Tag Archives: Being Present

A Full Experience of Helplessness

“The only way to ease our pain is to experience it fully. Learn to stay with uneasiness, learn to stay with the tightening, so that the habitual chain reaction doesn’t continue to rule your life.” –Pema Chodron

I love discovering spiritual principles at work in the world around me.  They are unexpected and surprising, yet perfectly formed.  Like a nautilus shell, or a starfish.

Recently, I have discovered the beautiful symmetry of helplessness.

I have always hated feeling helpless.  So I make sure I am not helpless.  I am the one flagging the waiter down to get the check, making an extra call to double-check that there is really no availability, finding a way, someway somehow.  Useful, yes.  Rewarded, often.  And also, a way to escape the feeling of helplessness itself: a refusal to admit that nothing can be done, that I lost, that I am vulnerable, that I can be hurt.

In my last relationship, I often struggled with feeling helpless.  The person I was with at times chose not to listen to me, or could not hear me.  And so . . . I talked calmly, I talked loudly, I argued rationally, I made emotional pleas, I threatened, I begged.  And maybe, eventually, I got my way.  Until it all fell down and the cycle started again.  Rather than truly own up to this cycle and my part in it, I simply insisted all over again that this person would hear me.  Rather than admit that this person could not meet me, I worked hard to hold up their end of the relationship for them.  Until one day life gave me the gift of making the dysfunction so bad I could not ignore it any longer, and I paid life back by paying attention.  And so I left.

Right now, I am in the final stages of ending this relationship, wrapping up loose ends.  And this person is still repeating the same patterns of broken promises.  And I–the new, strong me, who left–what do I do?  I feel helpless.  So  I leap right into my part: “He can’t do this to me,” or “I will figure out a way to get him to listen.”  The same broken record, stuck in the same broken groove.

But this time I catch myself.  Okay: I took the big step of ending the relationship, but I find myself back here again.  What do I still need to learn?  The answer arises naturally: the very thing I am struggling with IS the answer to my question.  I am back here so I can FEEL what helpless feels like.

The more I resist feeling a certain way, the more likely it is that I will “find” myself in situations that cause that emotion to arise.   To break the cycle, I need to surrender and let myself feel.    

I am trying to wake myself up, and my feelings are my alarm clock.  

Okay.  What does it feel like to experience helplessness?  The very first thing I become aware of is how much effort I have been putting into avoiding this feeling.  I was approaching life with a big sign that says “YOU CAN’T HURT ME.”

I surrender– I take down the sign.  Life can hurt!  It is life!  And people disappoint you and accidents happen and sometimes you lose.   Surprisingly, this admission feels like cool relief.  It feels sweet to be human.  It feels sweet to be capable of being hurt.  This IS life.  I can feel life touching me, because I am not trying to hold it at a distance.

Emotions are like a knot that only tightens the more I pull against it, and then as I relax it slips free.

I let the messy, vibrant energy of LIFE sweep into this vulnerable place I have been trying so hard to protect.  My heart relaxes as I release my grip.  And as I relax, light and space and movement rush in and blow away the last shred of my resistance.

And I laugh because I suddenly understand why I have been trying so hard to not let down my guard.  I thought that if I experienced pain, if I “lost,” if a situation got messy . . . that it was my fault.  More than my fault: it meant I was not good enough to get it right.   I have compassion for the part of me that believed this.   I send love to myself, and gently let go of this belief.   Encountering obstacles does not mean I am a failure.  It is just part of being human.

Opening wide to the uncomfortable experience lets it become just that: an experience–a bird flapping through my sky.  I can experience it without identifying with it, without confusing it with who I a fundamentally am. 

Having reconnected with my own basic worthiness, I regain my true power.  Deep, full, expansive breath.   Suddenly, I have many choices before me.  YES I have the power to enter into this situation holding the highest intentions for both me and him.  YES I have the power to protect and honor my own needs–or, to give up the fight if that ultimately brings me greater peace and joy.  YES I have the power to forgive him.  YES I have the power to refuse to get drawn into a negative cycle.

Ultimately, I replace the illusion of control I tried so hard to maintain with a much more profound power.  Although I can not stop painful experiences from arising in my life, I always have the choice to meet them with love and integrity.

So what does all this mean?  Externally, nothing has changed.  I still have a tough situation on my plate.  But now I accept that it may not turn out perfectly–and that is okay.   I am no longer struggling with myself.

The symmetry is complete:  by experiencing ‘helplessness’  fully, I can let it go.

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the single moments pass unnoticed
until one catches in a bright light
through the windshield and morning traffic
the rainbow in the sky
the creaky walk to the midday bathroom break
the soft fall of night with tea and these words
finally released to the page.

like oliver’s wild geese
i chase these moments
as they flap
through my day and out the other side

i stand silently in their wake
torn by their inevitable passing
too mesmerized by their migratory spell
to see that even the dull ache
of my office chair
has wild goose magic

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Find Small Ways to Practice Growth

In one sense, meditation is like practice for life.  It is a chance to take a “time-out” from the normal rush of sensations, impressions, interactions, and connect with your still center.  It is easier to find this place when you are not busy navigating the world.  As your practice deepens, it becomes easier to return to this place during the rest of your day.  Gradually, you realize that there is an abundant amount of space and grace available to you that you had previously overlooked.  The small practice of sitting for 20 minutes a day snowballs into a deeper shift.

I love to take this same concept of “practice” and apply it off the cushion, in daily life.  To practice an inner quality, there are generally four parts: identifying an area for growth, affirming your commitment to growth, recognizing small, manageable opportunities to practice, and then actually doin’ the good work.

Let’s take an example.  I recently realized that I sometimes have a tough time receiving from other people.  This issue comes up in various ways.  Maybe I do not feel safe, or I get worried that I am being taken advantage of, or I belittle the offering of the other person, or I act strong when I am not.  Seeing these trends in your life is the first part of growth–you have to figure out what is calling out for your attention.

Once you hear the call, the second step is affirming your commitment to growth. I want to be better able to receive.  Or even better, state it a la Louise Hays, in the present tense, as if it is already true.  “I am open to receive everything life has to offer.”

Even though you have identified the trend and affirmed a commitment to a new way of being, does not meant that the trend will instantly reverse.  Our bodies and minds are habitual creatures.  So to help invite change into your life, you can find small ways to practice in your every day life, in situations where you feel comfortable enough to try new things.

This morning, for example, I went to a Zumba fitness class.  Within ten minutes, I was thinking: “This class is too slow.  The instructor is not keeping up the pace.”  I asked my body what was really going on.  It felt closed down, tight.  I realized this was another time when I did not want to receive.

This is the third step: identifying moments to practice.  The best way to stay attuned to these opportunities is to stay in close touch with your body.  The moment you feel tense and uncomfortable, drop down and see if you can figure out why.  If it puzzles you, file it away later.  It may later reveal itself to be part of a trend.  If it matches with some resistance you have already identified, you have a moment to train!  The fun part is that it turns even the smallest, mundane activities into a potential opportunity to practice some soul skills.

So in the Zumba class, I was able to match up my body discomfort with a larger “trend” I had already identified.  Because I had a already made a commitment to being open to receive, I welcomed this moment as a great time to practice my receiver skills.  So that is what I did.  I consciously chose to receive whatever this guy had to give.   I relaxed my body.  I inwardly thanked him for showing up.  And I let my expectations go.  Gimme what you got!

I ended up having a great time in the class.  It was not the world’s best workout, but it was fun and upbeat.  More importantly than my sweat level, there was a moment when I was shaking out to some salsa that the instructor flashed me a smile.  I smiled back.  I realized I was happy I was supporting his efforts to put on good class.  That heart connection  would not have been possible if I was caught up in wishing I was at the treadmill class instead.  I viscerally felt the joys of being open to receive.  So even small practice can lead to measurable rewards, which act as incentive for more practice.

Most importantly, this experience also affirmed my own capacity to grow.  I already have the ability to receive, if I just take advantage of life’s opportunities.  I have the choice of how I show up.  And I had the power to do it the way I would like.

You can practice any number of skills.  I read a fantastic blog post from Jonathan Fields (actually a guest blogger Emilie Wapnick–both of them former lawyers no less) about how she took “mini-risks” to practice courage and help her business.  Using the exact same concept I am describing here, she tackled a “trend” she noticed of fear and self-doubt.  By practicing speaking with strangers at a coffee shop, she nailed an important job presentation.

So have some fun with this.  Remember to check in with your body.  Ask it what is is feeling.  Identify trends.  Affirm your commitment to a new state of being.  Then find small ways to practice the soul skills you wish to have.  Gradually, you will find the strength to practice these skills in more difficult or intense situations.

With love,


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still moments

we meet at half past six
at the old lunch restaurant
that has since been redone
we hit our usual notes
the job (hunting),
the boy (wanting),
our dreams (being dreamed),
until we our current again

in the still moments
our hands reach out
to grab the cool glass
and i am glad for you

this is all.


and it is enough.
there is nothing more
but a happy sleep.
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We Are All Stuck Being Human, Together

“If we begin to surrender to ourselves—begin to drop the story line and experience what all this messy stuff behind the story line feels like—we begin to find bodhichitta, the tenderness that’s underneath all the harshness.  By being kind to ourselves, we become kind to others. By being kind to others—if it’s done properly, with proper understanding—we benefit as well.  So the first point is that we are completely interrelated. What you do to others, you do to yourself. What you do to yourself, you do to others.”

— Pema Chodron

Sometimes, when you learn a really Big Lesson you have to learn it again and again, in smaller and softer ways.  Until you can recognize that lesson like a welcome old friend.

My Big Lesson came when I left my relationship/non-legalized marriage last September.  To get clear about what was actually in the relationship, I stopped trying to help, do, fix, argue, convince, plead, support.  All that mental and emotional chatter just had me going  in circles searching for an answer.   I was exhausted.  At that moment, a Buddhist teacher told me to get real about my life.  Stop spinning my wheels.  I took his advice and stopped focusing on trying to help the other person (who really did not want to be helped) or fix the situation.  In that space and silence,  I began to feel my pain, instead of avoiding it.   Instead of being destroyed by those intense feelings, I gained clarity and resolve.

Lesson learned right?  Not so fast.

Fast-forward to this week.  I was in a Facebook discussion group with some people, where some pretty heavy sharing was going down.  Everyone was being totally unconditionally supportive of each other.  You are so brave!  Way to show up and be real!  I was being very supportive too.  But–I was also offering some thoughts.  Okay, some advice.  Some solicited.  And some not.

I started to hear a Small Voice in my head, saying “Hmm, maybe you should just listen and not say anything else.”  Oh, that is silly I told the Small Voice.  This is an open discussion.  I am just offering thoughts.  And they are good thoughts!  Really, I just want to help.

Small Voice didn’t buy it.  So, I decided to stop the mental back-and-forth chatter about what I “should” be doing.  Get quiet, and see what was up.   How did I really feel?  What I saw was that sometimes my efforts to help were genuine and open and warm.  But sometimes my efforts to help were a bit . . . hmmm . . . anxious? forced?  In those cases, I saw that I offered help as a way to avoid MY OWN strong discomfort when I witnessed people I cared about “stuck” in pain.  I got uncomfortable for two reasons.  One, I did not want to see my friends stuck.  Second, I was quietly afraid that if they could not get free, then they would somehow drag me down too.  Oh.

And then I saw it.  This lesson-learning that it is not my job to help-is the exact same one I learned from my break-up.  And one I know goes back to childhood too.  Damn it.   My worst fears are true–I AM “stuck” with me and all the crap of being human and in pain.  This whole time I am so worried about the other person getting trapped in their habitual behavior, I failed to notice I am completely caught up in mine.  And I got there completely on my own!  This realization, ironically, makes me feel sort-of free and light and prone to laughing at myself.  My mind cracks me up.

So, hello again to my lesson.  It does not need to hit me over the head this time, but I appreciate it showing up in this small way.  It is letting me know that I need to go back to focusing on my own heart.

And of course, when I center myself in love, I stop fearing other people’s pain.   It will not eat me alive.  I am strong enough to stay firm in my open heart.  And I am weak and human enough to completely, totally relate.  I can see a bit more clearly that what I feared from other people is really my own deep worries reflecting back at me.  Once I can see that, the thought of others struggling to deal with their own stuff makes me feel warm and loving.  Like when you watch a great romantic comedy, and at the end you get teary-eyed at how everyone is just incredibly themselves and imperfect, but perfect at the same time.

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Finding the Strength to Be Vulnerable

A friend of mine asked a beautiful question the other day that I think many of us have asked ourselves before.  He said (I am para-phrasing):  “I have no problem being angry.  Anger is a STRONG emotion.  I can be present for that.  But how do I stay present with fear and self-doubt?  Those are such weak, wimpy, non-masculine emotions.  Plus, when I stay with them, sometimes I end up unable to effectively run my business or be with my family.”

My friend is on the right track.  We do not want to stuff fear and self-doubt down our mental toilet, only to have the piping back up.  These emotions as a natural part of being alive–if we cut them off we distance ourselves from the brightness of life.

But feeling emotions is very different from letting them consume us (that is where my friend was running into trouble with his work and family).   We need to open our hearts without getting lost in our experiences and confusing them for reality.  So in a sense, we need to be really strong in order to be truly vulnerable. 

So the deeper question is: How can we develop the strength to truly face fear and self-doubt?

I have two different practices that I would like to share with you.  One is mine, and the other is from renowned vulnerability expert Brene Brown.

Me:  Cultivate the Heart of a Warrior

To develop this strength, I consciously cultivate a relationship with my awareness/witness mind.  This awareness is spacious, vibrant, and tender.  As I walk to work in the parking lot, I connect with this awareness through my heart, body, and breath.  As I brush my teeth.  As I do my work.   Definitely, when I meditate.

Then, when a big oh-shit wave of fear and self-doubt comes, I can watch it rise and fall with compassion, even curiosity.   Because I know the emotion is not me, I can let the fear and doubt be as deep and wide as they want to be without getting sucked in.  This is what Shambhala calls developing the heart of a spiritual warrior.  A warrior heart is strong and open enough to face even the scariest fear.

Brene Brown: Release the Fears to God

Brene Brown is a well-known speaker who has spent the past ten years studying vulnerability, courage, authenticity, and shame.  (Agh-LOVE!)  She just posted this beautiful post about her practice of “Turning Things Over.”  When she has any fears (or even great hopes) come up, she writes them down on a piece of paper.  I would encourage anyone doing this practice to take a few minutes to sit with that fear and feel it in your body.  Then she puts them in a bowl or box that symbolizes turning over those fears to God.   (The bowl in the picture was given to her by an admiring potter.)  This is a concrete way to allow yourself to FEEL and ACKNOWLEDGE the fear, but then release it to a higher power.  Again, a great way not to get sucked up in the Fear Trap my friend was worried about.

Brene’s practice might be especially great for specific problem-related “nagging” fears, while my Shambhala-based practice might be especially suited for pervasive self-doubt.  I hope that they both serve you.

With love and light,


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Practicing Patience, Big and Small

Impatience…can you feel it with me for a second…the small tickly feeling when you have sat at that restaurant table for hours…the far-away detached glaze when someone has been talking and talking…the unsettled, anxious knot when you want something to happen and nothing is going on.

Lately I have been noticing impatience in my life in big and small ways.  Rather than glossing over it, I am tuning in.  What is this feeling?  What I come up with is that I get impatient when I get fixated on something in the future, and I am not allowing myself to be in the present.  I have already checked out.  Why do I check out?  Lots of reasons.  Because I do not think anything will happen right now.  Because right now is uncomfortable and I want to escape it.  Because I am nervous about what is going to come next and I sooth myself by mentally jumping into the future and playing it out.

But really, there is only one reason to be impatient:  I am trying to lead life, instead of letting life lead me.  I am trying to substitute my will for Spirit’s.  I am trying to control things because I am scared to let things unfold in their own time.  So when I notice myself feeling impatient now, I try and use it as an opportunity to practice self-awareness, compassion, and surrender.  I notice how it feels in my body.  Oh, hello impatience.  Why are you here?  I have compassion for the part of myself that thinks it needs to be in control or the world will fall apart.  And I tell myself, “It’s okay.  Let life show you around.  Trust.  Let go.  See what happens next.  It could surprise you.”

Usually this is a relief.  For example, when I am rushing out of my apartment in the morning and all of a sudden I notice that I am already mentally at the office (35 miles and 45 minutes away), I can check in and slow down.  I notice how my body is all tight.  I use my breath to release this tension.  I have compassion for the fact that I am worried about work.  But then I remind myself that I’ll get there in due time, and worrying won’t speed it up.  And then I give myself the pleasure of opening up to what is going on around me.  Like the amazing view from my front door of the ocean.  The fresh morning smell.  Don’t want to miss that because I was in such a rush to get to work.

This can also work with difficult experiences, like when someone is talking when I think I “should” be doing something else.  I notice that I am fighting the experience.  I drop into my body, forgive myself for being so tense, forgive myself for ignoring the other person, and then relax.  I am here.  I do not need to go anywhere.  Nothing needs to get done.  The most important thing I can do right now is give this person my full, undivided attention.  And really, what is more important than truly being present with someone?  Once I have given myself permission to stop worrying about all these illusionary things I need to do, and remind myself of the honor it is that this person wants to share something with me, I start to actively engage in the moment again.   The impatience disappears.

The one area of my life where I am having real trouble applying this right now is my job.  I am in a one year position, and at the end of this year I need to decide what I want to do next.  I could go back to my old position.  I could go to a new job, but still work at a law firm. I could do something totally different.  I am not getting any clear answers and it. is. driving. me. crazy.  Even though out of all the examples I have given this is the one that allows me the most physical time, it is the one where I am least able to chill out.

So right now I am at the stage of tuning in to what is making me so uncomfortable about the whole thing.  And I can see that the reason why I am so impatient about my career choice makes perfect sense.  I have this underlying belief that I need to actively take control of my career and “make” things happen–the perfect remedy for impatience.  This vision is given extra juice by my underlying fear of finding myself 20 or so years down the road, realizing I am not fulfilled by my job and wishing I had “done” something about it.  I don’t want trust in the universe to devolve into passivity and missed opportunities.  On the other hand, I do not want my desire to be active and engaged in this process to snowball into a big mass of anxious impatience that leads me to make a rash decision before the time is right.  Especially when I do not have a clear vision right now of my goal.

I know that when I have patience about getting out of my apartment in the morning or listening to someone, it doesn’t mean I entirely abandon the idea of doing what I need to do next.  It just means that I have a different attitude towards the pace at which it is going to happen.  But for some reason, I am having more trouble trusting that an answer about my job will come to me unless I frantically worry away at it.

On the ride home tonight, I heard great advice that helps me put this situation in perspective.  The speaker, Michael Neill (a life coach) said that there are two ways to use your mind.  One is to solve problems.  Your mind can go into the filing drawer of learned skills and accumulated information and help you out.  Two plus two equals four.  My brother’s name is Gabriel.  You go in, you ask the question, you pull out the answer.  I keep on trying to use this method on my career.  Guess what?  The answer is not in the drawers, no matter how many times I go back to try and figure it out.

The second way to use your mind is to access a deeper web of intelligence–sort of like surfing the internet for an answer.  This is intuition.  When you silence your mind and allow it to go into “internet search mode” it will come back with an answer from wisdom far greater than your conscious mind.  But you have to trust the process, otherwise your little mind will be too busy frantically searching in the file drawers to hear the response when it does arise from that deeper source.  This is not a passive process.  You have to ask the question.  You have to listen.  And most importantly, you have to trust.  I know this is how I am going to get my answer.  Man, does it require patience in the deepest sense of the word.

To give you an example of this second kind of  knowledge, here is a story about a famous Buddhist monk named Thich Nhat Hanh.  He was organizing the rescue of 800 Vietnamese refugees from small boats that lacked food or water off the coast of Singapore.  After his activities leaked to the press, the Singapore police arrived at his apartment, took his travel documents, and ordered him to leave within 24 hours. They would not allow his boats to leave the harbor to pick up boat people.  What did he do?  Did he immediately gather a council to debate the answer?  Did he freak out and start brainstorming possible solutions?  No.  He practiced walking meditation for the rest of the night.  Five minutes before he was going to be expelled, with his mind calm, he received the guidance to turn to the French embassy for assistance.  They intervened, and the boat people were saved.  Wow.  Kind of puts my job worries in perspective.

I am just really getting started on my journey of practicing patience.  It is important for me to focus on making sure I practice patience in the small ways, because those help prepare me for the bigger experiences.  So I will remember to check out the ocean and enjoy long conversations while I am waiting to get clarity on my career.  All in its own good time.

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A Spiritual Warrior Knows How to Surf

This past weekend, I chose to sit inside, meditating in silence for about six hours each day.  This experience is also known as Shambhala Buddhism Level Two training: Birth of the Warrior.  A pretty bad-ass title for two days of sitting in a room.

The last time I did a Shambhala retreat, I was in the midst of a big life experience (sudden knowledge that I had to leave a long-term relationship).  I had a giant, live, crazy, scary thing on my plate.  In one way, it was intense and hard.  In another way, when you have something so obvious to deal with, it is like meditating with crayons, or performing simple math.  The center of compassion is large and pretty easy to find.  Don’t blame him, don’t blame me, don’t move from this football field of pain.  Got it.   I knew exactly what I was giving in to.  Also, I was so immersed in grief that to some degree it was a relief to just sit there and feel it, to let it wash over me, to not even try and fight its sweet sadness.

This weekend was like meditating with watercolors.  No huge experiences . . . nothing major to get through.   Just some low-grade, run of the mill aimlessness and anxiety with no identifiable source.  Although these feelings were muted, they were impossible to ignore.   Every time I sat and breathed, and opened up to the moment, I would come up with:  Ugh.  I don’t want to be here.  why can’t I be doing something fantastic, like exploring the jungle in Bali (yes, despite my commitment to inner exploration instead of exotic vacations).  Or I would end up worrying about something small I said earlier that day.  Or I would just get bored.  In my body, I experienced a vague, jumpy restlessness.

So I did what I thought a good spiritual warrior was supposed to do.  I stared that shit down and tried to MAKE it fight me.  Instead of practicing touch-and-go (lightly touching a feeling/sensation on the in-breath, and then releasing the connection on the out-breath), I was doing confront-and-noisily-exhale.  Every time I breathed in and that mediocre blah-ness was still there, I was in its face like a disgruntled security guard tailing a suspected shoplifter.  “You can do whatever you want Low-Level Anxiety, but I’ve got my eye on you buddy.  Just don’t try any funny stuff.”  I somehow thought that by paying very tight close attention, I was being brave and acknowledging the reality of my suffering.

Obviously, this form of meditation is not super fun.  It started to dawn on me that my internal image of warriorship was way out of whack.  I had been imagining a stoic figure fearlessly, yet grimly, facing an uncomfortable moment.  I was determined to suck it up, go outside into the crappy now, and not even wear a coat.  But why so sad, Ms. Spiritual Warrior?  What if I could be present during uncomfortable feelings and have a good time?  What if the right warrior posture was more like a surfer riding a wave–loose, happy, and in flow with the constant movement of life?  (Or to reference another love of mine, fluid like a capoerista playing a really good game?)

So I relaxed and let myself off the hook.  I still paid attention to what was going on . . . to the feelings of anxiety, to my breath, to the opening and closing of my heart.  But the quality of my attention was easy and carefree.  And it was dynamic!  I realized that just because I was resting in awareness did not mean that I was stuck watching life because, guess what–life itself is never still.  So I allowed my consciousness to be gracefully lifted by each moment.  Instead of trying to challenge my anxiety, I just let it dissolve into a larger natural rhythm.  Instead of feeling like I was forced to sit there, I practiced joyful surrender to the ebb and flow of life. Someone who staffed that weekend later told me that Shambhala teachers often compare this quality of awareness to a beach ball floating on top of the sea.  Yes!  But it is also tender.  I gave my heart away with each breath.  I allowed myself to fall–deeply, warmly–and I was met.

So as I was feeling my way into this shift, I went to lunch (sidenote: where I had the best chorizo taco outside of Mexico City, props to Cacao Mexicatessan.)  Someone gave me a ride, and in her car I noticed an audiobook from Pema Chodron (a famous and wonderful Shambhala teacher).  And I started to crack up.  The title?  Hint: it was not “Standing Stock-Still and Staring the Shit Out of Pain.”  It was “Smiling Into Fear.”  Point taken.

After the retreat, I have continued to practice my Spiritual Surfing technique.  As I let my inner awareness freely flow, I can feel my own limited tight energy merge with a larger radiant movement.  It feels vital and charged.  Definitely the same amazing vibe that originally gave birth to the name threedeelife.  Then, as I was writing this post. I came across a perfect description for this energy from a recent Sharon Salzberg (vipassana Buddhist teacher) post on Kriss Carr’s blog:  “In Pali, the language of the original Buddhist texts, the term for the potent and alive energy of awareness is “tejos.” The word has several meanings.  It can mean heat, flame, fire, or light, and it conveys a sense of splendor and radiance and glory.  Tejos refers to a very bright energy, a strength, and a power that is luminous.”   How beautiful.  Like a flame,  the energy of life needs the right balance of attention and space to burn bright.   When you relax into that balanced awareness, you connect with the energy of the flame, of the moment, of the wave.

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Turning Arrows into Flowers

Alright 2011, here is the last of you.  The second half of my story about my breakup begins on the night when I learned some information that answered my request for a clear sign as to whether to stay or to go.  I had to go.  That night, I ran down to the ocean in my pajamas and spent an hour listening to the waves (not a huge trek, I live four blocks from the beach).  Then, I came back up to my apartment and spent about half the night in my car.  The last half of the night, I spent on the couch.  I was in pain and wanted to be alone, but thought I was pretty pulled together, considering.  Looking back, I think I was in a bit of shock.

The next morning, I headed out for the last day in a three-day Buddhist meditation weekend retreat with the Eagle Rock Shambhala Center.  I got to the Center and got into the breakfast line.  Still relatively pulled together.  Someone said hi.  And I lost it, in the morning sunshine, trying to put a damn bagel in the toaster.  I just broke down into big, sobbing tears.  Someone was kind enough to immediately ask the leader of the retreat if she would meet with me quickly before we began the day.  This wonderful woman pulled up a chair facing me in her small office, and listened to me pour my heart out.  She hugged me.  And then she sent me out to sit.  Buddhists are great listeners, but they are not there to take you away from your experience.  God bless.

For the next six or so hours, I did two things.  I felt my pain, and I watched my response to my own pain.  What I noticed as I sat there was that every time the pain got really uncomfortable, I would want to do one of three things.  First, I would want to “blame” my ex-partner.  I would feel these huge surges of anger and resentment well up.  That got me the momentary relief of “pushing” the pain away from me, towards him.  The second thing way I would react would be to blame myself.  I would feel intense remorse and sadness and shame.  I would then beat myself up.  This got me the momentary relief of punishing myself for the pain I was feeling.  The third thing I would do would be to try and avoid the pain altogether by ignoring it.  Again, it was a passing relief of “stuffing” the pain away.

I realized each of these three reactions were just different ways to avoid pain.  So I began to consciously try another way of relating to my pain.  I sat right in the middle of it, without pushing, pulling, or burying it out of sight.  I didn’t blame him.  I didn’t blame me.  I didn’t try and pretend I was not hurting.  I just felt it.  But more than felt it–I opened my heart to it.  This act of opening your heart to what you are feeling is sometimes called “creating space” around the pain.  It means that you access a part of you (or of Spirit, depending on how you view it) that is bigger than pain.  Love.  Love for yourself and the other person.

I began to perceive that being in pain is a completely different question than how you dealt with it.  If you handle it poorly, you add what Buddhists call “suffering” on top of the original hurt.  You are just floundering around, and drowning in your own hurt.  (Think of someone who, years after a break-up, is still vengefully obsessed with their ex.)  But if you confront pain directly, you process it cleanly, and can even open your heart.

There are two beautiful stories related to this practice that I would like to share.  First is one that I actually heard the day before all of this went down.  I was waiting for my private teacher interview and reading a book.  In the book, there was this story about this dude who went off to India and wad meditating and wasn’t really feeling it.  He was wondering how he could have a break-through.  Finally, he went back to his hut in frustration.  There, in the middle of the hut was a large rattlesnake.  This guy was petrified of snakes.  He was so afraid that he didn’t want to move.  He was worried that if he rushed towards it or away from it the snake would strike.  So he just sat there, and locked eyes with this snake for hours.  What he was really facing his own terror in a very direct and naked way.  There was no escape.  And a funny thing happened.  As the night gave way to day, his fear turned into total joy and gratitude.  As the morning sun came up, he rose, walked to the snake, and bowed in thankfulness.  The snake slithered away.

I remember that after I read this story, I went in to talk with the teacher and said, “Wow, I wish I had a snake to amp up my practice.”  Again, you get what you ask for.  After reading that story, I was able to understand that my own difficult experience could serve as a a spiritual teacher if I could face my own pain and fear without any filters.  And I began to understand how that practice could lead to joy and gratitude.

The second beautiful story is an oldie but goodie and one of my favorites.  The story is about that very important moment when Buddha sat under the Bodhi tree, determined to rid his mind of all confusion and finally reach enlightenment.  The god of illusion, Mara, decided to try and scare Buddha and get him to give up his seat from under the tree.  Mara sends his armies to go fire arrows at Buddha.  In response, Buddha did not attack.  He did not flee.  Instead, he said “I see you Mara, and I am not afraid!”  (Some stories even say Buddha invited Mara to join him for tea!)  Buddha held his ground.  As Mara’s arrows met the force of Buddha’s light, they turned to flowers and fell to the ground.

I kept on thinking of that story on that day.  I felt the companionship of Buddha holding his ground in love and light.  And every time something came up that threatened to “unseat me” I would say, I see you!  And I would try and meet it with my heart.

In the small group sessions that we held  towards the end of the afternoon, someone asked about Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s (the founder of Shambhala Buddhism) phrase “the genuine heart of sadness.”  They wanted to know what it meant.  I felt like I could now answer that question, because that was where I had been living all day.  My insight was this: the genuine heart of sadness is what you get when you allow yourself to tenderly meet pain without struggle.  Yes, there is sadness.  But that sadness is not scary anymore . . . instead, it fills you with love and strength.  It is a beautiful and tender place to be.

At the end of the day, I had made friends with my pain.  I felt like I had just weathered a storm and the seas had calmed.  I knew that I would be able to get through whatever came next.  What has happened since then?  More storms.  For me, unlike Buddha, this is not a one-shot deal.  I have had to meet my pain with love over and over and over again.  It comes in different forms.  Now, I am not struggling so much with the actual event, but I do struggle with loneliness and loss.  And there are other pains of life.  But now, I try and recognize them as opportunities to keep on practicing opening my heart and holding my ground.

With love,


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Today is a gorgeous, sunny start to 2012.  As I type this, I am sitting in a comfy leather chair overlooking the ocean from the balcony of my apartment. I got my slippers on, and some reggae playing.  Perfecto.  A great way to bring in the New Year.  (For the full effect, you can listen to some reggae jams along with me here  and here.)  Looking back, 2011 was a pretty wild year.  To put it mildly.  Some of you have asked me if I was going to write about some of the things that happened this past year.  I have been waiting for the right time, and today feels like the day.  Here it goes…

2011 was the year I got married.  It was a full-on, save-the-date, seating-chart, welcome-cocktail party, three-day affair in Tulum, Mexico.  It was a beautiful three days.  I had been together with my partner for five years.  We met in law school, and had a lot of mutual friends.  Eighty-five people celebrated our union in bare feet on the sand.  I truly believed I was committing to a lifetime with this person.  I loved him.

Four months later, I left him.

That still sounds crazy to me.  But it is real.  Out of respect for my former parter (we never legalized the marriage, so I struggle with the correct term… my ex?  my former symbolic husband?), I will not go into the details of why I found it necessary to leave.  I’ll simply say that he was not ready to get married, even though he wanted to be.  Were there warning signs?  In hindsight, yes.  Like the fact that he impulsively proposed to me in Greece, without buying a ring first.  Or that at the wedding, he went around telling everyone that he felt “more responsible already.”  And the fact that I spent a lot of energy in our relationship helping him to grow (yes, obviously that does not work).

Because he was not ready to get married, some pretty self-destructive behavior emerged about two months after the ceremony.  Front-line report from the trenches: it is entirely possible to love someone and also realize that your relationship is not healthy.  During the two months or so when things were really going downhill, I was living those two truths.  The only thing I could do was leave him, but I was not yet willing to do that.  I felt helpless, because I was.  I was stuck.

When I was in that helpless phase, this great thing happened.  I got a Buddhist meditation instructor.  I love how totally cheesy that sounds, but it is true–although not for the reason you might think.  We actually did no work on my meditation technique or practice. Our very first session, he simply asked me what was going on in my life.  I told him.  He said, “Holy shit, your life is a mess.”  And then he cracked up.  I laughed with him.  Holy shit, my life was a mess.

The homework he gave me was to pay attention to my life and get real about what was happening.  So I took all the energy I was using to worry, to plan, to hope, to argue…and I put it into bearing witness.  Sounds simple, but this was an amazing and deep practice.  Rather than trying to control a very difficult situation, I just let. it. be.  And I watched very carefully what was going on both externally, and internally.  I listened hard to what life was saying, instead of just nodding along and secretly thinking about what I wanted to do next.  You get a lot of clarity when you shut up.

I learned that his choices were not my fault.  I learned that I could not change him.   I learned that as much as he told me he wanted to change, his actions said a different thing.  And I learned that I was not crazy to feel sad, or scared.  Instead of running from these truths, or trying to make them be something else, I just felt the pain.  But it was a refreshing, simple pain, free from the tiresome and idiotic delusion that everything was my responsibility.  Along with the pain, I also felt more compassionate and tender, for both myself and him.

What came out of all of this listening was that I finally, truly accepted the fact that I might have to leave the relationship. I got unstuck.  Acceptance is a beautiful thing.  It is like this thing you have been fighting so hard against turns out to NOT be the end of the world.  When you stop fighting fear, you discover your own strength.

But feeling free to leave and actually leaving are two different things.  I still wondered whether the situation might get better.  So I consciously, and clearly, told Spirit:  “Look, if I am supposed to leave, just give me a sign.  I am ready to accept whatever is the right thing to do.”  I think when you ask from that completely surrendered space, Spirit will respond because it know you are ready to hear the truth.  I definitely got my answer.  More on that, how I handled it, and what else I learned, in the next post.

Happy New Year everyone!  I hope you have a beautiful start to your year.


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