My collage this week shows some of the things that make me happy. Yoga, of course, flowers, of course, pure, unbridled laughter with my soulmate, near the ocean, of course, and an opened heart, pouring out love and compassion….
But sometimes that heart needs protection, and maybe a door to shut out the hard stuff. And there has been way too much hard stuff lately. And the door never completely closes, leaving gaps for everything wanted or unwanted to creep in.
The challenge is balance, and it is a day by day, minute by minute thing, usually accompanied by handfuls of angst and confusion. My job as a therapist, yoga/mindfulness instructor, creativity person puts me in a unique spot. I get to preach what I try to practice every day. But, as I remind my students and myself, it is a practice. None of us will ever be perfect at being present.
When you’ve practiced long enough, you realize that being present can be quite challenging. Sometimes we don’t want to be where we are, doing what we are doing. Sometimes the present moment is just too painful. That is the problem with being awake in the present. You get a taste of it all. The fresh air along with the sand and dust it kicks up, the cool feeling of iced tea on a hot day, along with the dry mouth afterwards, the soft baby’s skin along with its copious poops every two hours. It’s all there in your field of awareness when you are present, and at some point you realize, since the door doesn’t shut properly, you have to find a filter. We simply can’t be present every single moment. Our brains would implode.
And, because I am not a masochist, I choose to pay attention to the good stuff, like birds singing outside my window at 6 in the morning, or the way the dog rubs her head on the carpet while I’m petting her, or the smell of coffee, or the ever-changing sky. A nice day on the beach with my soulmate laughing at whatever happens to tickle us at the same time, or a simple sunset, quiet and humble in its beauty. Those things give me pleasure, joy, and enough moments of happiness to carry on when the hard stuff catches me off-guard.
So, today, what gives me joy is this: hearing the wind howling outside at 40-50 miles per hour while I sit in a “spare” room surrounded by my favorite things–yoga mat, bead projects, books, magazines and a full belly. It’s all in the perspective.
“Time doesn’t exist. Clocks exist. Time is just an agreed upon construct. We have taken distance (one rotation of the earth and one orbit of the sun) divided it up into segments, then given those segments labels. While it has its uses we have been programmed to live our lives by this construct as if it were real. We have confused our shared construct with something that is tangible and thus have become its slave.”
I borrowed this from Facebook. It triggered quite a bit of pondering. I like clocks and watches, and guessing how long something will take. I also like numbers, especially when the digital numbers are all the same, like 11:11 or 2:22. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and guess what time it is. Usually I am within five minutes of the exact time. It’s a blessing and a curse, having a clock in your head.
Here’s a conversation I had with my brother on this subject:
ME: Sometimes I wonder exactly what it means to HAVE time. Really? All we HAVE is NOW. It is always NOW, no matter what the clock says. Yet, I, too, am a slave to the clock (and the calendar) someTIMES.
ME, later: This would be a good blog post.
BROTHER: Yes it would, if you have the TIME.
ME: I’ll find the TIME. But not NOW. Later.
And there’s the problem. Later. Not NOW.
I have had a preoccupation with trees lately, especially since they are in their “naked” state. I love the structure and the intricacy of the branches. I often wonder what it would be like to live in a tree, to be a bird or a squirrel, branches for a highway or nesting place, breeze flowing through now and then, and no real solidity beneath my feet. How would that be for a feet on solid ground type of person.
I made a collage a few years ago with an image of a very tall, very rickety tree with a treehouse made of hundreds of sticks on top. I know it was at least 100 feet in the air, and a whole family lived there! They built their homes way up high to avoid the wild animals that came out at night. These people, somewhere in a remote part of Africa, were a part of that forest, sharing the treetops with other, less intrusive climbing animals. It was frightening and exhilarating to imagine living up there.
But that was as far as I got. Imagining. I used to climb trees when was young. No problem. But now, now that I’m older, wiser, and less adventurous, I’ll just be happy with my perch on the back deck, in my chair, looking up and wondering how it would be….
Part of groundednesss is the notion of safety and security, (which Sam reminds me are both illusions) and the perceived solidness of the earth. I like to think that I am mostly grounded, feet firmly planted, and I have a good foundation for my life. I appreciate having a home on solid ground with some space around it, and love the fact that our floors are mostly wood with little movement underneath, at least downstairs. Building a firm foundation for a house takes time and talent. And the thing is, even the best foundation can’t last forever.
When we lived in California there were always earthquakes to worry about. It didn’t matter how strong our home’s foundation was. Even small tremors felt like the end of everything for a few mindful moments. When the earth moves, everything resting on it moves too. Now in California that worry is compounded by yearly fires and floods. That is too many natural disasters waiting to happen for my sense of safety and security. But is anywhere really safe or secure, or solid?
When you really think about it, the earth is not solid at all. Just a few hundred feet beneath our roads, lawns and homes is hot liquid. Magma, the stuff that volcanoes spew out now and then. And it is suspected that there is more water UNDER the earth than on its surface. So we are mostly floating on liquid. Solid earth is an illusion, just like safety and security. But we like illusions, don’t we?
If you were a tree, what kind would you be?
A Carolina pine, proud head in the clouds?
Or a fat crusty oak, feet spread far and wide?
Are you an old soul? Then a redwood might do.
Both wide and tall, silently watching…
Where are your roots? Are they deep in the ground?
Or climbing over rocks, grasping for something soft and pliable?
Or hanging in space, exposed by wind and weather?
Here, there, anywhere, put your roots down, sink them into the earth.
Grab onto something, maybe clay or sand or your nearest friend.
But make your presence known,
wherever you are.
You belong. You matter. Simply because you exist.
Claim your space.
Some would say walking is meditation. Since we walk every day, why aren’t we more grounded and peaceful like the people in the pictures above? Hmmm…Let’s see…Where is the last place you walked to? To the car on your way to work, or the office next door? To the restroom? The refrigerator? Around the neighborhood for your morning exercise? Were you keenly aware of your feet, or the environment around you? That’s OK. Mostly, walking is a way to get from one place to the next.
No Big Deal. Like breathing, we walk every day, most of us anyway. No big deal.
But formal walking meditation is different. You purposely start somewhere, take a few mindful breaths, then proceed to walk with awareness. You notice how your feet feel when they roll from heel to toes across the path or the sidewalk, or the floor. You remember that tweak in your right knee, or the pop in your left hip, and you see what is around you. The trees take on a new significance. The birds become part of the experience. The dust on the furniture has a quiet charm and doesn’t bother you for the moment. And every now and then you feel the flow of energy moving up and down and around as you place yourself, one step at a time, here, now here, now here…..It’s a present moment kind of thing.
According to Thich Nhat Hanh, Vietnamese monk and meditation teacher…(pictured in the collage above)
Anyone Can Do It
“Walking meditation is meditation while walking. We walk slowly, in a relaxed way, keeping a light smile on our lips. When we practice this way, we feel deeply at ease, and our steps are those of the most secure person on Earth. All our sorrows and anxieties drop away, and peace and joy fill our hearts. Anyone can do it. It takes only a little time, a little mindfulness, and the wish to be happy.”
How simple. How real.
But, wait, you say, I don’t have time for this silliness. Well, yes you do. If you can walk up the stairs, or out to the car, or run marathons through the mall, you have time. Just slow down. Pay attention. Breathe. Enjoy the simple act of walking. Your whole world could change for the better.
There is something to be said for the simple act of walking. We were built to walk. It comes naturally for most of us. Walking can easily become deep meditation if you just let yourself get quiet and pay attention to what is going on around you. No destinations, no goals, just one foot in front of the other until your legs (or your dogs) tell you they’re ready to go back.
There’s nothing like walking to build up your legs, and your “sitting cushions.” And once your walking muscles are strong, your back and belly follow, not to mention your whole cardiovascular system. Over time walking can be the best exercise for most of us. I have taught aerobics as well as yoga and chi gung, and used to ride my bike as a primary form of transportation when I was in my 20’s. All of these activities are good for strength and endurance. But walking doesn’t feel like exercise to me. It just feels like I’m doing what I should be doing. The fitness comes as a bonus.
The simple act of walking outside can change your mood as well as your body. Got a problem? Take a walk. You’ll forget about the problem, then you’ll come up with a different way of looking at it. And you don’t even have to give it much thought. Walking, and the necessary breathing that goes with it, cleans out your lungs and your veins, and opens up the space in your head so you can see more clearly.
Groundedness has so many applications—trees, roots, feet, safety, security, connectedness, solidity…I will probably write five or six short articles on this topic.
I thought this morning I might take a picture of my feet standing in mountain pose.
Yoga feet. I am proud of them. Strong, slender, curved in all the right places. But they don’t always thank me for the challenges I give them. I think I am over the plantar fasciitis I had last year, but my feet still hurt and there are definitely tender spots. Still, I love my feet. I am grateful for them and the job they do for me every single day. So, when I do my own personal yoga practice, I end it with a foot massage. It feels good, like kissing someone you love.
Not to be trite, but our feet provide the very foundation we stand on, travel on, live on. Give your feet a little attention now and then. Wear good shoes. Stretch your toes, walk with awareness, then, let them rest, soak them in warm water, bury them in the sand. Give them a symbolic kiss.
Ultimately, groundedness is a less obvious form of fluidity. You’ve got to feel the ground beneath you, know that at least something is there supporting you, before you can even think about going with anything like a flow. Ironic, isn’t it? that you have to plant yourself in order to let yourself move with the tides of life. Yes, that is the uncertainty we face every time we wake up and look out the window or down at our feet and realize that nothing is the same as it was yesterday and everything will be even more different tomorrow.
My collage this week fits with this notion of being grounded in order to flow with the challenges of life. The quote at the bottom says this: When the ground beneath you shifts, hold on to one thing that you know is true. Love? A partner? The knowledge that change is certain?
What is true to you?
This is an image of Shiva Rea, an extraordinary yoga teacher who had the insight to create what she calls “Yoga Trance Dance.” This is a collage I made last January at the beginning of what I intended to be a year-long process of collage making. When I chose this image I imagined her coaxing the waves in and out with her graceful movements. I can feel the energy and the spray of the waves, and I can hear the roar, then the silence as they move in and out with their unceasing rhythm.
I can’t even begin to count the number of times have I stood at the edge of the ocean, feet sinking in the sand, wind blowing through my hair, feeling profoundly connected to the earth, while also feeling one with the ocean. Maybe these were my first real moments of mindfulness.
The quote at the bottom of the collage says this, “Life is creation; self and circumstance the raw materials.” We are creative creatures. We make things, come up with new ideas, push human evolution to the next level. Who we are and what we experience are the foundation of the creative process. Creativity and fluidity go hand in hand. In fact, I would say that creativity and fluidity are the same process.
But, sometimes we get stuck. Stuck in a mindset, or an attitude, or a mood. Or sometimes we are literally stuck in mud or sand or in a big comfy chair in front of the tv. It’s in those moments that we need creativity and fluidity the most. Pushing through the hard, stuck times gets us back into the flow.
Being stuck, or being in the flow, neither of these lasts. So, our job as awake human beings is to continue to move regardless of the circumstances. Just move. Find the fluidity in this moment, and go with the flow.
I woke up this morning with the song “Muddy Road,” by Walela running through my head. “We are walking on a muddy road, ain’t no one here beside me I don’t know. We’re the links in the chain, just passing through again, we are walking on a muddy road….” It’s a song about the Trail of Tears. People being forced to move everything that is dear to them to a place that is foreign to them. But they are supporting each other. They are sad but confident that, once they cross the last river, they will “put on their wings and fly.”
We all know that was not what happened. Too many of them died on that muddy road. Too many of them ended up with illness, poverty and addiction as their constant companions. Too many. But the positive attitude kept a small piece of hope alive in their hearts.
That’s how I feel now. Like many of us, I am deeply concerned about the future of the human race. We could get stuck in this muddy mess we’ve created. Have we come this far only to slip back, perhaps on a muddy road, into the hatred and tribalism of our recent ancestors?
But, I don’t believe we are there yet.
I’m reminded of a recent phrase floating around the internet: “Once you go through the door to awareness, you can never come back.” Awareness. It can be a blessing and a curse. Once you become aware, you are AWARE. Not only do you see things, but you SEE things. You know things. You have to filter a lot in order to stay sane. You flow down that muddy road in your foul weather boots, holding onto the bushes and branches on either side, and you find your way to the end, or to a crossroad.
And you make a choice—create a new road, or go this way or that. It doesn’t matter. You keep walking. Going back is not an option. That is fluidity.