The Edges of Fear

I went for a long swim in the ocean this morning.  I am learning to find confidence and endurance in deep water ocean swimming by working with an individualized coach who specializes in ocean safety.  I respect the ocean and approach it with caution. Part of the program is learning how to swim in rip currents. Being swept by a rip current is probably one of my greatest fears. As we were approaching the water and I expressed my hesitancy and fear, he remarked that he has repeatedly seen that individuals have much more endurance than they think they do.  He said that it is important to exhaust yourself in the water to know that even exhausted, you have more stamina than you thought possible – this is the basis of ocean safety. When most people struggle in the water it is because of panic and fear, not actual endurance.  In order to be safe, you have to know your outer limits.

This of course has me think about how this wisdom is applicable in other arenas.  How does knowing your outer edges of capabilities create confidence and mastery? We all have our limits or edges that we feel reflect our abilities.  Those abilities determine our actions. It is interesting to think about how many of those limits/edges have really been tested and how many are based on our comfort level or our fears? How many times do we stop engaging in something because fear and panic intervene?  There are times when our fears are justified, when our fear protects us from engaging in something that is harmful or signals us to remove ourselves from a calamitous situation. This is referred to as a justified fear.  Many times though, what people experience is unjustified fear.  

Unjustified fear is a fear that is real because of the fact that it is present.  However, with unjustified fear, the level of fear does not match the intensity of the situation.  For instance, if someone has an intense fear of crossing bridges, the level of fear does not match the statistical probability that the bridge will collapse.  This fear is valid because it is present, however it is unjustified.  Our normal habit is to disengage at the peak of unjustified fear; this is where we give up, allowing our fear to win as we change the course of our behavior to avoid the stimulus.  When we disengage, we never discover what is on the other side of fear. This premature disengagement is one of the main reasons individuals struggle to find a life free of old hurts.  In order to grow as individuals, we need to engage with life beyond our edges of comfort and find out what we are capable of beyond our fears.

When we have the courage to face our fears, to swim to the other side of what we thought was possible, we open ourselves up to new opportunities . If we don’t face our fears, we would never find the coffee shop on the other side of the bridge, or have the courage to swim with dolphins.  Through this program I am learning what ocean conditions are safe for me to engage in, and what precautions I need to take in order to be safe. Instead of fearing the ocean, I am learning to understand when my fear is justified and when it is unjustified.  Fears keep us small, it narrows our options, and it controls our behaviors.  When we face our unjustified fears, we expand our capabilities and our life becomes more expansive.   I now know that I can swim farther than I ever thought possible, and because of that, a whole new set of experiences are open to me.



The Silence that Invites Intentionality

To hear, one must be silent.  Ursula K. Le Guin


I have been exploring the power of silent spaces within conversation.  I find that typically, whoever is speaking usually assumes a place of responsibility, or higher contribution, within the conversation.  I am curious about how silence can shift this presumed responsibility. In a conversation, there is a palpable energy that passes between two people.  Most often, the energy is an external energy, manifesting as action or reaction. In this outward energetic manifestation, there is little that is actually penetrating deep within.  When we are caught up in this energy, it is common to not really remember what one said, or what was heard in a conversation. This is a dynamic I see a lot between couples, or between parents and their children.  However, when we introduce silent pauses, the tension moves from being an external process to an internal process; and this is the place that magic happens. When people pause and allow for silences, they begin to welcome this  process more frequently and a deeper internal conversation results. Growth, then, can manifest in so many ways.

When we are communicating with loved ones, there is an opportunity for graciousness.   When we love someone, it is a powerful gift to offer grace. By grace I mean the conscious decision to assume that the person in front of you is doing the best that they can do with the resources they have in the moment.  It is not a perfect practice; it is always imperfect. However, offering them the benefit of the doubt that they are doing the best they can, given the stress they feel, given their bruised heart, given their sleepless night, is making room for love.

I have discovered that without graciousness and silence, there is little growth. It seems like it is the melding of those two elements that manifests the greatest potential. When our minds are busy, when our words are urgent, there is little introspection.  At these times, we are tapping into a well-worn unconscious pattern within us. However, when we pause and allow room for introspection through silence, a new option arises. When we offer grace to the present moment, we see the person in front of us as the person we love, not the one who has hurt us unintentionally.

So where are the opportunities that can invite an opening into a different dynamic?  It can be a pause before answering. Instead of responding with the first thought that comes into your mind, you could alternatively pause and reflect on, “what is the most important thing I would like to say right now, to this person?”  This is the silence that invites intentionality.  It is easy to forget the power of intentional communication in place of communication based on what we feel.

There is also the pause that makes room for someone else’s process.  It is the pause that makes room for the other person to think, to create and, to own their own thoughts.  I find that many times we speak, we are trying to convince people of our point of view, our legitimacy. Much of our energy is spent on secretly building our defenses because we know when our listener speaks, they might disagree. If there were more silences, we would be graciously giving our loved one the gift of truly free speech without energy being wasted in fitting our armour.  I wonder what would shift if the person either listening or speaking was no longer putting energy into convincing. Where would that energy get funneled into? Perhaps into clarifying their own thought process.

Another layer underneath all of these opportunities for silence is the possibility to release judgement.  When we are faced with the opportunity to allow silence and to notice someone’s goodness, we can’t help but face the judgment that lurks beneath the surface. When we are quiet and evaluative, introspective and warm, there is space for discovery of whatever unconscious fear we hold. I wonder if that is the place that holds the greatest potential for healing. Without the busyness of words, without reactions and defenses, there is the pure, innocent, and powerful space for untapped potential.  There exists the potential to release judgements of others, but most importantly, the judgements we hold of self.





Our attention . . .

I am of the generation who grew up with the TV always on.  My parents stayed up every night to watch the 11 o’clock news, and of course, we watched the 6 o’clock news while we ate dinner.  Television provided entertainment, but it also reinforced values.  Shows like, Little House on the Prairie, reinforced the messages my parents tried to teach me;  honesty, respect for your elders, responsibility. I watched the Brady Bunch, Mr. Rogers, and Captain Kangaroo.  Watching TV when I was young, was educational and informative.  

Now I have my own kids, and TV does not feel the same.  Movies and shows seem to actually take pride in undermining values.  When reality TV shows highlight individual’s worst moments their ratings go high.  Kylie Jenner is on the cover of Forbes magazine as the youngest self- made billionaire, why? Shows are filled with violence, crime, death and murder, sex and drugs.  

There is an industry now that works on creating stimuli and entertainment that is additive.  In fact, when a video game is designed, they attach electrodes on to a player and measure the dopamine release and heart rate in order to determine the likelihood someone will play/be addicted to their product.  Shows end on cliffhangers and Netflix now starts the next episode automatically. All these things happen in order to make choices for us.  They are designed by default to hack our biochemistry and make us want to continue.  Who are we trusting with our brains, our bodies, and our chemistry?

In order to be creative and free of manipulation, it takes a lot of effort to pull ourselves free.  Following our dopamine on instagram or twitter is easy, but it distracts us from engaging in life in a meaningful way.  Our world needs our attention, our children need our attention, and we owe ourselves our attention.

It seems like it will be more and more difficult to find our way when technology is purposefully hacking our attention.  Staying awake and pulling ourselves away from what is easy is necessary if we are to address climate change or political unrest or even the process of striving for our higher purpose. Waking up and deciding what is worthy of our attention is one way we can reclaim control. Otherwise, we are being controlled and we don’t even know it.



The Garden

I have studied human behavior and that has provided me with certain gifts.  I can listen to someone talk and I hear their past, their present, and their future.  Everything they say, what they don’t say, how they hold their body, their expressions, and their eyes all leave markers or ripples.  It is the language I am most used to speaking.

I am less comfortable, or proficient, in reading the language of the outer nature.  I know of people who can predict the weather, track the prints of an animal, and who know many things about the natural habitat that surrounds them.  These are languages that are quieter in the city. There are people who can find morels in the woods by our house, and those who can forage for food. There are people who know the temperament of trees.  I, however, am not yet one of those people.

I moved to Costa Rica in order to expand my language skills.  Spanish, yes, but also the language of a place dripping in nature.  I felt that in the life I was living before, I could do anything I wanted, whenever I wanted, despite nature.  It was not necessary to learn the language of the natural world – this earth – because I had a temperature controlled house, a car that could take me wherever I wished to go, and consistent and reliable utilities.  I know I was becoming more and more closed off – more and more separated from the Garden.

As I write this, I am seeing the various layers of this separation.  In Christian mythology, Adam and Eve were kicked out of the Garden of Eden.  This is a cultural mythology that I as a Western hold. This myth is buried deep within me.   As a byproduct of this myth, I am always trying to get back in good graces with nature; or perhaps maybe it is better said that I feel rooted in a sense of opposition to nature.  In the past, I have always tried to not let nature affect me.  When I was cold, I would turn up the heat; when it rained, I would stay inside.

When I was in Chile a couple years ago, I observed an elder Shaman who, as we hiked, offered her blessings and gratitude to the water of a stream or creek every time we passed one by.  Every time she saw water, she felt gratitude. In my busy life in the States, I felt gratitude when I was out in “big” nature, but on a daily basis, I didn’t feel it; I wondered what example I was setting for my kids by way of this.  After all, our children will most in charge of saving the environment.

In other traditions, people were not kicked out of the garden but were designated as keepers of the garden;others as co-creators in the garden.   I came to Costa Rica so I could finally expunge the cultural myth that I don’t belong in this natural world – within this garden. I believe deeply within myself that I am a co-creator – that everything is interdependent.  Everything is connected, and if everything is connected then I am constantly affecting nature and I am constantly being affected by nature. Without shadow of a doubt then, I belong.

This morning at the beach I was watching the sun rise and the dance of the hermit crabs.  I was aware of my every step. As I walked gently, the vibration of my footsteps caused the little creatures to retreat into their shells.  My movement directly affected their lives. When I sat down on the beach, and as I quieted my body, they would all once again start their roaming for food.   It was displayed so clearly in this small moment just how linked our lives really are, though I know that I lose this sense in my day to day life. I am not always aware of the ripples that I cause, or how I experience the ripples when I feel them from the outside.   When I drop a piece of food from my breakfast on the deck, ants will come and devour it. They move in response to me, and I move in response to them. My question is always how do I take this medicine of the moment and integrate it into my life. How do I share it’s teachings with those around me?   Most importantly, how can I myself remember this medicine? I forget it so easily.

A simple question to the kids about whether or not they have homework sends ripples.  If my intention is for them to be responsible, self motivated children, does asking them that question create the ripple I intended or does it create a ripple I did not intend?  The path of impeccability, the path of deliberate attention, is developing the awareness to read the ripples. It is choosing to be a source of light that creates ripples. A simple question can potentially undermine their process of self exploration and self initiation.  For my son, he takes a question as a reminder. He drops what he is doing and he goes and does his homework. I think the ripple is that he is not learning to remember for himself or that he has not developed the skill of managing his own time. For my daughter, it is a place of differentiation.  If I withheld asking the question, she might have started her homework momentarily because it was a good time for her; however with her, the ripple pushes her to differentiate herself from me, and she does not do her homework. Ah, the power of a question. When I am honest with myself, I am only asking the question for myself – to plan the rest of the day, to know what to expect, to assuage my self-judgments about my parenting style.  The question is for me and not for them. They are old enough now to take care of these things themselves. However, asking the question at this point, selfishly for myself, has the potential of creating ripples that go completely against what I am striving for every day with my kids.

All of this reminds me that ripples are ever-present, and that the Garden is our teacher, if only we are inclined to listen.



The Stories We Tell . . .

“I hope you will go out and let stories happen to you, and that you will work them, water them with your blood and tears and your laughter, ‘til they bloom, ‘til you yourself burst into bloom.”

Clarissa Pinkola Estés, PhD

I am interested in how we narrate our lives – in the stories we tell.  When someone looks at us and asks us who we are, certain memories and stories rise into consciousness.   The stories that define us, those experiences that played the largest role in shaping who we believe ourselves to be.  

Depending on where we’re at in the present moment – the feelings of the day, the sleep we had last night – the stories we attach to will support that underlying mood.  Vulnerable? We will linger in stories of how we have been hurt. Angry? In stories about how we’ve been wronged. Our feelings and the stories we share weave a powerful connection. Feeling hopeless?  Stories about how we never accomplished that one thing we so badly desired… It is a powerful tendency. We usually tell the stories that support our current mood, and fall to narrating our lives unconsciously.

I wonder: can we reverse this tendency?  Can I determine how I want to feel – strong, playful, enlightened, and courageous?  Can I find my stories that will help me to embody those characteristics? Can I see that who I am today – the strong, the courageous, the brave – was actually built through the trials of yesterday?  Can I see that the thing that most hurt me when I was 5 years old has manifested into my greatest strength? This is the true power and possibility of narrating life my way.

What characteristics do I authentically wish to live by now?  Perseverance, creativity, fearlessness, guts, and humility. Where did I develop these characteristics and what are the experiences that created that possibility in me?  As I listen closely, my mind wanders to a job at a factory, an improv class, community theater, travelling alone, and facing the death of both of my parents. Through the years, these characteristics have strengthened in me; and through telling these stories with vulnerability, strength, and fearlessness, I will strengthen myself.   I will strengthen myself by the stories that I tell.





Intergrating

A dear friend, a midwife, once said to me that you can see the core of a woman’s makeup while she is in labor.  All conditioning and social facades melt away when a woman is giving birth.  Something primal is released.  Bringing a child into this world is so all consuming that all that is left is a rawness within the mother’s presence.

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I think this rawness can be observed too when we are faced with difficulties, particularly those of the unexpected and unknown.  In these moments we are stripped of our filters – our cultural mythologies – leaving us vulnerable, raw, and unfiltered. 

Coming to Costa Rica has been in many ways a stripping down to this basic state of being.  We have experienced floods, earthquakes, tropical storms, scorpions, and the jungle at large.  In being here, we have been thrown off our game, allowing us to see what lives underneath, at our core.  Are we really as adaptable, positive and open to new things as we think?  We can’t hide behind comfort here as much.  

I have conversations with people in similar circumstances as ourselves and within the words spoken, I listen for the story that they spin about their experiences.  I listen to the story that I spin as well.  I am continually fascinated by all the tales – what is emphasized, what is forgotten, and what is exaggerated in the telling. 

I can hear the difference between the individuals who, at their core, have a growth mindset and others who are trying to find it but struggle when vulnerability arises.   What I do know is that at times, adapting and finding the silver lining, or the sweet within the sour of lemonade, makes me weary.  There are some days when I feel up to the challenge of being here – when I feel open to embracing all the medicines of this place, knowing that on some level, growth and change is happening.  At other times, I just want comfort, to be in a place where I feel safe and where things are known and familiar.  

I believe this vacillation is normal and healthy.  I think that in everything there needs to be times of exertion and then times of rest.  Nature is a beautiful, direct example of this.  The seasons… the flux between growth and dormancy.  I am no different; being a part of nature as well, I also need times of rest and comfort to fortify myself for all the growth and change that is happening.   The cultural myth that was fueled by the well-loved Descartes saying, “I think therefore I am,” reinforces the idea that the mind is the most evolved part of ourselves.  With my mind I believe that I can control all the other aspects of my complicated self, including the wisdom of my body.  For example, my body might call for rest but the mind urges that I need to work.  When I remind myself to follow the natural flow of energy, which is more basic, more raw, and more important than anything my mind can configure, I no longer fight what is naturally-occuring within me.  When I stop fighting, all of my being comes into sync. 

 I have come to understand that this flux between rest and exertion is the only way we can truly integrate and transform.  Force of will and hard work will only take you so far – and if you are not careful, it will exhaust you.  It is important to support the deep work of rejuvenation and the natural cycle of integration.  We can only learn from history if we pause, center ourselves, and remember.  We cannot learn by plowing ahead or by trying too hard. By tending to our natural rhythms and the body’s wisdom, we provide space for integration to occur. Pause, remember and re-remember. 



Being with Time

I desire for my relationship to time to shift.  I am noticing that my mind takes the concept of time and uses it against me.  I am beginning to see that when time is viewed as a commodity, it is continually being judged.  I frequently think of time as being well spent or wasted. I feel that there is never enough time, that my time is limited on this earth, that time is running out.  I look at the clock and watch the markings of time and all that it does is cause me to hurry.

Time is now viewed as a limited resource.  How does this view of time shape my relationship to it?  What happened to the so-called expansiveness of time? I have read books on how our relationship to time is shifting with the advancement of technology and our ability to measure more and more minisual moments of time.  Time used to be measured by the sun and by counting the number of moons that passed. I would love to inquire with our ancestors about their relationship to time. Nowadays, we all know here what a minute feels like . . . a half hour, an hour . . .  these are definitions we use to mark our days, our tasks, and our purpose. How would life be measured if there was no awareness of a minute or an hour? How would time feel different then? I am curious . . .

We are studying the Spanish language.  We are humbled. As I have never studied a language before I have never had the joy of discovering a culture through how the language is organized.  I was struck as we were learning estar/ser verbs that meaning is “to be.” In the Spanish language “to be” is separated out into qualities of being: permanency or fluidity.  Sleep is fluid, whereas hard is permanent. To my amazement, death is thought of as fluid and not a permanent condition. This tells me so much about the culture I am living in and also their view of time.  There is not an end of life according to this view; it just shifts into another realm. The language also intrigues me when in reference to age. In English, I say, “I am forty-six years old.” In Spanish, I would say I have forty-six years.  Again a different way to measuring time.

How can I step into a different sense of time. . . a sense of timelessness?  I know when I am in ceremony, I taste this; so I know it to be true. I always forget this though, and this always leads me back to the forgetting and the need to re-remember.   

When I was young maybe, 10 or 11 years old,  I remember taking all the clocks out of my room, blocking my windows with paper and begging my mom not to tell me what time it was.  I wanted to discover for myself: when I would be hungry, when I would go to sleep, how long would I do anything without measuring the worthiness of the task by the clock.   I have done this a couple of times when I have been on retreat and it helps me shift to another dimension of being. Something more internal, deeper and primal. I am not sure how, with kids and clients and outside life that lives according to a schedule,  I can really cultivate this sense of timelessness; but I would like to see something shift. I think most of time I am just wanting to step into a place of timelessness where the task I am doing is all consuming, that I forget time exists, where I forget what I have to do later in the day, the next day or the next week.  I want to forget that there is any other time than the one I am in. I am think this is what I am always searching for . . . this state of flow. How do I reach it? I reach it by writing this, by having a meaningful conversation with someone, by staring at the ocean, by feeling the wind on my skin. Maybe it is not my relationship to time that is problematic; maybe it is the quality of my attention and the choices I still stubbornly make that bring me into the deadly dance with time.  I think I am called now to move my attention to something deeper and to remember: the clock was man made and really does not belong on this earth.



A Poem by Naomi Shihab Nye

Kindness

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho 
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans 
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside, 
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.  
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth. 

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and 
     purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you every where
like a shadow or a friend.

A Poem from Mary Oliver

 

Wild Geese

 

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting --
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

~ Mary Oliver ~

 

(Dream Work)

Global Metamorphosis

I feel excited and hopeful.  In Costa Rica we are immersed in the rhythms of nature.  We cannot separate ourselves from the rains, the sun, the insects, the animals.  We cannot conquer the jungle.  I am noticing how the locals dance with the jungle.  There seems to be a give and take, a complicated relationship in which the humans know they are not in charge and cannot force their will.  Instead, there seems to be a deep, respectful entanglement with the elements.  I feel I am re-remembering something deep within me.  Something that in our modern times is absent from our cultural understanding.  I feel like I am remembering that I am nature.  

Our cultural myths reinforce our separation with nature: our need to dominate and control the elements; our need to take care of the earth, as if it needs us to survive.  These myths tell us that there is the earth and then me, and we affect one another.  I know that the monkeys outside my window do not feel separate from the tree in which they hang; there is a symbiotic flow of interdependence, oneness.  Living in the jungle does not allow us to stay in our disconnected state of mind. I feel like I am remembering that I am not separate, I am not in charge, I am not a steward of the earth, but I am the earth.  

    These moments of remembering are fleeting  . . . I forget and then I remember.  When I remember, I hear the poetry, I hear the call within myself to listen acutely and to let myself be immersed in a state of awe.  I can hear the whispers of the ocean and I can hear the medicine of the rains  . . . I pause and soak in the beauty of the sunset each night and bear witness to the artistry in the sky.  I pause and remember.  

When I remember that I am the earth, my actions hold great meaning.  My words, my thoughts, and my behaviors have the power of connection or disconnection.  Judgement/fear or inclusion/wonderment.  I feel the call to come back to be in rhythm.  I was reading Jung’s, "Man and His Symbols," again and came across this reminder of what we have lost with our separation:

“As scientific understanding has grown, so our world has become dehumanized. Man feels himself isolated in the cosmos, because he is no longer involved in nature and has lost his emotional “unconscious identity” with natural phenomena.  These have slowly lost their symbolic implications.  Thunder is no longer the voice of an angry god, nor is lightning his avenging missile.  No river contains a spirit, no tree the life principle of a man, no snake the embodiment of wisdom, no mountain cave the home of a great demon.  No voices now speak to man from stones, plants, and animals, nor does he speak to them believing he can hear.  His contact with nature has gone, and with it has gone the profound emotional energy that this symbolic connection supplied.”

I wonder what would transpire if we heard the poetry in nature again.  I wonder what would change if we saw earthquakes as Mother Earth shrugging her shoulders to remind us to be more fluid.  When nature speaks loudly it is easy to feel only fear and the need to protect ourselves.  What if we looked at these events not as disasters and tragedies only, but also as the earth healing itself?  Global metamorphosis.  Here is a great reminder of what we can see when we orientate ourselves to an inclusive perspective.  

“Trees and vegetation toppled by hurricane winds return to the earth in the form of rich, new soil. Torrential rainfall is part of the earth's hydraulic system, which moves water from the surface of the planet into the atmosphere, and back again, renewing our water supply. Earthquakes are caused by the constant recycling of planetary crust, which for millennia has formed our geographically diverse and fruitful planet. Wildfire clears away old growth, making way for lush new plant life. Volcanic eruptions add valuable nutrients to the soil, producing fertile agricultural land.” (Four Winds Society)

The Earth seems to be healing herself.  I am excited about our opportunity as a species to follow her lead.  To be in rhythm with the one that birthed us, nourished us, nurtured us, and will take us home again.  

 

 

A Beautiful Poem . . . Fire

Fire

 

What makes a fire burn

is space between the logs,

a breathing space.

Too much of a good thing,

too many logs

packed in too tight

can douse the flames

almost as surely

as a pail of water would.

So building fires

requires attention

to the spaces in between,

as much as to the wood.

When we are able to build

open spaces

in the same way

we have learned

to pile on the logs,

then we can come to see how

it is fuel, and absence of the fuel

together, that make fire possible

We only need to lay a log

lightly from time to time.

A fire

grows

simply because the space is there,

with openings

in which the flame

that knows just how it wants to burn

can find its way.

    Judy Brown