Seeking Imperfection

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It is in my art journal that I relish the blemishes, the messiness, the absolute imperfection of life. I love seeing chaos on the page, and the feeling of letting go of any attempt to produce something beautiful. Instead, I let the scribbles, drips, tears and rips dominate. I allow the emotions to roar forth through color and shape. 

It is perfectly imperfect.

It is where I compost my life and let the layers of myself decay and transform into rich, nourishing soil. It all becomes compost that feeds the lotus to bloom from within.

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I write tidbits about life there: the piles of snow that came overnight; the chicory coffee I had with a friend; the ecstatic dance where my heart soared to the heavens. There, between the hardbound black covers of the journal are my bits, the ones I chose to collect and recollect. 

I listen for messages from the Universe through the random scraps of paper, wrappers, pictures and string haphazardly glued into the bound pages. I read it all as though I were reading tea leaves and learning about my life. 

I am at once the mad scientist artist composing, and yet I have no idea what is coming through me, so end up deciphering the mysterious messages once they appear. 

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The art journal is my living breathing mirror – a reflection of my psyche at any given point in time, not to be judged for its beauty or resolution, but to be witnessed and read for the codified missives that spirit sends from the other side. In this way it is a thrilling document, and a mystery unfolding.

It is a means to understand the worlds beyond and to open to guidance from something far greater than my little self. 

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The process is none less than magnificent. It strips me of ego and shows the microcosm of a human life, which just happens to be mine.

 


Seeing Red!

We are what we feel and perceive. If we are angry, we are the anger. If we are in love, we are love. If we look at a snow-covered mountain peak, we are the mountain. We can be anything we want…” Thich Nhat Hanh
 
I know I’ve heard it many times – "whatever you place your attention on is what you’re going to experience." It seems so simple and straightforward. But this lesson hit home in a new way when I was in India with our group last month.

Each day we had an exercise to look for one color as we moved about the streets of India. Each color corresponded to a Chakra. We were to take pictures of that color throughout the day. The first day was Red, for the Root Chakra and as we set out on our way to see the temples of Mamallapuram, lo and behold, it seemed all of the women were wearing red saris. We all exchanged smiles, and snapped away, often taking pictures with the women.

The next day, we traveled on to Tiruvannamalia, a few hours to the South to visit Sri Ramana Maharshi’s ashram, and our focus was on orange. Well it turns out, all of the Sadhus were wearing orange, and they lined the streets as well as milled about the ashram.

The group began to ask me if I had called ahead to get India to cooperate with our color exercise. And so it went – whatever color we worked with, we not only found it, because we were placing our attention on finding it, we had the visceral experience of this lesson.

It is true, that wherever you place your attention, that is your experience. The person who sees the glass half full is right. The person who sees the glass half empty is right. It’s all in the perspective.

So, the question is what do you want to focus on? Where do you place your attention and what are you growing in your life? These are the questions I will keep asking myself.


The Antidote to a Sense of Lack?

Every time he says it, it’s like a big blow to my gut.

“You seem to look at things from the point of view of lack - the glass half empty.” It touches a nerve. I feel immediately defensive.

“What do you mean?” I always say.

I think of myself as a harbinger of fun and positivity, a bug who’s spreading the love. But behind the scenes of my unconsciously crafted persona, I think he’s right.

I have an orientation of lack.

I’ve spent my life wanting. Something.

Something Else.

Something that was different than what was right in front of me.

I’ve spent my time wanting to have thick wavy hair instead of loving my fine, thin, easy-to-dry-hair.

Wanting to live in a quiet place with trees, when I lived in the hustle and bustle of the Bay Area.

And when I got to the quiet place, I wanted to move back. To the hustle, the bustle, the culture, the people.

I wanted boobs. Not bigger boobs, just boobs. You get the picture.

I didn’t get them. But over the years I’ve come to appreciate my flat chested-ness for the ease of having no breasts to get in the way when doing yoga, running or dancing.

I wanted a partner.

I got that.

Then I wanted him to be different. To be someone else. For it to be easier.

We got married and then I spent my time fantasizing about being single and how much simpler it would be.

Oh, I could go on and on. But you know that feeling. Right? That feeling of wanting something other than what you have, or grasping for some other experience than the one that is happening.

I can dig back into my childhood and find all of the reasons for this “lack” orientation. I could blame it on losing my father when I was seven, or that my family moved a lot when I was a kid, or that I was always the new girl in class. Or maybe it’s because I’m a FOUR on the Enneagram! But what good does it REALLY do to find something to blame?

So, you know what’s been helping me?

Gratitude!

Yes, the practice of gratitude has been one of the antidotes to my feeling of lack.

It started out as a tiny experiment a few years ago to see what would happen if I practiced gratitude for 28 days.  Twenty-eight days -  one of those random numbers “they say” will help you establish a new habit.

So I tried it. I woke up every day and lay in bed thinking about what I was grateful for. I started with the simple things,

“I’m grateful for another day to live.
I’m grateful for this healthy body.
I’m grateful for the ease of breathing, for my beautiful home, for a loving husband.”

I immediately felt lighter and more open hearted.

I took it a notch further and set up an altar to remind myself to practice throughout the day. Bit by bit, the sour flavor of dissatisfaction began to abate with consistent practice.

Suddenly my husband became this awesome partner. I loved my home, and where I live. I loved the people I encountered each day.  I loved just being alive.

As the practice took root and grew in me, I started writing in a gratitude journal before I went to bed. A smile often spread across my face as I lay my head on the pillow. I was surprised to feel happy each night naming simple things that brought me joy throughout the day.

I started seeing that I have a great life, and that there is nothing lacking. I don’t need to change anything. I simply need to drop into this moment, and appreciate what it offers.

Now, I don’t want you to think that I have this gratitude thing all wrapped up. Because I don’t. But I do notice, with regular practice, it helps me re-orient my life towards the positive.

So, whenever I start to grumble too much, or my husband points it out again that I’m looking at the glass half empty, I amp up my practice to help me out!

 

 


Post India Lesson #2: What's so Pressing?

I’m driving I-90 towards Spokane Valley. It’s 3:30 in the afternoon, and I’m on my way to teach people to be present and to relax in a Yin Yoga class.

As I’m hurtling down the highway, I feel the urge to make a call. It feels very important. I MUST get in touch with Ann, Volunteer Coordinator at the men’s prison where I teach yoga once a week.

My right hand flies from the steering wheel, starts to dig in my brown leather bag on the passenger seat.  The desire to contact Ann immediately is insistent.

Before my hand finds my iphone, I hear a loud, stern voice in my head say, “Do NOT make a call now. You are going 60 MPH on the freeway. THAT is how accidents happen.”

“Oh right,” I think to myself.

My hand glides back to the steering wheel. I grip it firmly like a young girl and say to myself, “DO NOT make any calls while you’re driving. That is how accidents happen.” As though I am repeating my parent’s mantra to myself.

I have to concentrate.

I have to focus to over-ride the urgency of making phone call. I continue to talk myself down. “You can talk to her tomorrow. This is not a critical situation. Why do you need to speak to her now anyway?”

Just 10 days prior, I was in India.

I was flowing. I felt so at-one with everything. I moved from moment to moment with the grace that raptor birds ride the wind.

I’d landed myself in a small village surrounded by jungle in Southern India for 3 weeks of Panchakarma – a deep Ayurvedic cleanse for body and soul. To my dismay, the Ayurvedic Ashram had internet. Sketchy though it was, we could still connect to Facebook, and Whatsap when the power was on.

For the first few days I got sucked into the Facebook vortex of what was happening at home. Until I noticed that the constant connection with some place other than where I was kept pulling me out of my real time experience. Three days of that and I had to disconnect.

Just to keep myself accountable, I made sure to announce it on Facebook that I was cutting myself off.

It took a bit of time, but slowly I really began to enjoy the art of lying around, looking at the palm leaves sway in the wind, or listening to the symphony of bird calls at 6 am as the sun was rising. Watching the darkening afternoon clouds billow in the sky with anticipation of rain became a highlight of the day. We’d all gather on the veranda to wait.

At meals we often ate in silence and I discovered the pleasure of really tasting my food – the slippery texture of ochre blended in a curry sauce with a dash of cumin. I began to hear the sounds I made as I ate – the chewing, then swallow and how swallowing makes the ears burst with sound.

What felt so easy in India, with the heat, the fact that all my meals were being made for me, and that I had no “to do” list except to get to my treatment each day, feels somewhat elusive now back at home. I find my meditations filled with “great” writing for my next blog (If only I could write it down while meditating!) my meal time seems chockfull of the day’s to-do list in my head, and I notice the insistent urge to “do” something productive presses firmly on my existence.

So, in moments like I had while driving to class, in which I’m about to multi-task in a dangerous way, I feel grateful to wake up momentarily, and to remember to do just one thing at a time. Take it in. Enjoy what I’m doing with focus and presence.

 Even if it is only in snippets, I’m grateful to be jolted out of my slumber to “be, here, now,” as Ram Dass would tell us. 

It’s all we’ve got. This moment. Why clutter it up?


India Lesson #5: Continue to Relax into What's Happening

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First Abhyanga Treatment

I am not a terribly modest person by nature. Coming from California I’m used to de-robing and stepping into a hot tub with friends and new acquaintances. But here in India, my usual uninhibited self feels modest and almost shy about showing any skin.

Revealing any shoulder or leg skin is frowned upon in general, and especially in Muslim  areas. It’s simply not done by the multitudes of Indian women I’ve seen. It seems the mid-drift is the only area on the body that is ok to reveal – at least within Hindu culture.

You can imagine my surprise when I was called to my first Abhyanga massage, given by Dr. Sastry, a 30-something year old man, and handed a long piece of stiff white clothe with two strings attached to one end. He held it up and I looked at him with a question in the tilt of my head. 

“Loin clothe.” He said with a kind look on his face.

“I see,” I thought. I’m supposed to wrap this little piece of clothe between my legs, tie it from behind and come out practically naked. 

“Ok.” I said.

I put on the requisite article of clothing to cover my privates. When I emerged from the bathroom, he gestured with his arm for me to lie on the pink fiberglass table.

“Face up.”

“OK.” I scrambled to reconcile the plethora of feelings running through me in a moment’s time. I felt the twinge of shyness, the teenage embarrassment that this strange man was not only going to see me half-naked, but was going to be massaging me with oil all over my body. I took a few deep breaths to relax into the moment, reminding myself that he’s a doctor and we all have bodies.  But the twinges of discomfort poured into the nooks and crannies of my psyche mainly because I couldn’t quite reconcile the intense modesty in India with the openness of the Ayurvedic treatment.

I lay myself down on the hard table, face up while he lit a candle, turned on some chanting music and then began the treatment. He gently placed one hand on the crown of my head, his other hand on my inner thigh to ground the top and bottom of the chakras while softly chanting a mantra, invoking a higher power.

As I lay there, I, too, said a little prayer, setting my own intention that they whole PanchaKarma treatment would bring about clarity, greater healthy, rejuvenation, and joy.

He began pouring the warm medicated oil in circles around my navel, then around each breast, up and down each arm and then down each leg. Slowly he worked the oil into my body with circular emotions around the belly and breasts, and with long strokes up and down the arms and legs. I felt myself relaxing into the experience. When he was done with the front side, he tapped me lightly on the arm to have me flip over.

Easier said than done when covered with oil. I was like a slippery fish. The warm oil felt luxurious as he poured it over the backside of my body.

Twenty five minutes later I was done with the oil portion. He told me to wait 5 minutes for the following treatment, which was a medicated warm water drizzle to be poured all over the front and back of the body in specific motions. 

I found myself dropping into an almost trance like state as Papa G (Dr. Sastry’s father) drizzled the water on me. The two treatments took about an hour, and to be honest they felt fairly benign. Once done, Sumitra, one of the assistants, guided me to the bathroom where two hot buckets of water awaited me for a shower.

Breakfast followed, and after breakfast I lay down for a short nap. 

I didn’t get up until lunch. As I napped I felt a buzzing energy moving through my body and at the same time, felt like I’d been infused with melatonin and couldn’t move any of my limbs. I had a deep sleep.

This was all on day one. I was curious to see how the three week treatment would unfold.