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Release


“Oh. Your jaw.”
I’d been dancing with enthusiasm and energy when my wise friend caught sight of me. She gently touched her own jaw with her fingertips.
“Your jaw.”
As soon as she said it, I could feel it: my jaw was stiff and locked. I felt the tension in my face, neck and shoulders. It’s a long-held habit that somewhere in my awareness is connected with not saying what I want to say.
I shook my head a little, opened my mouth and stretched it wide.
Then my dance really took off.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Walking up the path behind my husband, I see his familiar walk, the way he holds his head, the stride of his long legs. And his hands. I see his hands curved into the shape of the hammers and drills and circular saws that he’s used for years. Holding tools that he’d put down long ago.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Where do you hold tension? Do you know? For many of us, the patterns are so old that we don’t even notice them. Is it in your eyes? Your shoulders? Your feet? Your belly?

Chronically held tension in the body isn’t a bad thing. It is a teacher, an instruction of where we are stuck and where needs attention. Chronically held tension is a direct link to our growing edges.

Notice where tension gathers in you. Get curious about it. Instead of immediately shaking it out, inquire into what it has to tell you. What is it doing for you? How is it attempting to help you? What does it need? And what would happen if you released it?

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melting expectation sri chimnoy quoteWhat are your expectations? Of the holidays? Your family? Your colleagues? Yourself? Expectations leave disappointment in their wake. There are consequences, young lady, when you don’t live up.

Judgment, criticism, blame:  all tied directly to somebody’s expectation.

What would happen if you let expectations melt away? If you replaced expectation’s icy tension with warm liquid flow? If you stayed open to the many ways this time of year can be and unhooked from attachment to how things turn out? What if you set the intention, planted the seed, gave the gift … and released it?

Ice to Water, Water to Steam.

hard body womanAmerican fitness myth: get a hard, tight body, and you will be safe, loved and happy.

Is it true? It’s such a seductive story. Wouldn’t it be nice?

But how does “hard” and “tight” really feel?

The Body’s Way finds strength in softening, power in vulnerability. Just ask Brene Brown.

Tight eyes offer narrow vision. Tight lips speak sharply. Tight arms can’t hold with tenderness.

Contract with the intent of letting go more. Squeeze so more release is possible. What if the goal of fitness was to get as soft as we can? That’s where the love, safety and peace is.

To begin, a little Buddha paraphrasing:

Life is full of suffering.  The cause of suffering is holding on or pushing away.  Freedom from suffering comes when we let go.  Or, the cause of all suffering is wanting things to be different than they are.  To let go of that resistance is to let go of suffering.

Imagine you stop to buy some apples at a roadside stand.  You’re in a hurry, but you love Staymans and you figure you can be on your way in 5 minutes.  After scooping up the apples, a man steps to the cashier just before you.  He pats his pockets to find his wallet.  He’s forgotten tomatoes and goes to find them.  He chats with the cashier about the weather.  He counts out nickels and pennies.  You think your hair will melt with impatience.

The Sensation of Suffering

We’ve all been there.  Things are not going the way we want them to go and we suffer mightily.  When you are in that state of suffering, what do you sense in your body?  What is the physical sensation of suffering?

In my experience, when I am suffering, when I want things to be different than they are, somewhere in my body I am holding tension.  Tension is the physical manifestation of suffering.  And when I am tense, my mind is unclear and my heart is closed.

When it comes right down to it, what I want to learn in my life and practice is to let go.  I don’t mean to “let my body go” – I do my best to keep my body as healthy and fit as I can.  And I don’t mean to be a passive doormat – letting go does not mean that we can’t ask for and work for change.  I mean to let go of chronic tension and holding so I can be open to life and all the people (and beings) in it.

Miracle & Wonder Intent

Last week, my post was about the focus of the Miracle & Wonder routine.  The Focus (what we do and where we place our attention) is on ankles and wrists.  The intent (what we want to happen as a result of the focus) of the Miracle & Wonder routine is to relax the body and open the heart.

This may seem like a leap:  from ankles and wrists to an open heart.  But, the four joints of ankles and wrists are common places to hold chronic, oft-unnoticed tension.  By mindfully moving the joints in varied ways, I can release tension and free up energy, not just in my extremities but in my whole body.  As I let go of physical tension, my mind is clearer and my heart can open.

Letting Go Through the Body

In her lovely dharma talk, “Letting Go Through the Body,” Debra Chamberlin-Taylor tells about a turbulent landing on a flight into Albuquerque.  She’d made the trip many times and knew that turbulence was normal.  Nonetheless, she noticed that her belly clenched — as if the tension in her gut would hold the plane in the air!  As she consciously released her belly grip, her awareness expanded to the terrified women in the next row.  As she let go, she was able to open her heart to those around her.

Think of a time when you were irritated or angry and things were not going the way you wanted.  In that moment, how open were you to others?  Were you able to be kind to yourself and to those around you?  I know that when I feel anxious or threatened even in a small way, my perception narrows and my body, mind and heart tighten up.

Let. It. Go.

The mindful movement of Nia offers a possibility: in moments of tension and suffering, we can let go and make a different choice.  Using awareness, we have the opportunity to notice layers of tension that we unknowingly carry around.  As we release tension, we naturally allow our minds and hearts to let go, too.

Our physical, mental and emotional selves are deeply intertwined.  By letting go of physical holding, we can let go of our minds and hearts.  Whether you are dancing with me or not this week, see if you can become aware of even small holdings of tension and mindfully make a choice to let them go.

If suffering is tension, and letting go of tension is freedom from suffering, maybe it’s not such a leap after all:  move your ankles and wrists to open your heart!

Happy New Year!!

Did you know that in the 13 Moon Natural Time Calendar, a new year started this week?

Up until a few years ago, I didn’t either.

When I did my first Nia training in 2000, I learned about the Natural Time calendar and while I’m no expert on its intricacies, I do enjoy following its patterns of symmetry and uniqueness.  At its core, it’s pretty simple:  rather than the 12 uneven months of the Gregorian calendar, the Natural Time Calendar follows the moon cycles.  As the Law of Time Web site describes in its tutorial:

13 Moons x 28 days = 364 days = 52 seven-day weeks. The 365th day of the year is called the Day Out of Time, a day to celebrate peace through culture, time is art and practice universal forgiveness so that everyone can start the next year fresh!

Wednesday, July 25 was this 365th day:  the Day Out of Time.  This is a unique day that is separate from the perfect order of 13 moons with 28 days each.  The Day Out of Time is a pause between the old year and the new, and it’s used to celebrate and reflect.  Natural Time folks around the world celebrate “peace through culture” on this day, but I prefer to focus on forgiveness and releasing resentments for the Day Out of Time.

On Wednesday, I was thinking about the Day Out of Time and I wondered, “Who or what do I need to forgive today?”  No big grudge or transgression that I needed to let go of came to mind.  As is my radical sabbatical practice, I did an early-morning loving kindness, or metta, meditation – offering good wishes for safety and health and well-being to people in my life.  As I went through name after name, offering my good wishes, I noticed when I came to a couple of people that I had a little tightening or holding.  Not a great wrenching, just a little tightening.  I was somewhat surprised since some of those people I tightened up about are near and dear to me and I love them very much.

So what’s up with that?

I remembered a post from Rick Hanson about forgiveness, so I went back to it.  What he wrote was helpful.  He said,

 forgiveness can seem lofty, like it only applies to big things, like crimes or adultery. But most forgiving is for the small bruises of daily life, when others let you down, thwart or hassle you, or just rub you the wrong way.

And I realized that this was exactly what I was feeling.  No major wrongdoing, just little nigglings of resentment.

For me, it’s easy to either ignore or devalue these little upsets.  It might be a sense that a friend is too busy for you, or that your teenager isn’t being responsible in the way you think she should.  Maybe you find your partner’s habit of leaving the dishes in the sink an annoyance, or you feel resentment that you haven’t gotten any decent sleep since the new baby arrived.  We may have different things that give us the sense of being slighted or bruised.  I often find these little splinters of feelings come up with those who I’m closest to, and since I love them and care deeply for them, often I don’t give myself the chance to really feel  and acknowledge them.  Some part of me says, “You shouldn’t feel that way about your friend/partner/child/baby,” and I nudge the feeling aside.  It’s still there, like a tiny splinter of glass in my foot that hurts when I step a certain way.  That splinter has me walking off-balance until I take the time to find it and take it out.  Dr. Hanson reminds me that forgiveness can be for the little things, and the Day Out of Time is an opportunity to notice the feelings of resentment or hurt and let them go.

Importantly, forgiveness doesn’t mean either approval of offending behavior or letting someone have a free pass for what has happened.  As Dr. Hanson writes, “Finding forgiveness can walk hand in hand with pursuing justice.”  And forgiveness doesn’t mean that I don’t need to address the situation that is causing the hurt or resentment.  If someone keeps leaving her peanut butter sandwich remnants on the coffee table, that someone needs a reminder about what to do with leftovers and dirty dishes.  Forgiveness, in my experience, isn’t about avoiding the conversation or setting the boundary or even taking legal action.  Forgiveness allows me to do those things more skillfully and with compassion for everyone involved. Forgiveness allows me to release the pinch of bitterness.  Forgiveness is about letting go and being ready to either take the next steps or to start again.

Dr. Hanson goes on to point out that paradoxically, when I forgive someone, it’s me that gets the benefit.  He offers, “Consider two situations: in one, someone has a grudge against you but then forgives you; in the other situation, you have a grudge against someone but then let it go. Which situation takes more of a weight off of your heart? Generally it’s the second one, since you take your own heart wherever you go.”  Sitting on my cushion on Wednesday morning, that’s exactly what I felt:  a loosening of my heart as I recognized the hurt and chose to let it go.

It may seem like a small thing:  to notice an injury and let it go without speaking a word to anyone.  A small act and one that frees up a lot of energy.  For me, it is a great way to clear my heart and mind for a new year.  So whether you’ve ever heard of the Natural Time Calendar or not, whether you even knew we were starting a new year or not, the invitation is the same:  take some time this week to notice any pinching feelings you have about anyone in your life (or even on the news) – be it your family, friends or the cashier at the grocery store.  See if you can take your own Day Out of Time to let the resentment go, and make choices from there about how to move forward skillfully.

Happy New Year, everybody.  In Lak’ech!*

 

* In Lak’ech is a Mayan greeting that means “I am another you” or “I am you, you are me.”

 

 

“Don’t just do something, sit there.” ~ Silvia Boorstein

In April, when I announced that I was taking a sabbatical, and people asked what I was going to do with my time, I said, “I have lots of ideas, but I don’t really know.”  “And when are you coming back to teach again?” they’d inquire.  “I don’t know,” I’d say.

Kind of a conversation-stopper, that.  Say “I don’t know,” a couple of times in a row and it’s like talking to a grouchy adolescent.  I wasn’t saying it to be annoying or mysterious.  I was saying it because it was the truest thing I could say.

After a little less than a month of Radical Sabbatical-ing, I realize that somewhere in my brain, I had a notion that clarity would come … quickly.  That I would know right away what I needed, wanted, was ready to let go of.  Ah, it would be glorious to know with angel-singing simplicity what my next steps would be so I could get to the doing of them!  As the Indigo Girls sing, “the sweetest part is acting after making a decision.” And I am ready ready ready for that sweetness!

Um.  Not so much.

The feeling of “I Don’t Know” has continued, unabated.  And I can feel myself getting impatient and uncomfortable with it.  Enough already.  Let’s figure this puppy out.  But it has become obvious to me that if this was something that I could “figure out,” that I would have done it a long time ago.  Instead, I need to hang out with I Don’t Know.

So here are a few things I did this week when I Don’t Know poured into my days:

1. Sit – As the title of Sylvia Boorstein’s book so cleverly points out, one of the best things to do when I don’t know what to do is to sit.  Get still.  Listen.  Watch what’s going on.  Oh, the monkey mind is incredible and the fidgets both physical and mental are astounding.  Yet it helps me somehow to rest in the awareness of the moment and know that I’m okay right now.

2. Write – Following the daily practice of Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way, I write stream-of-consciousness for 15-20 minutes.  Just whatever is in my head goes right down my arm, into my pen and out.  It feels a bit like a mental flush.  Here’s a little excerpt from yesterday:

“I am at a loss and time is slippin into the future.  Why aren’t those chickens laying?  Why is that chicken limping?  Why did I plant that garden so close to the cypress?  What to do?  How to be?  What is next?”

Not great reading, I grant you, but perhaps you can see why it felt good to get it out of my head.  Sometimes I also scribble scribble scribble on the page.  That feels good, too.

3. Weed – I am my mother’s daughter.  I love me some weeding.  It’s meditative, it helps the garden and it looks better when I’m done.  It’s a way of taking something that is tending toward chaos and reigns it back in.  I figure if I can’t do it with my professional life, I might as well do it in the lettuce bed.

4. Help – Yesterday, when my afternoon collapsed in on itself, Frank said he needed some help on a project so (after some unattractive resistance and poutiness) I spent my time doing that.  It was unskilled labor, to be sure – pulling carpet staples out of a floor so hardwood can go in – but it felt good to be of service and the repetitive work helped quiet my thoughts.  Come to think of it, it was sort of like weeding indoors!

5. Cook – I’m finding great solace in preparing food for my family and friends.  I’ve been experimenting with new recipes and preparations (Farro Risotto, anyone?).  I’ve delved into a new cookbook (Clean Food!  Thanks for lending it, Laura!).  And I’ve played with new ingredients (anybody know what to do with kohlrabi??).  Both the act of nourishing myself and my dear ones, and the creativity of making a dish are satisfying and easeful to my antsy spirit.

So what do you do when you don’t know what to do?  What allows you to dwell in the unknown a little longer when you need to?  Is there something that soothes your weary “Do-er”?  You have no idea:  I would so love to hear about it.

For now, I’ve decided to stick it out with I Don’t Know.  I figure the space may do me good, and at the very least, the gardens will look better, and I might find a new favorite recipe.

Today was one of those rich and poignant days where everything feels infused with meaning and emotion.  My last Friday morning class before my sabbatical was unspeakably sweet – and not due to anything I did in particular (except cry a lot, perhaps) but because of all the love and presence and kindness that was in the room.

At the beginning and end of class, I read a piece by Jamie Catto called Manifesto.  Jamie Catto is one of the co-creators of 1GiantLeap, a music project that I love and use often in class (check out the two CDs – if you’ve been in my classes, much of the music will be familiar!).  You can find the whole text of the Manifesto here (and in the menu to the right) and Jamie’s TED Talk about his current work here.

About half way through the Manifesto is the line, “We turn up to work every day pretending we’re not neurotic and obsessed and insatiable and full of doubt.”  My voice caught on “doubt.”  I realized that I’ve been carrying on pretending I’m not absolutely and completely full of doubt about the sabbatical and, frankly, just about everything.

What a relief to realize that I’m not alone.  That we are all doubt something, worry about something, are obsessed with something…and doing our best to hide it.  May we all find the courage to drop the pretending and tell it, live it, be it just like it is.

Special thanks to the many wonderful people who made today’s class so special with their offerings of words and flowers and talismans and love.  In particular:  Heather, Rebecca, Marsha, Diana, a slew of Susans, Sheila, Kate, Elizabeth, Cheryl, June & Frank, Denise, Charlotte, Kimber, Melissa and, well, all of you.  I am grateful beyond words.

In Lak’ech (ancient Mayan greeting that means “I am another you”)

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