Friday, August 14, 2009

Haiku #7 - Waving Her Red Flags

Waving her red flags
Arousing an adventure
Gripping life tightly.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

MPOW #27 - Hero

"The hero is one who kindles a great light in the world, who sets up blazing torches in the dark streets of life for men to see by." - Felix Adler

"True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost."
- Arthur Ashe

Lately I have been inspired by many and have been thinking a lot about the people who inspire me. In schools and camps, people often ask children to talk about their heroes. Sometimes, out of whimsy, I love to pull out such childhood questions and see what the answers are. For this mindfulness practice of the week (MPOW), start by asking yourself: Who is your hero? or Who are your heroes?

This is the first step. The idea is not to choose an idol, but an inspiration. Telling the difference between idolatry and admiration is a second part of the mindfulness practice. What about that person do you find virtuous? What trait impresses you? Once you pinpoint this trait or traits, see what it would take to bring that trait into your life. My heroes are people who behave in ways that I admire but have not yet found the strength to emulate myself. Grove Alexander's quotation parallels the Buddhist notion that environment is just a blink away: "Less than a foot made the difference between a hero and a bum."

After choosing your hero, this is a great opportunity to find that same behavior and virtue within yourself. It is there. You don't need to change yourself or become a better person in any way. Instead you can reveal this for yourself in the same way that a master sculptor reveals the statue in the marble. It is not necessary to accomplish the same feats as your hero, that may actually be counterproductive to your goals. Forcing yourself to do something that doesn't align with who you are is not a change, it is a form of self-hostility. Instead, focusing on the virtue and behavior. Do this gently; you are already perfect and whole.

if you want some more inspiration about heroes, see Paula Grant-LeClaire's Hero Quotations at Bella Online.

“A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.” - Christopher Reeve

“A hero is someone who understands the responsibility that comes with his freedom.” -Bob Dylan

This post is dedicated to my heroes, especially the people who have patiently taught me the things that I have been impatient in learning.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Response to Fatburger Banner

Fatburger banner in restaurant: "Do you really think man clawed his way to the top of the food chain to eat soy?" Today Keith Ferrazzi tweeted that. No offense, Keith, you’re awesome, but I’m drawn to rebuttal on this banner quote.

Full disclosure: I'm on a mostly vegetarian diet (see Why), so perhaps you will find me unduly biased. However, it is a diet that I chose after lots of soul searching and meditation. This diet is my choice and not one that I force on anyone else. I'm not saying that eating meat is wrong. In fact, strict vegetarianism is not for me, and I'm even reevaluating my current stance. So, though I offer the disclaimer, vegetarianism is not something that I follow blindly and with zealotry. Aside - Even when I ate and loved meat, I found Fatburger disgusting. My one and only burger there nauseated me. I preferred In 'N Out… though I haven’t had a beef burger in probably a year and a half. Well, enough about me…

Really, Fatburger? Really? (nod to SNL) That seems both factually incorrect and a blatant attempt to exploit a desire for dominance in order to fill Fatburger’s coffers.

Humans didn't really claw their way to the top of the food chain. If you ascribe to evolution (as I do), our species evolved at this point. If you follow creationism, we were created by God exactly at the top. If you believe something else, well, maybe my argument falls apart, but I leave it to you to decide.

The human benefit is that we have a highly developed neo-cortex in our pre-frontal lobe that allows us to make our own decisions. These decisions let us work with the mammalian and reptilian centers below, but applying more logic and reasoning. We have decision-making abilities. With these decision making abilities comes moral responsibility. Given this potent brain, we don't need to be driven solely by the impulse to consume meat.

Fine, so it’s meant to be a clever advertisement, not necessarily factually correct. But we can still look at it for what it does do. It’s similar to a quote that I see at my local market: “Vegetarian is a Native American world for bad hunter.”

I’ve noticed that some meat-eaters are bothered by vegetarians, because they feel judged by someone else's choices, or they feel a little guilty on their own. Clearly, Fatburger stands to gain by exploiting this, by exploiting a primal hunger for meat, by exploiting this primal desire for dominance. They want you to buy more burgers and will manipulate your desire to feel more powerful, even if it is by being at the top of the food chain.

Perhaps, though, the true power comes from the will power to see this for the commercial manipulation that it is. It comes from the ability to choose, and to see meat consumption as a choice, and perhaps not the best choice for a human-sustainable ecology. Perhaps real power comes from being able to think beyond yourself, beyond your appetite, beyond your own need for power, and to adhere to decisions that support the rest of the world.

I am not for vegetarianism as tree-huggerism, frou-frouism, or a source of identity. I am for conscious decisions that promote a better, more sustainable world. I suspect that less dining at Fatburger would go some way in that direction.

Monday, August 03, 2009

MPOW #26 - Nadi Sodhana - Alternating Nostril Breathing

"Breathe. Breathe in the air.
Don't be afraid to care." -Pink Floyd

If I only have a few moments alone to find calm and center myself, I often turn to nadi sodhana, or alternating nostril breathing. "
Yogis believe that this exercise will clean and rejuvenate your vital channels of energy, thus the name nadi sodhana (purification of nadis or channels)." From the Yoga Infocenter. For this mindfulness practice of the week, try out this millenia-old breathing technique.

Along with being calming and centering, this technique is often revitalizing. It is balancing. I love to use it on a bus or plane ride, first thing in the morning, or before drifting off to sleep. I also used it between interviews while I was interviewing for my current job. And while out salsa or tango dancing, I will center myself with it during breaks.

The Practice

I describe this technique from the perspective of a right hand, but it is possible to use either the left hand, or anything else that can block your nostrils if the right hand will not work for you.

Find a comfortable position with spine erect.
2. Hold your right hand in front of your face, palm facing you.
3. Put your middle and index fingers together, touching them lightly in the center of your forehead. Your thumb and ring fingers should rest on your right and left nostrils, respectively.

4. Use your ring finger to close your left nostril, then inhale slowly and steadily through your right nostril.
5. At the end of your inhalation, release your left nostril while using your thumb to close your right nostril, then exhale slowy and steadily through your left nostril.
6. Inhale slowly and steadily through your left nostril, keeping your right nostril closed.
7. Switch nostrils, and exhale through your right nostril.

Each inhalation starts on one side, and the exhalation completes on the other side. Keep alternating bath and forth. Keeping track of the same breathing count on each side is an excellent technique to keep yourself patient and maintain steady breathing.

Fun Diversion

As you practice this, you will likely notice that one nostril is more open than the other. Yogic traditions have found that the open nostril switched roughly every 108 minutes throughout the day. It will be easier to breath on the right side for 108 minutes, then at the transition equally easy to breath on both sides, then switches over to the left for 108 minutes, going back and forth. It is said that when the left side is freer, this is a more outwardly energetic and excited time, the yang side. When the right side breathed easily, this is a calmer side of your day, the yin side.

This breathing pattern brings the two sides into equilibrium. Laying on your right side encouraging your right nostril to open more, and laying on your left side encourages your left nostril to open more. You can use this information to assist you in going to sleep or awakening.

You might want to play with this yourself to see what you can learn from it.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

MPOW #25 - Pain

"If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment." - Marcus Aurelius Antoninus
As I sank deeply into a long held pose in yoga, I felt an intensity in my hips that pointed to muscle blockage, often a flag of an emotional blockage or unresolved pain. Through this, it is so obvious to know the relationship of who we are. It's beautiful that rather than a body with a mind, or a mind with a body, or a spirit with both, we are more complete than that. Several aspects compose into the whole that is us, though none of it is "us" in itself, and anything can change and still be us. I witness four aspects: the physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual. Developing these aspects together is vital for an existence of Balance and Moderation.
Often we have a difficult time balancing these, and instead focus on the one with which we identify. Depending on the nature of your identification, you may find focusing on it as easy or fun, or you may find it as a futile uphill battle to plug an insecurity in that area. For instance on the latter, my friend recently told me about a personal growth seminar where there was a multi-PhD Nobel laureate who just realized that he spent his life trying to prove his intelligence after being told he was stupid at a young age. Realizing this and freeing himself from it allows him to be joyful with his achievements and step down off the treadmill of frustration. Either way, there's nothing wrong with such identification, which provides an opportunity for mindfulness and personal growth.

We all know about physical pain, and we've begun to understand pain as a metaphor for our emotional states. These two types of pain are often what hold us back from spiritual transcendence. I see the four dimension shapes as more of a tetrahedron (3-sided pyramid) with the physical, emotional, and intellectual forming the base that the spiritual rests above. When we are unbalanced in the base, when there are acute issues (pains) in the base, it pulls us away from the spirituality in the top.
Eckhart Tolle defines the painbody concept as "an accumulation of old emotional pain...that part of us that is addicted to negativity and unhappiness." Such an addiction is an important aspect to note. In Tender is the Night, F. Scott Fitzgerald notes on the alluring power of pain: "Sometimes it is harder to deprive oneself of a pain than of a pleasure."
Mindfulness Practice of the Week
As this week's mindfulness practice, please take some time to explore your pains gently and curiously. It will not always be joyful, though I hope you will find it sublime in other ways. Find a physical sensation that is tight and stretch into that (perhaps with a yoga position). A hip stretch or a hamstring stretch is often ripe for this exercise.
My Experience
In MPOW #19 - Exploring Your Edge, I wrote about downward-facing pigeon pose (Adho Mukha Kapotasana). I write about this a lot because it is extremely powerful for me. My hips are probably the least flexible part of my body. A lifetime of overusing my legs has led to very tight legs and hips, and all of my dancing doesn't help! I remember my first yin yoga class primarily because of the pigeon pose. I did not get very deep, and we held this for a long time. I couldn't wait to get out of it, there was so much pain in my hips (but not in my knees, danger danger). Yogini Saiko was gentle and affirming, reminding the room that we didn't need to get to a particular place, we were already there. This moment on the yoga mat, in this pose was our gift to ourselves. As long as we were in this pose, we would gain benefit especially if we could breath normally and stop fidgetting. This was only going to be a short time, so opening up to it was only temporary, but the benefit would be forever. I felt so much pain in my tight hips trying to open that I'm surprised that I heard. Likely this was because I was listening intently for the signal to leave this crazy pose. It felt like forever. It was really 7 minutes. Then, when I thought that we were there, she had us thread the needle to one side. oh my gosh! It went even deeper! I started to meditate on the pain. My entire universe was filled with pain. Eventually, I because the pain itself. This was when it stopped hurting. It's hard to feel pain when that's what you are. You are the pain being inflicted on another body. Eventually, and this was one of the most transcendental experiences that I've ever had, I became pure awareness that was watching the pain and the body from a removed place off to the side. I was witness to pain and stretching, to opening.

When we eventually transitioned to the other leg, I spent a moment experiencing pain again. As I breathed into the pain in the hips, it just deepened and deepened. The pain washed over me. Though, the pilot light was already lit, and my awareness became free of pain and body. I find that the more I experience these states, my mind and body remember how to return to them.

The hips are said to store a lot of emotional pain and stress, and that the process of stretching the hips brings this to the surface. When all of the pains release as one, we may raise to our spiritual existence. Once I became happy with my progress, I returned to my body and the pain returned to it. Ahh, that was conceit, a trapping of the ego. That isn't the goal. Rewarding and loving yourself and others is the goal. The transcendence and complete opening can only come when you don't want it, though have prepared yourself for it.

Monday, July 06, 2009

MPOW #24 - Witnessing Self-Judgment

“Our opinions of ourselves actually get in the way of being ourselves.” -Jon Kabat-Zinn, 2007

My friend and fellow salsa and tango dancer recently shared this. It's such a simple and powerful notion to reflect on. For fun, I'll look at it in the context of a dance class. A dance class can often function as a individual or couples therapy, and like any really effective therapy session often involves a meditative state.

Early in a dance class series, you may already be judging yourself: "I'm too fat." "I'm too weak." "I'm not attractive enough to be here." "I'm wearing the wrong clothes and look sloppy." "I'm the best looking person here." "I'm already a better dancer than these other people; I shouldn't be here." "I'm really good at this already."

Dancing is just an idea here, and you may feel this in any class or any gathering. You quickly catch yourself judging yourself or others. Over time, you may begin to be down on yourself for where you are or over-inflate your internal image and miss opportunities. Remember that Stories Define Reality, so tread cautiously where you enter story-ground.

Sometimes, in a dance class though, if you're eager and comfortable being there, you're often in a wide-open state of learning, receptive to teaching and improvements without judging yourself. This is often referred to as "beginner's mind" or shoshin in the Zen tradition. This is an important state to cultivate at all times, no matter your skill level: "In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's there are few."

The less that you know about yourself, the less that you box yourself in to a particular definition. Our authentic selves are all limitless and expansive, the more that we form opinions or place definitions on ourselves, the tighter the box that we have created. We begin to limit our infinite nature to something that we can understand or explain. Even if we are being positive, this actually does us a disservice by both making us narrow and also less likely to learn.

The Mindfulness Practice of the Week - Witnessing Self-Judgment

For this week, take some time to explore how you define yourself. You can do this while doing something of any skill level. Likely, it is easier to notice when we beat ourselves up. So, throughout the week, take some time to do something which which you're uncomfortable, such as stripping down in front of a full length mirror, and deeply examine yourself. Are you judging? Are you noticing flaws? See if you can recognize the judgments that you can make about yourself, and let them go. What do you notice as you do this? What are the concepts that you repeat.

Be gentle with yourself as you notice these things. In From Self-Judgment to Being Ourselves Dianna Winston reminds us how normal it is to engage in this comparison:
The Buddha had a word for comparison, the word màna, which means pride or ego or thinking too much about ourselves. A lot of our judgments say “I’m greater than, I’m lesser than, or I’m equal to this or that,” and this is just màna— pride or ego coming up in the mind. The thing that I find so interesting about màna is that 2500 years ago, when the Buddha was alive, people were judging themselves just as much as we do now. They were judging others, and comparing everything. When I remember this I think, “Oh, actually ‘comparing mind’ is normal. Everybody does it.”

See if you can let them evaporate and just be Comfortable with What Is.

This post is dedicated to my friend and dancing psychologist Solomon Kurz.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

On Twitter @edgessey

I'm definitely not bleeding edge nor even an early adopter on this tide. However, I've finally joined Twitter, over two months after Oprah. I'm not really sure what I'll get out of it, and that's actually the largest motivation. I've been reading (e.g. Clay Shirky's Here Comes Everybody), talking with friends, and watching from the sidelines to try to figure out the benefits and what this is all about. The most compelling argument so far has been: "you need to try it to really get it."

Some people have expressed interest in following me, including an anonymous commenter on this blog. Being that my primary goal is to contribute to my sangha (sanskrit, basically meaning community, the community to which one shares), and Twitter is a good way to reach people in short bursts, I suspect and hope that this may be a great stream for it. Many of the same goals from Why I Blog apply here, too.

My Twitter Profile Follow me @edgessey

What I'll Tweet

Between blog posts, I write lots of notes about what to post, collect lots of quotations, start on lots of ideas that either never make it to the blog or are sitting as drafts to later be published. Some of these are short bites that strike me in some way. These will likely be the types of things that I post. The sparks that move me, but I don't quite have enough meat for a blog post.

Looking around Twitter, I see that people talk about themselves, what they're doing, bits of news, restaurant micro-reviews, etc. Just like there are so many things to cover in a blog, there are also infiinite things to cover on Twitter. My tweets will likely be morsels that I find wise, profound, inspiring, inspired, , moving, beautiful, heartfelt, sublime, earnest, or pognantly hilarious.

I look forward to seeing where this goes. I hope that you choose to follow me and steer me in directions that are interesting to you, too.

This post is dedicated to Josh Phillips, bleeding edge maestro, who finally convinced me to join Twitter.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Haiku #6 - On the Bus

Rush hour herds workers
Throught knots. Crossing a bridge, we
Look from screens--serene.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

MPOW #23 - Your Spiritual Task

Once you understand your basic Buddhist Personality Type, you can use this as a vehicle for awakening. I refer again to the Which Buddhist Personality Type Are You? quiz from Tricycle: The Buddhist Review magazine. If you haven't read this already, it's quick, easy, and a bit fun, too. The article defines custom mindfulness practices for each type.

Each type has a spiritual task to accomplish. The spiritual task of the greedy type is to transform the desire for sense objects into a desire to know the Three Jewels: Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. Greedy types need to balance their optimism with an awareness of suffering. Practices that can help the greedy type include: contemplation of old age, sickness, death, and impermanence, meditation on the 32 parts of the body; generosity; renunciation; noticing the ending of experiences; putting oneself in uncomfortable, unpleasant situations (in order to become disenchanted with sense pleasures); slowing down; and taking the Three Refuges.

The spiritual task of the aversive type is to transform the critical mind through wisdom and insight. Aversive types need to learn to relax, question their beliefs about being “right,” and notice joy in addition to suffering. Practices for the aversive type are: lovingkindness, compassion, mindfulness of mind, humor, faith, patience, open awareness, and putting oneself in pleasant surroundings in order to soften the heart and connect with life.

The spiritual task of the deluded type is to transform spaciousness into a state of rooted equanimity. Deluded types need to learn how to reel in their minds. Practices useful for a deluded type include: noting (labeling); mindfulness of the hindrance of doubt; body awareness; somatic experiencing; qigong or yoga; precision; mindfulness of the earth element, and putting oneself in safe and pleasant surroundings to prevent dissociation.

This week, mindfully take at least one small step on your spiritual task each day. We are all created different from each other and no single personality type truly defines. We also change from moment to moment. The personality type is not meant to completely define you. It simply serves as a guide on your path of awakening, or a helpful tool to increase your mindfulness. Have fun with it and bring yourself a little bit closer to your edge.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

MPOW #22 - "Gain and victory to others; loss and defeat to myself."

"Gain and victory to others; loss and defeat to myself." - Tibetan Buddhist saying

Pema Chodron explains this powerful slogan to cultivate generosity and vulnerability in Start Where You Are. This writing borrows a lot from that and from my own experience using it this past week. The slogan definitely needs some explaining. A big part of the Words Are Powerful observation is that words are often overloaded or miscommunicated, and this quotation particularly so.

Loss and defeat to myself does not mean to extend an invitation to the world to attack you with slings and arrows. It is not encouragement to submit to having your bones broken and head kicked in. It is a reminder to allow your armor to come down and let yourself feel vulnerable. Every time that something hurts us, including emotionally, we have the tendency to fly, fight, or fortify. Likely this comes from the reptilian center of our brain's fight-or-flight response. Perhaps when we are socially ostracized, we feel that we are going to die. I recently heard Keith Ferrazzi (author of Never Eat Alone and recently Who's Got Your Back) deliver a presentation with vulnerability as a major theme. He spoke about how the feeling of sudden death due to embarrassment--"oh, I could just die"--likely has childhood roots. As young children, we are entirely dependent on our parents and guardians. If we are embarrassed, the mammalian centers of our brains fear rejection that will exclude us from this circle upon which we completely rely, which may leave us without sustenence and loving connection. So, from a young age, we have built up a response to treat even emotional dings from social slights as physical threats.

So, from youth, we build up an armor, layers and layers of constricting mail, a helmet, a shield, gloves, and boots. Every time we put up another shield, it makes our world a little smaller, every layer makes us a little more removed from the world as it is. Our protection in response to our fears makes a weaker version of ourselves hiding in a shell. It's not a bad thing; it's a trade-off. Though, it is a trade-off that makes us less and less flexible, our perspective more and more narrow, and removes the expansive potential of our world. Another thing that we learn over time, is that this defense isn't reliable. It doesn't really work. There's always a chink in the armor, or a time when it's down; we let it down sometimes when we connect with others. Then, we accidentally get hurt only to return to the armory for renewed fortifications to avoid being hurt. And this may work for another week or two.

There's an alternative. For your mindfulness practice, discover your armor, the ways that you protect yourself. See if you can peel off the armor and be as you are. Intentionally and methodically allow yourself to be vulnerable. Challenge your comfort to go out into the world without armor and experience it naturally. Allow yourself to realize that you can survive loss and defeat.

During this time of vulnerability, you have an excellent opportunity to cultivate your generosity. Rather than using your energy to inflate yourself at the expense of others, do the opposite. Put your energy into helping others win. Celebrate their victories. There are many things to notice. Here are three of them that I find curious and charming. First, of the six point seven billion people in the world, there are a lot more victories and gains to celebrate than if you only celebrate your own. The second is that you come to realize your connectedness with others, you find a unity in humanity. The third one is ironic, working toward the gain and victory of others often brings positivity back to you in as possibly a karmic effect of "no good deed goes unrewarded." Be careful of the trap here, though. Remember loss and defeat unto yourself, the point is the gain and victory unto others, not funding your own karmic bank.

For this week's mindfulness practice, keep that slogan in mind through your day and through your actions. This vulnerability is a sweet and elegant thing. It's what I mean when I wrote On Cracking Creme Brulee.

This post is dedicated to my friend Mariko Hosokawa, who loves creme brulee, She is as charmingly vulnerable as can be, every bit of her essence is the creme brulee that she loves so much.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

MPOW #21 - Waterfall of Light

This mindfulness practice of the week is one about nourishment and healing. In MPOW #15 - Authentic Self, I wrote about an authentic waterfall that's nurturing and welcoming enough for you to meet your authentic self. This same waterfall can be used to heal your emotional self. We all have blockages, places in our body where we are tight or sore, places were we cannot stretch, places where we store the stresses of our lives.

These places can represent emotional blockages, too. For example, a too-rigid spine, one that cannot physically stretch, may represent how we are inflexible mentally. Both need to release at once. Allowing our vertebrae to have more space goes hand in hand with allowing our minds to be more curious and our hearts to be more open and accepting. Conversely, by releasing what blocks our curiousity and keeps us entrenched in narrow patterns (maybe fear, loss, a limited sense of identity), we also break through new ground in our bodies, feel more comfortable and at home there.

Gently limber up--physically, emotionally, and mentally. This will allow you to free yourself from pains and blockages and give yourself a more living and flexible definition of self.

The Practice

Find a comfortable position, seated or lying. I prefer to keep my head up and facing forward with my spine erect, though you may choose something else. Hold your hands palms up in front of your body. Allow yourself to calm down and relax from your busy life.

You have a simple task for your mind to focus on. Imagine a healing, warm, loving, light-filled waterfall cascading over your body. If you are sitting, it massages the crown of your head and the tops of your shoulders, it soothes your neck and flows down your chest and back, it falls upon your legs and lap, and it makes you feel warm and cared for all over. If you are lying face up, it massages the tight muscles of your face and jaw, your throat, chest, and adbomen, your feet and legs and arms and hands. Or on your back in soothes your neck and back muscles, loosens your buttocks, and relaxes your hamstrings, calves and feet.

Allow your mind to concentrate on creating the universe of this waterfall and all of its sensations. Scan the body as it is touched by this waterfall to identitfy blockages and allow the loving light and warmth of the water to soothe and release them.

This is your own private spa, one that you can come back to any time to show yourself soothing love and healing relaxation.

Haiku #5 - Buddhist with Beattitude

Karma sans dogma,

Buddhist with Beattitude,

One divinity.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

MPOW #20 - Focus on Your Nostrils

This mindfulness practice of the week is another foundational practice. It is simply paying attention to your breath. Yogini Saiko introduced this to me in yin yoga class on Sunday and I find it a great way to get into a relaxed meditative state, even when I'm in monkey mind.

The Practice

Sit or kneel in a relaxed meditative position with your spine erect. Place your hands in any configuration that works for you if you have a favorite. I suggest hands roughly palms up on the knees. When keeping your spine erect, imagine a string tied to the crown of your head, gently though firmly pulling you toward the sky. During the posture, allow your spine to relax if you feel too tense or extend a little more rigidly if you are losing focus or dosing off. The erectness of the spine is a useful and important element of posture to control in this and many meditations.

Allow yourself to settle your breathing naturally, without adhering to any particular pattern. When you are relaxed, you are ready to begin.

Bring your gentle attention to the front tips of your nostrils. Focus on this part of the body. As you pay attention to the inside of your nostrils, you may notice that your thoughts keep coming in. That's ok, recognize them as thoughts, gently label them as "thinking," and bring your attention back to your nostrils. Your thoughts will continue to come, but as you practice this, you will find more and more space between the thoughts. You are taking this time for yourself as a treat. So reward yourself by not judging your thinking. Use this time to be gentle with yourself and keep returning your attention to the tips of your nostrils.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Haiku #4 - On Cracking Creme Brulee

Cracking creme brûlée...
Pleasure. Vulnerable core
Beneath burnt, sweet crust.

Monday, June 01, 2009

MPOW #19 - Exploring Your Edge

“If I never explore my limits, my bodymind will gradually tighten and become unconscious. If I regularly explore my limits in a caring and adventuresome fashion, I will expand and grow in a vital fashion. But if I try to push myself past where I am honestly able to go, I will no longer be practicing ‘yoga’ but instead will be practicing ‘greed,’ and I will probably be met by pain and disease. Stated simply, it is the difference between ignoring your self, making love to yourself, and raping yourself.” –Ken Dychtwald, Bodymind

To my great happiness, my yin yoga instructor Saiko has returned from her travels and is teaching yoga in Seattle again. She read the above quotation during a several minute (around five minutes, relaxing into poses distinguishes yin yoga from other types) hold of downward-facing pigeon pose (Adho Mukha Kapotasana). I was stretching into my right hip, trying to maintain the exact right spot and hold there, and this quotation brought me to mindfulness about my relationship to my limits, my edge.

In my physical yoga (asana) practice, I tend to find that I err on the side of pushing the edge to a spot that is aggressive against my muscles. In other aspects, I tend to err on the side of ignoring the edge. Dychtwald's wisdom need not be true for physical yoga alone, as the sanskrit word yoga means "discipline" or "alignment with divinity". So, substitute in any word for an activity or virtue with "yoga" and see where you fall in your explorations. The sanskrit word yoga is often translated to mean "action".

"If you're not living on the edge, you're taking up too much space." - The slogan on one of my favorite teenage tees.

Mindfulness Practice of the Week - Explore Your Edge

If you have yoga experience, I recommend trying this from pigeon pose. This is a challenging pose and can lead to knee damage if done incorrectly and you push yourself. So if you have never done it before with the help of a yoga instructor, try something simpler like Balasana child pose (toes together, knees on the ground shoulder width apart, butt on your heels with your arms stretched forward.

Tips from the WikiHealth site: (pigeon pose)
  • Make sure to stay focused on the breathing as this pose can be intense. If you can, imagine that the breath is opening up space in the hip and releasing the tightness.
  • It is not unusual to experience a full range of sensations and emotions, from naseau to sadness and anger. Allow whatever your body is experiencing to move through you and stay connected to your breath.
  • It is estimated that the hips store physical and emotional build up/memory. Thus, it is common to experience a strong physical/emotional reaction when we are in the process of opening them.

From the pose, say the quote aloud in your mind and contemplate the ways in your life in which you are on the edge, avoiding the edge, and pushing past the edge. Don't berate yourself for missing the edge, just note it and calmly see if you can bring yourself back to the edge. Remember this as an exercise of loving yourself. Be tender, be gentle, be thorough.

My Experience

As Saiko spoke these words and I focused on finding the edge, I noticed a shift in my hip muscles releasing and allowing me to sink much more deeply into the pose. I have known people to hold a lot of emotion in their hips and cry through and after pigeon pose. I never experienced that myself, though in this session, learning to love myself through yoga allowed me to physically open along with the opening of my symbolic heart.

A meditation this weekend helped me realize that I had gone astray from the path of loving myself. Realizing this was all it took to get back on that path. I have again been able to turn off the mind and find some good rest. It reminds me of How I Learned to Take a Break from Analyzing and Start Loving Myself.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Haiku #3 - Surrender the Oars

No course inspired me,
So I surrendered the oars.
The current: perfect

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

MPOW #18 - You, Artist

The late Gordon MacKenzie, a longtime creative force at Hallmark Cards, once told a story that quickly entered the folklore among designers. MacKenzie was a public-spirited fellow who often visited schools to talk about his profession. He'd open each talk by telling students he was an artist. Then he'd look around the classroom, notice the artwork on the walls, and wonder aloud who created the masterpieces.
"How many artists are there in the room?" MacKenzie would ask. "Would you please raise your hands?"
The responses always followed the same pattern. In kindergarten and first-grade classes, every kid thrust a hand in the air. In second-grade classes, about three-fourths of the kids raised their hands, though less eagerly. In third grade, only a few children held up their hands. And by sixth grade, not a single hand went up. The kids looked around to see if anybody in the class would admit to what they'd now learned was deviant behavior. - From Daniel Pink's A Whole New Mind

This mindfulness practice of the week aims to help you learn about your artistic spirit or where it meant. This may be very difficult for you, but the rewards in learning are commensurate with the challenge. Good luck!


Gather some art supplies, it doesn't have to be fancy. Just ensure that you have some media. It could be as simple as computer paper and crayons or pencils or you could delve into paints and canvasses. You decide what's appropriate and convenient for yourself.

Also, and this is important: buy yourself a frame that you like to fit your paper or stock. Get the supplies that you need to hang it, and put the hook up in your home. At the end of this, you will have a piece of artwork to mount on your wall.

Make Some Art
Using your supplies, open yourself up to the creative process. Put as much of you as you can into your pieces. I highly encourage you to meditate before you begin with the pieces and then again throughout if there are any stumbling points for you. This is part of the mindfulness practice. See what you notice as you create your art work. Do you find yourself judging the artwork? Do you notice how tightly or loosely you are gripping the writing instrument? How do the textures of the media feel against each other? Do you have more control when you move slowly, moderately, or quickly? Do any memories or emotions rise to the surface?

Don't stop until you have created at least five pieces. You can create more if you so choose. Be mindful about what it means for you to stop and feel complete.

WARNING: Do not read the next section until you have completed this section.

Judge the Art
That's right, see what it feels like to bring judgment to your artwork. Perhaps you have already done so and this will be very obvious to you at this stage. Perhaps you never did judge either positively or negatively through the process, maybe you can get to know what you did feel or why when you bring your discernment into it. We make emotional decisions and choices every day--in fact, some studies show that without emotions, a person cannot tie his or her shoes because we cannot decide which foot to start with--what does it take to do it?

Rank the pieces in order of your favorite to least favorite. At the very least, choose your favorite one and the one that you least like. Perhaps the favorite one is the one that you want to frame on your wall because it is the most technically proficient, most interesting, best use of colors, reminds you of something. Perhaps your least favorite one makes you feel self conscious, makes you despise your own artwork. Now, do the opposite of what you would expect. Destroy your favorite one. You read that right. Tear it to shreds, burn it, draw all over it. Is this easy or difficult for you? If difficult, explore that. If easy, explore that, too. Are you attached to it? Then, frame the least favorite one and hang it on your wall. How do you feel about it when you see it? Does your missed line frustrate you? Do you not want others to see it? Is it hard to look at it yourself? Are you proud of having mounted it?

There's so much to explore and learn about yourself through this.

Happy Practicing!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Haiku #2 - All the World's a Sage

All the world's a sage.
The extras and the stuntmen
Channel Athena.

Monday, May 18, 2009

MPOW #17 - Open Heart Meditation

"Most of us may feel like we are not up to the task of living with our hearts open, and we might begin to close down, little by little, so that we can get through our days without having to feel too much. One thing that can help us turn this situation around is an awareness of the power of empathy. To open our hearts to another person’s suffering is a revolutionary act that has energetic implications." - From Daily Om's Heart Meditation

The heart is powerful on at least three channels of our experience: data/functional, emotional, and symbolic. In this Mindfulness Practice of the Week, explore all of the channels of the fourth major chakra.

At the data/functional channel, the heart is one of our body's marathon runners, a muscle that when healthy pumps 1900 gallons (or 7200 L) of blood throughout our body, supplying every cell with oxygen and nutrients. It has messengers that reach every part of our body over and over again. Imagine how much your heart must know. Marvel how much your heart does.

Along the emotional channel, your heart beat reflects your feelings. When you are scared and excited, it beats faster; when you are calm, it beats more slowly. Your heart becomes an outward physical sign of your inner state. Contemplate how amazing it is to find so much about yourself reflected outwardly.

The symbolic channel is an especially potent one. Countless songs across many cultures link passion, compassion, kindness, resolve, bravery, etc. to the heart. It is a symbol of many virtues and love. Ponder your heart's symbolism.

The heart inspires in many ways. This week, follow a practice that I have adapted from reiki.

The mindfulness practice of the week

Sit or lie in a comfortable position, holding your hands four to six inches apart (or imagine something similar). See if you can feel the space between your hands. Concentrate on this with a loose focus. Play with it. Pull your hands a little apart. Push them a little together. See if you can notice a connection between them even when they're not touching. When you really tune into the feeling, you may feel an elasticity between your hands. Put your intention fully between them and imagine a ball of energy growing between your palms, warming and glowing. Draw this energy from the earth, the sky, and the living world around you. You may need to move your hands to let it expand and feel potent. When you are ready, bring your hands closer together to tighten the ball into a marble of light. Then, fold your hands over your heart, inserting the ball of energy into the center of your being.

Feel the warmth of that energy in your heart. Imagine it filling you with an invincible, purifying light. In time, allow the light to radiate out from your heart. Leaving your hands softly over your heart, use your intention to gather things into your heart. Gather your loved ones there. Gather your loving feelings. Feel how they shine and strengthen. Also, and very deliberately, invite the objects of your struggles. Maybe your hamstrings are sore, invite them in, thanking them for working so hard for you. Maybe a colleague irritates you, maybe there's a family tiff, maybe you are ill, maybe there's political strife. Whatever it is, welcome that object of struggling into your heart. Let it know that you can still love it, too. More importantly, let yourself know that you can love it. Let your heart fill it with warmth and compassion, so that it can flow and turn into light itself.

Give yourself permission to linger here. Invite in the positive, the neutral, and the negative, showing it all equal love. Let the power of your heart bring wise virtue to everything. It is a powerful experience to bring the intention of your heart to all that you encounter outside of you. It nourishes and enriches you from the inside.

"And what happened then? Well, in Whoville they say
That the Grinch's small heart grew three sizes that day!"
-Dr. Seuss How the Grinch Stole Christmas

This post is dedicated to my loving mother. Mom has the hugest heart I have every known.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Haiku #1 - Weft and Warp

Warp, weft wilderness,
Two threads twine through tapestry.
Fling free from the loom.

Monday, May 11, 2009

MPOW #16 - Sloth Disguised as Productivity

Earlier this week I encouraged us to Make Mistakes of Ambition, Not Sloth. After we're able to redefine ambition as motivation toward production, attachment-free goals, this all sounds pretty good and straight-forward, though we know that motivational challenges are not so easy to overcome. Our own experiences and many spiritual teachings have taught us that being aware of our desires and causes of suffering are the most important step toward dissolving them.

In this mindfulness practice of the week, we take a break from the meditation cushion and instead take a look at random samplings of our lives. During the day, make use of mindfulness bells - sounds or alerts that bring us to the present, once in the present, assess what you are doing, thinking, feeling at the time of the bell. It is an opportunity to break routine and self assess. This is a useful too for many aspects of mindfulness, though this week, we will use it specifically to catch acts of laziness disguised as productivity.

Set up a Mindfulness Bell

Set an alarm to go off 3 times during your work day or productivity period. Maybe you know three specific times when you are likely to just keep yourself busy instead of being your most effective self. Set the alarm to be during these times. If you work in an office, these may be right after arriving at work, right after lunch, and 3pm - as your lunch is digesting.

Or, you might find it more effective to use random times. I found a tool on the following Web site which may be of help (though I admit that I have not tried it yet myself):

The Practice - Catch Yourself
When the bell goes off, ask yourself the following hard question, and be honest with yourself. Once you learn to be honest with this, you make be able to break yourself of bad workplace habits that you did not know you had. Choose one of the following questions, or come up with something else that works for you in the same vein:
  • Am I doing the most important thing that I can be doing right now?
  • Am I procrastinating?
  • Am I inventing things to distract me from what's important?

Common work culprits
The following are common office-place culprits that I work to overcome, and likely millions more do, too:

Checking email - it is possible to spend the whole day doing this and still never finish. At one point, I found that I was receiving over 700/day. I have since learned to filter that. It's also possible to just let those toast messages pop up and respond to things constantly throughout the day. Far less time-consuming to batch them up and pass through them once or twice/day. Or less!

Writing email - Same goes with this one. It is possible to edit, re-edit, re-write, until blue in the face. It is also possible to edit every single message and write an email about everything that comes into your head. This just creates more work for everyone. Try to focus on only the highest priority emails to protect your time and respect the time of others. I also like to keep my emails short and sweet. I have adopted a plan to make it easier for me to write email and for other people to respond to my emails.

Meetings - Are all those meetings really necessary or simply work for work's sake? Do all meetings need to take exactly an hour or always run over? Really? Think about it. What would happen if weekly meetings because once every two weeks? Once every month? Would work cease to be done? What if an hour-long meeting could be replace with a 5-minute meeting, or 2 5-sentence emails? That would save a lot of time.

Drop-in meetings - Oh, I'm really guilty of this one. I find it important to always be available when people need me. I open the door, invite people in, "have a seat." This automatically burns through at least 15 minutes. Close the door to go through longer. I've made the mistake in thinking that I'm only respectful of people if I give them undivided attention whenever they need it. Wrong. I can respect them by saving their time and mine (and the more of my time I save, the more work I can do for them and the company) and keeping things short and to the point. This is possible while still connecting on a real, human level.

Perhaps you already know that these are your bugbears. Perhaps none of these apply to you and you will learn others through this practice.

Good luck. Use the comments box to let me know how it goes.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Make Mistakes of Ambition, Not Sloth

"All courses of action are risky, so prudence is not in avoiding danger (it's impossible), but calculating risk and acting decisively. Make mistakes of ambition and not mistakes of sloth. Develop the strength to do bold things, not the strength to suffer." - Niccolo Machiavelli The Prince

Makes mistakes of ambition and not mistakes of sloth. What a powerful notion. There are a few bits of wisdom to tease out of this: Making mistakes is just a part of life. All mistakes are recoverable, maybe not back to where you were before exactly, but we will recover and things will go on. When we realize this, it is time to drop our fear of making mistakes. By being inactive, by not making choices, we are passively making choices of low energy, and mistakes exist there, too--sometimes bigger ones.

There are many barriers to acting in a high valence; most of them are just disguised laziness and fear. Webster defines valence as "relative capacity to unite, react, or interact" and "the degree of attractiveness an individual, activity, or thing possesses as a behavioral goal". Don't you want to increase these things? Linking these definitions is pretty potent, too. It speaks to important benefits of extending our energetic orbits that we act in. As we increase our capacity to interact, we improve our degree of attractiveness. Getting into this high valence requires simply wanting to be there more than being in the lower valence. There are a few psychological barriers which keep us in a low valence:

It is so easy to either get caught up in a safe routine. This often comes from fear of making mistakes and taking risks. This is a dangerous place to be, because it keeps us making mistakes of sloth.

2. There's a notion that it's greedy to want more than we already have. By that line of reasoning, ambition can be seen as egoism or egotism. This is a misinterpretation of what a spiritual life need be. In Buddhism, there's a concept of renunciation in which we give up the pursuit of things that we use to define ourselves. However, taken too far, we are no longer adding to the world and being industrious.

3. It is tempting once we have discovered the elation of meditation to sit alone in meditation all the time. While it is important to meditate and practice mindfulness to approach lives from a serene and contemplative approach, it is also valuable to increase our valence. The Lama Surya Das remarks about how curiously Eastern practices come to the West. Rather than focusing on generosity and striving to free all of mankind from suffering initially, the in road is to focus on meditation. Certainly all of these aspects and more (the 6, sometimes 10, paramitas ) all strengthen each other, and the wise practitioner grows them together. However, there seems to be a proclivity for self cultivation rather than public action. I know this personally, because I am quite guilty of this myself. It is important to remember to act out of generosity and develop skillful means, then use these hand in hand with wisdom and meditation... all in balance.

4. As we learn the suffering from attachment, there's a fear of identifying with goals and ambitions. Overdoing the wise notion to not identify with what we create. We can counter goal/ambition identification by remembering to Start Whole. "There's nothing wrong with being goal-oriented. This dojo (school) came because I had a goal to make a dojo." I learned this wise concept in a recent Interview with Kim Ivy. Since we're talking about Buddhism (well, I'm writing a little about it, and as long as we're on the subject...), a couple obvious examples to me are of the industrious Buddhist monks. For instance, look at all of the publications by the industrious Tenzin Gyatso, The 14th Dalai Lama. Another example is Matthieu Ricard, a translator for the Dalai Lama, who is involved in many scientific studies, who has led an effort to modernize Buddhist teachings by digitally archiving important texts, and is an author in his own right. Having this ambition to create has added virtue to the world in helping to reach the enlightenment of others.

5. Over-modesty. Another great stumbling block is to not act until you are convinced of your expertise. You may deem it hubris to act. Certainly, it is wise to develop skill in whatever you do, but waiting until it is fully developed will completely paralyze you from action. If you search yourself, you will likely find that this is just sloth disguised as nobility. Refusing to act is certainly not going to help anyone. Again, I urge you to choose to make mistakes of action, rather than mistakes of sloth. Even if you do make these mistakes, you learn from them and have contributed the energy of generosity and loving-kindness.

As we are aware of these barriers, we are able to overcome them. Pledge with me to increase our valences. If we are going to make mistakes--which we will--make mistakes of ambition, not sloth. This poem by Goethe has been a life long favorite of mine, and I leave it with us in parting.

"What you can do, or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, magic, and power in it."

This post is dedicated to former co-worker and current friend Joe Duffy. His ambition has brought many great ideas to pass. I have never seen him make a mistake of sloth.

Monday, May 04, 2009

MPOW #15 - Authentic Self

"The luxury I advocate has nothing to do with money. It cannot be bought. It is the reward of those who have no fear of discomfort." - Jean Cocteau

"To thine own self be true." - Shakespeare Hamlet

The very best, most pure, more authentic version of yourself is inside you at all times, ready to guide you. Whenever you need a bit of guidance, you can turn to authentic self for actions to take. Your authentic self will help you be bold and decisive. He or she will help you be true and noble. Best of all, this is you. You can manifest your most authentic self at any time.

There are times when we all feel "outside". When we know we are not our bravest, most fearless selves--the selves that we are accustomed to being--we may see the world in a haze. I'm optimistic that there's a way through this. We can cut through our lethargy and get to positive action. "Action may not always bring happiness, but there is no happiness without action." (Benjamin Disraeli)

I have found a wonderful journey that helped me meet my authentic self. Now that I have met Authentic Ed, I can bring my intention inward and channel him. Every now and then, I renew my relationship with him. For this Mindfulness Practice of the Week (MPOW), I hope that you can also meet this most precious of Our Guides and Guards for yourself

Meeting Authentic You

The first time, start by preparing an environment for the journey. It's a simple preparation. Put on some relaxing instrumental music. Pour a glass of water. Establish a comfortable place to sit. Free yourself of distractions: phone off, alarms off, no beeping computers, cat shut somewhere quiet. It is nice to choose an environment and music that is easy to recall or return to, because it can be used as a quick portal later.

Sit in your comfortable place, have a drink of the water, and hold your spine erect by imagining a string is pulling you up from the top of your head. Perform a quick body inventory, letting your muscles relax in your face, your shoulders, your chest, your lower back, your hips (you likely know or soon will know your personal culprits - if you have not tried it, I recommend that you Connect With Your Body's Wisdom (MPOW #8)), then back to your face and shoulders again. Sink into the music and allow yourself to explore it subtly.

Then let your journey begin. Imagine that rich, thick rays of sunlight are pouring down on my head and shoulders, a waterfall of pure light. It is so rich and warm and nourishing. It is viscous and clean. It purifies you as it massages your crown and shoulders and pours down over your body. You are sitting on a rock in a lagoon under this waterfall of light. The warm light of the sun showers down around you and into the lagoon.

Ahead of you, notice that someone is approaching. It is you, as your most authentic self. Introduce yourself. Get to know this most authentic version of you. He or she is desperately interested in knowing who you are and helping you in the most effective way possible. Your most authentic self loves you.

You have now established a connection that you can come back to at any time. Your most authentic self is always available to help you, to guide you on what you're going through.

Getting Back in Touch with the Authentic Self
You can always embark on the full journey again at any time to establish a deep connection. Though, now, I find it possible to sit anywhere, whether on the bus, in conference room during a meeting, in the cafeteria, or on an airplane, close my eyes, and bring myself to this place. I imagine the waterfall of light or use the music as an anchor. When my most authentic self approaches me, I know that I can Start Whole with his guidance.
I dedicate this post to Mariana Oskey's most authentic, fearless, super-creative, 360-degree self!

Monday, April 27, 2009

MPOW #14 - Be the Sun

"The sun was shining on the sea,
Shining with all his might.
He did his very best to make
The billows smooth and bright.
This was odd because it was
The middle of the night."
- Lewis Carroll The Walrus and the Carpenter

Living in Seattle, it is possibly to go a whole month in the winter without seeing the sun peek through the clouds. Though, I know, when I pay it mind, that the sun is always still shining, whether cloudy or not, day or night. Even when I cannot see it, it still shines. In this mindfulness practice of the week, let us contemplate the sun and how we are like it.

There are a few traits that we can share with the sun:
1. The sun always shines, even if layers of clouds or a rotation of the planet hides this. As such, we always shine underneath, even when circumstances make it difficult for us to shine outwardly.

2. The sun does not boast of its shining. The sun is a massively powerful body, a giant ball of burning gas that sustains all of the life on Earth. Yet, this is what the sun is, and what it does. Likewise, we are what we are, and our abilities, though many and wisely born and often earned are what we are. We can take our cues from the sun and not boast of them either.

3. The sun makes no excuse for shining. The opposite of boasting, sometimes we are embarrassed by our abilities and seek to downplay them or cover them up. Just like the sun, these abilities make up who we are, and we can confidently put them to use for wise growth and kind, generous action.

4. The sun always generously shares its energy with others. It doesn't ask for anything in return, nor mind when it is taken for granted. It continues to nurture the whole planet.

5. The sun does not discriminate. It offers its energy for any and all.

There are many other traits of the sun that you may bring forth in your meditations.

Mindfulness Practice: Be the Sun
If the sun is shining directly, place yourself by basking in it. If it is not seen, recall the sun, know that it is there shining, and be in that knowledge of its shining. Begin in a basic meditation to clear your mind, calm your emotions, and relax your physical body. Form your arms into a curve, as if you are holding the sun within them. I recommend holding them aloft, but you can also rest them if you require.

Focus on the space between your arms and will you attention between them. In this attention, bring your intention to bring the sun in. As you focus your intention, allow this to be your manifestation. The sun will manifest in your arms. This may be frustrating or silly at first, but allow yourself to indulge in this notion. As you hold your arms, feel the warmth of the sun on them. You may need to shift their arc to accommodate the sun. Relax your belly, what the Chinese call the dantien, the Japanese the tanden, many call the second chakra--it has many other names in other languages. As it relaxes, you might feel that this is a battery storing the energy of the sun.

Notice the ways that you are like the sun. You may even become the sun or realize that you have been the sun all along. You may realize that like the sun, you are both part of the same universe. You may instead or additionally notice other things. For instance, you might saturate with optimism, or recognize the properties that you and the sun share in common.

My wish for you is that the sun inspires you to be more like it.

This post is dedicated to Grandmaster Chen Xiao Wang, who once wordlessly taught me how to embrace the universe in a single moment.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Interview with Kim Ivy on Tai Chi and the Recession

At the beginning of 2009, shortly after the economy was widely recognized as recession, there was a lot of consternation, though some people, myself included, looked for the positive side of the recession. I wrote Silver Lining on the Dark Cloud of the Recession and Optimism in the Great Disruption to address this. Much of this, though, was after I interviewed my Taijiquan and Qigong teacher Kim Ivy from Embrace the Moon. Kim is a hugely positive force for internal and external change, a community builder, and an exuberant and welcoming teacher.

Here are the results of that interview in her words (if you can forgive this blogger taking some minor presence in flawed note-taking and minor editing):

How is Embrace the Moon doing in this recession?

I heard Ross Reynolds make the statement "If you see a business doing well, I want to hear about it." Sitting at the dojo, I said to myself "I'll be darned, I see no decrease, in fact, I see an increase." Indeed I had been thinking that when people lose disposable income, Tai Chi & Qigong would be among the first of things to go but that has not been the case

Why do you think you are seeing an increase?

I feel there is a very pragmatic and palpable shift in people's intention for themselves during this recession period. Sure there's a lot of fear, yet the people I see are not investing in fear but recognizing that there is a different choice. The choice to go inward is a choice to take back personal power, it is a conscious intention to get off the roller coaster and to experience a better way to live, a more positive life affirming way. And there is the very important aspect of connecting not with their own self but also with a community of people also focusing on positive and life-affirming practices. It is a tremendous source of power.

I think people used to feel Tai Chi and Qigong were out of reach for them somehow. Perhaps they were culturally odd, they were too esoteric, pretty but unapproachable – or sort of like the whipped cream on the mocha. But now, I definitely see that people feel that these are deeply practical approaches to not only integrating the body with the mind but also the body the mind with mindful living. These are tools for slowing down, taking a moment, not getting so wrapped up in the tornados and hurricanes of our culture. These are tools for health, happiness and they are not only approachable but essential. At this point in our cultural evolution we all recognize that a meditative mindful approach is really a way through, a way through the chaos.

What I feel I'm really seeing is a large shift of consciousness. The idea of a paradigm shift has been floating around, but now I see it manifesting in people's beings. It shows in their practices of looking at life not just through the lens of achievement. They are looking at life as a path of insight. This is the larger perspective that is emerging. People have run into the end game of a path of achievement. We're seeing, on a larger social perspective, a recession, a suffering. But on an internal level we are turning our attention more intentionally: looking for insight, looking for pathways, practices, communities, that embody that essence.

When people come in to class, sometimes they are stressed or worried but when they leave they are happy. For me, it's really incredible to be a part of that transformation. Somebody last night who came in, he was very serious, "I came in depressed, and I changed, I'm not leaving that way." To change like this over the course of one hour is really powerful. When we focus on the world and our place in it in a negative way, we're really opening up a drain that's inside of us. Energy, life force, motivation, hope, they all just drain out of us. But when we embody ourselves and feel our own potential we close the drain and fill ourselves up with possibility..

Taijiquan and Qigong practice is not bout learning a form, per se. For me what I see is through them we experience tools, environments, and community that give us access into our own insight. When we have access into our own insight, we naturally get out of ourselves, connect to an experience of giving to joy. I feel there is a relationship to doing practices where we can feel embodied. It is a gift and gives us to joy. So, this path of insight is really the path of joy. To tap into that changes everything

What we're seeing right now I feel is the death of an old way, and right next that we're also seeing the rise of new possibilities. It's the Chinese way: Danger/Opportunity

So, you think that this change was inevitable?

I think it, and this is just my own personal viewpoint, was bound to happen. What's happening in the world right now is the natural flow of things. The yin and yang, the current flow of the world was bound to happen. . The world has been yang. The change to the yin was inevitable. Kind of like putting the breaks on in the car, you can slam the breaks on or push them down slowly depending on how fast you have been going and what the circumstances demand of you. It’s a bit of a feeling like the breaks are slamming but perhaps this slow down has been going on for quite some time. We are just feeling it now

A Chinese saying tells us: "Never forget the thousand year view." The yin was bound to happen. The tremendous forceful way, in nature, that is not sustainable.

Even though the current situation it is a natural response to how we have been going, there is still an ideology of fear going on right now. However, f we look at it as a natural balance to how things have been, we can change our perspective; we can say "how do we blend into that?" and bring ourselves into natural alignment with that.

Coming over here today, I was thinking that when we do our practices, Tai Chi, Qigong--is what I'm familiar with--there's a certain alchemy that over time aligns the practitioner with Nature. When we align with nature, we not only begin to understand the process and the flow of nature, but of ourselves. When we do this, we are calmer with the flow of nature. We understand growth, recession, change. Everything changes.

When I look at the business per se of a Tai Chi school, I ask why is this increasing right now? Yes, sure, this is Seattle, a relatively affluent area. Though, how people choose to spend their money and time is telling. They feel that this is more valuable to them to participate in life, and with their friends, than to spend it on a new shirt or something like that. I think that this is truly a change in the consciousness, the awareness; and the seeds were planted a long time ago.

It is very hopeful for me to see that. It is humbling for me to think that we are actually alive right now to see that happen.

On a larger perspective I feel we are seeing a shift in consciousness away from force & aggression. On one hand we see what's happening with war, on the other hand we see these more fluid types of choices people are making. When you see a business rise or fall, it is indicative of the choices that people are making. In this society, we can do whatever we want. So when I see that people are making conscious choices to be involved with activities like Tai Chi & Qigong and what they can give us, it's thrilling to me actually.

Some people turn to religion or spirituality as a crutch...

I wish Tai Chi was a crutch; it would be easier to market! [:)] However, the path is more challenging then that. Tai Chi and Qigong are personal development processes. These are not concretized things that you can hold onto. They are practices and insights. Yet, people are up to the challenge right now.

One thing about places of religion, spirituality, and practice that I think is very important, is that they're places of community. When people are unsure, places of community are a tremendous salve to isolation and fear. The value of community can't be underestimated.

Why are people here instead of using their time to diversify income streams or find a new job?

What I see is that people are making a choice to integrate. They're still out there looking for jobs and so on. These are practices of balance. Looking for a job is a very active, yang, kind of approach. You cannot do that 24 hours a day. The human organism needs sleep, rest, balance. We need exercise, for example to just balance being a human mammal.

These are practices that give people a sense of center. This might be a cliché, but there's a sense of grounding that helps us as we go out into the world. Making certain choices to bring into our lives a more complete sense of who we are. . Also, when we practice something that is self-affirming, we put ourselves into a flow state. We have to actively engage in the flow process. When we're happier, things arise more easily. We're comfortable navigating things that arise with more difficulty.

When we look at the nervous system, there's the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous systems. We're really using the left side of the brain when we worry and look for jobs and are concerned about our survival. We are trying to figure it all out. This is a more yang way to live. This is not wrong. There's nothing wrong with being goal-oriented. This dojo (school) came because I had a goal to make a dojo.

However, we also need rest, play, positive connections. We have to regenerate. So when you're out there looking for a job, using your energy, you can then also do things like Tai Chi that refill your energy.

The world is in debt, it's a very apt metaphor for what we're done to ourselves. We have to build back our body/mind bank account too.

Tai Chi and Qigong along with religious and spiritual practices help. These are ways of putting more energy in the bank. I think that people more intuitively recognize that, too.

Is there anything else that has really been striking you?

Yes, there is a very big shift in demographic. When I began teaching, it was to primarily women, women in their 60s. The reason for taking classes really had quite a bit to do with better physical balance or to address some pain. Tai Chi and Qigong were seen as complementary methods of health for middle-to-upper aged women.

About 5 years ago, a huge shift happened. More men came, more young people. You’re [editor: that's me, Ed] a very good example of how the demographic is shifting. To me, it was very dramatic of how it happened. On the intake form, people fill out "What are you trying to get from the classes?" The answers now are: relaxation, balance, relief from stress, calming down. I never hear anybody say, "my knee hurts, and I think that this will help me." I'm also getting lots of referrals from doctors, acupuncturists, and heart specialists. "Something active with the spleen", "I had a heart attack". The real conventional Western world is beginning to see that these are complementary methods, making the connections that life is holistic.

That to me is also one of the more compelling indicators of this larger "shift of consciousness"--"shift of awareness." People are adapting more of a long view. We're a very young country and have come some way and have a longer way to go I don't see a schism between the election of Obama and the increase of people starting these practices. We're starting to recognize the long view. Eventually we have to come to the long view if we're going to survive. Survival is in our nature. We have to survive. We're seeing that survival means more than just the next “what am I going to buy?” question. Survival means reviving our depleted nervous system.

The words written by Lao-tsu and other yogis that were written 2000 years ago could have been written an hour ago. You think these are thousands of years old; but here we are, studying the same thing right now. Consciousness keeps downloading; it just takes a long time to figure it all out. Or I might say to feel it all out. The path of insight is not limited to this shape here (points to the shape of her body).

So, is this shift toward more balance or to a yin way?

The insight of the Taoist Masters is simple. “Natural is the First Principle.” Lao-tsu, Cheng-tsu, my teachers, they all advocate the middle way.

What would the yin way be?

(Deep sigh to demonstrate) ... I guess the way I look at it... it's a very interesting question... let's go back to the breath. The yang aspect of the breath is the inhalation; the yin aspect of the breath is the exhalation. We only define yin because it's in relation to yang. The yin way and the yang way can only be defined in relationship to its opposite. The yin-yang concept is only meant to be a springboard back to the wuji, (makes a circle with her arms) within the inhales and exhales, very long no breath--not holding the breath as a way of holding the breath--but enjoying the place where there's no distinction. Finding the place.

I think about pearl divers, I'd love to talk to someone who can hold the breath for 15 minutes. I don't know specifically, the yin way would be the nightfall, the resting period. We've been focusing too much on the yang, not developing the yin. These practices, the Taoist practices, encourage us to focus more of our time on the restoration practices so that we can balance the output before too long. If we did too much of that, we'd also be off balance. The metaphor is that we have 2 people on a teeter-totter. Within each yang, there's a yin. As you expand, another part of your body has to recede to accommodate.

Perfect examples of a yin life occur in winter - bears hibernating, French peasant farmers also did this. Look at native cultures, when you look at native cultures, you see that the native people go inside. More sleeping, less activity, more restorative, you look at animals: that's the same thing. When it comes to spring time, they're feeling very frisky... Taoist practices are done in accordance with the seasons. We impact qi gong practices in the winter, very intentionally. Yin life, yin way, would definitely be the path of rest, restoration, nurturing. They totally were at harmony with their life; they really know.

Do you think the timing of the recession happening in the winter is meaningful?

I don't know. Though, if I had to make a guess, I'd say that the foot has actually been on the brake pedal for a long time, not just a jarring stop. Compare this to the dot com burst, that was a jarring stop. I think the main thing is to not analyze too much or stay myopic in our view, but to look at the big picture, look at the large cycles. In Tai Chi and Qigong, the external movements represent what is happening on the inside of us. So what is happening on the outside of our society and our world represents an inner process. What is happening is so profound it likely spans many seasons over many years.

Perhaps we are learning that in our life, like in our practices, sustainability is a process that is cultivated over time. Over time and experience we understand more and more, and we make choices that align us comfortably and sustain us over time. We are young, but we are learning.

Kim, Thank you for the insights. There are some true gems in here. -Ed

Monday, April 20, 2009

MPOW #13 - Hitting the Beat

One of my favorite hobbies is dancing, and I love to really put a little mindfulness in different aspects of my hobbies. Lately, I've been trying to pay more attention to patterns of music, and especially the percussion in salsa music. I'm working up to being able to play that for myself - it's very complicated!

My latest practice has two aspects and several parts to each, training my ear to listen to a beat, and training my hands to tap to a beat. I will start with a basic tapping exercise this week. Learning to move hands and feet independently can be difficult if we don't have practice, so the concentration required to do this often shuts worries and other thoughts out of our minds. Only the room for the pattern can fit in.

If you are already a musician, the exercise today will be quite basic for you, so see if you can really get something deeper out of going to a basic. There's a note at the bottom especially for people who find this easy.

The mindfulness practice of the week: independent tapping

Sit comfortably where you can move your hands and your feet. If you have a metronome or a click track, use that to help you keep your timing. I talked a bit about this in last week's MPOW #12: Metronome Breathing. If you don't have a metronome, here's a site with mp3 files.
Part 1: 4/4 timing basics
Count 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4, ... Using your dominant hand, tap on every beat. In rock, this is typically hitting the hi hat.
Count: 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4

Part 2: Add in the kick drum
Using your foot, hit on the 1, 3, 1, 3, .... See if you can do this at the same time as your dominant hand hitting the 1, 2, 3, 4, ....
Count:  1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4
F: X X X X

Part 3: Add in the snare
The snare hits on the 2 and the 4. See if you can do this with your non-dominant hand. At first, you may want to leave the foot out.

Count:  1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4
ndH: X X X X

Then, when you are comfortable, add the kick drum back in:

Count:  1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4
F: X X X X
ndH: X X X X

You are now moving 3 parts of your body independently at the same time. This might require quite a bit of concentration. My hands tend to get rattled in the transition, but then they get the hang of it.

Part 4: 3 beats for every 2.
Here it becomes a little trickier since they're moving in different timing. See if you can figure this one out on your own. With you right hand tap every 2 beats. With your left hand, tap every 3 beats. Leave me a note if you want a tip. I just figured this one out for myself with the help of a friend.

For existing musicians and drummers and others who find this really easy
There are likely 2 ways you can get something out of this:
1. Learn to be comfortable doing something so easy. If you find it boring and tedious, explore that to see what you learn.
2. Push yourself in a new challenge. Likely you already find a state of flow whenever you work on a new rhythm or melody. Find something that's a bit beyond your skill right now or something that engages your entire mind and practice with that.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

30 Before 30

A friend of mine introduced me to the idea of doing 30 news things in the thirtieth year of life.

Here's what it is not.

This is not defining life through what I do. The point of this is not to collect a list of skills, achievements, and adventures in order to feel good about myself. This is not about giving me an excuse to list it up like crazy.

Here's what it is.

Instead, this is pushing myself to grow, experience new things, keep things changing in order to live in and understand the moment. It has given me a chance to get closer to people as I do this. I believe that it is important to live in the discomfort zone in order to learn who I really am, to push the boundaries of my self-definition. This is also about adding new wholesome and exciting activities to enrich my life and help me connect more with the world.

One of the definitions of aging is that you're only old when you stop doing new things. Maybe that's one of the roots of this 30 before 30 ritual. Keeping the 30ieth year fresh and vibrant.

I started making the list and realized that it was hard for a few reasons:
1. I do a lot already. I usually act pretty immediately on the things that I want to do. I don't want to add things that I've already done.
2. The things that I want to do and have not already done usually require a substantial amount of money, planning, or time. For example - a trip to South America would require a lot of all three.

As I found these difficulties, I realized that I already had established some mental boundaries about who I am. I needed to open my mind and my heart as part of the brainstorming. There are a few categories of things that I can do with the given time constraints and resources:
1. Things that I don't really want to do or that I'm scared of doing. I learn a lot by doing these things.
2. Things that usually require opportunity - with just a little pro-action I can make them happen. And it gives me a chance to seek how buddies who know how to do them.

Here's the list, including where I am so far. I am intentionally not filling it in completely at this point in order to learn more about myself and leave room to be flexible as the year continues.
# Done
Item to Do
Drink real absinthe Acquired - Thanks, Paul!
Ride a tandem bike Need partner, need to find a bike
3 X
Study with a grand master 5-day workshop with Taijiquan grandmaster Chen Xiao Wang
Surf Abby will teach me - thanks, Abby!
Make Waldorf salad ice cream Got the ice cream maker - need to do it
6 X
Become proficient in salsa I was invited to Century Ballroom's salsa level 4.
Sell a piece of art that I've made myself
Get involved in my community
This one is pretty vague, and I need to define it more crisply.
Throw a making art party
10 X
Write 30 blog posts during this year

Do something everyday for 100 days Almost there, I'm on day 90 of writing.
12 X
Volunteer in the election I canvassed for Obama/Gregoire.
13 X
Visit an eastern Washington wine region
Went to Yakima Valley
14 X
Receive a psychic reading
Tarot from Raven, and then again from Vinny.
15 X
Give a psychic reading
Thanks for teaching me, Vinny.
Climb outdoors on real rock
17 X
Visit Chichen Itza
Magnificent! One of the new 7 world wonders. Visited it with Josh.
18 X
There are some things that need to be kept private...
19 X
20 X
Buy something in an auction
1 week vacation on Whidbey Island - bought at NWIRP auction
21 X
Develop a regular yoga practice

22 X
Learn to drive stick
Earned my wings on the Yucatan peninsula driving through jungle and busy little towns. Thanks to Dad and Josh for the help.
23 X
Take an art class and learn to draw with new media
I took a finding flow in art class from William and I have been working with new media - sharpies on graph paper, charcoals, and chalk pastels.
24 X
Reiki III attunement

Ride in a hot air balloon

26 X
Take private dance lessons
Both tango and salsa
27 X
Another private one.
28 X
Rolfing Basic 10 Series

Wildcard #1

Wildcard #2

30, Here I Come.
I am pretty excited about turning 30 this year and I really look forward to what I will learn about myself from this adventure. Expect a future blog post on my learnings.

Comments Requested
Please let me know if you have any such practices yourself. Please share any ideas of things that you think for me to do. Do you believe in a particular book that every person must read? I'd like to include one of those. If you know me and can help with any of these or would like to share in these, please let me know that, too.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Not Obstacles, That's the Path

"We have no reason to mistrust our world, for it is not against us. Has it terrors, they are our terrors; has it abysses, those abysses belong to us; are dangers at hand, we must try to love them. And if only we arrange our life according to that principle which counsels us that we must always hold to the difficult, then that which now still seems to us the most alien will become what we most trust and find most faithful. How should we be able to forget those ancient myths that are at the beginning of all peoples, the myths about dragons that at the last moment turn into princesses; perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave. Perhaps everything terrible is in its deepest being something helpless that wants help from us." - Rainer Maria Rilke

As we move through life, attempting to move in peace, planned precision, or along whatever pleasant, care-free path, we often encounter things which disrupt our flow. I cannot think of an unbroken month in my life when some incident has not occurred: my car being broken into, my work load doubled, my computer crashed, my thumb sliced open, my trip canceled, etc. How frustrating this can be. We've all been there, which is why we connect so well with Robert Burn's apology To a Mouse for destroying its nest while ploughing:
But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o' mice an' men
Gang aft a-gley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promised joy.
You probably recognize the oft quoted "best laid schemes o' mice an' men" part. The conclusion drawn here is that try as we might, there's no way to prepare with "foresight" for a complete path of "promised joy." There's always a potential accident or obstacle around the corner. Though, the "grief an' pain" is just the story that we tell ourselves, and Stories Define Reality. Rather than allow ourselves to rely on a happiness defined only be the path that we had planned, we can learn to walk that path that is presented to us.

Learning to be mindful and avoid obstacles is a wise and worthy pursuit. However, it is likely impossible to prepare enough to avoid every obstacle. Even in a secure garage, someone can still break into your car if you have one, and sometimes having one is the best option. "Being able to remain centered and awake even when we feel uncomfortable is much more impressive than doing so in an environment where everything is to our liking. No matter how good we are at controlling our circumstances, there will always be factors and people that we cannot control." (Daily Om's The Upside of Irritation) Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche believes that "We might even begin to welcome obstacles as an opportunity to engage in virtuous activity: patience, generosity, discipline, meditation, exertion, and their binding factor, prajna—wisdom rooted in seeing things as they are. With practice and a change in attitude, whatever comes our way—good or bad—has less power to obstruct our journey." (The Path Through Obstacles in Shambhala Sun)

In Growing Together, Thich Nhat Hahn shares a beautiful metaphor for dealing with suffering from obstacles: "You can use the goodness in yourself to transform your suffering and the tendency to be angry, cruel, and afraid. But you don’t want to throw your suffering away because you can use it. Your suffering is compost that gives you the understanding to nourish your happiness and the happiness of your loved one."

This is not only an Eastern concept, it is a central precept of the Greek Stoics. Here's an excerpt from Stoicism 101: A Practical Guide for Entrepreneurs by Ryan Holiday c/o Tim Ferriss:

The Stoics had an exercise called Turning the Obstacle Upside Down. What they meant to do was make it impossible to not practice the art of philosophy. Because if you can properly turn a problem upside down, every “bad” becomes a new source of good.

Suppose for a second that you are trying to help someone and they respond by being surly or unwilling to cooperate. Instead of making your life more difficult, the exercise says, they’re actually directing you towards new virtues; for example, patience or understanding. Or, the death of someone close to you; a chance to show fortitude. Marcus Aurelius described it like this: “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”


Stoicism, as Marcus reminds himself, is not some grand Instructor but a balm, a soothing ointment to an injury wherever we might have one. Epictetus was right when he said that “life is hard, brutal, punishing, narrow, and confining, a deadly business.

We should take whatever help we can get, and it just happens that that help can come from ourselves.

When you see the obstacles in this light, you can realize that it is not a path cluttered with obstacles. The path and the obstacles are not separate, they are the path, the whole path. "Like cars in amusement parks, our direction is often determined through collisions." (Yahia Lababidi) As children, many of us enjoyed running obstacle courses, jumping hurdles, running through tires, crawling under ropes, walking across balance beams. This was not tedious to us, it was a fun part that we chose. Let's learn from our own childhoods and find the joy of running the obstacle course. It can be so much more fun and satisfying than walking the easy route alongside the course. Relish in the whole path. In this way, we can learn to be Comfortable with What Is .

Comments, Please - Please share your thoughts. What are your experiences in recognizing life's obstacles as life's path?