This essay was getting long, so I decided to split it up into two parts. Stay tuned for the riveting second half with all of the juicy (ha!) details of my actual feasting journey.
I completed a 21-day(ish) juice feast a little over three weeks ago, and apparently I must write about it because the idea keeps knocking, and good things happen when I answer that door.
I love a good story, so let me start at the beginning.
Last fall, Gabriele and I went on a home decluttering binge. It wasn’t an official goal that we had set for ourselves; I was simply overcome with the urge to get rid of stuff. To put it in perspective, we probably have less stuff than just about anyone I know, with a few exceptions. However, decluttering the home is an ongoing purification process, just as it is with the body and mind, so we got to work, with significant results.
I’m confident this desire to simplify was a consequence of attending to my inner work. As I release self- and other-limiting beliefs and consistently clear my energetic/subtle body, gradually my outer world reorganizes itself to reflect that cleanliness and clarity. In other words, when we do our inner work, the outer work that is necessary for us to flourish feels natural, fun, safe, easy, and unhurried. It comes to us, and we have the opportunity to listen and respond, or postpone. We can only postpone for so long, I’ve found, before things become more urgent; perhaps a health crisis or a loss of some sort prompts a change that could have been made earlier in a smoother way. It’s not a punishment, it’s just what we’re choosing; it’s free will and it’s glorious, for we get to do things in our own time and in our way.
Anyway, following the new year and the completion of a powerful 40-day process called Make Miracles in 40 Days, I was feeling strongly called to do some sort of structured physical detoxification (which nicely recalled and aligned with the urge for home detoxification). I didn’t know how exactly — perhaps the Amazing Liver & Gall Bladder Flush which we’d done several times before, or a gentler supplement-based cleanse. I noted the idea and then let it go, knowing the next step would reveal itself.
One day I was browsing for online books through the library, under the broad category of Spirituality or something like that, and randomly checked out a book called Spiritual Nutrition: Six Foundations for Spiritual Life and the Awakening of Kundalini by Dr. Gabriel Cousens. I’d never heard of it nor the author before, and thought it was going to be one of the typical self-helpy/new-agey books I like to read. It turned out to be a remarkably long book (over 1,600 pages on the iPad) that addresses the spiritual and physical benefits of a living/raw vegan diet (including TONS of supporting scientific research), with a special emphasis on fasting with green juice as a spiritual practice. Way different and much, much better than I expected, not to mention timely; I was blown away by the information and deeply resonated with it, particularly Dr. Cousens’s detailed account of his own Kundalini awakening. The idea of a juice fast struck me, but I still wasn’t sure how to proceed as there were no instructions in the book, so again I noted the attraction and let it go.
Another day, after an inspired bout of web surfing that started on Facebook (ah, the rabbit hole that is the internet…how I adore thee), I came across this website which also deeply resonated: juicefeasting.com. I soon discovered, to my delight, that the founder of the site studied and worked with Dr. Cousens at his center in Arizona. I spent a lot of time reading and studying, particularly the Juice Feast Introduction (register for free to get access to all of the info), and became increasingly more inspired and excited about the prospect of doing a juice feast. As part of my research I looked for other juice feasting accounts and the top hit was Steve Pavlina’s daily recap of his 30-day juice feast. I used to read Steve’s blog regularly for several years; his writing directly helped me to leave my first job out of college as a paralegal (which was cushy and surrounded by nice people, but completely soul-deadening in terms of actual work). These overlapping and interlacing connections told me, “Yes, this is it,” not in a loud, demanding way but in the form of a gentle offering. It felt clear and obvious to me that this was the detoxification process I was seeking (and that was seeking me).
I’m sharing these mundane details with you to illuminate the process I go through when making decisions about my health and lifestyle. It is a rambling, nonlinear, spontaneous arrival based on following what attracts me and paying attention to synchronicities while maintaining a vigilant awareness of my internal motivations to ensure that I am not trying to control the process from my ego, i.e. based on what others will think, how I will look, fear of the unknown, arrogance, a sense of infallibility, etc. I let myself be guided, and I use my common sense. It’s a beautiful way of doing things that works really well for me, because it takes the pressure off of making the right decision, especially these days when any article you read has four equally well-sourced articles arguing against it. It puts the power and authority in my hands while simultaneously requiring an open and receptive mind and heart.
So, the decision had been made. Now, to begin the feast!
Stay tuned for Part II…
Here’s a list, in no particular order, of my top six most potent daily-ish health habits right now:
I’ll continue these habits as long as they feel good and natural, as long as I feel compelled to do them. It takes the pressure off.
My husband Gabriele and I woke up at 5:30 this morning to fly to St. Maarten in the Caribbean with my parents and cousin. My younger sisters, both of whom now live a plane ride away, were meeting us there. After several months of not seeing them, we were all looking forward to spending time together in the sun and surf.
We arrive at the airport, having already checked in online, and discover that three of the five of us do not have seats on the flight. Apparently the winter storm prevented our original plane from arriving and only a smaller plane was available. Our only hope of getting on the flight was if ticketed passengers volunteered to go on a flight leaving the next day.
Perhaps you can imagine the stress and
bitching frustration that ensued.
As it turns out, the airline was able to offer us one additional seat, so my parents and cousin boarded. Gabriele and I agreed to spend another night in Indianapolis and will be flying out first thing tomorrow.
Throughout this seeming debacle, I practiced my breathing (which basically means, I became aware of my breathing and remembered as best I could to breathe deeply), stretched, and tried to remain open and accepting. I know that the more relaxed and aware I am, the more the universe will work its magic and reveal an agreeable answer to my constant open-ended internal question: “What’s the meaning of all this?”
Win #1: $1,200 Bucks — We were rewarded for our inconvenience with two ticket vouchers for up to $600/each. Which is ironic, considering we paid a total of $600 to go on this trip. So basically, we doubled our investment by saying yes to this family vacation, which we were hesitant about for months because of the expense before finally agreeing to go. We now have $1,200 to apply toward our annual trip to Italy to visit Gabriele’s family, plus we get to enjoy this vacation as well. Cha-ching.
Win #2: Shitty Cat & House — We returned home, our pet-sitter left, and we promptly discovered a $h!t streak on our stairs, smears on our bedroom floor, and the general smell of you-know-what. Our beloved cat, Javi, apparently felt the need to release his anal glands. While the clean-up process was intense and rather stressful, I could not help but feel EXTREMELY grateful, without even trying, that we were bumped from our flight. If we had not been, the pet-sitter would have been left to deal with the horrendous task of figuring out how to clean our shitty cat and house on her own, if she even noticed it (Javi is a black long-haired cat, and the evidence of his condition could have been overlooked). While this may not sound like a win on the surface, it definitely felt like a win to me. I do not want to come home to crusty poo all over my house and animals.
Lesson: Before you go judging your circumstances, see if they’ll unfold for good. They often (dare I say always?) do.
Wanting love in the form of a romantic partnership is a fine desire, but realize that it’s only ever going to be as good as the relationship you already have with yourself. If you’re waiting for something miraculous to happen once you finally find that special someone, know that the miracle of love must first be you falling in love with yourself. The funny thing is, once you’ve fallen in love with yourself, you don’t feel like you’re missing anything and thus the desire for a significant other won’t be like a red, blinking light with an emergency horn blowing all the time. It’ll just be another thing that might be nice, but definitely not crucial to your inner peace and fulfillment. If you’re fulfilled by the simple glory of your own being, of being alive and feeling the multitude of your humanness, then what more is there to want?
If we stop trying to get somewhere, to achieve something or someone, life will still unfold. Our fear of stagnation and our fear of looking at ourselves completely as we are right now in this moment, without the distraction of future promise, keeps us from letting go in this way. Life will unfold more easily, naturally, and gracefully when we lay down all of our wants and focus on self-awareness instead, because then we allow harmony — the harmony of nature, creation, and destruction — to flow through us with love and open appreciation, not resistance.
When we let go, like the couple who yearns for a child, decides to adopt, and then gets pregnant, we let nature run its course without the intrusion of our mental gripping and physical tension. The more you let go of neediness, neediness for a particular outcome, the more open you’ll become to the experience of life happening through you right now. You’ll touch and taste the grace of creative bliss, which has no goal in mind, just the whelming ecstasy of existence. From this place, the non-dual reality that does not prefer pleasure to pain but accepts unconditionally what arises, will abundance flow back to you and fulfill all of your latent desires in the process.
Which is why looking for love is silly. It comes when you realize it already is and never was not. It’s in you and around you all of the time. The question is, to what degree are you aware of it?
Our only “imperfection” is our mistaken relationship with what we think are our imperfections, which are not really imperfections but rather oddities, eccentricities, those things that make us unique. We think they’re not supposed to be, that they should be different, and that belief creates resistance and fragments the self, meaning we determine some part of our self is unloveable. This is the only true imperfection — or rather, more accurately, it’s a misperception. Once we heal the relationship to our perceived imperfections, they cease to be imperfections and instead we realize they make us the extraordinarily dynamic, semi-ridiculous (in a good way), and vastly entertaining human beings that we are.
Stop resisting your desires, stop identifying with your desires (you are more than the sum of your parts), and you will be set free.
Today I was listening* to Julia Cameron’s Reflections on the Artist’s Way, a live workshop discussing the themes of her classic book on creativity. She mentioned how when something becomes a part of our life, it doesn’t require discipline but rather we just do it because we enjoy it. This is such a simple concept, so life-giving in its wisdom, and yet so easily forgotten.
My biggest challenge over the past few months has been following through with doing what I want to do, what I enjoy, because of old patterns related to motivation.
I am the oldest child of three girls, and I had a strong desire to seek approval and praise from my parents. In school, in sports, I wanted to do the work and do it well in order to please the adults in my life, because I wanted to make them happy. (Whoa, I am just having this realization as I write, and that is a powerful one.) I only ever wanted to make my parents happy, and so I let the driving force behind my efforts in every endeavor be for them and not me. I rarely started anything for myself, for the pure joy of doing. I would often tap into that energy playing volleyball or writing or creating something for class, but the initial motivation was fear-based (and unconscious): if I don’t do this, someone I love is going to be disappointed in me.
I started to crack this psycho-emotional nut during my last job. Fear and the desire to “do a good job, because I’m a good girl, and I can prove it” drove me to take action, yet as I became more conscious and present to my own experience, I realized that I didn’t need to let the fear push me, because I was actually enjoying myself. I didn’t need someone else to (unintentionally on their part) manipulate me into performing. I didn’t need the fear to convince me to do the right thing, to work hard, because the process was the reward in and of itself. I learned that the right thing is the right thing because it feels good, not because it will be met with reward or approval.
I left that job in January, and it’s been a struggle to move forward sometimes because I’ve felt a lack of motivation. This makes sense, however, because this time I haven’t let any external factor push me into action like I have for the past twenty-some years. I am no longer willing to force myself into performance mode. And it’s been performance for me, not creativity, when the general impetus has not come from my heart and gut but rather from some mental construct giving me rational reasons to get it done. It simply has to feel good. That may seem indulgent or narcissistic, but I assure you it’s not — I never feel more alive, more present, than when I’m taking action from of place of full commitment to self, to living the dream I’ve deliberately chosen and not anyone else’s.
The lesson here is do what you enjoy and what makes you feel good. Commit to it and keep doing it, and then it acquires a momentum of its own that turns into genuine enthusiasm, which is then supported by the universe in mysterious and dynamic ways. This is being in the flow, in the zone, in harmony with life. At first (and perhaps, assuredly), things will descend into chaos. You’ve withdrawn your devotion from the external and turned it inward. It takes time for your world to rearrange itself. But the reward of honoring yourself first and foremost, of enjoying and appreciating the moment at the cost of all else, will most definitely be worth the temporary collapse of the old structures you’ve had in place.
Face your fear, step into the abyss of the unknown, alienate some people in your life if that’s what it takes, but learn to say no to outer obligation and yes to inner inspiration. Inner inspiration is the frequency of creation, the gentle whisper of your soul to trust your spirit. Allow this process to carry you, like a wave, to the other shore of your dreams when you push off from the shore of others’ expectations. You may not be able to see anything for a while and you may have to weather some fierce emotional storms, but you will emerge fresh, cleansed, and ready to be accepted with open arms by the tribe waiting for you on the other side, the tribe of your creative kindred spirits who truly do just want you to be happy on your own terms. And hopefully, inevitably even, your launching off on your own will call to others to follow in your footsteps, to embrace the freedom of dancing to the tune of their own heart.
*Public Service Announcement: If you have not taken advantage of your local library’s ebook and audiobook download service, you are missing out! For Marion County, you just download the OverDrive app and sign in with your library account to check out a vast assortment of digital material that you can download straight to your computer and/or mobile device. Free information at your fingertips! (If you want help with this, please ask me. I am such a huge proponent of this activity.)
I’m been putzing around for the past 90 minutes, doing whatever I can to avoid having to write.
The business of exposing ourselves and doing our soul work, the work that matters most to us and also makes us feel the most vulnerable, brings us face to face with our deepest insecurities. This is why we often sabotage ourselves in pursuit of our passion and spend so much time filling our life with drama, mindless entertainment, and constant seeking outside of ourselves — so that we don’t have to bother with it, because it can be painful to discover our innermost feelings and vulnerabilities as we share our most authentic, naked self with the world.
I’ve been avoiding writing this afternoon after several days of throwing myself headfirst into the creative process, because somehow I started becoming self-conscious again. In the past, this self-consciousness has stopped me from moving forward. Today, I took a different approach. As I became present to this underlying negative emotion driving my resistance in the form of procrastination, I revealed my desire — to myself — to overcome, to stop the cycle of self-sabotage. In a burst of intuitive wisdom, I knew that it was time to practice detachment.
Detachment is the process of observing our thoughts without believing in them, without attending to them. I know my feelings of self-doubt stem from fear (False Evidence Appearing Real), and yet I don’t have to feed the fear. Like any living organism, if it lacks nourishment, it cannot grow. Likewise with insecurities. Just don’t feed them and they’ll begin to wither away.
Our insecurities will assuredly come up as we become more and more vulnerable, as we dive deeply into the content of our own hearts, where we’ve locked our secret shames and disapprovals of self and others. It’s crucial to recognize that these thoughts are arising for healing and release. If we believe they’re true, here and now, we are reliving the past versus creating a new present and future for ourselves and the world at large. This is the process of evolving and flowering versus the repetition of unconscious and habitual patterns that keep us locked in cycles of fear, hatred, and violence both individually and collectively.
Let it be said that negative thoughts aren’t bad. Let me repeat: NEGATIVE THOUGHTS AREN’T BAD. They don’t mean we’ve fallen off the spiritual wagon or backtracked; rather, they are opportunities to forgive beliefs we’ve held about ourselves that are not accurate. But what if they are accurate, you ask? They’re not. Any belief that indicts us as bad, wrong, incomplete, unworthy, etc. is mistaken. I am enough, you are enough. Not just in spite of past mistakes and traumatic experiences, but BECAUSE of those experiences. We are beyond rich in the currency of human being-ness.
Following the practice of detachment, I was internally urged to draw my attention away from the awareness of my self-consciousness and to practice gratitude instead. Being grateful moves us into a better feeling place and creates just enough space to allow us to unhook from the limiting belief(s) in order to move forward with whatever our soul and spirit desires to create.
My process today wasn’t perfect. I did some mindless dabbling on the internet, ate some food that I wasn’t hungry for, and used the productive procrastination technique of clearing out my inbox. I was generally inefficient and ineffectual for a while. This created some anxiety on top of my insecurity, an emotional cocktail of mild suffering.
But I practiced the barest hint of detachment and threw in a lint-sized piece of gratitude, and somehow found the strength to open up my word processor and start writing. All I had to do was get started! As usual, it all pretty much flowed out from there, because the feeling of creative self-expression becomes addictive in the best of ways. (However, I did have a few instances as I began editing of feeling resistant, and resorted to addictive eating behavior — I was eating jam directly out of the jar and unintentionally covered my lap cat in cracker crumbs. Another opportunity for me to forgive the perfectionist in me that started to see the editing task as unpleasant and overwhelming.)
Gabrielle Bernstein, author, speaker and teacher of A Course in Miracles, stated in her interview on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday that the first thing to do if you want to live a more spiritual aka more connected, joyous, and open-hearted life is to have the willingness to walk the path. In other words, you have to claim your sincere desire for a different experience, one that is more aligned with who you are and who you want to be. The key word here is sincere. If you sincerely want something to change, with all of your heart, and feel that desire in your body as often as possible (it really doesn’t take much - a few minutes during the course of the day would suffice), then you will be provided with the tools and experiences necessary to manifest your desire. Next you have to pay attention to what comes your way and act on it.
This was my experience today. I had the sincere desire to overcome my resistance and procrastination toward pursuing my soul work because feeling self-conscious and anxious is uncomfortable and I wanted a better feeling. Then I received the stroke of insight that told me to practice detachment and gratitude. Then, with the glimpse of courage and empowerment that came with that simple exercise, I started writing. Wah-la. Challenge accepted and overcome.
Note that this was today’s process for overcoming procrastination. It can look different every time, for every person. That’s why strengthening the muscle of listening to our intuitive wisdom is so important. Maybe upon proclaiming our desire to overcome procrastination, our inner voice tells us to go out and take a walk, or clean the bathroom, or sit the hell down and get to it. The structure — 1) claim willingness/desire to change 2) pay attention to the tool(s) provided 3) use the tool(s) — can remain the same, but the essence is creative, original, and spontaneous. In fact, that’s what makes it fun instead of a chore. It’s a constant process of discovering our own genius, which is the flip side of discovering our own self-limiting beliefs that are keeping us from spending our time and our life in a way that is meaningful, fulfilling, and even ecstatic.
A VERY CONSCIOUS CHRISTMAS: THE 50/50 CHALLENGE
Create a new holiday tradition that combines the cozy ritual of gift-giving with the desire to serve and uplift the world.
One charity that I forgot to mention that I also love is http://www.pachamama.org/ which empowers indigenous peoples of the Amazon rainforest to preserve their land and culture.
I’ve been in the throes of radical inspiration and clarity of mind for the past…let’s see…four days now. (Perfectly coinciding with a head cold, like last time.) The general theme has been simplify, minimize, turn pro.
Today, I got out of the shower preparing to put on an Aveda tinted moisturizer that I use every day. I looked in the mirror and stopped. Do I really need to use a tinted moisturizer? Does it make me look that much better? Maybe it does, by societal standards. Perhaps it makes my skin tone look more even. And it does seem to moisturize.
But my gut and intellect tell me that I don’t need a highly processed and packaged topical solution to feel good in my skin. Simply stay hydrated (drink water), eat well (lots of whole veggies), get moderate exercise (walk/lift/stretch), practice good mental/spiritual-housekeeping (no complaining, worrying, or resisting the present moment), and create (do work you’re passionate about), and the skin and the body in general will thrive. Simple, yes, but not always easy, am I right?
That’s part of the brilliance of the physical system. The symptoms of our body are there to inform us when we are out of alignment in one or more of those core ways, usually (if not always) stemming from us not fully embracing and loving ourselves. They don’t appear out of thin air because we’re not using the right beauty products. It’s communication from the most obvious plane — the physical — reminding us to recognize and address from a psycho-spiritual perspective (because that’s where the healing happens!) what is creating imbalance. The bottom line is that creating a healthy life that works with and for you will keep your body happy and…well…beautiful. Any physical malaise is reminding you to re-evaluate and re-prioritize what matters most, and to act on what you discover.
What if, instead of trying to hide our perceived physical imperfections with product, we became vulnerable and literally let our imperfections show? Maybe a little scary, as that will bring our personal insecurities right to the surface, but also affirming and empowering. Because you and I are enough exactly as we are in this moment, perfectly imperfect. There’s nothing to hide. By embracing a product-free philosophy, we are embracing defenselessness. Beauty products are often used as an unconscious defense against insecurity, criticism, and ultimately the threat of rejection that comes from believing that we are somehow incomplete and thus don’t deserve love and acceptance from ourselves and others.
Let’s break it down further. We apply makeup and beauty products for any of four reasons:
1. To “fix” something that we perceive as undesirable.
e.g. Covering splotchy, red skin with foundation; hiding zits with cover-up (often times unsuccessfully); applying lotion to address dry, flaky skin; using pastes, serums, sprays, masks and more to tame “bad” hair…the list goes on. We think whatever product we’re using will eliminate the imperfection, which only sometimes works and usually resurfaces anyways, and we fail to address the cause at the root as mentioned above. This is an outside-in superficial approach to health and beauty. (I could say the same for drugs, but let’s stick with beauty products for now).
2. To enhance our beauty because we think we are not enough (and thus will not be accepted by others).
The peddling of beauty products, for the most part, is driven by consumerism. Mass media is invested in making us aspire to culturally-defined ideals of beauty that depend on chemically-derived makeup, haircare, and skincare products, because advertisements for those very products keep them in business. Vice versa, beauty care product manufacturers are invested in the often vapid programming characterized by perfectly coiffed and decorated beauties because it subversively drives you to pursue an unrealistic (and in my opinion, aesthetically bland) version of beauty, so you’ll buy their products. (Note that the U.S. cosmetic, beauty supply, and perfume store industry had an annual revenue of $11 billion dollars last year. Imagine how much that money could help feed, house, clothe, educate, and inspire people to innovate in creative ways that feed their soul and sustain the natural world.)
Whenever we apply makeup, perfume, self-tanning sprays, etc. because we think we are not equally beautiful and desirable in our natural state — in other words, because we think we are incomplete — we are buying into this cycle and forgetting that our beauty is inherent. Know that as you embrace a life lived consciously and in alignment with the values of your heart, both inner and outer beauty flourish.
3. Because society expects us to.
I anticipate a common misgiving about giving up makeup or other products is that being makeup-free is unprofessional. That very well may be the case in certain professions, and I’m not saying you should necessarily buck the system and get yourself fired in the name of makeup. However, I personally have no interest in working in an environment that demands makeup. I know I present myself well regardless if I have colored and blackened different parts of my face (and you can, too). Invest in a good haircut that doesn’t require product, and you’re good to go. It is my firm understanding that we can look and feel modern, stylish, and sophisticated without using beauty products.
4. Because it is a form of creative self-expression.
Contrary to the direction of this post from the start, I am not anti-makeup or beauty products. I’d still be up for using them if an intriguing opportunity presents itself — it’s not rigidly moralistic for me. However, I am interested in conscious living, in questioning why we do what we do in the interest of aligning with our truest desires for ourselves and the world we live in. Beauty products can contribute to artistic expression and help women (and men!) feel like their best selves. Essential oils smell fantastic and can have a positive effect on our physiology. A homemade plant-derived facial mask can be a fun and effective way to nurture our skin.
But let’s be honest when the habit stems from a desire to hide, fix, or manipulate versus a desire to express who we are. As an aspiring conscientious human, even though I occasionally enjoy beauty products, they don’t feel necessary to me. I can do without them and in doing so live more lightly on the earth, and it doesn’t feel like a sacrifice of spirit. If giving up your products would feel like a sacrifice of spirit, meaning that it limits you from expressing who you truly are at your core, then by all means keep them (although I would recommend whittling what you have down to exactly what you use, and buying mindfully from eco-conscious businesses.)
My vision and version of beauty is one in which the joy of living true to your deepest desires is reflected in a radiant outer quality that cannot quite be described and is perfectly independent of any “additions” in the form of beauty products. While the limited consumption of locally-made, chemical-free, and/or organic beauty products is an improvement over the mindless consumption of chemical products produced across the world, it is still “stuff” that usually comes packaged and travels at least a bit to get to you.
The question becomes, do we really need these products? Could we do without them? In fact, would going without serve as an impetus for healthier living by urging us to come face-to-face with restrictive and destructive social conventions and our own insecurities about our physical appearance? I say yes. Which is why, today, I collected all of my makeup, hair, and skincare products and put them in a bag to be given away or tossed out. It was an amazing feeling. Why not try it for a day or month and see how it goes?
In closing, and as an addendum, one may be thinking something along the lines of, “But you, Andrea, are an attractive girl with clear skin and easily manageable hair. Easy for you to say throw out your beauty products.” This may be true. But know that I didn’t always have clear skin. I didn’t used to like my hair. And beauty as we conventionally view it, fades. So the time is now to accept and love yourself exactly as you are, and to know, again, that as you align with what you really, truly want, you will become more and more beautiful in the most original and evocative way. No purchase necessary.
My husband and I are in the process of selling our house. It’s something we’ve known we wanted to do since shortly after we moved in (so over three years now). If I believed in mistakes, I’d call the initial purchase a mistake. But I don’t, so I see it for what it is - a powerful learning opportunity that helped us become very clear on what we wanted instead.
Our desire to move stems from a desire to embrace a form of radical simplicity. We didn’t decide one day to be minimalists, but our 1,400 sq. ft. house and sizeable front and back yards feel increasingly and unnecessarily large and cumbersome. The inability to conveniently walk or bike to our main haunts every day feels like a drain on the spirit, not to mention a drag on the environment. Cars are complicated.
The experience of decluttering - of donating or selling or throwing out unneeded items - gives us both a sense of profound liberation. We’re ready to have less, which inevitably leads to feeling more. We’ve unconsciously deadened ourselves to a degree with stuff, in the sense that we’ve tried to make ourselves feel complete by filling the space around us. A space full of clutter helps to distract us from authentic acknowledgement of our internal state, often one of emptiness, sadness, joy, gratitude, and everything in between. We’re interested in a radically minimalist space that holds only a handful of objects of beauty and/or function that represent our priorities. We’re interested in eliminating from our possession any of those “just in case” items, and stripping down to the bare essentials.
As within, so without.
In turn, this implies stripping down to the bare essentials of mind, heart and being. Of accessing an internal emptiness that allows for a fullness of emotion and experience to wave through us without inhibition and self-protective tendencies. The emptier we are, the more efficiently and directly experiences of our utmost desires can travel to and through us.
On one hand, we must dream of and stay focused on our wildest wants, and on the other hand, we must empty ourselves of emotional and mental baggage in order to receive. And here begins a spontaneous simile:
So I commit to eliminating my outer space of unloved, redundant, and unnecessary items. And I commit to eliminating my inner space of complaints, unconsciousness, and resistance of all sorts. The possibilities are invigorating.
On Saturday I bought four ounces of mixed berries for $5 at a local farmers market.
I was slightly horrified by the costliness of the fruit, even if it was local and sustainably grown/harvested. I went so far as to complain about it to friends a little bit the next day.
Then, this morning I cut into the vac-sealed plastic and began to throw some berries into my morning smoothie, intending to save the rest for later. Naturally, I nibbled on a few as I went.
And I was completely floored. The luscious burst of flavor in my mouth undid me. If that sounds dramatic, it’s because it was — the experience of eating those berries (I went on to finish off the entire pack) was genuinely remarkable for me. I stuck my face in the bowl after they were all gone and lapped up the juice!
Afterward, I was struck by the beauty and richness of those moments in time. I felt incredibly, indescribably blessed to have had the opportunity to eat them. What at first seemed ridiculously expensive turned out to be the best $5 I’ve spent in a while.
There are many possible takeaways from this (one obviously being — eat fresh, local and organic!). For me, the reminder is that my greatest enjoyment and appreciation comes from products, services, and experiences of immense QUALITY. Spend your time and money on quality, and you will consume less while being more fulfilled. Time stretches to accommodate marvelous quality, slowing down your heart rate and filling up your heart. Life becomes simpler when you focus on quality, for anything that doesn’t line up with that luxurious feeling that immediately ignites waves of awe and gratitude isn’t worth your time or effort. The practice is becoming aware of what quality feels like TO YOU, in the body, and choosing that more and anything else less.
The fun part of this is that we can imbue our lives with a sense of luxury and quality at all times, not just in terms of what we buy. Walk with quality, cook with quality, speak with quality, cry with quality. Like a berry, allow your moments to become sweet and ripe, stained with brilliant color and flavor. You don’t need anything in particular to create this for yourself. Just feel a sense of quality in yourself, of gentle acceptance and awareness of your innate loveliness of being, and you’ll be rewarded with vivid bursts of beauty and sensuous tastes of life’s loving mystery.
What’s more, it seems to me that encountering and being present to your own suffering nurtures a depth and complexity of your own quality that cannot be found elsewhere. With that perspective, it’s easier to move through the challenges of being human with grace and wisdom, knowing that each experience truly felt and witnessed ripens you and provides a lushness to your existence. Yay.
Several months ago I was at the Denver Airport to fly home to Indianapolis. As usual, I opted out of the x-ray scanner thing. This entails a physical security sweep of your person as well as carry-on baggage. All was well, and then I noticed that the guard surveying my bag pulled out my brand-new hair care product I got just that week. A sea salt spray of sorts to make my newly short hair delightfully mussed and sexy. I am extremely low maintenance when it comes to beauty regimes and toiletries, so the fact that I even purchased it was kind of a big deal. And it was not inexpensive — I got it from the salon!
Anyways, the guard came over and said it was too big to take on the plane. Any toiletry items needed to be 3 oz. or less and this was 12 oz. or something. My options were to go back through security and check my bag (no chance - there was a long line and I would’ve missed my flight) or “voluntarily abandon” it. HA! So of course I chose the latter, kind of fuming at this point. I did my best not to take out my frustration on the guard. And also to breathe it in, taking deep breaths and being aware of my internal state.
This experience niggled at me for the next few days. I could not seem to let it go. But eventually, I did, and here we are. I was walking downstairs just now and thinking about living from the core (see my last post), and my mind wandered to that experience, wondering how living from the core served me in that instance. Then the wisdom struck me. Here’s the process I went through, and subsequent realizations:
This internal dialogue took place over the course of a few minutes, and I feel much clearer now. I thought it might be helpful to share. This is how we transform our world; not by railing against the “other” and perpetuating divisiveness, but rather by becoming conscious of our beliefs about ourselves, recognizing the truth of who we are, claiming it, and watching it manifest in the physical.
I took my first yoga class in 2003 and never looked back. It was like coming home — immediate comfort, relaxation, and reassurance. It felt less like a discovery and more like a remembrance.
I’ve practiced fairly consistently since then. In fact, even when I wasn’t doing the physical asana practice I was still living it in my heart. Yoga for me is synonymous with conscious personal transformation. Yoga enriches and deepens me, or, more accurately, makes me aware of my infinite and innate richness and depth.
The core benefit of a regular yoga practice for me is its ability to sensitize me to my body, my being. Through yoga I release resistance and tension held in my body/mind, and then am able to listen to and understand my deep, core desires. Yoga helps me focus and tune out distractions that would sway me from honoring my personal needs — needs that are fundamentally the same across the board (love, security, connection, a sense of belonging and fulfillment) but which are specifically unique and creative from person to person.
It’s my understanding that we’re all here to get what we want. If we’re not getting it, perhaps it’s not because we’re not doing the right things, but rather it’s not really what we want in the first place. Once we clarify our true desires, by coming into contact with our imperturbable core, we find that we can have all that we want right now, without having to wait. Then, as we accept what we truly want in that moment, the physical world around us transforms over time to reflect back to us what we are claiming for ourselves.
So what are you claiming, right now? If you’re claiming misery, that is what you’ll have. If you’re claiming bliss, that is what you will have. And it’s not about denial or delusion or lying to ourselves, pretending we are blissful when we’re not, for example. It’s about recognizing the bliss at our core even as the world around us, at our periphery, continues to move between its two poles of duality. You are the eye of the storm. You are the core. But if you are identifying with the physical world, latching onto its drama unconsciously instead of being present, you become it and preserve it as it is. You live on the periphery instead of at the core.
Interestingly, we need the periphery to recognize and come back to the core. So it’s not a rejection of the periphery but an appreciation of it, from the core, that we’re cultivating. And one method of accessing the core is through yoga, through conscious awareness.
And it may make you more flexible.
I sat down at the computer today to make myself available to receive. For a few minutes, nothing. Then I remembered, not so much in word but in feeling: start where you are, with what you have. Here you go.
I watched a remarkable video today from TEDxKC: “Your Are Not Your Body” by Janine Shepherd. Janine was training for the Winter Olympics with her Australian cross-country skiing team and got into a terrible accident. An assortment of broken bones, a broken neck, shattered spine; you get the idea. She was in the hospital for six months straight and was told she would never walk again. Watch the video to hear the rest of her inspiring journey.
Janine’s story and authentic, funny, vulnerable delivery brought me to tears of appreciation. However, had I not recognized toward the beginning that I was holding my breath, I doubt I would have had quite the same reaction.
Fortunately (and I thank my myriad yogic practices for the wherewithal), in that moment of recognition I remembered to keep breathing. I took deep, even breaths that drew her essence into me and integrated inside of me as I exhaled fully. And I experienced a joyous understanding as I became witness to her greatness as well as my own. The beauty and magnificence of life welled up in me and the tears flowed gently. Not for long…just enough to help me remember the truth of who I am, beyond my body, brains, beliefs, sense perceptions, emotions, achievements, relationships, etc. I am life incarnate, and so are you, and that is amazing.
Apparently this momentary transition from not breathing to breathing warranted further reflection, since it’s what wanted to be written about. I realize now that I was holding my breath because I was unconsciously trying to prevent myself from connecting to the enormity of Janine’s pain and healing process. Her buoyant spirit, openness, radical vulnerability, and full-on engagement in life (apparent right from the beginning), sent a signal to my subconscious that connecting with her in any way would be unsafe. So the (un)natural, involuntary reaction, of course, would be to hold my breath and distance myself from her experience, closed off and safe in my own non-feeling bubble. I may still have enjoyed the talk and been moved by it even, but it would have been a shallow version of what I was truly capable of feeling and experiencing.
I see now that the unconscious fear driving me to disconnect and disengage was based on recollections of past experiences where I would connect with someone “greater”, compare myself, and fall inevitably short. My subconscious was trying to help me to avoid the pain of possibly coming to terms with my own shortcomings, mediocrity, and inadequacy, by preventing the connection with Janine’s courageous and heart-centered journey in the first place.
However, I’ve come to know deep at my core that, as Theodore Roosevelt put it so eloquently, “comparison is the thief of joy.” So instead of giving in to a past pattern and comparing myself to Janine, I simply breathed her in, enjoyed her, honored her, mentally applauded her, and by doing so I offered myself the same.* Those positive feelings directed at her were allowed to move through me and invigorate me with their life-giving qualities. And as we let life move through us in this manner, we allow ourselves to bloom and transform as nature intends, like a flower opening up to the sun, with gentleness and sweet, unassuming presence. It’s impossible to feel mediocre and inadequate when filled with love for yourself and the glory of life all around you.
This is how I do my work — on the subtle level. Every moment is a teacher. I don’t have to create obvious drama in my life to understand and uncover myself. I pay attention to seemingly mundane events of the day — in this case holding my breath while watching a video — and keep moving back toward openness, vulnerability, love, and deep, conscious breathing. This is the practice, and the enjoyment, of the moment.
*It’s imperative to note (and I couldn’t find a way to work it into the paragraph) that I didn’t consciously make the decision not to compare this time. Rather, I practice catching myself when I’m comparing during yoga and elsewhere, to the point where it becomes a natural and involuntary to not compare. I’ve yoked conscious breathing and the presence of mind that comes with it to non-comparison, non-duality. And here I see it working in “real” life. :)
This Sunday I’m offering a by-donation meditation and pranayama (conscious breathing) class from 6:15-7:00pm at Invoke Studio. I also teach an all-levels yoga class from 9:00-10:15am every Tuesday at The Legacy Center for $5.
I do not prepare for these classes. Well, that’s not exactly accurate. I am preparing every moment, by living my yoga. Being the peaceful observer of my experience. Then, when it’s time to teach a class, I open to that which comes through. There’s no separation between thinking and acting. The being and doing happens at the same time. My job is to allow, and to refrain from driving myself into a tizzy with self-doubt before and after.
That being said, in the course of time leading up to a class, I may have flashes of insight related to the class itself. That’s not to say what I receive will be taught; rather, it’s as if I’m collecting little eddies of understanding in a cosmic pool to draw upon at a later date. Sometimes I draw out of the well and the teaching comes out much as a received it. Other times, the mixture of swirls and whorls of thought come out in a different way that surprises even me. It’s a lovely process, truly, and it allows for an authentic and spontaneous response to the dynamic formed in the moment.
Recently I’ve been receiving such ripples of inspiration as they relate to meditation. What is meditation, anyway? Whenever I read about it, the language seems to dance around the true meaning and never really settles in me in a way that’s like — YES, that’s meditation. It’s as if someone who truly knows meditation said or wrote something and now everyone just repeats it in different ways without really knowing it for themselves. Or rather, they DO know it for themselves yet are stuck in the archaic language and staid words that at one time accurately captured the essence of meditation but in these modern times no longer do.
Here’s my two cents:
Meditation is a way of becoming friends with yourself through quality time spent deepening the relationship. To have a relationship, you must have two. So who are the two in this instance? I would say the divine ocean of oneness/nothingness and the delineated drop of humanity that is you. Meditation allows the All That Is to know you, to love you, to become intimate with you, to connect with you, and vice versa. Funny how those are the things we all want and seek outside of ourselves, in other relationships to people, ideas, material things.
Frankly, those relationships are only empty shells, lusterless imitations of the divine relationship with yourself you seek. True connection must first be established with the fullness and abundance of life - the cyclic process of generation, preservation, dissolution - and beyond that the awareness of it, in order to experience fulfillment through external relationship. And this is where meditation comes in.
Even as I write this I recognize that describing meditation is like describing life — there are so many facets to it that one person can hardly expect to cover all of it. However, perhaps this description will capture the essence of it even if the description itself is incomplete.
Meditation is awareness. One moment to the next is not any more or less significant than any other, so we’re not trying to achieve anything through the practice. The awareness of your magnificent self in all of its tragedy and beauty is reason enough to be present. And yet, as a side effect of enjoying life moving through you, whether it’s pleasurable or painful in nature, you’ll tend to find that over time the mind begins to quiet and you’ll go for longer and longer stretches without needing to mull over this or that. Perfect blankness/openness and in that, perfect freedom. You become aware of infinite choice and at the same time you experience the wonder of not needing to make any of them. The appropriate action in physical time-space is practically made for you in the most natural, uncontrived way. Life becomes fuller, less harried, more joyful, less painful. Because pain - due to the impermanence of everything - is inevitable as long as we continue to identify ourselves based on external relationships to things and people rather than to our relationship to All That Is.
So, that’s one aspect of meditation that I know of. Do join me next Sunday, October 7th for a taste. Or take a taste right now: sit with your feet on the floor and your back softly straight, close your eyes, draw your inner gaze toward your third eye at your brow center, and notice how you feel.