Friday, September 27, 2013

Adding A Hill to A Hill and Remembering Tenderness

There has been a resounding theme this week. People are pretty darned stressed.  Whether it’s work, illness, relationship issues, or just too much on one’s plate and having the feeling of “losing it.” I listen and watch and I feel my own challenges and there’s one thing I keep coming back to. Tenderness toward oneself. How can we be tender towards ourselves and not jump to the next thing that ultimately boomerangs right back to us in the feeling of anger, frustration, depression, and despair?

The other week, I was running in the woods and half way through my run, there is a long, gravel, uphill path. On this day, as I started the ascent, I saw two men clearly working out. They had found two logs and set them up on the hill as stumps to jump on and off of or something to that effect. As I ran by, using all my stamina to simply get me up the hill, I passed them and said, “what, the hill is not enough?” We all laughed as I kept going out to the smooth, paved road that would begin my descent home. I ran on and thought about the ways we sometimes make things harder for ourselves. For these guys, it was intentional. Though there was already a hill there, they wanted to add more challenge. I think we often do that very thing, but unintentionally and it doesn’t feel very good. If we dealt with the first challenge, the hill, and truly took in what we had before us with compassion and support, then we wouldn’t have the additional challenge, a stump, to also deal with. The stump comes in the form of self-judgment (for not being good enough, getting it right, etc.) or blaming (if only the other person, thing was different) and it feels like anger, depression, despair. When we add that stump on top of the hill, we have two challenges and it usually snowballs as we add on more.

But, there is another way. It’s taken me a long while to understand this one and I still forget at times, but the more I practice, the more easily it returns and it has to do with tenderness, compassion, and staying with myself. Whenever I hear myself spinning about how I am not good enough or spinning about something someone said or did, I stop now and go right to the feeling. What am I feeling? And once I find the right word that describes it, I stay with it and say, “yes, of course I am feeling that” and I feel a gentleness come over me that knows that the only thing to do is to feel that discomfort, pain, loss, sadness, and be tender. If I stay there, no snowball effect happens. I don’t add on layers, the way you would add stumps to jump over on a hill. What action comes next comes naturally and comes from a kinder, more grounded place.

I wish for us all to be able to stop and feel where we are before we react and add on more layers. Answers come more easily then. Answers about what to do, how to do it and if there is no answer yet, the ability to wait with the unknown, trusting that it will reveal itself. It takes practice, but once we get it, life’s stresses take a different tone. They’re still difficult, but they don’t last as long and don’t take as big a toll on ourselves and others. And even greater, we begin to laugh more. I’m serious. Sounds like a leap to go from stress to laughter, but it happens. It makes sense, really. If you think about being kind to yourself, anger then dissipates, frustration lessens and our vision opens to what is around us. When we slow down and take ourselves in, we ultimately take in the sights and sounds around us in a new way.  It’s an openness, a softness to all experience. Joy naturally arises from that place.

As I see the difficulties people are facing and my own, I send us all wishes for presence, the ability to slow down and feel and to stay with ourselves tenderly.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Falling Into Love

My last completed solo started with me in a spotlight raising a tissue to my eye in slow motion. In time, I let it go billowing to the floor, as I fell backwards running, the light opening up to take me on a journey that lasted for a non-stop, high paced 20 minutes. I made that dance after one of those losses in life that we all have to go through at some point. Sometimes the loss happens sooner than we expect or are prepared for, but we all share in that common experience of losing one of the closest people to us. In retrospect, there were many gifts in that loss, gifts that could only be understood in time, gifts that can’t be comprehended in the actual moment of losing. But, sometimes, even these seemingly big life losses don’t prepare us for the one loss that actually disrupts everything. The one that takes the ground underneath us and seems to keep us falling for a period that is unfathomably long. A fall we can’t imagine being able to recover from. But, we do. And, when it happens life can no longer be what it was. We are changed in a way that we know we can’t go back to our old way of being. The difference in this experience (and it may not be a life lost, it could be a relationship ended, a career closed, a dead end met) is in knowing that despite anything that happens in this short period we get to be on earth, nothing can take from us our ability to love. It is untouchable. Our capacity to be generous, kind, playful, joyful, warm, wondrous can’t be taken by anyone or anything. It is almost superhero like in its power. It is a profound understanding and one I wouldn’t trade any loss for.

Knowing that all losses coming forward, of which there will be many, won’t take this understanding from me, gives me humbled strength and courage. Everyday we have moments of losing, of struggling, of floundering, of fumbling and of forgetting our value.  But, even if we temporarily forget, we have the ability to recall. To recall this inner, unshakable understanding that love resides in us and that we can choose to handle any situation, any conversation, any interaction with kindness and genuine care, is an amazing gift. It is the one thing that we do get to take with us when we experience our own inevitable leaving. It is a pretty powerful thing to own. I often wonder if it is possible to arrive at this place in youth. Why not? If it can somehow be taught, experientially, early on, that love is all we really have, what a world this would be! It is beyond having good self-esteem or having good morals. It would involve learning a softness, a tenderness, toward oneself that knows the value of self-care, of compassion, of being able to remember what matters. I do think we can do that, at a young age, if it is reflected around us.

And so, on days when difficulties arise or, even simpler, in those commonplace, daily moments when we lose inspiration, motivation, meaning, self-worth, we can say to ourselves, “hey there, you’ve forgotten love, you’ve forgotten that no one or thing or situation has taken it from you. Go and love. Love yourself for your courage to feel and not run. Love the tree that manages to grow on that city corner. Love the ornate, cast iron grating on the door on 9th Street. Love the dog wagging its tail as it walks ahead of you, delighted to be outside. Love the person who looks you in your eyes as you pass and acknowledges the life in you. Love the person behind the counter who made it to work and helps you, though you know not what struggles she may be going through. Love because you can and that’s all there really is to do here.”

Monday, September 16, 2013

Downed Trees

Lately, there has been a tree down across the path in the woods where I run. Usually, when trees come down on these trails, I am amazed and grateful for the mysterious volunteers who come in and remove them. Each time I run by a newly cleared path, I say a little thanks for whoever took the time to tend to the woods. But, for some time now, the downed tree near the entrance to the trail has not been removed and I find myself saying thanks for that, too. That old, fallen beauty, which could be seen as an obstacle, has become something that enlivens me instead. Its place on my path has had the odd effect of allowing me to feel my agility, my youthfulness, my coordination. I run toward it, without slowing down, step up onto the trunk, and push off feeling that brief second of suspension and quiet in the air. A beautiful break in the rhythm of my footfall, the way composers insert a rest in a piece of music that makes what comes after even more poignant. I’ve come to like it there. But, what of the downed tree in my computer?

In recent weeks, I’ve had to tend to more technology issues than I am accustomed to. My profession doesn’t require me at a computer all day, so when problems arise I am more at a loss as to how to fix them. I can get easily frustrated thinking, "I have work to do in a limited amount of time and now I won’t get it done." Slight panic and fear arise, like water starting to boil in a teakettle. The whistling screech starts to build. The kind you want to turn off before it reaches its full volume. But, what if I could see the problem as just a tree down in my computer? What if the problem itself was part of the path and not something in the way? Instead of tending to what I had planned, I now I have this before me. What if I could just bend like branches do in the wind? The problem asks of me to pause, which I don’t always want to do. It asks of me to seek help, which I don’t always want to do. It asks of me to include it, which wasn’t part of my plan. As my first meditation teacher used to say, “this, too.” And “this, too,” is part of it. When I think of it this way, I don’t struggle so much. It might be annoying, but maybe it’s just what wants my attention first and can I trust in the necessity of that?

There is another, smaller downed tree further on in the trail. That one is more like a hiccup as I run over it. And then, there is the occasional huge fallen tree that requires me to stop and find may way around, under, or through it. Whatever the size, my latest strategy is to ask myself, “can I make this part of my path and not something in the way, not something separate?”  Self doubt, traffic, pain, the unexpected bill, a hard conversation with someone, not knowing the next step, being gripped by overwhelm, all of it is just part of my life. I might not like it, but I could have a kindness toward myself as I bend to meet it. It's a gentler way of being the world. Imagine if we could all practice dealing with whatever arises without trying to make it fit our plan and instead saying, "huh, I wasn't expecting this, but here it is, and I'll be tender with myself as I handle the step that is now before me."

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Hitting Me Like Acorns

Yesterday, I was running and the signs of fall were hitting me like acorns dropping from trees. Hard and benign. Hard because, as much as I love the fall, it leads to winter, which I seem to have inherited a struggle with. Benign because the trees, which shed the acorns, have no bad intentions and are simply taking their natural and rather beautiful course of letting go and planting seeds. I felt the first signs of fall underfoot as I stepped on newly surrendered leaves and caught flashes of occasional color under and around me. As I continued to run out of the woods and onto the road, I saw, every now and then, a leaf falling. It was in that moment that I decided, “I need to make some fun of this.” And so, I've set a new challenge for myself that will remind me to enjoy the season and not miss it in my fear of the darkness, cold, and too many layers of claustrophobic clothes that follow it. The challenge is that I catch a leaf...even just one, sometime on one of my runs this fall. This is not such an easy feat. Not only will I look funny, swerving with my arms extended as if praying to a flighty god only I can see, but I’ll also have to remember to look at the oncoming cars and not scare the puzzled drivers and myself.  
That was my first enjoyable thought for autumn. Then, as I ran downhill alongside the meadow, I saw a black Mercedes coming in my direction. It had, what I thought was, a curious emblem on the grille of the car, so I watched it as we approached each other. When it was close enough, what I thought was some kind of sign, was really a big, yellow, maple leaf stuck to the grille from the pressure of the wind against it. I laughed out loud. There was something amusing about this shiny, black, expensive car curving along the winding road with a huge beautiful maple leaf sealed to its front. It came at me as if to say, "yes, fall is coming, enjoy me!" In fact, it was a sign. I ran home delighted with the energy of knowing I can keep searching for the fun in what is right here, right now. And right here, right now is the coming of fall and that is all.

I welcome hearing any thoughts or practices around the fall you may have. Oh, and since this is happening to me, if you drive and hear the occasional acorn hitting the roof of your car with that particular thud, or you see one fall in front of your car, just missing it as you drive, then too, you can smile or laugh at the profound nature of a season that’s about letting go, with its remarkably colorful exit, and pulling in to be able to flourish again.

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Empty Studio

I began choreographing solos this way. The theme wasn’t there, the title was far from being known, the room was empty. The only grounding I had was in an inner voice that had something begging to be shared. In that I trusted. It would, inevitably, begin the journey of creating, leading me through moments of insight, clarity and excitement at what was emerging. At other times through mountains of struggle, where I would get stuck in the mud and often need some outside help to pull me through (or at least get me off the floor, where I’d inevitably end up lying, staring hopelessly at the ceiling). The help always arrived (though, it has taken me years to realize that and trust in that process now). The dance would be completed and the terror and thrill of performing it would send me on that slide of emotions that come after the applause, with the descent of post-performance vulnerability and emptiness. Like the strange quiet after a much anticipated storm and you’re left standing there exhausted, wondering what to do from there and what was all of that about anyway? We all have these moments, in different ways, don't we?

And so, I begin this blog.  Unclear, yet, as to what it is I am embarking on, with only the passion of putting down into words what insights and questions arise as I explore how to live with greater presence and ease, more compassion and kindness, and how to remember to tap into that renewable spring of wonder and inspiration. But, there are a couple of differences between what I used to do and entering this new, empty studio. One is that I have learned to be a little calmer with the “not knowing” process. Not knowing how something will go and actually enjoy not knowing or, at least, struggling to be okay with not knowing. The second is that while I will still deal with the aspect of vulnerability here (how can anything of value come without this?), I won’t be dealing with that post-performance day at the amusement park crash. In fact, this will be the opposite, an enjoyment of a continued process, with no big climaxes to recover from. It will, instead, hopefully, remind me what is important and echo the way I aspire to live. To stay in the process and not rush through it to some end or award that we ultimately don’t get to take with us anyway. And, I’ll get the gift of sharing the process with people who choose to participate in the dialogue. What a gift that is!  I hope you will join me on this journey if the content sparks a place in you that asks similar questions and I welcome you to share yours. I do believe, more and more as I get older, that to put into words or art or some form, the experiences that wake us up and enliven us, we strengthen our ability to tap into them more easily and more abundantly. Thank you for walking with me. Our first path in the woods will be coming soon.