What’s On The Other Side?

27 May

My father was a huge Steinbeck fan. When I was as young as five years old I was subjected to listening to entire passages read from the author’s novels. Wanting to watch cartoons or to read myself on a Saturday morning, I’d instead be interrupted by Dad as he puffed on a cigarette, sipped Coca-Cola and played James Taylor on the turn table.

One passage from the “Red Pony” perplexed me because my dad said it was beautiful and I didn’t understand why. Beauty to me had to do with pretty dresses I saw in fashion magazines. In it a boy asks his father what is on the other side of the mountains. “More mountains, I guess. Why?” “And on the other side of them?” “More mountains, why?” “More mountains on and on?” The dialogue goes back and forth with the young boy asking if anyone knows what is in-between the mountains. “Oh, a few people do, I guess. But there’s nothing there to get. And not much water. Just rocks and cliffs and greasewood. Why?” “It would be good to go.” “What for? There’s nothing there.”

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I always think of this passage when I hike. I find myself asking, “What’s on the other side?” as I move up and down the trails.

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It is good to go even when there is nothing to “get.” In fact, it is best to go with no intention of getting at all.

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I love the little boy’s inquisitiveness and insistence. I also love the strength and majesty of the mountains.

I look up and they are always there. They have not moved. They shape the confines of my life the same way a good parent’s presence stands gently in the backdrop or the way Spirit gently graces one’s experiences.

We humans are always looking outward curious about our surroundings – where we came from, where we are, and where we’re headed. I take to the hills to guide me through my journey the same way I grab a board to propel me through water’s motion, time, and space. What’s on the other side and in-between is the Mystery – so much grander and bigger than us and so much more miraculous.

 

My T.V. Little Girl: On Motherhood and Mother’s Day

13 May

There is nothing more masochistic than going to church on Mother’s Day, yet I do it every year. I do it to remember that I had a mother and that we all came from the womb of a mother. I do it to pay tribute to holidays that celebrate family life and community. I do it so that my heart doesn’t calcify. I do it to stay connected to a mother who loved me despite the tragic way her life ended.

It’s never a fun day really. No matter how much I think that enough time has passed, the tears start halfway before I get to church. It’s one of the few days I think about my mom’s suicide yet it’s important to remember it. I go into the sancturay wearing sunglasses and sit at the back of the church by myself. Although I am alone, I know something Higher sits there with me, as it did the day the police called asking if I could identify a body. I had waited five days for that call after receiving a suicide note in the mail.

At church someone always puts a foot in the mounth. Someone always wishes me happy mother’s day and then retracts it when he or she discovers I’m not one.  And that’s okay. I’m used to it. I’m there anyway because I want the connection to humanity. I want to remember when I visited church with my mother on Mother’s Day and to focus on the fact that motherhood is a creative force vital within all of us. I also feel enormous gratitude to the myriad number of women who have mothered me over the years.

Recently I had the opportunity to play a mom in a t.v. commercial. Although I’ve “mothered”  many as a therapist, teacher and nanny, I’ve never played the role or had the title. Yet in the commercial, I am the MOMMY. How I love that word. All the real life mommies were off set, while this MOMMY was on camera. It was the most surreal moment because for a brief moment in time, I lived a dream I’d always had. For the morning, I hosted a birthday party complete with balloons, screaming kids, and a daughter certain her parents were aliens. It was wonderful.

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Life is wondrous. But the imagination even more so because it allows us to live many realities. I also had another little girl on screen recently who was equally delightful.

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I go to church on Mother’s Day to remember my mother and to remember that I am still a daughter who loved being a mommy when I played pretend.

 

 

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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