch anything because it’s full of cooties. Whether literally or figuratively, the warnings go on. And while some may be practical, even necessary at times, we may also go too far when it comes to expecting the worst. So we lock ourselves in our houses or cars and plug our ears, rushing from place to place; weary of people, things and experiences we’re not familiar with.

One reason I like greeting the clerk at the grocery store is that it reminds me that most people are friendly and want you to have a good experience. It also keeps my social skills limber. Talking to strangers on the street? I think it keeps my compassionate nature in check – be compassionate, but know your boundaries. I guess I tend to be an engager. I smile at people I don’t know and enjoy the company of kind people. But fear and unnecessary anxieties are nevertheless things I often have to wrestle with. And when my experience does turn bad (which is rare), I check to see who instigated it. Did I attract it with my fearful or negative energy? If not - and my conscience is clean - I have to accept that it says a lot more about them than me.

If I were to let the more unpleasant experiences send me into my shell for too long, I would be a lot less likely to invite positive interactions in the future. Not to mention, a fearful person is scary in their own way… so one victim breeds another. Even if we have to practice it over and over again - playing with our boundaries and tapping into our hard-earned wisdom; even if we have to remind ourselves several times daily - let’s choose love over fear as often as possible. It is a choice, after all.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Living Within the Confines of Your Conscience

Right Livelihood. What does it mean to engage in Right Livelihood and does anyone ever talk about it? Is it about one’s career choices or the way one relates in relationships? Acting from virtues or being compassionate, responsible, aware, forgiving? Is it about doing more good than harm, having good intentions, knowing right from wrong and living from that place? Is it being true to oneself while honoring others? Considering consequences before speaking or acting? Doing things that make you feel good about yourself? Letting others be human and yourself be flawed? I’m sure we talk about these things in a round-about way, but rarely do we do it so directly as to ask ourselves or others these specific questions.

I think about my Highest Self, that person I want to be and strive to be but do not always channel as constructively as I’d like. I see her standing in a tower, wearing a long blue dress. But nor she or the tower is entirely of this world. And maybe that is exactly as it should be, always keeping me striving for more.

We all have ideals, but we must also compromise them at times in order to be fully engaged with others and with life. We can work toward our highest expectations, but that doesn’t mean they’ll pan out as we’d hoped. We can control what we think and do (although often easier said than done) but we cannot control what transpires. So the best we can do is… do the best we can as often as possible.

In our career, we can choose one that serves others – or we can at least bring honor to whatever it is that we do. In our relationships, we can be as authentic and honest as possible, hoping to bring out the best not only in others, but in ourselves. In our everyday lives and even with mundane stuff, we can make a difference by cutting down waste and negativity, engaging in honest interactions, and aiming to not only do no harm, but sometimes do a whole lot of good (even if bit by bit).

There are times in life when we wonder or ask ourselves, “What’s the point?’ It’s up to each of us to figure out what is meaningful so we don’t give up believing in something. If we lose faith, inspiration and motivation, we may even swing too far to the destructive side, harming ourselves with a dangerous lifestyle or putting others in jeopardy with no healthy conscience set firmly in place. Whatever the reasons for such a careless manner of living, there is really no excusing the actions. The best that can come out of an unpleasant situation is having learned from it. There should be no amount of money, “comfort” or “glory” worth causing others pain, even if we are doing it “unaware”. Ignorance – or denial – is no excuse for consistently bad behavior, and the immediate punishment for this may just be the pain of existing only partially alive.

To live a life based on Right Livelihood no one can be expected to be perfect. But being aware of one’s morals and how one’s decisions affect others… that alone is of the higher ground. Do you care about yourself, others and the planet, and do the majority of your actions mirror the sentiment? If not, something is most certainly off kilter, and the world feels it (even if you’re pretending not to notice).

Why should we care about what we do for a living, how we spend our free time or how we treat other beings? Because everything we do has a re-action that affects someone or something else, and somehow it always finds its way back to us. We could live ethically because of this knowing or out of guilt, or we could choose to live by a moral code that we actually feel, thus living more fully from a place of connection, awareness, intention and engagement.