On Sacred Ground

22 Apr

My father loved the topgraphy of the United States and wanted to make certain I had the same appreciation of it. When I was little, he pulled me out of school for a few weeks so we could travel across the United States in a motor home. That trip left an imprint. I remember seeing Old Faithful and Morning Glory, the Grand Tetons, and hot air balloons dotting the sky in New Mexico. I also recall Mt. Rushmore and the Bandlands of South Dakota. I have a picture of my dad with his back to the camera staring out over that dramatic landscape. My dad knew he was on sacred ground.

In South Dakota we also went to a place called Wall Drug. Founded in 1931, the store is both historic and a wonderful place to shop. I was allowed to buy a souvenir and wanted an Indian Princess doll and a pair of moccasins. I loved my Indian doll. I had her for many years.

Scroll forward forty years later. You know you travel a lot when you look at the flight departure/arrival board and think, “Okay. Which Rapid am I going to? Rapid City, Cedar Rapids, or Grand Rapids?” Clear the head. Rapid City. I’m going to Rapid City, South Dakota.

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Recently I interfaced with a number of individuals working in the Native American community. I loved hearing about the rituals and customs of the people here and was saddneded to hear accounts about the on-going impact of historical trauma, although I am aware of how deep it runs. Suicide is an epidemic in certain parts of South Dakota and racism and discrimination continues. It astonishes me what we humans do to one another and how we just don’t seem to learn how to stop mistreating one another. Personally, I have very mixed feelings about Mt. Rushmore… This land was beautiful prior to the monument, as impressive as it is. It was once someone else’s sacred ground.

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I wish we would just stopping messing with nature. We passed a dead deer on the road making me think once again, “What has our so called progress done? At what cost and at whose expense?”

Without a doubt the land here is sacred ground. Would that every step we took in life be one on sacred ground. If we could bring a sense of Spirit into the every day and realize that each step on the path can connect us to the Grandfather, I think we’d all live with more reverence, respect, and awe.

Just Say No!

17 Apr

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When I was in middle school and high school I was expected to get up at 5:30 a.m. to water the plants and take care of our animals before going to school at 8:00 a.m. This was in Southern California where delicate potted plants needed to be watered in both the morning and late afternoon. Much of our shrubbery had automatic drip and spray sprinklers but the plants that didn’t would easily die within a few days without consistent care, particularly the fragile, moisture loving flowers such as orchids and fuschias. These varieties are tropical in nature and not meant for an arid dry climate.

This was also the era of Nancy Reagan’s, “Just say no!” campaign to help young people not sucuumb to drug use. I think of that phrase now. As direct as Nike’s, “Just do it!”, “Just say no!” is a great motto, if you can adhere to it.

I bring this up because these days many of us the minute we wake up log onto the computer or our phones to check text messages and emails. There is little division anymore between work and private life. It’s all mushed into one undifferintiated mass.

I’d rather water plants at 5:30 a.m. and walk and brush two magnificent large dogs like I did when I was young than look at a screen the minute I open my eyes. It’s a more humane way to wake up. It’s more embodied; more centered; more intimate. It’s a semi- equivalent of a toddler jumping on your bed or a lover kissing one awake. When outdoors at 5:30 a.m., you see the sun rise and the way the colors shift with the an ever increasing degree of light. Even if engaged in a type of physical labor, there is something balanced in it because it involves the body fully vs. sitting sedantary at a screen.

I was raised with a midwestern, farm mentality work ethnic and that ethic is in my DNA. However, that ethic can be brutal when it’s not mixed in with nature and natural rhthms and interpersonal relationships.

Sometimes we just have to say no to work and to technology and to get into our bodies and into nature. This actually feeds productivity because relaxation restores the mind and soul. It opens new vistas. As all farmers know, sometimes you have to let the fields lie fallow in order to create a better yield. If you demand the goose that lays a gold egg each day to produce more, she can stop producing all together.

Creativity always demands a tension between inner/outer, surrender/will, rest/activity. There is day and night, light and dark, life and death, order and chaos. There is a reason on the 7th day, the Lord took a break. We must take a moment to see, “That it was good.” Otherwise, we miss the show all together.

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Practice Creates Possibilities

15 Apr

As both an artist and psychotherapist, I have long been interested in the interplay between process and product. While we strive to create a consummate product, so much of life is about the process itself. My personal belief is that honoring and surrendering to the process creates the best outcome.

Is there such a thing as perfect? And do we even want it? The quest for perfection can kill freedom, spontanity, and creativity. Great work often comes from exploratory failures. My acting teacher always says, “It’s your job to throw up. The editor will clean it up.” In essence, just let yourself be open to the flow happening – the good, the bad, and the ugly.

My yoga teacher said a similar thing last night. “There is no perfect in yoga. That’s why we call it a practice. And the minute you think you have “it”, the moment will be gone. Then you open again to the not knowing, the fumbling, the tension, and the pushing. Then you find “it” again but for a moment. The beauty though is that the practice creates possibilities. Without a practice, everything shrinks. There are few possibilities.”

This comment really struck me because there are certain things I’ve been “practicng” all my life, one of which includes acting. Now all that practice is creating possibility. I wrote, produced, and starred in a short film and just acted in my first commercial. The film is being submitted to festivals and I am auditioning regularly for new projects. Step-by-step, or as Anne Lamott would say, “bird-by-bird.” Practice creates possibilities.

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For those of you wondering about the break in these e-newsletters and my blog, I moved to Los Angeles in February and have been getting settled here while placing focus on acting and film production. In addition, I have continued teaching Mental Health First Aid instructor trainings and have maintained my private practice. I also set a firm intention to finally get my book published by 2017.

Yet I am reminded over and over again that we need to practice “being” in the midst of the doing and that ironically when we engage in that “practice” of rest and relaxation, many opportunities emerge from the resulting spaciousness. It’s a constant tension between being and doing, process and product, will and surrender. And it is our breath and spirit that sustains us through these explorations. It is always the journey that gets us to the eventual destination. Namaste.

Running Water Over Stones

25 Mar

As I watched a group of neighbors dressed in black walk to Maudy Thursday services at a nearby church, I looked down and realized that I too was dressed in black. My yoga pants were black and so was my sweater. Only the neigbhors entered the church and I walked into the funky and traditional yoga studio near my house. “I’m worshipping at a different altar tonight,” I thought. However, for me, it’s all the same altar. Prayer, meditation, yoga, nature, church fellowship, and worship are all fundamental resources that help me feel connected to God.

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Although I have taken yoga classes for twenty years, it has only been in the last few that I have started to understand yoga and to realize why having a practice is vital for my emotional, physical and mental well being. Yoga teaches me not just about my body but about how I hold stress and negative thought patterns and how I can stop the constant gripping.

I went to class last night because it was a restorative one. Restorative yoga is different than active yoga. It is specifically designed to calm the nervous system. By using props (a bolster, blocks, blankets, and a strap), you put your body in resting, open postures and hold them for a good ten minutes, if not longer. As you relax into the poses, you can actually feel when the body begins to melt into the floor or the props; you start to notice when the body begins to surrender its never ending push for control and hyper-vigilance. You notice when it starts to release the defensive and protective armor that no longer serves.

“As humans, we are always pushed into stressful states yet the body cannot hold stress and relaxation simultaneously. If we train our bodies to relax, it is physiologically impossible to hold stress at the same time,” said the teacher.

“In growth and transformation, there is always a degree of discomfort. So when you hold new poses, you might initially feel uncomfortable.” I burst out laughing. Yeah, growth and transformation can make one a wee bit uncomfortable.

The first pose we did was called something like “running water over stones.” At least this is the imagery the teacher talked about. Lying on our backs with bolsters and blankets propped to put our spines in their natural curvatures, our bodies were akin to stones that stay  solid and stationary as water runs over them. That water, that ever pulsating movement of life can wear down the stones, yet if we are solid and stationary, the water doesn’t have to push us around. We can be in harmony with the flow of life.

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There are some restorative yoga poses where the props are meant to be intrusive, pushing the body to open and stretch more actively; others that are designed for the body to simply melt and surrender.

There is also the inhalation, the exhalation, and the space between the next breath. That space is vital; it’s where the next beat of life and creativity spring from. That is the space I am most interested in harnessing, yet it is the whole flow of breath that keeps one moving through transformation and growth.

“Relax, relax!” the Saturday teacher always says to me when taking the hatha yoga class. “You’re making it too hard.” If he only knew. If he only knew how often I can make things too hard or how hard I can be on myself. It’s good to take a look in the mirror sometimes. Yet he also says like a kind grandfather (and with a twinkle in his eye), “That’s beautiful. You’re holding the pose beautifully.” It’s also good to note our progress.

Seeing the Blind Man

19 Feb

The other day I was pulling out of a gas station in Los Angeles and noticed two women helping a young man learn to navigate on his own using a walking stick for he was blind. They walked slightly ahead encouraging him on with their voices. The older of the two women saw me in the car and signalled to the younger woman to have the boy wait. But the younger women shook her head vehemently and motioned for me to halt, which I was planning on doing anyway.

She wanted the boy to keep moving forward. To keep claiming his path and his right to be. She wanted him to be couragous. Dauntless. Cars could wait for a blind pedestrian.

Only cars don’t always wait anymore. Not for blind people, or little old ladies crossing the street, or veterans in wheel chairs. The older woman knew this. The younger one did too. But the younger woman wanted the boy to become fierce. For him to fully live his life.

It’s terrifying to walk straight into the unknown. To not be able to see where we’re headed. The blind boy and the two women took my breath away. They were the most beautiful thing I’d seen all day.

An hour later I was on the highway and found myself behind a truck. Written on the vehichle were the words, “Helping Hands for the Blind.”

Do we have the faith of the blind? Can we walk with ease on paths we cannot see? And who guides us as we step out? From where do we get our vision and courage despite the risks?

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Transitioning

16 Feb

We are all in a state of transition, sometimes incrementally, sometimes more dramatically. What does it mean to move on? Whether in this life time or on into the next?

My Grandmother, perhaps the person I have loved most in my life, made her transition yesterday on Valentine’s Day. I found that very fitting. She has always been fiercely in my heart but now will be there more than ever on February 14th.

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Again, we are all in transition, eventually.

This Valentine’s Day I also said goodbye to Minou and a host of people who mean the world to me. I said goodbye to the town where I was raised and the home I’ve lived in for the last ten years.

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When we leave behind people, places and things we deeply cherish, it’s discombobalating. But in order for new experiences to emerge, we sometimes have to transition. To transition is to evolve perhaps in a spherical sense – we move forward, yet we integrate the previous and include it in our present domain.

Transitioning entails dying to what is known so that we can fully embrace new life.

 

 

The Universe Supports Boldness

27 Jan

“He who hestiates is lost,” my father used to say when teaching me how to drive. He was referring to passive drivers, those who hem and haw when changing lanes or when merging onto the freeway. They often accelerate and decelerate irradically, never making their intentions known to other drivers. The result is comparable to having the foot on the gas and brake simultaneously. “People who drive too slow or without assertiveness are just as dangerous as those who drive too fast and reckless.”

My father used to race stock cars as a hobby and was an excellent driver. I don’t know that I can say the same about my skills but his words stuck.

She who hesitates is lost.

These words apply to so many situations. A figure skater going into a jump at high speed who pauses right before lift off, typically can’t land the jump and often lands on her fanny instead. Similarly, a surfer who hesitates when the wave is cresting, won’t pop up right. He’ll end up on his knees, or won’t pop up at all. Likewise, he’ll miss the wave entirely, or it will take him at the wrong time causing him to pearl, the wave sending him into a-not- so-sweet-tumble into green and foam.

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He who hesitates is lost.

So much about life is about listening for the right moment and then committing to it with boldness. To jump on every wave does not reflect boldness; just foolishness or ignorance. Instead, the conditions need to be right. The wave needs to break with good form and without too many people on it. But when you are in the zone of a perfect wave, it is a Nike, “Just do it!” moment. Do not turn away the gift horse.

Reading the waves is an inner art form but the inner informs the outer. The impulse starts within.

“The Universe supports boldness,” a friend of mine said recently. This is such a quintessential California statement; it reads like bumper sticker. And yet it is so spot on. The Universe most definitely supports boldness. The Universe is bold herself. She is wild, she is beautiful, she is free.

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