Tag Archives: Power of Now

Turning Practice into Play

 

Over the last month I have been taking a Pilates reformer class.  It is a killer workout, and requires a lot of focus on the poses to reap the max benefit and not throw out your back.  So I make an effort to concentrate on my form.  I noticed this morning that I can have two kinds of concentration. 

The first kind wonders if I am doing it “right.”  When I feel that I am doing it right, it loses interest and wanders away, until it notices that I am no longer doing it right.  Then it jumps back in and says: “You are going backwards! Not acceptable!  You should be steadily improving!”  And with this shot of discipline and back-talk, I pay attention again.  Not too fun. 

The second kind of concentration is not so concerned with the final goal of perfection.  Instead, it just notes, moment by moment, how the practice feels in my body.  It feels when things feel aligned and powerful.  And when they fall out of alignment, it feels that too, and naturally moves back toward a position of greater strength.  This inner awareness isn’t hovering over my shoulder with a ruler, waiting to strike.  Instead, it is  . . . playing!  It is curious and having fun being alive and getting to move.  It’s still paying close attention to my inner experience (I am not just bopping my head along to the music), but it is doing so from a place of openness. 

You can bring these two types of concentration to any practice.  

The quality of your awareness determines your experience, not the other way around.   

Take meditation, as another example.  Many people bring the first kind to meditation.  They unconsciously approach it as something to be endured, that they must get right.  They then decide that meditation is boring, that they are not good at it, that it is too difficult.  

When you slip into the second type of awareness, you realize that these judgments were a reflection of your own headspace.  If you can keep an open and curious mind, the practice reflects itself back to you as alive, shifting, juicy, interesting, and fun.  The bits were you pull away, were you go spacey, where you feel heavy and dull are not wrong or bad.  They are just sensations guiding you to greater openness and depth.  You are not looking for a final moment where meditation becomes easy and a big light goes off saying “YOU WON.  YOU ARE ENLIGHTENED”  (funny enough, you don’t get any such sign in your workout practice either).

So when doing Pilates, or meditation, don’t focus on “getting it right.”  Focus on keeping an open, playful awareness that is genuinely interested in what you feel.   

I will say that an open and playful awareness has its own difficulties.  Mainly, it is hard to stay so CONNECTED for a long time because the sensation is so great and complex and shifting.  I often experience a sense of being overwhelmed, and a loss of control.  Sometimes, I escape the intensity by going back into my head.  But that is what practice is for. 🙂    

How does this translate into your life in general?  Where do you hold tight?  Where do you approach your life with play and curiosity?  Can you experiment with changing the quality of your concentration?       

  

 

 

 

 

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What Else is There?

I met him on the line at Lemonade.

He was an old man.  Maybe in his 80s.  I apologized for cutting in front of him, and he glared at me from under his cap.  After a second, I realized he wasn’t glaring AT me, he was glaring INTO me.  And I was looking into him.  So we started a conversation.

After about 20 seconds, he told me that I was remarkably present and this surprised him.  I laughed and told him that I do spiritual work and I am aware of my growing capacity for being present.  He had a high level of awareness himself, and I was curious where it came from.  After we both finished paying, he asked me (without any lead-up): where do we sit?  So we had lunch together.

We talked about what it meant to be present.  I told him that I thought being present was about fully opening up to the experience of being in your body at any given moment.  How there are all these ways that we build stories around things, or physically contract ourselves, that are ways to escape the intensity of the present moment.  That are all different ways to escape the truth of what is.

He told me that he thought that being present meant going into the past in order to relive the sensation of past pain.  I said, yes, and then when you fully feel it, you can let it go.  He said yes, but— I have enough pain and memories for 100 years so I can never let it all go.  I am serious, he said.  I asked him to explain.

It turns out that this man was a primal therapist.  Primal therapy is basically a reliving of the birth experience, over and over and over again.  As he told me, his face still glaring and serious, this work is very rarely done because it is extremely painful.  And it can cause, and often does cause, your life to fall apart.  Primal practitioners are less likely to have children, or even long-term serious relationships.  And the primal experience generally does not get easier over time.  In his own case, he said—holding out his hands wide to show his initial pain–he had maybe shifted a tiny bit of that pain–bringing his hands together just a few centimeters.  And it was obvious with his age that he was not going to close that gap before he died.  Yet he still faithfully did this practice every morning.

So I asked him.  WHY are you still doing something that is so painful and gives you such little reward?  And he answered: what else is there?

There is a part of me that wants to cushion the blow of his answer and spin a comforting story of a life well-spent.  And yes, maybe I don’t have the right or understanding to judge his life.  But I will.  Not out of disdain, but because my heart broke for this man who spent over three decades voluntarily reliving an extremely traumatic experience because he did not “know” what else to do.  Was he addicted to the pain?  To the story of his pain?  Who would he be without this pain?  At this point, I don’t think he could imagine.

I was having a conversation earlier with someone about how to move from intellectual understanding of a truth to concretely embodying that truth in your life.  In other words, how do you shift from “I know this shadow-aspect of myself and I want to let it go” to actually BECOMING a different person.  I thought that there was some intermediate stage where you intellectually understood the issue, but still couldn’t figure out how to get out of your own way.  The person I was talking with disagreed.  They thought that when you really SAW the truth, the change would naturally follow.

I am still curious about the relationship between awareness/understanding and concrete change.  But my lunchtime encounter showed me at least this much: if you can not imagine a different life, you cannot create one.  When that man asked me: “What else is there?”–that question was not for me.  It was for him.  And he did not know the answer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Finding Energy to Move Through Daily Life

Tonight I had dinner with two close women friends.  We are all in different stages of our lives.  One is not currently working, but managing property.  One is running her own spirituality-based business.  And I am currently working for a company.

Despite the different stages in our lives, we all connected deeply when the entrepreneur among us spoke of the feeling of having to drag herself to accomplish things.  “It seems like there are always things to do, and it gets overwhelming, and I just don’t want to do them anymore.”

Our conversation made me realize two things that I wanted to share with you.

First, if you also feel secretly overwhelmed and exhausted by the seemingly endless demands of life, you are not alone.  You are not doing anything wrong.  There is nothing wrong with you.  This is life.  It is demanding and requires us to meet its challenges again and again.  I know that I have a hidden belief that other people–especially those who are doing fulfilling things like running their own spirituality-based businesses-don’t have to deal with everyday crap.  It is a relief to know that I am not in the remedial class of life.  No matter how much you love what you are doing, it can be a drag to get things done.

The second thing I realized is based off of what Thomas Huebl shared this weekend.  (See here for my other post on his speech.)  He said that when we end the day depleted, the issue is not what we did.  The issue is how we approached our day, how deeply we connected with what was going on.  When we learn to be fully present, then we emerge energized and vibrant.

What these two insights open up for me is this.  The idea that there is some “end” out there . . .  just around the corner . . . maybe if we fixed a few things. . . took care of a a few more . . . is an illusion. Something else will always arise.  We can, however, find freedom and peace and ease by completely surrendering to what is on our plate.  If we give ourselves 100% to the task in front of us, there is no friction and no drain.

Rather than pretending I have the answer to how this is actually accomplished, I will honor these insights by shifting the question I am asking.  Instead of daydreaming about some alternative life where there are no more demands (“When does this end?”), I will ask myself: “How can I dive more deeply into the life I already have?  How can I open more fully to the demands of daily life?  Does the rhythm of my daily life require a break right now?”  Oftentimes by shifting our perspective, we find the answer we are looking for.

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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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What It Takes to Come Alive…

Yes, the title of this post is from the Rihanna song.  Sing it!

Today, I did two of my favorite things: meditating and surfing.  Even though one of them is externally very active and the other appears to be very still, the two have a shared flavor for me.  Both of them are a way to connect with a larger, moving, current of life.  In surfing, you have to tune into the rhythm and speed of the waves.  There is technical skill involved in getting  it right, but a lot of it is just connecting with the ocean and the moment.  When you get it right and harmonize with a waves, you fall into synch with this larger power and allow yourself to become part of its force.  I love watching really good surfers and seeing how quickly and naturally they drop into waves.  It hits me someplace deep in my heart and I feel a deep love for life and the total fucking amazingness of it.

Meditating is similar.  Most of the times, are minds are so full of chatter that we don’t drop down into the larger feeling of just being alive.  When you meditate, you pause for a bit and clear away enough room to connect with what it feels like to be…breathing…right now…right here….Sometimes when I meditate I notice myself pulling away from the experience.  That pulling away takes many forms:  I am bored.  I am not doing this right.  What time is it?  Hmm, I should be feeling “more.”  I have realized that the way to get back to the moment is not to push those feelings away.  Instead, I have to accept all of those and bring them into the meditative experience by saying yes to them.  I have to say, yup, that is part of being alive too.  Yes, this anxiety I feel, or restlessness is exactly what is going on with me right now.  You keep on widening and widening yourself to keep on accepting ANYTHING that comes up.  And after a while, you are surfing the moment, in synch with whatever arises and just feeling the power behind it.  The deep, insistent power of breath, and aliveness, and you realize that the initial anxiety has turned into kind of a thrill.

There are many ways to connect with this power of being alive…like singing along to Rihanna in your car for the hell of it.  Whatever it is, let that energy rip through you!  What it takes to come alive….Let me know in the comments what brings you alive.

Love,

N

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