Latest Posts

Bubbles of Freedom

This summer Byron Katie, a long-time teacher of mine, offered a worldwide 4-Day Silent Retreat. During the sessions, she posed her classic questions as a meditation. As I participated from my home; my answers, when I was able to ground them in stillness, were deep and wide and free.

During the Retreat, she reminded participants to take their time, to take one thought at a time: “It’s a practice.” This became a mantra for my own mind. I re-remembered the clarity that comes from regularly including inquiry in my daily spiritual practice.

It’s not like I haven’t been asking, “Is it true?” about my stressful beliefs for a very long time. It’s not like I’ve forgotten to question my mind in my mind as I go through the day. My respect for the professional practice of supporting others in inquiry has continued to grow as minds pop open, and open, and open.

It’s just that over time I’ve gradually moved away from regular investigation when something’s a little off in my world. Compared to the ways I used to suffer before I began to inquire into my thinking, I’m almost an Ascended Master (at least most days). Life has been so much more peaceful, kind, and rich as I’ve gradually experienced what it is to have a (stressful) story “drop me,” as Byron Katie says.

But this summer I’ve seen what’s left. Little thought bubbles have been drifting in and out of this water where I’ve been swimming. Little internal rants about the people around me. Thoughts like “They can’t be trusted (to do it my way) so I’ll just do it myself.” Even though these thoughts usually don’t disrupt my peace of mind in the moment, they tend to have a long-term effect.

And then there are the bubbles of self-doubt when I act out of integrity with myself in how I eat or treat my body.

So I’ve come back to Deep Practice. I’m investigating what happens when I actually write out my frustrations and investigate, on a daily basis. The early results are in: It DOES make a big difference to give time and attention, and trust in the process of inquiry. From the resulting clarity, I’m much more capable of listening to my body’s directions and acting on my own behalf.

If you want to explore this deep practice with a group this fall, click here. 

 

Loving the Bubbles of Freedom.

The Silence Beneath the Chatter

I just completed my fourth day of an at-home retreat. It was supposed to be silent. I truly intended it to be silent. After all, my home is in a forest-like setting near a park in a quiet neighborhood, with towering trees bearing silent testimony from every window. My ever-understanding husband took off for our cabin in the woods so I could have silence and the Internet for a couple days at a time. (I was participating in an online retreat that featured silence except for six or seven hours of inquiry a day with Byron Katie, a teacher of mine).

I rearranged clients, family, friends, errands and life as I know it. Except…

And there were many “excepts.” The neighbor at the door, the phone. The refrigerator. My dog. I took care of these as I could, returning to meditation and inquiry as I could. I complained about the interruptions some, but mostly I just did my best.

A quasi-silent retreat is better than none, I told myself, even as I complained a bit in my mind.  And it was. Especially because I have memories of other times of silence when I was away from home and distractions. And they were also far from silent. As I searched for the retreat notes yesterday,  a poem I wrote back in 2006  popped up:

 

Silent Retreat (Talk Radio)

 

I came here to be in silence

but I seem to have brought along this radio host,

Desperate to keep ‘em callin’ in.

And here I am surrounded by green silence

 

But the Oval Office keeps me posted

Strategic planning committees, discourse on success.

Counting the losses, planning the next big moment.

When all I want is a change of occupancy,

To kick the bastards out of office

And then after that, we’d see.

 

I’d keep the dial on to the channel

Where the butterflies veer past the hummingbirds.

 And the moist skin shivers as the morning 

holds the sweet night air a little longer.

And I would stay tuned.

 

What I’ve learned since then is this:  the Oval Office in my head is doing its best. They’re not “bastards.” They just want a little love. And when I’m not busy kicking them out, I notice all the beauty I was missing before, just on the other side of the belief.

Oddly, this is where I’ve ended this last “urban” silent retreat of mine. The channel is much the same. Life’s juicy sweetness is there to be sucked in. Without the war with the voice in the head, that’s all there is. And I intend to suck away, just like the hummingbirds that throng my fuchsia. We’re all just savoring this juiciness of summer. And freedom.

 

Come along. Where do you fight the talk radio in your head? Check it out. What’s on the other side? What’s always there, whether you notice it or not? This is your birthright. Claim it in a few silent moments every day. See what shifts in your world.

Back to the Sea

Mother, carry me,
Child I will always be,
Mother, carry me,
Back to the sea.

My sister and daughter and I wind our voices together in a song new yet ancient, returning from the Oregon coast. It would be the last trip I would take with my sister. My daughter, at eleven, was a skinny sprite who invited her aunt again and again to come back, with her sand castles and stick-writing and cartwheels.

“I can’t help but think I would have gotten well if I’d come here to heal instead of the hospital.”  After a year and a half, Cathy had chosen to leave a well-respected residential treatment center without her doctor’s agreement. Her dissociation made this risky, but she had long ago left her healthy self behind. And so we were all giving it our best shot by taking her back to the sea.

The sea wasn’t a long-term solution to her mental illness. Within a year her candle flame waned and wafted out. I was now the One Who Lived, the one who moved on with my life. Also the one who cleaned up a lot of messes.

The first year after her death I took a day of solitude at the ocean to grieve and to cry, echoing her hope in the healing powers of the ocean.  All the painful memories bubbled to the surface. And the sea seemed to wash away the pain.

Thus came about the yearly ritual. Solitude and silence for a day or two. Sound of ocean. Settling of thoughts. Being the feet in the sand. Woman being alive, grateful for the past year. Emptying and clearing for what may come.

For the past twenty years, I’ve taken a few days out of my life around the time of my birthday to clear my windshield of the flies and bugs and sticky things.

It’s always a holy time of being transported by saltwater, sea air, gulls, wind, and Her Majesty herself, the Sea. My family and friends respect this way of mine. They know that I will return more myself than before.

Every year I spend at least a full day in silence, which implies solitude, since I have a lifelong habit of distracting myself through conversation with anyone in a 25-foot radius. This year, however, I felt like a radical change. These days I’m making a practice of breaking my own rules. So I flipped the ritual and allowed one person, my beloved husband, to join me for a day at the beach. It’s a simple hour-long drive from where I live, and yet it’s a trip we don’t often take together. (He’s a “mountain man” and I’m an “ocean woman,” or at least that’s the story I made up.)

And so, on July 15th, my midsummer birthday, I did the “normal” thing. My husband and I went on a walk on the beach. And out to eat together at a nice restaurant. For the first time in seven months of knee surgeries, I was able to pull myself over the dunes and walk a half a mile on my new knees.

It was a great day of celebration. After all, if I am indeed This One who Lived, I’ll need those knees and appreciate that husband for a while yet. These are the things I’ll be savoring and remembering, perhaps, as I retreat to the silence of solitude this weekend. Cleaning my windows and preparing for this next year of life.

While I listen to my grown-up daughter’s CD version of Back to the Sea (originally by Diana Hull),

What are your rituals of grief? Celebration? Where do you find solace? Solitude? What personal rituals hold you together? What needs to be freshened?

Is Your Ex REALLY a Narcissist?

Guest blog by my friend Linda Carroll, Marriage Therapist and author of Love Cycles, a book I highly recommend to clients

“My boyfriend is a narcissist. That’s why we broke up,” says Amy, case closed.

“My ex-wife has a borderline personality. That’s why we aren’t together,” says Jake, and no one asks if he had any part in the demise of the marriage.

“My brother is a sociopath,” says Todd. “That’s why our joint business venture was doomed.” End of discussion.

More and more, I hear people sum up failed relationships by using clinical terms like the ones above. I’ve noticed, too, a myriad articles in blogs and magazines that advise us to get out of relationships if our partner fits one of these tags.

It’s true that some people are deeply affected by what are called “personality disorders.” That being said, it remains highly unlikely that your ex can legitimately be labeled as a narcissist, a borderline personality, or a sociopath, even at his or her worst.

That’s because the way we act when we’re in the middle of a difficult time in a relationship is never the basis of such a diagnosis. Our emotional and psychological makeup consists of a continuum: at one end lies aspects of our personality which surface under stress. At the other end is our underlying condition, that is, the organizing principle of our personality both in good times and bad, during periods of calm and under stress, whether we’re in a state of well-being or trauma.

It takes a long time to observe the complex series of symptoms that constitute a psychological condition and arrive at a legitimate diagnosis. So why has it become the vogue for so many unhappy partners to toss around these very serious and complicated labels?

When we’re hurt in a relationship, it’s tempting to make the other person the problem and to select evidence and events that diminish their credibility and value. This tactic may even have the temporary effect of making us feel better. If we slap a label on our ex, what went wrong is a “slam dunk.” The certainty with which we come to this conclusion short-circuits any pain we might suffer, and shields us from our sense of loss. Most of all, we can duck out on seeing our part in the unraveling.

So let’s examine a few of these labels, and re-consider how we are using them:

1. Narcissist

“Narcissist” is probably a label we hear most frequently, and is one that is also frequently misused. Let’s start with an example …

Meg, who always thought of herself as somewhat sickly, mildly attractive and “reasonably intelligent” (but not startling so), blossomed at 32. Her career as an editor in a yoga magazine suddenly was flourishing, and her fitness achievements and radical health improvements made her a sought-after blogger and speaker. As someone whose self-estimation had always been “just OK,” she was deeply excited by her new achievements.

Her old friends, meanwhile, began to notice how she tended now to focus on her accomplishments and her long list of admirers. They saw her less in person and more on social media, where she constantly posted selfies of herself in amazing yoga posse. Was Meg a narcissist? Or was she just going through a transition period, which caused her to be especially self-centered?

True narcissists are the loneliest people on the planet. Unable to connect with and claim their actual strengths and positive qualities, they rely almost entirely on how others see them to achieve a sense of self. Their moods tend to swing between the ecstasy of grandiosity and the agony of deficiency.

Most of us can relate to some of the characteristics that define a narcissist. We may even exhibit narcissistic traits or qualities for extended periods of time. A true narcissist, however, maintains this defining attitude always, because he or she knows no other way.

2. Sociopath

Here’s another example of how another label can get misused. Christine found out that her partner, Manny, had been dating her best friend for months behind her back. Enraged, she threw his clothes on the lawn, reported his cheating to his sister, and on impulse posted a photo on Facebook of the two traitors kissing on a running trail.

So is Megan a sociopath? Or was she temporarily blinded by anger and pain and did things she would later regret? A true sociopath lacks empathy all the time, and often is actively contemptuous of other people’s suffering.

To receive such a diagnosis, a person has to have:

  1. Exhibited a lifelong history of deceitfulness for personal profit and pleasure;
  2. Behaved aggressively toward others without regret, and
  3. Shown a lack of remorse for the harm they have caused.

3. Borderline Personality 

Likewise, borderline personality disorder is not simply a synonym for your ex-wife, who you think is punishing you by changing her mind about when you can have the kids, or by sending you mixed messages about her residual feelings for you.

The main feature of BPD is an ongoing pattern of instability in interpersonal relationships, self-image, and emotions. A person with this disorder is impulsive, often self-injurious, and often has a history of self-cutting and suicide attempts. Such a person lives with a frantic need to avoid real or imagined abandonment and expresses chronic feelings of emptiness and emotional instability, even during periods of calm and well-being.

Recall those times when you’ve been at your angriest while interacting with your partner: would you like to have had a video camera record your responses in that state? Probably not. Would your behavior indicate that you’re a person with BPD? Again, probably not.

Typically, personality disorders are diagnosed by a trained mental health professional, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist. Even family doctors are not trained to make a diagnosis, let alone upset friends and family.

So please: let’s stop flinging around labels that most of us are fortunate enough not to fit.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com

Aha! Moments and Epiphany

From the first day of the holiday season, even as I’m savoring the feasting, singing and celebratory chaos, my favorite holiday moment beckons.  I’m not of the religious persuasion that celebrates Epiphany at the end of the Advent season, so I stumbled on it by chance.  For a number of years I noticed that the season wasn’t really over for me until a few days after New Year’s Day.  Once tree was down, the last stale cookies were eaten, the kids were back at school, I dropped back into my own life with a sigh of relief.

This was the time to recap the holidays and decide what might work better in the future.  This was the time to imagine possibilities for next year. I began to notice how many insights would come as I sat with my journal and tea, waiting for resolutions to emerge from detritus of Christmas past.  As it turns out, year after year this magical day was nearly always about Jan. 5th or 6th.  Curious, I looked up the date on a liturgical calendar and discovered that it’s a celebration of the Three Wise Men, the Persian travelers who showed up to acknowledge the divinity of the Christ child in human form.

Following from that origin, the word Epiphany is about an Aha! on any level, a sudden realization or comprehension of the essence of something.  Aha! I thought.  No wonder I had discovered clarity over the years, had recognized my own essential direction every year about this time.  It was a time honored tradition! So for the last ten years I’ve entered the Epiphany date in my calendar along with some extra private time for contemplation. I invite all my friends and clients to do the same.  Sit. Be still. And listen for direction. My wish for you on this, my favorite holiday.

Happy New Now!

This cry resonated in the ballroom on  New Year’s Eve,  where I was attending the Mental Cleanse, a five-day event with Byron Katie. The event is an annual Love Fest where participants spend the last days of the old year challenging the beliefs that imprison them and taking off the chains, one thought at a time.  As always, Katie was unconditionally loving with every person and thought she invited into her “parlor.”  And we’re always invited, each moment, to finish the past and begin again, in a new now.

Over the week I noticed all the beliefs I had been acting out in my life that were no longer relevant and had caused harm to myself and to others.  Decisions about what to do in 2009 just kept making me as I watched others undo their own painful beliefs and questioned my own.   A very different way to make New Year’s resolutions, from a place of what is truer and kinder for my world.  I’ll be continuing to explore what this looks like in future blogs, I’m sure. I just find I want to share as much as I can about my own work with anyone who’s interested.

On New Year’s eve there’s a No-Talent show where participants challenge themselves to do things that would bring up fears and beliefs.  This year was my first year to take the stage, and I shared a couple of poems I’d written about what happens when you question thoughts.  Now you should know that I’m a closeted poetry writer who has never (and I mean never) shared my work. This It was scarey.  I watched my mind compare myself to the person before, convinced I could never be as funny or perfect for the occasion.  And when I read what I’d written  in front of 300 people about half of what I was on stage was me. The other was a totally freaked out lizard, victim of the reptilian Flight or Fight brain. Afterward the applause (and one person even cheered!), I was still pretty scared. It was after that biochemical cocktail of limbic wore off that I felt freer, more open to whatever is next.  To whatever that scares me. A new year. A new Now.

Snow Day and Time In

Snow Day!  The Winter Fantasy of teachers and students alike. Today a highly advertised and long-anticipated Winter Storm hit. Where I live, this happens once, maybe twice, a year. Instead of heavy investing in snow-clearing devices, we try to avoid driving altogether, fearful for the frightened and inexperienced drivers creeping here and there.  Most of us just stay at home.

I no longer work or have children in the schools, but I awake from hibernation dreams with anticipation. Every year I’m more and more likely to override the seasonal imperative to shop. When I’m not singing holiday music in a choir, I’m writing, reading, dreaming.  But today…I have company. It’s like we all have a Time Out of the frenzy. A time In. To watch the wintery winds, drink cocoa, savor the season.  A Time In.

And I wonder. Will this spread?  When was the last time you had a Time In? No matter what the culture tells us, our bodies know it’s time. Time to be still, to dream hibernation dreams and listen to the still small voice.  We can choose to make this time, even if it’s just for a day. It’s time for a Time In.

My Not-So Silent Night and How I Recovered

Years ago, when my children were small, I set a modest goal of celebrating the return of light as it is practiced by most of the people of the world. My thought was that Winter Holiday was a chance to give my children an appreciation for global diversity at the same time they honored their own religious heritage. By Christmas Eve, what they had gained was a deep respect for Mother in Meltdown. Read More>>

To Gratefulness Leaves and Life as It Is

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I live far away from my blood kin, so we  created a new extended family right where we are. The same eight adults and eight children have celebrated Thanksgiving and other holidays for over twenty years together. We’re larger now that most of the kids have partners and some have babies. We’re pretty much like any other blood kin of aunts, uncles, cousins and great-grandparents, complete with both beloved and annoying traits. On a holiday these are often one and the same. Read More>>

My Economic Meltup

“Economic melt down.” The words have been reverberating for more than a month now.  When it all began, I went right back to the amusement park in my mind, but I ended up taking the Roller Coaster from Hell. Come to find out, I wasn’t alone there.

“The mind is a place unto itself. It can make a hell of a heaven or a heaven of a hell,”  John Milton said. The news of the last week, as well as the month before, has placed a whole lot of folks in the latter, direct from the thrill ride of the election ups and downs, regardless of which candidate they favored.

As in any crisis, my first response was to think of myself. Shameless ego. First question: So what does this mean to my life?  I noticed the  second thing I did was to envision my family and loved ones with nothing. Very uplifting.  Whole lives in the gutter. Pain and helplessness. This image soon dissolved, fading into photos of soup lines in the Depression. Grapes of Wrath. Superimposed with the faces of everyone I know and love and millions I don’t know but might love. In a new technicolor release. Twenty-first century hell. Read More>>

2015 Visualization

Ever since Election Day, I’ve noticed my mind’s been a carnival or an amusement park. There’s the roller coaster, with emotional highs (mostly) and lows (some), based on my beliefs about whether the best candidate won or whether the ballot measure is just. Then there’s the spinner,  which mixes the news up with my opinions about it, twirls it around and around until my brain is dizzy. And then there’s the House of Fear, which replays scenes from past elections and leaders, re-playing all the scariest images of political assassinations from my youth.

Yesterday a friend forwarded me a soothing email suggestion. It puts my mind at ease and helps me find a seat on the bench, watching all the amusements from a peaceful distance.  I have no idea who the author is, but I’m grateful, and it’s simply too good not to share with you.

The year is 2015.  You glance at the television one morning and see Obama having another of his many press conferences.  He has now been in office for almost 8 years. Read More>>

Letting Go of Encumbrances

Fall has long been my favorite season. Once I came across these words (by F. Scott Fitzgerald), and they seemed to encapsulate everything I love about the season.

Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall. The fall season allows us to see our lives reflected in the beauty of the land all around us: the rolling hills, the harvested fields. The sturdy trees and the thrill of their colors, the harvest moon, the intoxicating chill in the morning air, the farm animals as they seek shelter from the cold. As the trees let go of their leaves so we too must let go of our encumbrances. And as we let go of all that is superfluous and unnecessary in our lives, we receive the gift of inner peace. Ultimately, this is autumn’s greatest gift to us.

Today I canvassed door to door to remind voters of tomorrow’s election. As I crunched through the fallen leaves,  I noticed my mind racing with fear and anxiety about the outcome.   I could see the purpose of trying to get out the vote, but how was my  obsessive thinking helping my candidate get elected? I decided to see my fearful thoughts as encumbrances that were falling with the leaves. Within a couple of blocks,  I noticed my mind grew a little calmer. It didn’t slow me down in my efforts to get my candidate elected, but it was a much more peaceful walk.

What encumbrances of thinking would you like to release this fall? If you’re in the mood, take a walk and watch them fall around you, along with the autumn leaves. See what you notice. The ones that don’t want to let go, the ones that are ready and surrender easily. They’re all there to help you on your way.

A Celtic Beginning

November 1st. The Halloween ghosts and goblins have gone home to divvy up their treats and  harvest festivals are upon us. Today (which actually began last night at dusk) is  Sawhain, the beginning of the Celtic New Year. The word “bonfire” comes from the fires that were lit everywhere for safety from wandering spirits. The bones that were left after the New Year’s feasting were cast on the fire to burn.

I love all the pieces of ancient folklore I picked up in the twenty years I taught mythology. Every year at this time I celebrate coming indoors. In the shelter and protection from the rain and cold, I am grateful.

The first month of the new year was called Samonios, meaning “seed fall,” a reminder that from the seeds of darkness, new life will spring. Today I wonder what seeds are being nurtured within me.  It’s too soon to tell but I notice the mystery lives in that not knowing.

It’s in that spirit that I’m writing my first official Oasis blog. So instead of a post-sugar hangover this year, or in spite of it, I light a morning candle wondering and waiting, committing to the patience and curious to see what will come of this new beginning.