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Presence


My husband is building us a house. It’s a big and exciting project full of details and a dozen workers. When I tell people about it, the one question that nearly everyone asks is,

“When will you move in?”

Sigh. Who knows? Maybe December. Maybe January. Maybe March. There are so many variables and so many things that are in flux and changing. We have no idea. But that’s not the answer anybody wants.

Our culture is addicted to attempting to know what will happen. Whole industries have been created around predicting the future.

Polling for elections.
Odds-making for sporting events.
And everyone’s favorite: weather forecasts.

These predictions have varying degrees of accuracy. (Hurricane Florence and the Trump presidential campaign are two good examples of predictions that looked pretty certain and then swung wildly and suddenly at the end.) Which begs the question, Why do we keep listening to them?

Fear.

We are afraid of not knowing. It is uncomfortable to live in uncertainty. So we create illusions that we know what will happen that give our brains a false sense of solidity and clarity.

Instead, what if we practiced getting comfortable with not knowing? What if we focused on allowing ourselves to relax into uncertainty? What if we were willing to embrace the bigger truth of complete groundlessness, as Buddhist teacher, Pema Chodron calls it?

Experiment with letting your body and mind relax and let go of their grip on wanting to know. Soften into not knowing.

And when we move into the house, I promise I’ll tell you.

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One of my long-time teachers, James Yates says, “To make any life transition, you need three things: support, support, support.”

(And, I would add, since life is just a series of transitions, we all need support all the time.)

Support is all around us and in us. What’s curious is how often we don’t lean into the support that’s available.

The earth itself is always ready to take our full weight and hold us unconditionally. And yet, I find myself not relaxing into this steadfast support. Notice right now, are you?

I have internal resources that I can draw on, too. My physical strength (no matter how ill or injured I am), my very bones, my life force — until my dying breath are all there for me.

We are available to support each other. Know who you can go to for whatever support you need. Who can you go to when you need someone to listen? Who can you go to for advice? Who can you go to for inspiration? Who can you go to for laughter?

It doesn’t matter what you call it: the Universe, Nature, Spirit, God, the Mystery. That which is larger than we are is there to support you, too. Can you trust that this support is available? Can you be awake enough to feel it?

Earth support. Internal support. External support. Spirit support.
Tap into it.

While I was traveling last month, I thought a good deal about transition. Traveling itself (and, heck, life itself) is a string of transitions from place to place, stage to stage, day to day, moment to moment.

In Minnesota, I watched members of my family make some big transitions with grace, generosity, humility, acceptance, kindness. It was a privilege to behold. I came back from my time with them wondering how I could be more graceful and smooth with the transitions of my own life.

The truth is, though, the many of my transitions have been anything but. They’ve been bumpy and awkward and full of resistance and pouting. But the thing is, even those kinds of transitions are powerful and worth embracing.

There is a famous photograph taken by Annie Leibovitz of Whoopi Goldberg in a tub of milk. I love this piece for a bunch of reasons but just this week a friend told me that her pose was a complete mistake. She slipped when she got in the tub and Leibovitz caught it. (You can see it and the stories behind some of her other famous portraits here. )

My transition from being married when I was 25 to not being married when I was 29 was a bumpy, ugly, tearful mess. It was not graceful. It was not smooth. AND there are few circumstances in my life that I have learned more from.

Whoopi’s transition into the milk tub was smooth (ha!) but awkward and unexpected, and it was an opportunity for great creativity.

We’re all transitioning all the time. What transition are you in right now? Whatever it is, however it is, I hope you embrace it, lean into it and get curious about what happens next.

In any given moment, what isn’t pulling for your attention?

Long to-do lists in over-scheduled lives.

Advertisements everywhere you look, everywhere you listen, everywhere you go.

Multi-tasking for our multiple roles and in our multiple relationships.

And of course, the World Wide Interwebs. Email, social media, on-line news. Phones and computers binging ringing zinging and ever-pulling our eyes and minds away from whatever it is we are doing. “Look at this shiny new thing! Stop and come look!”

Which is why, business writer Eric Barker says that FOCUS is the superpower of the 21st century.

 

In this distraction-filled world, your ability to focus your attention can make all the difference.
Erik Barker is a business writer, so he talks a lot about how focus or what writer Cal Newport calls Deep Work, allows professionals to excel well beyond their colleagues given their ability to dive in deep past the onslaught of interruptions.

But what holds true in business is true in all other spheres as well. Whether you want to build a writing practice or a relationship with your partner, whether you want to concentrate on strength training or your creative life, practicing focus is the way to go past the surface to the heart of any skill.

Want to explore more?

You can read lots of good posts from Erik Barker but here’s one that’s spot on topic.

And I came across two interesting videos that I recommend

this one from a young manly man who is wise beyond his years,

and this more indepth one from a researcher in the Netherlands that goes more into the brain science and research.

One way that I practice this is to pick a word to focus on throughout the year. I spend the last part of December opening up and allowing a word to find me: one word that expresses how I want to feel and how I want to be in the coming 12 months. You can find more about this here and on my Instagram gallery.

It’s no mistake that this blog is called Focus Pocus: The Magic of Inquiry & Intent. I believe that focusing our minds, by paying attention, we are making an investment in ourselves and our futures.

We know this from dancing, but no matter what you’re doing — whether it’s making art or building a house or starting a relationship — a strong foundation allows for spaciousness and possibility above it.

The key is to know what your foundation is and how to make it strong.

It’s true for doing Tree Pose, starting a company, or raising a child.

Ask yourself,
What is my foundation?
What is essential at the base of what I’m doing?
And how can I make that foundation stronger?

The more solid the foundation, the more creative, expressive, and limitless the possibilities in the space above.

“The best way to prepare for the next pose is to be fully in this one.” – Kelly Stine

When I was in 3rd grade Mrs. Schneider had us do an exercise: write down and then tell the class something that you are good at. That clever Mrs. Schneider was way ahead of her time, assigning self-love to 8-year-olds in the early 1970s. I remember feeling uncomfortable to identify something I thought I did well, but I was nothing if not a direction-follower, so I did it.

Here’s what it was: I am organized.

My 3rd-grade-self loved keeping track of things, keeping my notebook in order and organizing what I was supposed to be doing. Even then, I was a list-making-planner, getting ready for what was coming.

To this day, I like having a plan. I like the neatness of a plan. A plan relaxes me and makes me feel ready. And yes thankyouverymuch, I do recognize that it is a way for me to pretend I have control over everything when I utterly and completely do not. I also recognize that this is a nervous person’s strategy. Thinking back on it, I feel tenderness for my little girl self that was already looking for ways of battening down the anxiety hatches.

These days, when my teachers talk about the almighty present moment and about staying in the Now instead of looking forward or back, I chafe a little. I mean, I get it. I know that Now is where life is happening and “Now is a gift; that’s why we call it the present” and all that. But we have to plan things, otherwise, the kids have no money for college, there is no food in the house at dinner time, and we’re homeless when we retire.

My genius yoga teacher, Kelly Stine says, “The best way to prepare for the next pose is to be fully in this one.”

My mind likes to think that I am already doing that, but my body knows different. I can feel it when I do yoga. Before I’m completely in Warrior I, I’m already beginning to open my hips and arms to get into Warrior II. Then, before I get into Warrior II, I’m flipping my front palm and reaching up and back for Reverse Warrior. If I keep projecting myself into the next pose, I’m never really in any of them.

I can feel it in Nia, too. I know another movement is coming up and I don’t really finish the one I’m doing to get the class ready for the next one. Kelly teaches that instead of mushing the two movements together, or having one dribble out, to be fully in the first right up until I’m in the next.

Like my organized, nervous 3rd grade self, I can see that this tendency to be projecting ahead happens often when I’m anxious about something.

Have you ever been at a cocktail party, having a conversation with someone, but they aren’t really looking at you? With eyes and attention wandering, they are casting around the room to see who is there and who might be the next person to talk to.

It’s possible that my love of planning and organizing is a way for me to get myself ready. It’s also a way to dissipate anxiety (social or otherwise) and disengage from whatever is happening in the moment. Instead, I could see whatever I’m doing right now as my planning. Fully engaged, present … and ready.

I don’t want to be a distracted flitting-ahead yogi. I don’t want to be that preoccupied person at the cocktail party. I want to be the one who is fully up to her eyebrows in the conversation she’s having right now. And when it’s over, it’s over and I have another full-on conversation.

I want to be ready now.

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“We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” — Joseph Campbell

Evidently, I was born without a biological clock.*

I got most all the basic parts as I rolled down the conveyor belt of gestation: brain, check; heart and lungs, check check; sturdy bones, check; fly-away hair, blue-green eyes, and a love of physical comedy, check check and check. But while other baby girls had a time piece tucked snugly between their heart and their gut that began nudging them ever more urgently toward motherhood, I don’t have that particular tick-tock myself.

At 33, I’d said No to a marriage that sucked the spirit out of me, I’d said No to the post-divorce relationship that sucked the air out of the room, I’d said No to a job that just sucked. At last, I’d taken my plane off auto-pilot and I was actively choosing my life rather than passively accepting whatever happened to plop in front of me.

In addition to saying No to some things, I said Yes to other things. I knew I wanted a job that felt more expansive and inspiring, I knew I wanted a relationship with someone who whistled in the mornings and wanted to hike and laugh with me. I said Yes to optimism and enthusiasm, I said Yes to nature and spirituality, and I said Yes to not having children.

After years of beating myself up about being neutral to negative about the whole child-rearing thing, I decided that being childless by choice was fine. After thinking something was wrong with me for a long time, I found myself in a peaceful place about not having kids.

Then I met Frank.

Morning-whistling, easy-laughing, optimistic, nature-loving hiker, Frank….who had two small children.

I’d finally taken hold of my life. I’d pushed some things away. I’d pulled some things in. But now, I realized, I had to let go and live the life that was waiting for me. I had to put down my plan.

My favorite scene from the 1987 movie, Moonstruck**, isn’t the “Snap out of it!” scene, and it’s not the “You’ve got a love bite on your neck” scene. It’s not even the “Someone tell a joke” scene.

Nope. My favorite scene is the snow scene: Loretta and Johnny are walking back from the opera and he wants her to stay with him even though she’s engaged to his brother.

Loretta protests, “A person can see where they messed up in their life and they can change the way they do things. … I can take hold of myself and I can say yes to some things and no to other things that are going to ruin everything. I can do that.”

But Johnny reminds her that life and love isn’t neat and safe and it doesn’t always follow the plan. “We’re here to break our hearts,” he says. He’s asking Loretta to stop the pushing and pulling, to put it down and surrender to the life that is waiting for her.

I think they are both right. There is a time for standing up and getting clear on my Yes and my No. There is a time for shaping my choices with my will and heart and mind. There is a time for push and pull … and there is a time for surrendering to now. There is a time for putting down the plan, the belief, the role, the story.

There is a time to put it all down to see what falls into your hands after you drop the reigns.

 


* You know the scene I’m talking about! Did you click it? You haven’t seen it since 1992. Oh do click it if for nothing else, her outfit.

** In the mid-late 80s, there was a string of movies that I call the Can’t-Help-Who-You-Love Movies. My favorites: The Sure Thing (1985), Moonstruck (1987), Crossing Delancey (1988) and the Mother of Can’t-Help-Who-You-Love Movies, When Harry Met Sally (1989).

*** The snow scene! Please tell me you clicked it. No? Here it is…

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