Keep Reading, Keep Learning, Keep Growing

Some ideas and observations are worth a revisit. This entry was originally posted about 3 years ago and I find that it has relevance still today. I’ve  changed the title and did a bit of editing but the essence remains:

Perfection is an inaccurate term to use for a human being, I believe. There is a positive force to embody in our lives regardless of the term we apply to it. As I continue to savor random moments alone with How Yoga Works by Geshe Michael Roach, I find myself kind of floating emotionally in a soft cocoon. My head hums a bit, my chest alternates between tightness and the most clear and weightless expanse of breath I can ever remember having. Realizations and fear, regrets and hope all ebb and flow. It’s like having a misty aura pulsing around me. Very spiritual. Very new. Very different from the reactions to the texts I usually read and write about.

A current passage that has insinuated itself into my thoughts contains references to the dilemma of pride. Pride is especially troublesome when it has installed itself within a student and the master or teacher must find a way to refocus it. One of the pending titles for my blogging is Teaching People How to Learn. I still may use it later on, but for the moment it serves as a better example of the trajectory of this post rather than a guide for a separate entry. As the narrator tells us, pride must be hit or beaten with a figurative stick until it becomes “a healthy kind of confidence” ( 135). One holds onto pride jealously but confidence is flexible. It can be shaken, it can be restored, and it does not begrudge change.

Confidence is what many of us lack when we endeavor to write. Pride is what stops us from learning. Those of us that have allowed rejection letters or the disinterest of influential people or difficulty with insecure bosses  to define our worth have allowed a perception to dominate our overall sense of ability and worth. That is not to say that there is a ceiling to learning and that writing is a static medium. The negative must be analyzed closely to find the realities within that collapse of hope or momentum.

This leads me back to teaching people how to learn. I have students who go into throws of anxiety and confrontation when they get a C rather than the expected A (Read: grade earned for simply producing the work). I see them as people with potential to evolve if I can assist them in realizing that earlier grades came at earlier periods in their education. Perhaps the standards were lower as well–let’s be frank about that. Many do not know how to evolve from the platform they have rested upon and refuse to find that there is more work ahead. Their pride is blocking the growth of their knowledge base. I am the wall they hit or the stick that beats the barriers down if I can.

What overcomes the obstacles? Reading of course. The text is life. Each text is a portal into a new perspective on life as it was or is if you see it for its potential rather than only its concrete form. How Yoga Works teaches us that things are not “themselves” or, rather, don’t have an unyielding unchangeable identity. Our engagement with the world creates or molds the nature of what we behold and that nature “itself” is not static. Roach offers us an example when the narrator engages her jailor in a discussion about a bamboo pen on his desk. Is it a pen? To him, yes, but is it only a pen? He comes to realize that it is also  a tiny piece of nourishment: “I mean that impression, that sense of division is so strong . . . I simply never realized that I make the pen itself ; my mind takes the pen a pen, just as the cow’s mind draws the same green stick as something good to eat” (118).

Now, I don’t  believe that our perceptions are an illusion or that people do not create texts, art, or even meals in an unconscious state that only others can give concrete form to as they engage with them. We are not passive vessels nor are our accomplishments eradicated by lack of witnesses or missing accolades. What this text brings to me and what I take from my interaction with it is that we can change our perception so that pain and discomfort do not concretely define an experience. If someone is cruel, the unhappiness is real, but the root cause of our pain may be suppressed or veiled by the surface actions. What is truly cruel in the moment?  The actions or the causes of these?

For a non-spiritual on non-philosophical example, think of the “kick the dog” syndrome. Someone is raked across the coals by his unhappy boss who is looking for someone to abuse because his wife made nasty comments that morning. The employee, feeling victimized and powerless, then spits profanity at someone who accidentally bumps his arm causing hot coffee to burn his hand. The person soundly abused for an honest mistake cuts someone off at a turn feeling the need to assert her authority and presence. The person who narrowly misses hitting that car comes home shaking and, as the dog trips him in his glee at finally having someone to play with, kicks the animal for also being in the way.

These examples and questions are not meant to confuse your sense of order or make you doubt your eyes or heart. Doubt is not the goal. Doubt is real at the moment you feel it, but it should not be a  manipulative tool for preventing the emergence of self-assertion and confidence. The key here is that self assertion must be based in awareness and tempered by acceptance of the changeable nature of what Roach calls “universal powers” and of perception.

The text I am reading is life. What you are reading is life. As it should be? As you agree? Does it matter? We are experiencing the opportunity to learn and grow from the nourishment that is found in the narrative.

images-12

Advertisements

Ask, and the Answer is Not What You May Expect. Listen, and a Path Opens Up

I listened, earlier, to news about youthful offenders. Missives of sadness. I read now from poems of welcome and belonging. Of comfort and sureness of purpose. Which is more likely to teach me about love and hope? About life and how events unfold and to what purpose? Both.

NPR’s story of the horror of one particular offender’s actions resounded within me. While not identical to my own encounter with another’s cruel and manipulative violation of trust, it answered my desperate question as to how one’s troubling behavior can be overlooked or ignored by others. I was reminded that it is common to find out, after the crime is committed, that the assailant had been exhibiting antisocial behavior already. That their friends and family knew the person was troubled. It’s not personal that no one let you know. It’s not a conspiracy of silence that set you up for trauma. There is basically a pattern of ignorance or passivity that many  participate in expecting that “this behavior” is not a long-term problem or a sign of danger. But if you are dragged into engaging with the seemingly preventable damage, there is a relentless psychological, spiritual, and emotional nagging that adheres to you. It’s like grief after a loved one dies. No amount of comforting or advice can make you skip the stages you must go through and the time it takes to become accustomed to the loss.

I was not comforted that someone else was hurt. By no means. But I was finally brought to face the commonality of many victims’ experience. A sense of community, albeit tragic, came to me. I am not a freak, nor a failure. Just another dupe. No amount of beneficent intentions can prevent bad actions. All one can do is hope to earn the respect and love of others so that you can share all that is good. This trust creates a respite from anything too large to bear alone. There is hope that I can now help myself and others through this unexpected life lesson.

The poetry book, The House of Belonging, now that I think about it, called to me because of my need for gentleness. I have been afraid to let too much gentleness in since my hatred and loathing for another and myself was evoked many months ago. The book has been moved around as I have packed to move. I couldn’t quite part with it but I did not want it near me. It took something as objective as radio journalism to bring me back to face something that is not about being alone and isolated, but a painful part of a greater whole: humanity in all its horrible truths and insatiable lust for healing.

In one morning of routine actions (turning on the radio as I work with the horses) the message of hope I needed found its way to me. All of my prior asking  did not result in satisfaction. But my continued listening did.

A Most Inspiring Post from a True Bodhisattva

maitreya2

I subscribe to Seeds 4 Life, a wonderful site on which many wise and inspired people share their words of wisdom. Ok, I did post there so I may seem to be bragging, but this is not my point or goal. The following was posted by Moshe  Kessler and it is a much more accurate and helpful perspective than the traditional “Hindsight is 20/20.” I felt it was very timely since I am working so hard to move forward personally and professionally. I hope this is of assistance to you as well.

The quotation that he reflects upon is from Søren Kierkegaard: “Life Can Only Be Understood Backwards; But It Must Be Lived Forwards”

Moshe writes:

Never in history has humanity been as advanced as we are today. No matter what field you examine, incredible strides have been made. From medicine to space flight, from human rights to standard of living; we are far better off than our forbearers. Yet with all of these advances; in certain moments, we are no different from our ancestors of the distant past. When serious challenges arise; we still ask that eternal question, “why is this happening to me?”

In that stillness of time when we are hit with a traumatic event, there really are no answers. What often does occur is that as we gain some distance from it, sometimes a beam of understanding pierces through the darkness. Perhaps what we initially thought was to our detriment turned out to be to our advantage. Maybe we were forced to take a more rigorous look at the direction our life was taking and make some painful adjustments. Sometimes we were forced to admit our powerlessness and learned to practice acceptance.
As we emerge from that life changing event, we hopefully have attracted new levels of wisdom and understanding. From that point, the trajectory of our lives must be forward. It’s crucial to avoid the trap of dwelling in the past. Rather than bemoaning our “bad luck,” we can recognize that we have been given a second chance. We become gripped by a powerful drive to make every day count, and even every minute count. To do otherwise would debase the profundity of what happened to us in the first place.

 

Per The Seeds 4 Life: “Moshe and his beloved wife have 3 children and 7 grandchildren. He loves to meditate, journal, and do tai chi and yoga. He is also a member of a number of 12 Step Programs. He believes that insights from these programs can be of help to anyone. On a daily basis he blogs at http://www.wisdomfromtherooms.com.”

Do They Have the Equivalent of 750words.com for Yoga Poses?

I am just a joiner I guess. I need to have a group to inspire me or some kind of location to go to. Just like I wrote yesterday about the kind of computer or environment I need for writing, I need a similar vibe for my yoga.

OK, call it avoidance, but if that were it, I’d never get myself out anywhere to write or practice. Isn’t it possible to be sensitive to your location? Really, when people say that money doesn’t buy happiness, I can only think that my hypothetical misery would ease if I were on the Riviera rather than skid row. I’m just sayin’ . . .

So, now that I have the wonderful new mat, I want to put it down in a space that “feels” open and relaxing–and that place is most often NOT my home. I love my home, and it is filled with wonderful pieces from many great artists we’ve known. My son’s art projects are incredibly beautiful to me. BUT I’ve very little floor space. Where I feel embraced and cozy when relaxing, I feel enclosed and restricted when trying to let the energy of the day direct me and my practice.

When I think about it, my weaving self is the same way. Only in this case, I learned to weave on looms in small spaces (small brownstone in Baltimore, small apartment in a booth at a Renaissance festival, a tiny space in my parents’ town house that barely fit the loom and my equipment). When I was able to put my loom in a larger space, I felt as if I were afloat in this vast openness and could not create. Even now, I have a large studio space for my weaving and felting, but I keep the smaller loom in the corner and my felting space is also tucked away.

So far, then, as I review this public therapy session, I think I’ll just get off of my own case and accept that environment is very much a key to how I practice, write, weave, felt, think . . .

Own it, right?

All the Inspiration You Need Can be Found in a Moment . . .But Do You Have the Right Gear?

If I only had access to my keyboard at all times. We do have smart phones and tablets and and and . . .
But a good desktop computer with the right kind of keyboard is the most wonderful thing to me. It might be like a pianist having an electric keyboard or even an app to play with while away from their instrument, but the real thing is what gives real “voice” to their muse.

It’s the same for me with my writing equipment. I need to have the right environment and the right equipment for my ideas to flow smoothly. I still hand write on paper and do enjoy that; but, then, I have to transcribe it and I’ve so little free time as it is. I even record what I can’t write if I’m driving. But, again, returning to it can be tricky.

A friend of mine said it’s more about my level of dedication than it is about inspiration, and I wonder if that is the root of the problem. I’m certainly on top of my jobs but not on top of my unpaid endeavors. Still, I’ve always been sensitive to my equipment. I’ve ridden horses since I was a kid, and I have to admit that a saddle that does not suit me makes even a trail ride something I don’t really rush to do. Now, the right tack is, of course, a safety concern as well as a comfort issue, but I think you get my point. My new yoga mat makes me wonder how I ever kept using the old one. It’s like it was working against me. Even though the practice is about much more than the equipment, the right gear makes it all go very smoothly and enables me to focus on the pose and the intention, hence, the flow.

Today, someone told me about 750 Pages (http://750words.com/). It’s new to me so I can only say that it seems to be a location where writers can plan to go and commit themselves to a minimum of words per day. I think that may be what I need: A commitment. Then, maybe the tools will be less a point of interference if I have to answer to some kind of work or goal. It could make me more mindful of the product rather than the tools themselves.

I’ll let you know how it goes . . .

Openness and Breathing: They Even Help Your Writing

Today, my yoga instructor, Allison, worked on guiding us in envisioning and feeling the true expansiveness of breath we can achieve if we let go of tension and acknowledge how much our upper bodies come into play to create a true flow of air and expansion. This reminded me of a book someone once gave me called The Science of Breath. As I understand, it is in our abdomens that our breath should begin to “fill” our bodies. Our lungs may be the key organs for this process, but it is in our whole torso, front and back, that we maximize their function. We need to feel our bellies and our backs fill. We need to let our ribs expand. So we need to be mindful of how we feel physically so we can remain open to how we think and act. I couldn’t help then thinking about why it is so many of us restrict our breathing and how we limit other capacities—and why.

Allison’s efforts at having us imagine the area behind our rib cages as caves, as her own instructor has taught her, encouraged us to fill this area and almost touch our back bodies with our abdomens. Not closing off so much as opening fully and then gently contracting and pushing the air up and up through more regions and, thus, nourishing more of our selves. For those of us not regularly in practice of this and and more often stressed enough to hold our breath or breathe more shallowly, it was almost hard to create this openness. We didn’t know where to “put” all of the air or how to let if flow. Our chests almost felt constricted rather than open, but this can be rectified once we reconfigure our bodies to enable the air to flow where is should and needs to rather than where we have allowed it. It’s kind of like getting unused muscles in shape. It’s not comfortable at first, but when done properly, it’s liberating and enlivening.

This all of course brought me to think about the layers of fat so many Americans pad themselves with and wonder if this padding is a way to insulate us from having to feel the discomfort of reconfiguring our bodies and our minds. It takes work and is sometimes uncomfortable at first. It takes patience. In a culture of here-and-now immediacy, opening up more than our mouths to new experiences and feeling our bodies as they are–in the processes we find ourselves in the movement–is scary. It seems to be more appealing to become numb and to create distance from our awareness. So, the padding of fat is a distance between the openness of our caves/ribs, and the space we can create in our bodies. This space must be terrifying and we try to fill it any way possible. So, we eat and get full, stay full, and breathe more shallowly so nothing else can get in and disturb us.

But how am I going to tie these thoughts and observations in to the writing life? Well, I can find connections in many things that at first may not seem logically aligned. I’m a writer and relatively good researcher who uses her analytical mind to find connections that are viable. Meaning that you don’t need pure faith to believe or consider my perspective. You of course don’t need to agree with me. So, how do you “pad” your pages? Do you have language equivalents of body fat because the silence or blank spaces are too uncomfortable? Do you feel that your worth as a writer is only as weighty as the mass on the screen? We are encouraged to write and write and write in order to prevent “blocks” or losing our good habits. But noise is noise; words are words. Does mass equal accomplishment? Sit with the emptiness and discover where the expansion or contractions really fit. Are you embracing the full potential of your characters or story or are you just concerned with page count? The fullness comes from effort that is not always a smooth process. With your practice comes the sudden eureka or enlightenment that tells you the approach was just right and all the padding you had added was just a block or burden. As I always tell my students and writing group: Working hard is not the same as working right. Knowing what is right takes practice and mindfulness and only then can you feel as if it is all flowing in the right direction. Feel comfortable with the expansiveness in your body, your mind, and then your page.

The Beauty of Community

The Community Story group just saw the May deadline for the latest prompt arrive and there were some great contributions to work with. The online presence was not as strong as hoped, but we know this will grow with time. We realized that sometimes people are reluctant to step in on something as traditionally sacrosanct as someone else’s story – incomplete or otherwise. It may take time for the online community to realize that this is their story too. In the mean time, the local gathering here in Flemington brainstormed some incredible storylines and will be taking the next 2 weeks to compare and contrast the possible trajectory and resolution of the narrative.

I found myself out of  my element last Friday as most everyone in the meeting leaned towards a kind of sci-fi or dystopian plotline. That is just not my forte. But that is the beauty of community writing. There is no one voice and there is no guarantee that you can stay in your comfort zone or allow yourself to stagnate. As these posts almost inevitably tie in to mindfulness and openness, you’ll not be surprised to read that once I accepted my feelings of insecurity and ineptitude in the face of a completely unexpected thematic focus and much more experienced writers of this kind of tale, a full page’s worth of text just flowed out of me in a matter of moments. What a thrill.

Another important gift that comes with openness and welcoming the muse or inspiration is that a kind of energy swells internally and warms you physically as well as emotionally. Breathing can become smoother and freer if you pay attention  the flow of your thoughts and even crave challenges. All things become fluid. Your talents and skills can only wither in the  vice that is avoidance and doubt.

It’s going to be a long two weeks waiting for our next gathering.