Friday, August 25, 2017

Burnout – A Life Force Exhausted

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 3, 2017

The Garden Diaries (Introduction)

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Tai Chi: Philosophical AND Practical

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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