Wednesday, April 23, 2014

If You Could See What I See On The Subway

I was on the A train going downtown on my morning commute today when I found myself doing this thing I do from time to time. I looked at the people sitting on the train and turned them into their kid selves. I imagined what they would look like as 4-6 year olds. I don't know if it is because I have kids or what, but I can picture these strangers of all ethnicities in their childhood suits easily. I immediately start smiling at the picture before me. These people have no idea that I am thinking or even seeing them on the train. I am the only one in on the secret, but gosh, if they could see what I see, they would likely smile, too.

I didn't realize, in the moment, why I had launched into this mind game this morning, but in retrospect, I am aware of the unconscious self-help that was going on. There I was at Penn Station feeling a need for something. I felt a longing and a vague sense that, in some way, I was not okay. It wasn't an awful feeling or a big struggle by any means, but was present enough for me to be aware of it. I walked through Penn Station with my headphones on, with this unfulfilled feeling, my eyes scanning the crowded busyness of people going in all directions. I was taking in the world and seeing details of interactions, as if in slow motion, with my private soundscape playing. I was both in the scene and removed from it. It's like having too much to drink, except it is so much better, because I'm in control. It was when I actually got on the subway that I realized I didn't need to shut the world out just because I was needing something, in fact, it's always better to let people in. So I did by looking at people's faces and seeing their vulnerable, human selves. That's when the kid game began. In finding the child in the serious faces of these adults, I could see others' vulnerabilities and be in touch with my own. It filled me with compassion and warmth for this human endeavor we are all on. I felt so much better. I walked out of the West 4th Street subway and walked with a more open and gentle sense in my body. The world became so much larger than me, which is what it really is.

The next time you are stuck in a feeling, would join me in this game? It might be that transforming who you see into their childhood selves might transform you, too. Please let me know if it does!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

What Would It Be Like?

Last weekend, I watched three talented, beautiful, sexy women of different ages perform an evening of songs in an intimate setting of a friend's living room. Golden voices emanating through the microphones. Women sure of who they are and what they were singing about. I marveled at them in dresses which hugged their different shapes and revealed their flawless legs, unapologetic in their presence, confident. I watched them speak, sing, and gaze out to the audience with an artistry and boldness that made me smile with joy and pride as I sat in the safety of my chair.

In the safety of my chair, I wished I possessed that kind of bravura. What would it be like, I wondered? To wear a tight dress with all my curves and to stand before a group and sing confidently of tortured love? What would it feel like to toss my hair to one side and to know I was talented and attractive and not hide? I sat there and beamed with delight at what these others could muster.

A couple of nights later, I  was watching a TED Talks video of a psychologist speaking about stress. I wasn't sure if I was captivated by what she was saying or by how amazingly put together she was. Probably both. She appeared articulate, intelligent, charming, and  all around beautiful. Her delicate waves of hair naturally framing her face and her makeup subtle and just right. Her voice calm and soothing. Again, I thought, wow, what would that be like? This wasn't the first TED Talks video where I thought to myself, my gosh I am so small in comparison. The women presenting look as though they have it all together, are utterly "successful" and, in my small-minded thinking, must have it all. Their knowledge and sophistication shine; they speak with clarity and assurance; their words come easily and everything appears effortless. Watching, I felt like a bull in a china shop simply sitting in my chair.

That's the honest truth of what goes on in me in some moments. And then...I remember. What it looks like on the outside and what it feels like on the inside don't automatically match up. That is not to say that these women aren't as magnificent as they appear to me, but that they don't necessarily feel that way. How many years did I get on stage and appear strong and confident and look powerful and genuinely at home in my skin? Did it feel like that? Sometimes and sometimes not and no one else knew the difference. It could be that I, too, look like I've got it all together despite what I sometimes feel. Maybe I am really no different from these women who so impress me.

After I do all of that spinning in my head, like a top that finally loses its momentum, I come down to the ground again and my forgetfulness leaves. I close my eyes and breathe. I feel the simplicity of sensation, of my lungs filling and emptying of air. I feel my chest and abdomen riding the wave of each inhale and exhale and I remember that we all do that. We all breathe the same way, on the same earth. We are all making our way with the struggles and gifts of life. We all get old and sick and we all return to the earth in the end. What a relief. From here, I recall what truly matters. I can tap into the genuine joy I felt as the women let the first beautiful sounds fly from their beings that night. I can appreciate the imprint the psychologist made on me and how the gift of her message was captured for us all to learn from. I can admire her courage. 

When I get out of my thoughts and come back into my body, I have the space to step back and see our collective human vulnerability and beauty and feel at home again. I can remember that what matters to me is not how much I know, or how I appear, or whether I can impress. What matters to me is that I connect with living things. That I spend my time waking up and being present to whatever happens in this short time I am here. I will touch people simply by doing that. We all have that capacity. Whether I look and sound the part is unimportant and would actually get in the way if that is what I let lead me. That we exist and are awake is enough. So when I get lost in those moments of comparing and feeling less then, as we all do, I want to do what I began doing that night those three women started singing. I want to bask in being delighted with this life and what we are all capable of. And so, when I find myself saying, "I wonder what it would be like if I...," I can respond by saying, "I already know." I simply need to breathe and let my smile remind me of my purpose and that the place that I think is missing already resides inside.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Courage, It's Not What It Feels Like

Spring is finally showing itself and I am relieved to feel the part of me that "notices" is awakening again. Coming out of the recesses is my desire to see details and to be delighted and excited. Thank goodness. Nature is about to burst forth and shower us with growth. I think of it courageously sprouting from the saturated ground and popping out from the stiff bark of the seemingly endless bare branches everywhere. That incredible movement is what I would call courageous and is what has surfaced over the past week.

When I hear the word "courage," what comes to mind, however misguided it is, is the description of someone brave, strong and clear, who launches off to do some daunting task without hesitation. When I think of my life and of the things that I did that I could now say took a good deal of courage, I know I did not feel strong, clear, and brave in the moment. Most of the time, I felt scared, uncertain, somewhat tortured, and on unsteady ground. It is only after the fact that I could recognize that what I did was actually courageous. What the courageous person does have in the moment is a deep understanding that something must be done, some change, some action, some step taken. This is done despite not knowing how it will turn out or if she can accomplish it at all. I recognize that it is not my thoughts that are courageous, no matter how detailed I play them out. It is when these thoughts actually move me. It is when I move out of thinking, or fantasizing, or dreaming to living it.

I look around me lately and I see acts of courage everywhere. I see clients who have been physically and emotionally suffering, who come to the conclusion that there must be another way that entails a completely different approach in their thinking and being. I can see the hesitation, the fear, the doubt, the frustration, but then the action, no matter how small, the change in direction, the willingness to try something unknown or simply the ability to stay present. That is courageous, but they don't see it, not yet. I think of the moments in my life where I took an action, like when I decided to double up my 11th and 12th grade years of high school so I could get out early and follow my path in dance. Or, the action of repeatedly going out on stage alone. Or, when I chose my first partner in life, despite the objections of family around me. Or, when I decided to go back to school at night and on the weekends while also working and dancing. Or, being present with a dying parent. Or, coming home from the hospital with newborn twins. Or, a more recent change in my life that disrupted everything comfortable, familiar, planned, safe. In most of those significant events, I felt frightened, or overwhelmed. At times, I was in pain and suffering. The image that comes to mind this week was standing across from Penn Station on a very windy night looking at five American flags waving fiercely in the wind, while the sixth one was all twisted around the poll. Sometimes a brave act actually feels like that tangled flag. If, at any point in my life, someone had said that what I was doing was courageous, the word would have sailed right over me and landed on a character in a book on my shelf. Not on me.

But now, I understand what courage really looks like and I see tremendous amounts of it all around me. I see it in the people who take an action, despite the huge risk of losing something, which we must do. We lose something in the courageous act because we let go of where we were. We leave something behind to stand up for something greater, or to get to another place, or to bring something to fruition, or to risk ourselves for another. The courageous person, unconsciously makes room for loss. Loss of what is comfortable, easy, safe, predictable, known. It is a sacrifice to something that holds hope.

This goes out to all of you who are taking actions that feel frightening, that sometimes feel like driving in thick fog. They are actions that you can't know are going to lead somewhere "good," but call your name and some truth in you responds. You might not feel courageous, but the rest of us watching, can see it. At some point, you, too, will look back an say, "wow, that took a lot for me to do." If you're in the middle of some transition or just stepping off a cliff, I bow to you in the confusion, in the uncertainty, in the determination. We can't know our own courage, but what we can know is trust in some inner, aware, shaky, but unequivocal voice tells us that we must do something and in hope, which, in the end, is what moves us.