Friday, May 30, 2014

Permission Slips

When we were little, we needed permission slips signed by our parents to go on field trips, or to stay late, or, as I received yesterday, to take a classroom guppy home. I'm not little and I'm not in school anymore, but lately, I'm wishing that as adults we could have permission slips signed by someone on our behalf. I'm imagining setting up a booth at Union Square where people could tell me what they needed permission to do. I could fill in the blank on a yellow slip of paper and sign it and the person could go on her merry way. No, I'm not talking about permission to buy car, or eat a third cupcake, or move to a tropical island, though those are all possible. It's the deeper and much more subtle internal requests that come knocking at our doors that need our blessing. Most of the time, I think we don't even know that we need to offer it. But, more and more, I am starting to believe that we do, in fact, need a permission slip signed.

The subject began when I found myself repeatedly asking my clients as they laid down to give themselves permission to let their weight fall into the table, that they didn't have to support themselves for the next hour. I ask them to acknowledge to themselves that they can let go. What I am seeking is their own permission because without it, we are running uphill from the start. And it's okay to run uphill, to not have permission, as long as we know that is what we are doing, and then we can work with that "no," which is the real issue. But, if we do get a "yes," the road is going to be smoother and we can get further than if we never asked.

So that's how it began, but it prompted me to think about the things I want and whether or not I give myself permission to receive them or even to want them. This might sound insignificant on the surface, but I believe it is huge. How can we possibly have what we want if we don't first give ourselves permission to receive? Without permission, we might actually get what we want or it might be staring us in the face, but we never feel we "have" it because that "yes" from ourselves was missing. The "yes" opens us up to it.

This week, for example, I am feeling a deep need to be inspired by someone. Not by nature or a thing, but by a person. I can ask myself, "Jean, do you have permission to be inspired by another person right now?" It seems simplistic, but when I truly ask myself out loud, it becomes more real and has an essential gravity to it. I am asking for something from my heart and granting it a big "yes." I do have permission to be inspired by another human being. I am much more likely to find that person because I have acknowledged the need and that I am worthy of whatever it is, and I can open my eyes and heart to discovering this person. If I want love in my life, for example, I need to ask, "hey Jean, do you have permission to be loved?" It's no small question. Try it. Ask yourself out loud right now if you have permission to be loved. What does it make you feel to be asked? Some part of me says "wow, do I?" Then, comes a response of "yes," and the significance of those three letters is that they open my heart to receiving. Or maybe I sense a tentativeness behind the yes and that becomes something to be aware of. What part of me doesn't think so? On other weeks it could be more prosperity in my work I want, or more ease in my day, or simply the chance to read a novel in a coffee shop. What I know now is that until I have my own permission, I can't possibly get what I want. If I offered permission to myself more often, I might actually be full.

How many of us know the experience of being so busy and of having too much on our plates for too long and then we find ourselves on vacation or a day off and we can't relax. We don't know how. Something feels disappointing in it. It's because we haven't gotten that permission slip signed yet. How about we decide to start mindfully asking and listening? We can ask ourselves throughout the day or week all kinds of things. Do I have permission to put the things I have to do on a shelf for one hour and let myself rest? Can I let this willing person take care of me? Do I have permission to want more from this relationship, job, experience? Do I have permission to not feel well? That's a really tough one. Whenever we feel a need or want arise, we can pause in the seeking and remember to first see if we are allowed to have it. I am learning not to assume it is automatically there. There is great awareness that happens in that moment of pausing and checking in with ourselves.

Asking for permission is ultimately asking if I can let myself receive. We receive with open palms and arms, chest exposed, with some cleared space in our minds to take in what we are inviting. When the request is genuine and when the gift is received with gratitude, not expectation, it is a vulnerable stance we take. It must be soft. If we are hardened, it bounces right off us. And to be vulnerable, we must let go of control, to be willing to not know what comes after the asking. We don't know what will happen, but we are willing to see. This is not such an easy thing to do, but when we practice it, the world opens up in a beautiful way. So to receive, we need permission and it's often closer than we realize. But, when you can't find it, as we sometimes can't, look for me around Union Square. I'll gladly give you my signature until yours comes available.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Nothing Greater

I had a poignant conversation with a dear client this week. He was talking about the latest treatment he was going for to seek an answer to his painful condition. His hope is resting in it working. He commented with certainty that the device is said to be the most powerful healing treatment around. I paused trying to hold back what instinctively surged up through me in reaction, afraid that what I know to be the most powerful remedy would sound like something from the movie Frozen or that maybe I'd belt out some Broadway song. I was afraid to be laughed at in ridicule by this super smart, all about science man before me, who has clearly done his research. We searched each other's eyes for what was about to happen next in the conversation and there was no other way for me to say, "the most powerful thing is love." So I said it, just like that. He didn't laugh.

I've spent 12 years working with people and their aches, pains, and sorrows. And, I've also witnessed their sense of relief, their joys, and openings. I've spent 39 years working with my own. I wish I could say I knew some external technique I could package or apply that would heal us of the things that cause us suffering. I have learned many tools and continue to keep learning, and they help, and of course, there are many medical treatments out there people need in order to survive. But, without a doubt, the greatest healing I ever received came in the form of love. It came from teachers, people in healing professions, friends, animals. The love came from them and filled me and it taught me how to love myself. "To love myself," those words sound so cliche, so over-used, so simplified. It is a basic truth, that this is what healing does, yet I know there is nothing simple about learning how to love one's self (and therefore to learn how to love others).

When I think back over the experiences that had the most profound impact on my overall health, there are people associated with them, not things or techniques. The first experience was with my 7th grade English teacher. He saw the beauty in me that I could not see and he was not afraid to say it, and to fight for me to see it. From then on, there were a series of people like this who gradually showed me, layer after layer, what I couldn't see. And each time, it was something slightly different. I didn't know, at the time, that what I was receiving was love and that I was learning how to love. Now, I recognize it when it comes, but I had to grow to that point of receiving. At first, we just need to be loved and feel what that actually is without knowing it.

The greatest thing and what makes me smile with excitement just at the thought is that we can all do this for each other. We can, on a daily basis, point out the goodness in another. We can genuinely seek and share the beauty we see and feel. I write this and am absolutely delighted. I want to do more of it. What better thing is there to do with our time? And what better thing to do than to continue to learn how to recognize when someone is giving to us? These days, when I feel a connection with someone, I don't let it slip away. Whether it is a teacher, a friend, a colleague, a therapist of some sort, a client, an animal, a flower or tree, I try my best not to take it for granted. Sometimes I do miss, but my eyes are open and eventually I hope I will see it.

Healing comes in the form of many techniques and some come in a packaged form, but lasting healing must come from love. That I do believe. My chronically tight back took years of healing, but the real change came when the person who worked with me didn't see my back, but saw me. Whether he knew it or not, that was love at work. 

It might seem far fetched to link love to healing extreme physical pain, but if we were to look at it closely, we can see how entwined love and healing are. So many physical ailments begin with some missing, neglected, overlooked, overused, parts of ourselves. They are never our fault. They begin and morph into a series of reactions over time so that their origin gets lost. We learn how to walk, move, hold, and how to care for ourselves a certain way based on so many variables. Some of it is cultural, hereditary, and learned. Much of it has to do with how we feel about ourselves and how we were/are cared for. So much of that comes down to love, being gentle with ourselves, and of others being gentle with us. And then, there are ailments that befall us that no matter how much care we took and others took, we had no control over their arrival. With those, the importance is in the love we take and know now. Not that we didn't before, but it is an opportunity to know love in an even greater way. All suffering has that as its gift if we choose to see it.

How do we learn to love ourselves? We gradually find those lives that see ours under all the outer layers, costumes, and shields we wear and we begin to learn. We start to see what they see. We start to see what is naked and true. It takes time. I am still, and always will be, finding those people who show me the bare truth of who I am.

If there is anything I can say I truly aspire to do in my life, it is to know and share love without reservation. I am grateful for this client of mine, as I am for all of my clients. He may be in pain, of which I wish nothing more than for it to subside. In his suffering, he reminds me of the necessity of love. Without it, we cannot heal. I wish him, and all beings, love and the relief it brings. 

Friday, May 9, 2014

After We Get What We Want

This week, after years of trying, I achieved a goal I had been reaching for in my work. I had booked the number of clients I aspired to have in a week. It was an ideal day when I realized I had arrived at this place. I walked my dog in the warm spring sun, under the blue sky, alongside the blossoming cherry trees and felt relief and joy. As is my nature, I started to reflect on the ever changing states of joyfulness and suffering. It can't simply be that I get what I want and the difficulty in me goes away. I know better. I walked on and really took it on. I imagined what it would be like if I had the things I think I want. For an American, I think my wants are rather humble. But even so, I played the game of what if. What if I had the relationship I want (even with its innate difficulties), if my one bedroom place suddenly had another bedroom, if I continued to have enough clients. I closed my eyes and imagined them suddenly being a reality and sensed what it would feel like in my body. I asked myself, "would there still be the ache of longing, or a subtle anxiety, an inescapable loneliness, or an underlying restlessness coursing through me, however mild?" I threw the question out there and the answer came boomeranging back, "yes, there would be!" I knew it was true so I threw it back out and asked the bigger question, "what do we do with this perpetual yearning?"

I then thought of my morning's parenting moment and saw my answer. I was walking with my 6 year old daughter to school and she was telling me how she was suffering over the fact that a friend of hers wasn't paying attention to her. That the girl was now playing games my daughter didn't want to play at recess, that she wasn't engaging with my daughter on line or talking with her between activities as she had before. This issue with her friend keeps returning. I could hear my daughter's hurt and how she was turning it into blame. I thought to myself, wow, this human condition of people pushing and pulling at one another starts at an early age. I wished my daughter could see that she didn't need to chase after anyone and yet, I knew the reality that we all go through this struggle throughout our lives. Hopefully we learn from the experiences as we age and handle them more compassionately and gracefully, but ultimately, as long as we are in relationship to others, we will endlessly face the challenge of meeting each others needs. All there is to do is to surrender to what we feel and in the softening find some peace. The answer to the struggle is to simply feel the struggle. Just like the answer to our desire for something more is to simply feel the desire. I know it's not what we want to hear (and I am not at all suggesting that we don't try to get what we want). Some days I can't hear it and that's okay, too. The gift is still there for us to receive when we are ready. Trying to explain that to a child is another story, but she was listening and often I think children get things faster than adults do.

Whenever I get in touch with wanting something I don't have, I think there is something I need to do about it. Can't I fix it? It is as if I were to fix the outside thing, the inside would be fine again. But, if there's something getting what we want shows us, it is that another want will arise. I could circle around on that never ending loop, or I can sit down and sense what is going on in my body and breathe with it, letting it be there just as it is. It is in practicing staying in the present moment that allows us to feel the unmet need, (longing, desire, unrest), and enables us to bare it and find its fulfillment. Its fulfillment is our own comfort. We can distract ourselves from feeling this place by keeping ourselves busy or wrapped up in crises (our own or others), in blaming people or things, or in perpetually fixing. But, if we are ever forced to settle down by some significant change, this place of yearning will present itself and when we can bare to stay present, there is an intangible reward it offers.

Though I may get what I need in life (actually, I often do, but maybe not in the form or time frame I expect it), some part of me is always going to long for something. In that understanding, I can breathe a sigh of relief. There is nothing more I need to do than continually see the gifts I already have. I can enjoy walking by a beautifully flowering tree or some ornate piece of iron on an old brownstone door, or the sensation of rain touching my skin, or cherishing the shared laugh with a friend, or appreciating the fact that I turn on the faucet and water flows. The comfort (peace, love, whatever we call it) we need to make us feel complete, and not in need of anything more, comes from within.

It could be that next week, I will have all the clients I need or it could be that my daughter will have her friend's attention. Either way the wanting will inevitably arrive at some point, but maybe we can find some refuge in the idea that the real answer is not in fixing it, but in feeling it and finding compassion. The rest takes cares of itself. 

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Breathing With Bears

Last weekend, I took my children to see the Disney film, Bears. I thought we were seeing a typical animated movie, not a documentary, so I wasn't prepared for the 90 minutes of anxiety I had to sit with as I watched a momma bear protect her cubs from other large, four legged animals with big teeth, avalanches, and shortages of food. So much for a relaxing night at the movies. Two days later, I brought my kids to school and as I walked my dog before heading to the train, I again felt a subtle, but pervasive sense of anxiety coursing through me. I had to remind myself, that everything was really fine. The kids were safe, happy, and on time for school. I had a full day of clients to see. I had enough money for the week. I had a roof over my head, clothes, and food. I was healthy. I was going to be able to run. The sun was even out. Everything was in fact really good, so why the anxiety? Bears! That's why. As many experts on the brain tell us, we are wired that way. We live on shaky ground. Even if we're not physically located in an earthquake zone, we are perpetually up against rumbling forces, against inevitable change. So, of course we don't automatically relax just because a fox or tremendous bear isn't preying on us in the very moment. How does our whole being know to let our guard down? This is an interesting challenge and is something I keep exploring in my life and work. It's not enough to have the thought that I'm not in danger, and that I can be at ease, I need to connect the thought to my body. Only then, can I actually let go.

Having the intellectual understanding that I am not in danger is very different than literally saying to myself, "Jean, in this moment, everything is okay; you are safe" and then sense, not think, but sense a softening in my eyes and face, in my shoulders and chest. I can bring my attention to my inhale and exhale and feel my ribs and abdomen move and not hold them in as if wearing an invisible corset. I can choose to soften the shell that holds me and carries me through this life. To think we're okay is not enough, we must physically sense it for change to happen. The best way I know to do it is through conscious breathing. It's the greatest free app we have. All we need to do is click on it.

No matter what comes up that makes my mind and emotions spin like a top, I can come back to my breath, and it's as if I put my finger up against the whirling and the spinning top comes to a dead halt. If I am in a difficult emotional place, it doesn't stop the suffering, but from there, I can create enough space to say, "wow, I am really sad (or anxious, or scared, or lonely, or in deep longing), but even in this suffering, I am okay." From there I breathe in and out the sensations of these feelings with compassionate attention and not have to do anything more. I can feel my chest constrict, my field of vision narrow, my body feel heavy, but I can breathe into it and sense an okay-ness within the difficulty. And, I'll keep coming back to doing that for as long as the feeling is present. It might be throughout a whole day or it may be just an hour, or maybe it's a week, or a month, or a year where I have to keep reminding myself I am okay and can breathe.

When I lived in the city and went to the deep country on artist retreats, I would always contemplate what to do if I came across a bear. It was as if I was simultaneously wanting and dreading the experience. I no longer do that, but, in a deeper way, I am aware that the bear is always there. What matters is that I can breathe anyway; in this very moment, I am truly okay.