What if I could see myself as a piece of the cosmos, just kicking back, watching Netflix? What if I could truly believe that my existence is a wonder in and of itself as I brush my teeth?
Would I still cling to my distractions? Would I relinquish my hold on the material world? Maybe not forever, maybe not always. But maybe for a precious moment here and there. And that is enough.
Keeping the new year simple. Sure, there are 363 days left in which to complicate it but right now, I’m seeing the miracle. Happy New Year.
When we are young, we are given instructions without explanations. We are told to be quiet. We are told not to make such a big deal out of it. We are told not to rock the boat. We are told to be nice.
Even Santa Clause wants us to be nice or he will stiff us come Christmas morning.
And there is purpose in these directives. As children we don’t understand how to fit into a system of humans greater than those who are immediately serving our needs in terms of shelter, safety, food and love. But to survive and thrive, we need to understand this system so that we can manipulate it so it continues to serve us. Being nice pays off by allowing us to get along with others so that we can continue to have our needs met. And this is okay. Really.
But to be kind is a whole other journey. To be kind is to tap into that root of shared love that connects us to every other creature. Being kind is to see suffering that does not directly threaten our own welfare and still feel pulled to help in whatever way we can. There is no direct payoff to being kind.
We can choose genuine kindness. This might mean sticking up for someone. This could mean picking up the phone and calling a friend you know needs to talk. This could mean choosing the more expensive fair trade item when you are in a position to do so. This could mean opening up your heart enough to try to see things from a different point of view.
Kindness is the perfect gift to give and receive because it comes in all shapes and sizes, no wrapping paper is needed, and it has a longer shelf-life than nice.
Much love and happy holidays.
A few years ago I began a steady crawl into a depressive episode. Because of my previous work with mindfulness, I was ready for it. I knew what the downward pull on every aspect of my life actually was. Despite the many internal whispers and suggestions to completely ruin my life through inauthentic choices, I sought out medication and regular counselling sessions to help me navigate the murky waters of that particular depressive episode.
I came through it with a heavy realization that I had worked very hard to achieve my goals and that living them was no longer giving me the same kind of satisfaction they had when I first experienced them. Basically, I wasn’t getting the high of accomplishment anymore. My life was perfectly safe and comfortable, and yet I felt completely lost. I wanted to be happy but it seemed like this idea of happy was something at the end of a treasure map. It was something to be perpetually pursued. The satisfaction of its attainment would be, at best, fleeting.
The pursuit of goals is not a bad thing but when that impetus isn’t there, it can feel like a void or even a loss. And often when we do achieve our goals, the expected happiness or elation is short lived or even absent. It can be artificially augmented through the admiration of others but even this will grow stale as we began to seek new and even better highs.
So should we avoid setting goals so we never feel the downswing or do we set a million goals to keep riding high? The answer is really hard and really simple. We remain present. I know, I know, what kind of a secret to life answer is that? But it’s all I got.
When we remain present we don’t need to run away from ourselves through food, drink, drugs, shopping, or even an unrelenting need for achievement. We can set goals that truly inspire us instead of what we think other people may want or expect of us. We let go of ideas like perfection, imperfection, right and wrong, and we begin to learn who we truly are and what we have to offer the world.
How do we cultivate this elusive concept of being present? Again, the answer is really hard and really simple: regular meditation practice.
Before I did my yoga teacher training, I would roll my eyes whenever I read or heard someone say that savasana is actually the hardest pose.
Eff that, I thought. I could corpse for days.
But time and experience has humbled me, and I now see why this particular pose is so challenging. We have designed a rat race of tasks to keep ourselves perpetually busy. And even when we think we are enacting self-care or rest, it is not genuine repose. We are not allowing ourselves to experience our minds and souls just as they are. Instead, the time between items on our to-do lists are spent making more lists, or feeling guilty, or taking in all the sensory input we can by overconsuming not just food, alcohol and drugs, but also content. We can’t handle the overwhelming expansiveness within so we avoid it with any kind of mental, physical or emotional activity that is within reach.
After I do my at home yoga practice, I rarely give myself the gift of integration that is corpse pose. I will gladly take it during a class I attend but to offer it to myself feels superfluous and self-indulgent. I better be moving and getting better at real poses, I seem to think. And this is a yoga teacher saying that! I know the benefits and importance of savasana, and yet I consistently skip it.
Savasana, the yogic rest where we hover between wake and sleep, and give our full attention to the present moment one breath at a time, really is the hardest pose of them all. To be with ourselves as we truly are without falling down the rabbit hole of thinking feels nearly impossible largely due to its simplicity.
To be overwhelmed with guilt for doing nothing is not genuine rest. To ruminate is not genuine rest. To plan is not genuine rest. And yet these are all things that we spend our precious moments in savasana doing.
So instead of adding to the pile of things to feel bad about, I suggest we embrace the struggle with savasana. I suggest we honour the difficulty in making the always available choice to come back to the present moment. Again and again.
I grew up with my mother’s conflicting refrains of how she would die for her children while at the same time how she absolutely despised having to take care of them. Let me be clear, my mother is a good, loving person but her outbursts and tantrums at how unfair her life was and the verbal dressing-downs I got as the supposed cause of her misery did a number on my head.
As a child, I grew up with the absolute knowledge that I had ruined her life and that I was the cause of all her suffering. This person who I loved dearly and depended on completely absolutely hated me. And I can look back now and feel a deep compassion at how fearful and inadequate my mother actually felt, but an eight year old doesn’t get it. To a child, the world is black and white, right and wrong, and I knew without a doubt that I was not wanted and I was not worthy of anyone’s time or attention.
My experience is not unique because all children are shaped by this contradiction of perceived need and what is actually available. This includes basics like food and shelter but it also includes time, energy and attention. And being raised by a single parent, all of these were at times in short supply. With my perceived needs not being met, all I could do was assume that it was because I was a worthless piece of trash.
We all cope with this in different ways. I retreat and numb. I try to get very quiet and very small, and when I start to feel worthless, I want to drown this out with any number of distractions. Eating, shopping, Netflix bingeing...basically I want to hurt myself if it means I don’t have to feel like a total loser for even just a few minutes.
My point, as a childless adult child, is this: no one needs you to be a martyr. No one needs you to be willing to die for them. No one needs your sacrifice out of a sense of obligation. What people actually need is for each one of us to genuinely take care of ourselves. To constantly check in with ourselves and really feel it all, including the icky sticky within. When we make room for our pain, fear, and hope, we move into authenticity. This keeps these uncomfortable experiences from mutating until we have no choice but to pour them into a giant cauldron labeled blame and dump it on some unsuspecting soul who just happens to have the bad luck of proximity.
And to any parent reading this, your job is hard. Like so hard that I said no thanks. And I am in awe of parents who can keep their shit together the majority of the time and I am compassionate towards those who can’t, because parenthood looks like a mindfuck of the most epic proportions. But please never forget that the soul you are caring for didn’t have much choice in the matter of becoming your child. And never forget that you too were once a child just as innocent and precious as your own, and it is a good idea to let that inner kid cry until its broken heart starts to mend with the love and strength of your hug.
We don’t need to die for one another: we need to live fully and truthfully for one another.
In any facet of life, mistakes are going to happen. They are inevitable. No matter how careful we think we are being, we might just be missing that last piece of the puzzle that would have made us realize how off course we actually were.
And the fear of fucking up can be a mistake because it holds us still and there is no growth in familiarity and comfort. If left unchecked this analysis paralysis can be the most costly mistake of all as it slowly but surely takes our lives, one fearful day at a time.
There is no detour to perfection. There is no way to avoid every single mistake. All we can do is prepare as much as our present knowledge and circumstance will allow, and go slow. Maybe we can’t avoid all mistakes but we can certainly limit their devastation by giving ourselves the space and time to pay attention and change course when the path ahead is no longer serving us.
The bottom line is this: we are all going to fuck up and that’s okay.
May we be safe. May we be peaceful. May we be brave enough to cut ourselves some slack.
Like anyone else, I don’t go through life experiencing one static emotional state. Moment to moment, things change. And to be honest, most of the time I have no interest in this roller coaster. I’d rather zone out. The wisest part of me, the one I share with every other human in this world, knows that zoning out will not bring happiness or even any kind of long lasting relief from the suffering of just being. Instead, I will probably end up hurting myself through a never ending oscillation between overdoing it and not even bothering.
We have been taught hard work and productivity equates to success. I don’t disagree with this formula except for the fact that success is so often assumed to be the key to happiness. If we transform our bodies to look a particular way, we’ll be loveable. If we have a certain job, we’ll get respect and recognition. If we own the latest and greatest whatever, we will be envied. And anyone who has achieved their goals will tell you that while there may have been moments of joy or satisfaction, these states of being were short lived and that eventually, it was business as usual.
This endless cycle of lofty goal, plan, work hard, WIN never seems to fully satisfy. And it’s because we use it to distract ourselves from how completely chaotic our minds truly are. We select from a wide array of readily available and toxic distractions to get away from ourselves because it is terrifying to sit with all the feels.
I am learning to be with all the feels, no matter how boring, distasteful or painful they may be. To only live for the highs is to condemn ourselves to an existence of never knowing peace. Nothing will ever feel like enough.
May we be peaceful. May we be safe. May we not eat/shop/work/fornicate/drink our feelings into oblivion.
We are sold a commercialized version of love and connection that is rubbish. It distorts our understanding of what a real lover is like, or what a true friend should be, until our expectations of others and ourselves are miles from anywhere resembling reality. We start to equate the worth of our connections with things like the most thoughtful or at least most envious gifts. Our friendships become about photographic evidence of our amazing adventures together rather than the quality and authenticity of conversation. We push and pull until there is little room to let others and ourselves be just as we are with one another.
It has become very challenging to find real and meaningful relationships but humans need connection. We need love. And it starts with loving ourselves. I know, blah blah blah, you gotta love yourself before anyone else can love you, blah blah...but it’s true. And it is hard as fuck to really look at ourselves with genuine love and appreciation without placing conditions on this love. It can be a moment to moment struggle to feel valid.
The truth is that there is nothing to validate: We are already and always will be good enough to be loved.
Growing up, I was constantly vigilant for what would be a good day and what would be a bad day. At such a young age, I had somehow gotten the idea that I had contributed to the bad days and it was up to me to figure out how to ensure they didn’t happen. Like I had some sort of control over the emotional climate of our home. I would try to fit into a role that I thought my family needed or wanted. Maybe I was small and inconspicuous, or happy and laughing. It didn’t feel like there was room to be exactly as I was at any given moment, that I needed to be something else for those around me.
As I got older, and also when my depression started to manifest, this urge to people please morphed into detachment. I just wouldn’t talk or interact with those people I’d tried so hard to be perfect for when I was younger. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was still trying to control the situation but through avoidance.
As a pseudo-adult, I am more aware when old patterns come up. When I can control things or have them as I think they should be, it offers me a sense of safety. There will be no blow ups or chaos, because I am calling the shots. But when it gets to be too much or too unpleasant, I call it. I call it on jobs, on relationships, even on things that are supposed to bring relief and happiness like hobbies.
I have no regrets about any of the choices I’ve made in the past. They were the safest choices for me at that time. But now, I am aware of how tightly I’ve been clinging to this idea of perfect and how it might actually be strong-arming me into leading a life I don’t want to, all in the hopes of staying safe.
I am searching for that room temperature between control and detachment that allows me to be kind, authentic and of service to this global society without feeling like a doormat or wanting to crawl under an old pile of newspapers and live there alone.
When I used to think of conflict, I made the leap that it was synonymous with fighting, anger and cruelty. And in some ways, I was right. Conflict just for the sake of conflict has no winners. It is about directing restless energy, confusion and pain outwards, as if these experiences are nothing more than pests to be squashed, controlled or kicked to the curb. When anger alone guides our conflict, it becomes about changing other people or the world to suit our current desire. This is egotistical and fear based, and it kind of sucks.
But I now see the possibility of conflict as an act of love. It can be about caring enough to forge a new way of being rather than taking the easy road of throwing people away into heaps of dislike. It can be about loving ourselves enough to refuse to bury our own suffering to the point of detachment. But it’s not a quick and easy fix. Conflict based in love is about a genuine desire to see healing happen, and it takes effort and courage.
Conflict as an act of love is about making space for our more vulnerable states like sadness, hurt or fear. We don’t need to hide what’s really going on behind the protective fires of anger. These emotions are truthful, and fully acknowledging them is the first step in finding authentic resolutions, instead of anger fueled conflicts that seek only to keep score.
Now stir up some shit. Loving, kind, and truthful shit.