Wednesday, April 25, 2012
Wednesday, April 18, 2012
As much as I appreciate and benefit from many Buddhist teachings and practises, I’m not by nature a “middle way” kind of woman. My ex often said I was a “zero or a one”- which is binary-speak for all or nothing. He could literally take hours to wake up fully on the weekends, complaining when I asked him a question that he’d “just gotten up” even though there was a coffee mug in his hand and a fire burning in the wood stove. I, on the other hand, tended to hit the ground running or (on a day when the CFS/ME was bad) just hit the ground. There always been minimal space in me for meandering mid-stream between awake and asleep. (And no, that is not what caused the CFS/ME, although it does make the pacing to preserve energy with this illness sometimes a challenge.)
My tendency to want to run full out or rest deeply seems consistent with the medicine name Mountain Dreamer, given to me more than twenty-five years ago by a shaman who told me it meant, “one who likes to find and push the edge.” Generally I’ve been okay with that although my understanding of what constitutes an “edge” has deepened. For instance, sometimes quitting something is pushing the edge, and at other times, seeing something through to completion is a stretch outside our habitual comfort zone. The “edge” really is in the eye of the mountain climber.
Having said that, I think I may have just. . . . .well, outdone myself in the edge-pushing category. And I say this as a woman who once went into the wilderness alone to fast and pray in solitude for twenty-two days and nights to find direction in my life. In some ways what I have just signed on for is a much bigger stretch for me than vision questing.
I’ve registered for a four day workshop in September entitled: “Tango as a Door to Presence.” That’s right- Tango! Now forget that I can’t really afford the trip and will have to drive a long distance over two days to get there (albeit at a beautiful time of year for a fall colours road trip.) Skip right over the fact that my health is. . . .unpredictable at best and this workshop goes into the evenings (and I currently go out about one evening a month.) Ignore the fact that I am an introvert who likes group situations where I have a lot of choice about how much to interact or participate, and a dance workshop requires consistent participation.
Let’s just start with this: I don’t tango! In fact, I have not done much dancing at all for the last decade. Which means this little adventure will put me on the dance floor with unknown partners, doing a structured dance I do not know, ten years older (and a few pounds more bountiful) than the last time I publically attempted to do even free-style movement to music outside the privacy of my living room.
What appealed to me was the idea of experiencing the practise of presence- of bringing full attention to the experience of the present moment- into the body-centred, emotionally expressive tango. What attracted me was the certainty that this would indeed push my edge- that I could learn something new about myself, about presence, about what it is to be fully here now.
The workshop leaders (who are both tango instructors and practitioners of A.H. Almaas’ Diamond Approach to meditative inquiry) explain that each participant will be either a “leader” or a “follower” in the dance for the full four days. I asked to be a follower because. . . . well, because my natural tendency is to lead. I feel safer in charge. It is much more of a challenge for me to bring full awareness to the experience of being open to and following the one who steps into my energy (with my permission, of course.) So, I signed up for what is, for me, the more challenging role because. . . . I want to push my edge.
Am I having second thoughts? Ha! Second, third. . . . and twentieth! Of course, everyone else I tell about this is wildly enthused about my going. (People are generally very enthused about other people pushing their edge.) When my friend Ingrid heard about it, she replied, “Ooo, you’ll need outfits!”
Outfits?! Yep, this will definitely push my edge.
Oriah (c) 2012
(And just in case you’d like to have a look- http://guesthousecenter.org/page/14628-Tango-as-a-Doorway-to-Presence-Diamond-Appraoch-Retreat-Workshop-Spiritual-Dance)
Wednesday, April 11, 2012
Okay, so here's an embarrassing little story. I offer it simply as an example of how quickly a state of mind can change, seemingly beyond our control.
Last week I shared the link to my blog with the Facebook groups people have put me in. I was feeling good- buoyant actually- looking forward to a day of writing. Sitting in my apartment savouring a cup of tea I paused to enjoy the ever-deepening sense of joy and contentment I'd been experiencing lately, even starting a new poem with the line: “This is what happiness looks like. . . .”
Gathering my belongings to head out to the library, I paused to check Facebook one last time, and noticed that someone had commented on one of the group pages- and what a comment it was. Someone I’d never heard of was asking why I was knowingly violating group rules with my post and telling me to delete it. Chastised and feeling unfairly accused (what group rules? I’d seen hundreds of links on this page!) I quickly deleted the post and sent a message to the author of the comment telling her I was unaware of any rules and had been put in the group without my permission, so had assumed my contributions were welcome. I also suggested that a private message without an accusatory tone would have been a better route to go if communication was the intention.
Well, you guessed it- things went downhill from there. The quick reply to my admittedly testy message accused me of thinking I was more important than other group members. My protestation that I could not keep up with the changing rules in the number of groups people put me in was unacceptable- apparently the commenter managed to keep track of group rules despite being followed online by ten million people (yes, ten million is the number she used.)
The content of this is really not important- what’s important (to me) was how reactive I became and how quickly my internal experience had gone from relaxed and joyful to defensive and angry. Maybe this person was. . . .unskilful in her communication. Maybe she was having a bad day. Or maybe she was being deliberately rude and insulting. So what! Why did I care?
I felt. . . hijacked- not by her, but by my own reactivity to her. Even as I made what turned out to be a futile attempt to change the tone of the exchange to one of connection, a corner of my consciousness whispered a warning, urged me to, walk away, ignore her response, make no reply, return to my own priorities for the day.
Which is what I finally did, but not before my mood had gone from glee to grim. The line I had written in my journal ten minutes before mocked me. This is what happiness looks like? Ha! At that point a better starting line would have been: “This is what reactivity looks like!” I tried to sit with the feelings in my body. The urge to respond, to defend. . . . the impulse to be right, to make the other feel and acknowledge just how unfair she was being.. . . it was all there- churning in my gut, making my face hot and my hands itch for the keyboard. I grabbed my knapsack and headed for the library.
Walking helped. The sun helped. My feet on the grass helped. I started to breathe more deeply, to mourn the loss of my earlier equanimity, to ponder how easily I had been distracted and engaged in a meaningless exchange.
I could tell you what I know about my own history of being shamed and how the comment hooked into that wounding, and to some degree that kind of self-knowledge can and does sometimes help me/us not get hooked. And sometimes,(to use Pema Chodron's term) we “bite the hook” anyway. I'd been feeling expansive, open, unguarded- so the chastisement (intended or not) landed in a tender spot, hit me in a vulnerable moment.
Of course, this IS what happiness in all its guises, including equanimity, is like: changing, fluid, impermanent, ebbing and flowing, coming and going like all other states of body/mind/heart.
Oh, I'm not saying we can't learn to “bite the hook” less rigorously and less often. Surely the more we learn to recognize and choose not to act on our own inner reactivity the more we will contribute to inner and outer peace. Self-knowledge (of which inner eyelets that fit particular hooks may have been installed in early life) helps, and gentle curiosity helps foster self-knowledge (just why did that hook me today?)
Mostly, it’s about accepting that life is a process, about not giving up on learning but letting go of the hope that some revelation will turn us into a consistently enlightened, non-reactive human being “once and for all.” Not biting the hook of reactivity is a daily practise. And some days really are better than others.
~Oriah (c) 2012
Wednesday, April 4, 2012
This week's blog is the content portion from the Spring Newletter that went out today. To see additional links (and the nicely laid out version) please go to
In the meantime, here is my in-the-moment description of the new book that is my spring/summer writing focus.
The New Book- What It's Not
Publishers always ask writers to articulate the "take-away value" of their book. So, for fun, I decided say something about the new book I am writing with the working title, The Choice. It probably says something about the curmudgeonly side of my personality that I start with what the book is not.
This book is not going to give you a formula for getting thin, rich or famous. It does not hold the secret to finding your soul mate, or participating in mind-blowing ecstatic sexual intimacy. It will not provide a program for becoming fully enlightened, being perpetually at peace, or setting anyone (you or me) up as a spiritual guru.
If you don't read this book you will someday die, but most likely not before you have experienced loss, sorrow, grief, and illness.
On the other hand, if you do read this book you will someday die, but most likely not before you have experienced loss, sorrow, grief, and illness.
Hopefully, whether or not you read this book, you will also experience joy, peace, laughter, love and intimacy with yourself and others.
Because that's what life is like for human beings- for embodied souls in this world. If you are fortunate your choices will line up with a multitude of factors largely beyond your control- particular genetics, early environmental influences, and the political economic realities of the place you live- that will allow you to get old before you die and so experience the gradual, unpredictable and yet inevitable breakdown of your body and possibly your mind. I don't know what happens after we die, and (at the moment) I am okay with not knowing. So this book will not offer you promises about what happens next.
Okay, I admit, as advertising copy this may leave something to be desired. But the truth is, I don't find what I have described here depressing. These are some of the realities we live, and I don't want to waste any time pursuing promises that imply I can or should transcend these realities or get rid of the anxiety, ambivalence, or ambiguity that sometimes arises.
No matter what you do- no matter how hard you work, how diligently you practise, how sincerely you want to change, how many times you fail to meet your aspirations or are not as disciplined as you imagine you'd like to be- you will not wake up tomorrow as anything more or less than a human being, an embodied soul living in this world.
The New Book- What It Is
The Choice is about how we find our way into choosing the life we have in this moment, with this body-mind-heart-spirit, in this world- even if the present moment is filled with challenges. It's about how we find our passion for living here when the flame of that desire has been dampened by loss and pain, confusion and despair.
As many of you know my "here" has been challenging over the last couple of years. I've experienced a prolonged relapse of chronic illness (CFS/ME,) the sorrow-filled end of my marriage that had been limping painfully along for several years, and watching both of my parents spiral downward with Alzheimer's.
These kinds of challenges can stir up old wounds buried in the body and heart and all of this, quite reasonably brings to consciousness the often unasked question at the center of every human life: Do I really want to be here? How we answer this question in general terms and perhaps more importantly in our small daily choices, determines the quality of the journey we take.
When I was young, to survive I often left my body, my awareness focused on other worlds- seen and unseen, imaginary or real. Later, this gave me an ability to do some of the shamanic training, practises and healing ceremonies I came to explore, value and teach.
And now. . . I want in- all the way in, deeply in, completely in, fully in- even knowing life includes pain and loss. I'll probably always be able to leave my body, but what interests me now is how I can be fully in this body, fully in this world and this life until I am gone.
This book is about the times in life when that choice, the desire to be here, has not been clear- when I've wanted to want to be here but was unable to connect to the fire of living and wondered if I was simply "done." It's about the journey of coming back from that edge of despair, rediscovering the center of my own being, and making the choice to be here in this messy, complex and spectacularly beautiful human life.
Oriah (c) 2012