I want an owner’s manual

Do we choose our life experiences?  Does it matter if we do or don’t?  If we do choose, where’s the fairness in some people getting a user’s guide and others not – it sure seems that way.  Or is it karma that determines our challenges and our outcomes?  And if so, could some of us really have screwed up that badly in the past?  And what’s the logic behind paying for something in one body that you did in another (and don’t even remember doing)?  Maybe we can blame human suffering on God?  Or maybe there’s some Universal Senate making up new rules that even God has to follow?

A dear friend recently died and her passing has thrown off my already precarious balance.  I’ve read the books, I know what I’m supposed to be doing and supposed to be thinking, but I’m still questioning and wondering and doubting.  I mean, I get that we have an opportunity in every minute to choose happiness.  And I get that a lot of what we see as reality is really illusion, but shouldn’t that be something we learn in preschool so we don’t have to spend the rest of our years feeling put upon by the world?  It’s too easy to explain the vagrancies of life as “Universal Laws” or “karmic debt.”  the truth is that it seems plenty unfair that some gentle and loving people carry heavy burdens all through life while egomaniacal miscreants seem to get an easy break.  There are lots of explanations out there, but I think our assignment of cause and effect is really just a mental exercise to relieve our own need for an explanation.  Really, just because some old guy in a cave 1000 years ago said something that sounds profound, does that make it true?

And where does that leave us?  If we don’t rely on explanations like “karma” or “Universal Laws” how do we make sense of all this craziness that we call Life?  Truthfully, I don’t think we can.  The trying to make sense is in itself crazy-making.  But can we live with all this craziness without it taking a toll?  At some point you have to put a stake in the ground and just decide on a perspective that makes you able to move on with energy and enthusiasm.  Isn’t that what we do as humans?  Isn’t that what religion, science and politics are?  Just ways of trying to make sense of the craziness in the world.  In the end they’re all just perspectives – different ways of trying to make logic out of a weave of events that could as easily be attributed to cause and effect, as seen to be chaos.

And so I choose my perspective and hope that it will not only help me, but also those with whom I come into contact.  Today, I choose, instead of grieving the loss of my friend to honor the gift of our friendship and the blessing of knowing her.  She was a gentle, kind soul who even in the midst of her own suffering was always looking out for others.  Instead of regretting not spending more time with my friend, I choose to cherish the time we did spend together, including phone calls and a visit with my parents a month before her death.  Instead of viewing it as tragic that her baby boy will not know his mother, I recognize the blessing that he has an entire lifetime to experience because she gave him that gift.

Even so, in the midst of all this I think of her family and the loss they must somehow make space for in their lives and sometimes it still doesn’t make any sense.  I find myself having to release the need for it to make sense, or else sink into despair.

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September 23, 2009 at 10:18 pm 6 comments

Working with The Sedona Method – 1

After a month of releasing using The Sedona Method, I’m still not Enlightened. I do, however, feel lighter. At first it seemed really easy. I was recognizing emotion and resistance. I was finding it in my body sensations and mental images. I was letting it go. I had begun to feel a sense of ease in my body and in my day-to-day interactions that was refreshing. I felt as if my internal space was expanding in a way I hadn’t felt before. “This is a cakewalk!” I thought, “I’ll be rid of all this stuff in no time!”

There are sections of the method where you practice just allowing your emotions to be, without trying to change them. I did those too, but those releases felt a little like the moving bridge on the playground where my kids play. As you’re walking on the bridge, it is swaying underneath and you know you’re not on solid ground. I wondered, “Am I doing this right?” Even so, Hale (the instructor on the CDs) insisted that any amount of releasing you could do was enough. And so I continued

About 3 weeks into the process things changed. I suddenly couldn’t feel where the emotions were living in my body anymore. It seemed like everything that came up was insisting on existing only in my head. Now, for someone who teaches that emotions live in the body, that was very disconcerting. This was supposed to be moving me into more awareness, but instead I felt as if I had suddenly dialed down my whole internal process. What to do? Maybe I should just welcome this stuck-ness? As I did, I began to notice that whenever emotions would begin to arise, I’d instantly react to shut them down. It was like in cartoons where the little cartoon animal is coming out of the sewer hole in the street and a big truck comes rolling by and it quickly drops the manhole cover as it ducks back down. Well that was a fascinating recognition. But, if this thing was supposed to be teaching me to be more open to my emotions, how come I was insisting on shutting them down?

I kept listening to the tapes and going through the processes (in my head). At one point in the tape series a woman mentioned that when she welcomed in her emotions, they seemed to start to release right away. Aha! That was what I needed to hear! Thirteen years of Catholic School and a top liberal arts education have left me with the determination to do things “right.” I was insisting on doing this Sedona Method the “right way.” At the beginning I had noticed that when I welcomed my emotions they seemed to lose their charge. I decided I must not be doing it right because there was nothing really left to release when I got to that part of the process. Instead I decided to really feeeel those emotions. I decided that the phrase “welcome them in”, didn’t apply to me, but instead latched on to “allow them to be there.” And boy oh boy was I going to be good at allowing. I “allowed” those emotions to get as intense as I could and searched the deepest corners of my insides for corresponding sensations. And then I let them go. I also noticed the even while I was “allowing” I was also rejecting and judging – and then dropping the manhole cover on the rejection and judgment. Was it surprising that with all this manipulation and coersion that the emotions would eventually go into hiding? “Oh, no, here comes the big bad truck!”

Realizing my resistance, because after all that is what it was, I began to actually welcome the emotions, starting with the rejecting and judgment. Lo and behold, the flow started again, and this time it was actually a flow… well, mostly – after all this is a process and I’ve had 40 years practice in trying to do things “right” (at least in this lifetime). This time the emotions and sensations often lasted for only a short time, since they sometimes released right away upon welcoming them. I also began to allow the pictures and thoughts, all of which I gleefully let go… until something came up recently that wouldn’t let go. But more about that later.

The most fun part of all this has been the noticing of how much my reactions are choices, how small an action it is to make the choice to let go, even if it is just a little bit, and what amazing tricks my mind can come up with when it feels “controlled.” Also fun is how the answers I need come just when I’m stuck.

September 18, 2009 at 5:31 pm Leave a comment

Letting Go – In The Present

I have some of my best insights in the shower.  Recently I’ve been thinking about my own resistance and this morning in the shower it came to me that our views about the future are shaped by experiences in the past, but we can only work to overcome any of that it in the present.  Not rocket science, I’ve read Eckhart Tolle too, but I’d never stated this fact so simply in my own mind.

We talk all the time about letting go of the past, but how can you let go of something that has already happened?  Really all you can work with is the residue of the past that still exists in the present.  That said, some of that residue can feel pretty darn close to the original experience.  As an example, you’re having a memory of a car accident, and it brings up anxiety, fear, maybe even panic.  That anxiety exists now.  Yes, it comes from a memory of something that happened in the past, but it is the present experience that colors your reality now.  This is the only thing that you can really work with.  The past is over, the future hasn’t yet happened.  All we can really explore is our present experience.

Sometimes the way we remember and therefore experience an event now is not even the same as what happened in the past.  That is why trying to let go of the past through “understanding the past” is not always effective.  If anything needs to be “understood” it is the present experience, and even then, ‘understanding’ tends to be an analysis we do in our heads, and this process can also prevent us from really being present with the experience.  The yogis talk about samskaras – the latent impressions (scars if you will) that influence our perceptions in the present.  The more mindful we can become of our present experience, the more likely that these samskaras can be recognized and released.

There are so many ways that we resist or avoid our present moment experience.  I personally have a tendency to dissociate into my head by thinking and analyzing – trying to ‘understand’ the experience – essentially making up a story about it.  Or I might close my eyes and dissociate inside by blocking out the world outside.  Another way is to deflect the intensity of the experience by blaming someone else (another story), or to escape into a distraction. Computers, TVs, cell phones, mp3 players –all these gadgets can provide us with distractions and allow us to separate from being mindful of what we are experiencing in the ‘real world.’  Addictions can be born of the constant need to separate from what might be a painful emotional experience of the present.  The past is not what is being avoided, but the experience that lives now.

The future is shaped by the past through our continued experience of the present.  The future can be shaped by the past through our continued avoidance of the present. Pema Chodron talks about the baby bird in the nest and the nest is getting dirty but the bird won’t fly out.  Look around baby bird, it’s time to fly.

September 8, 2009 at 10:47 am Leave a comment

Letting go Part 2 – But How?

A few weeks ago I was at a seminar with a lot of stressed people and highly charged emotions.  I found myself reacting with judgment and anger as my own ego sensitivities and vulnerabilities were triggered.  I finally got so sick and tired of carrying around the weight of all these emotions, impressions, judgments about other people, and fears about myself, that I remember thinking “I just want this all to be gone!”  I had an insight in that moment that I could make the choice to let it all go – just drop it.  And so I did.  I imagined all that weight like carrying a huge stack of books and just dropped it all.  What a relief!

I’d love to take credit for my sudden insight, but I have to admit that it was another marvelous progression on this Journey of Life.  Many months ago one of my yoga students mentioned The Sedona Method.  She had been to a seminar and tried to explain it to me.  I didn’t really get it at the time, but it seemed interesting.  A short while later, I saw the book in my chiropractor’s office and read a few pages which sparked my interest, but didn’t really explain the method.  I still wasn’t interested enough to buy the book.  So when I started to get tired of all my emotional wrangling, I asked (of Source)  “How should I deal with this?”  The answer came back “The Sedona Method.”  I still wasn’t convinced enough to pay for the book, (after all it could have been my “imagination” that was answering, right?) so I called the person who first mentioned it to me and asked her if she could lend me the book.  She was generous enough to also lend me the CDs from her seminar.

I finally started listening to the CDs after the seminar mentioned above, and smiled as I realized that the Sedona Method is all about letting go.  I had already been guided by Source into the process of the Method before knowing that I was doing it – fun!

So what is this Sedona Method?  Based on what I’ve learned so far, it’s very simple (I love simple!)  First you acknowledge what you’re feeling.  Hale Dwoskin is the author of the book and describes “welcoming” the emotion.  I don’t relate well to the word “welcoming,” but I prefer to recognize what I’m feeling with interest.  For me, it also works to check into what is below the surface emotion.  Most often I’ve found fear in many guises – vulnerability, embarrassment, shame, doubt.  So the Method says:  Can you welcome what you’re feeling?  Could you let it go?  Would you let it go?  When?  Sometimes, as Wayne Dyer mentions in his Excuses Be Gone audiobook, you just have to be tired enough of your situation to be willing to change.  The question asked in The Sedona Method is:  would you rather continue to suffer, or would you rather be free?  It’s really that simple.  The reasons that we hold on are complicated what makes it complicated.

So, given the option, or the opportunity to be free, why would anyone continue to suffer?  I’ve found that sometimes the suffering is more familiar.  Sometimes we’ve held on to it for so long that we don’t know who we’d be without it – there is an existential fear that we would somehow cease to exist if we change our current state, or that we would lose something of who we are.  This is usually because we identify our emotions as who we are, rather than recognizing them as temporal states of being over which we can have control.  Sometimes the suffering allows us to blame someone else rather than looking at our own responsibility in the situation. And sometimes, the suffering is a cover for a deeper sense of vulnerability that we feel incapable of facing.  Dwoskin mentions in the audio series the people often step into the fire of their emotions, feel overwhelmed, and then jump right out.  The difficult emotions, however are the surface crust over the peaceful center that exists within each of us.  If we can be courageous enough to spend some time getting through the crust, we can eventually get to that peaceful core.

I’m not insinuating that it is easy. Having worked with trauma survivors in psychotherapy, and having worked with my own issues, I know that it can take time to develop the willingness and the skills to be able to experience and observe our difficult emotions without being overwhelmed.  Part of the challenge is to be able to hold our emotional states and observe ourselves gently, and with curiosity, rather than identifying our emotions as who we are:  “I am weak” is not the same as “I feel weak.”  The second statement allows some detachment from the emotion.  Mindfulness meditation or mindfulness practice helps us to cultivate the ability to hold our emotions in awareness with detachment, so that we don’t become overwhelmed.  For some people, simply being able to be present with an emotion releases its hold.

Accessing the body as an information source is also helpful.  After all, emotions live in the body.  For instance, how do you know that you’re feeling anxious?  Butterflies in the stomach, heart racing, shoulders drawn up to the ears, maybe habitual gesturing with the hands?  Sensorimotor (body-centered) psychotheraphy is based on the premise that rather than just talking, which is a brain-centered activity that happens above the neck, we must get into the place where the emotions actually exist – the body – and work with & release them there.  Perhaps this is why yoga is so effective as a healing system.  This is also why people often find emotional release through physical activity and through bodywork (such as massage or rolfing).  The body allows us to access emotional states that the mind might not even recognize or be willing to handle.  I’ve seen significant changes come about through body-centered psychotherapy both as a therapist and as a client.

So based on my interest and experience with body-centered psychotherapy, and based on my own inclination to work kinesthetically, I use this physiological awareness with the Sedona Method, recognizing where the emotions live in my body and then making the choice to let them go.  Sometimes I also like to use visual imagery, to see the emotions dissolve, and disappear into thin air.  Some people who are more verbal might like to use words or phrases.

I’ve had some interesting revelations into my own process since I started this intense work of releasing.  It has been challenging at times to accept what I’m uncovering, and at time it has been really fun  – I highly recommend it.

September 7, 2009 at 2:33 am Leave a comment

Letting Go: Part I – Forgiveness

A few weeks ago I sat down to write about forgiveness and ended up writing about being in the body in a way that allows for flow to happen – in an attitude of receiving. This is not so odd as it might seem. Forgiveness, in my view, is allowing yourself to be in the flow of Love. Judgement, anger, self-righteousness, malice, resentment, hatred are all resistance to that flow. Forgiveness is the letting go of resistance and allowing the flow to continue.

One of the biggest tricks of human emotion is the charge we get out of negative emotions (and positive ones too, but that’s for later). I’ve been known to have a temper, and I don’t know about you, but when I get really angry I can practically feel the steam rushing out of my eyes. A while ago I also noticed that I could feel my body constrict, especially in the area of my heart. I also noticed that after an outburst, the skin on my neck would crawl and I’d feel really, really low in energy – this after the big charge of energy that occurred while I was venting my self-righteous indignation at whomever had the misfortune of incurring my wrath. This big charge of energy is exhilarating, but it requires energy to maintain. It creates an internal black hole that sucks away energy from other “primary system.” Let’s not forget that since the event has already occurred, to maintain a connection to it one must essentially keep the past alive – no small task. Is it any wonder that my skin would crawl and that I’d feel spent? Who’s got that kind of energy? What would be the payoff?

Often we hold on to our anger because we’re determined to hurt the other person – to make them suffer like we’re suffering. So here I’d be, with my blood pressure raised, stress level high, immune system compromised, tired and with a headache from throwing a tantrum… Who was I trying to hurt again? Newsflash! The main person being hurt is you. And the net effect? More anger in the world.

The realization that my anger was more about me than it was about the other person came from A Course In Miracles (ACIM). One of the understandings I’ve gained from ACIM is that the world you see is the manifestation of your inner world. If something/someone is really getting to you then they represent that within you which needs to be released – i.e. forgiven. How do you do that? By letting it go so that you can free yourself from it. By releasing it in the outer world as if it never happened.

Many of us have learned to forgive by “being the better person” and acting as if everything is okay. But inside we still hold on to what was done to us, we keep it alive in a memory that is still emotionally charged. We make ourselves feel superior to the person we’ve “forgiven.” If one is to accept the premise of ACIM though, that person is actually the messenger of our own freedom, showing us vulnerable parts of ourselves which we would otherwise not be able to see, emotional blind spots, if you will. True forgiveness – letting it go as if it never happened – really allows us to forgive and free ourselves.

Driving is great forgiveness practice for me. I’ve incorporated a physical release into this practice. I feel myself harden inside as I become judgmental or angry (or hurt by someone else’s anger) and I gently instruct myself to “soften.” There is an internal feeling of quiet and a sense of coming back into my body, rather than a buildup of emotion and an outward projection of angry energy. Of course this might need to be done a few times depending on what happened – I never said it was easy to do, only necessary. Also, nowadays, when somebody really irritates me, it only takes a second to remember doing something equally inane myself. It’s easy to let go when you remember you’ve done the same thing. Thankfully, after practicing for a while, I’ve also learned to forgive myself. This is a hard lesson.

A few months ago I did something that was very hard for me to forgive: I forgot an appointment with a new client. It was a cold day and my phone was off, so they waited outside the studio for me and I came to my senses an hour later. Of course they had left in disgust. I was horrified, devastated, ashamed, and angry at myself all at the same time. I can be absent-minded at times, but this was a new level of inefficiency for me, perhaps fueled by some emotional issues I was dealing with at the time. I was scared that something was really wrong with me, but instead of being compassionate with myself, I began to berate myself in the car in front of my husband and kids. Nothing my husband said to console me was effective, but when we got home my son gently said to me: “Mommy, it’s okay, you’re not bad. You didn’t mean to do it.” That was the turning point on my journey of self-compassion. In that moment, something inside me softened toward my Self – seen through my child’s eyes. I let go. I let go of the anger and the fear and held myself in compassion. “You’re not bad.” And I got a smartphone with an alarm!

My story also brings up a key element that I think is a must when dealing with the anger that often prevents us from forgiving. I’ve learned that underneath anger, resentment, judgment, even annoyance, is fear. It is as if somehow we know that it is really about us and not about them, but it is easier to get indignant than it is to look below the surface at the real problem: our fear of facing ourselves. What if we looked deeper and found that we really felt not good enough? What if we uncovered some selfishness, neediness, fear of failure, fear of being found out for being a fraud – not a great parent or not as cultured or as brilliant as we appear? What if we uncovered a basic fear of not being able to do this life thing the right way? What if we realized we were just like the person we despise? Then what? If we couldn’t meet this realization with compassion, that would be a rough road. But if we could let go of our stories about ourselves, and other people, and acknowledge that we’re all basically doing the best we can with what we’ve got, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad.

In the end, no-one can hurt you unless you allow them to. So instead of saying that “So and so pissed me off,” we might do as so many teachers I’ve been reading recently recommend, and instead recognize: “I chose to be pissed off by So-and-so.” Then what’s to forgive? It becomes all about compassionately investigating why you allowed that to happen and uncovering your blind spot so it can’t happen again – or just letting it go.

August 19, 2009 at 1:16 am 5 comments

Becoming Strength

Several years into my yoga practice it occurred to me that I am strong. This was a revelation. At 5ft tall and 100lbs, I had always viewed myself as something of a whisp. Other people were strong, I was flexible maybe, but not strong. Later I realized that strength was more about letting go that it was about armoring. What caused my shift in perspective? Amazing teachers & my own willingness to look deeper.

Roger Eischens was an amazing teacher whose presence inspired confidence and whose work was as brilliant as it was challenging. His work was based on affecting the core through the periphery of the body, and I guess it worked for me.

Roger passed away before I realized the full effects of his work on my body and on my psyche. When I realized my upper body was strong, it was more than just a sense of physical strength. It was accompanied by a sense of power and possibility that I had never felt before in this diminutive body. People had said to me in the past: “You’re all muscle, aren’t you?” But I had never felt strong. This is when I realized that strength is much more than muscles that are well developed, but a sense of deep connection.

When I work in class on upper body strength, we work on feeling the strength of the arms from the press of the palms into the floor to the upper arm bones pressing back. This engages the lattissimus dorsi and the muscles across the shoulder blades and releases the tense activation of the trapezius muscles and the muscles of the neck. What I realized was that in my own practice I was also affecting my heart chakra with all this upper body work, and that the challenge was not to armor more, but to strengthen and support in order to open.

Sometimes we armor our bodies in ways we don’t realize when we don’t feel strong. This armoring translates into habits in the body that speak louder than our own perceptions of ourselves. A few months into this work, and feeling very confident about my strength and balance, I took a workshop with Kim Schwartz – another amazing teacher. Kim adjusted me in Half Moon. Saying “You’re going to feel as if you’re bowing” he adjusted my upper spine so that my lower ribs moved back and my shoulders forward. This simple adjustment took away that amazing feeling that I thought was strength, and brought with it a feeling of softness that was a little disturbing. Later Kim spoke of the thrusting forward of the lower ribs as indicative or arrogance, which was really was disturbing to me. Arrogance? Me? No way! I was not arrogant, I was actually shy – and here he was stripping me of the little confidence I had finally gained. He had to be wrong this time. Or maybe it was just the other people he’d adjusted who had that problem.

The magic of yoga is what the practice can reveal to you if you are willing to see. It is often the revelations that are most disturbing that contain the greatest wisdom. I couldn’t let go of that notion of arrogance, and when my resistance finally burned itself out, I had to admit to myself that he was right. I was very opinionated, and tended to become annoyed with people who didn’t hold the same opinions. And in many ways I was very pleased with myself at what I had ‘accomplished’ with my yoga practice. What also became clear was that this arrogance was the flip side of a deep sense of insecurity. The feeling of ‘bowing’ brought with it a feeling of being vulnerable.  My armor had been taken away, and I wasn’t sure if what was left was sufficient.  What was clear, however was that this place was much more open, much more receptive, and allowed more freedom than where I had been before.

In the body we thrust the lower ribs forward when there is a lack of strength across the lower thoracic spine – the third chakra/personal power area. This thrusting forward of the lower ribs is of accompanied by a lack of mobility in the side ribs, a closing in to protect the heart that also restricts the breath. When we can release the side ribs and allow the breath into the back body, the low ribs can settle into place and strength is accompanied by and inner sense of ease, a settling into the body, rather than a need to push forward. This, I believe, is true confidence – the ability to allow. I suspect this is also the place from which we develop the courage to truly see ourselves with compassion.

August 2, 2009 at 12:11 am 2 comments

Habits of the mind

A friend asked recently on Facebook whether our lives are predetermined or whether we have a choice over what happens to us.  I’m not sure I can answer this question, but what I do know is that we have a choice over our expectations of what should be.

Many so-called “esoteric” traditions (which are becoming a lot less esoteric and a lot more mainstream now) teach that a thought is the precursor to its manifestation in form.  So, what you think becomes reality – especially the more energy you put into it.  At the very least, I believe that what you think makes an imprint on your body in terms of its energy levels and functioning.  At the very most, I believe you can strongly influence the life that manifests for you by taking charge of your thoughts and perceptions and therefore your expectations.  Can you control how other people react to you?  No, but you can control how you react and interact with your world.

Yoga teaches that thoughts are powerful.  It also teaches that we have limiting thought forms (samskaras) of which we are often unaware that affect and even dictate our ways of being and our perceptions of the world.  These thought forms limit our experience of the world and we imagine that these thoughts are truths rather than just habits of the mind.  “This is just how things are,” we tell ourselves, “Nothing is going to change.”  “Love hurts.”  “I’ll never have enough money.”  “Work isn’t supposed to be fun.”  And that’s what you get – more of the same.  This becomes so habituated that we don’t even notice that we’re doing it.  Thus begins a cycle, turning around and around on this wheel of life without knowing why we’re on the wheel or how to get off.

Where did those thoughts come from anyway?  Who decided they were true?  What if you could allow for the possibility of something being different?  What if, without necessarily knowing how to change it, you could just entertain the possibility that things could change for the better?

The first step to making a change is mindfulness of these habitual limiting thoughts.  Meditation helps with this, but I’ve found the most helpful thing is to listen to myself talk.  Wayne Dyer talks about this in his DVD set “Excuses Begone.” The things that pop out of our mouths in everyday conversation can shed a lot of light on what thought patters are revolving in your head.  For example in yoga practice I used to say:  “Oh yea, that’s my bad hip.”  Yikes!  Poor hip.  I wasn’t allowing it the possibility of being anything else.  Have you said or heard people say:  “Yea, life sucks and then you die.”  Is that really what you want to manifest?

Some might argue that people don’t really mean it when they say those things – it’s just a thing people say.  Check in with your body the next time you say one of these careless phrases and see if your body knows that you don’t really mean it.  “Life sucks” has a totally different impact on your body than “I love being alive!” or “Amazing things happen all the time.”  Close your eyes and try it – say the phrases and notice how they impact your body.  You might be surprised.

If you don’t really mean it, don’t say it.  Just like your thoughts, your words have power.  If you say it enough you’ll eventually believe it.  Repeat something that builds you up instead of tearing you down – make a habit of being open to amazing possibilities.  You might be surprised at what can happen.

July 22, 2009 at 2:43 pm Leave a comment

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