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Monthly Archives: April 2008

Chapter 9 of a A New Earth, by Eckhart Tolle is entitled “Inner Purpose”.  We’ve brought our reflection on pain bodies and time and flowers and ego and roles to this chapter . Our inner purpose is all the same, according to Tolle:  “to align to the present moment”, “say yes to life”, “say yes to now.” How has your awareness changed with your reflections? Do you find more moments of presence among your everydayness? Has the process been gradual or startling for you?

“You can only be successful.” (270) How does it feel to read this?

What do you know when you are still?

Do you have an outer purpose? Does it bring you joy? How aligned are your outer purpose and inner purpose? What do you do to bring inner purpose into everything you do?

“Whenever you become anxious or stressed, outer purpose has taken over, and you lost sight of your inner purpose. You have forgotten that your state of consciusness is primary, all else is secondary” (p. 266). What do you do that reminds you that you are awareness, to “say yes to now” and align to the present moment?

How does it feel when you give people your 100 percent full attention? “Am I total in what I do?” Eckhart urges us to ask. Do you notice the activity – the buying or selling or caretaking – takes a secondary seat? Do you enjoy surrendering yourself to each interaction?

“…the most significant thing that can happen to a human being has already happened within you: the beginning of the separation process of thinking and awareness.” (p. 262)

Join us at ANewEarth.Gather.com at 7pm EDT (that’s 5 MDT) for discussion!

I’m a bit sick of it: Yoga being sold as a technique for this or that, hard abs, firm buns, weight loss or (does this one get you, too?) stretching.  There’ve been more studies recently than ever before showing yoga is an excellent fitness tool, helps to stabilize weight, increase awareness, yoga is… gasp! … good for you!

Yes! Yoga is good for you! It will, in fact, change your body. Yes, you can use a yoga class for a cardio workout if you choose well. Yes, you will stretch. Yes, you will weight bear in ways to which you aren’t used. Yes, it will change your life.

Like so many things, though, our fitness goals are best reached sometimes not by obsessing over them or even aiming at them. Aristotle made the radical assertion, which I believe to be true, that the best way to be happy is not to try to be happy: it’s to aim to good. Now, we can talk about what it is to be good, but happiness is tiresomely known to be ellusive and complex. To be excellent (which is what Aristotle thought goodness came to) requires awareness, objectivity, reflection, practice and time.

There’s a certain business coach who suggests yoga teachers “build their business” by promising detailed body-centered results. The problem with this approach is that it not only assumes what your body should look like, but makes that the bar to which you measure your practice. That is many things, some of them useful, but it is not yoga.

Yoga is the opposite of what your body looks like – it’s feeling your body from the inside out. Yoga is about imagination used to investigate your body, mind and heart – your self. Your body will change, as will your heart and mind. You may set goals, and this can be clarifying. But be open for your goals to change. Be open to realize you had goals you didn’t know about. Be open to a state of mind without goals.

When we set an intention in yoga class, it is not a goal as in “I will lift higher in Bakasana today.” It is an offering: what do you want to set your practice at the feet of? What makes you feel small and significant, that is to say, part of something meaningful? If your practice was a magic wand you could use once, what  wish would you grant? World Peace? End of Hunger? Union with God? Set it there, the whole thing, and dive in, with your whole body: every muscle, every thought, every fat cell, every jiggle. Dive in and be yoga.

Around our hose we’re re-vamping ritual and routine as I settle into my daytime schedule and more yoga teaching and trekking. Last night we meditated together for 20 minutes right before crawling into the sack and I realized it was the ultimate anti-bedtime story.

Now, you may have children or remember your own bedtime story experiences fondly – I know I do. It seemed stories were a ticket to dreamland back then. But I was a much less accomplished multi-tasker back then, and the stories seemed somehow closer to my normal life. My imagination was so free and so rich and I had so little figured out about how the physical world worked that stories almost felt like an escape: everything got explained, everything had a trajectory and a place, everyone had a character – someone to be. It was comforting, and my Dad’s voice made it seem so stable and real.

The stories I tell my grownup self are not so comforting, and reading a book doesn’t interrupt them as completely – probably because my stories are about the details of my everyday life, and I think I have so much figured out about its underpinnings – certainly more than a 8 year old girl who still wonders who decides on floor tile patterns and if they mean anything and whether I can decode it by squinting my eyes just right.

Or do I? Meditation was the perfect anti-bedtime story. I didn’t have to listen to anyone else’s voice (NPR podcasts are a favorite of mine for being lulled to sleep. Not because I find them boring, but like my childhood stories they are neat and delivered in soothing voices…) or to my own endless internal chatter.

While meditation is a bit strenuous on its own, all that awareness and breathing can wear a girl out!, I snuggled into bed, the stream already diverted, the feeling of sheets on my body and feet on my feet absorbing my being. The anti-story: Meditation. Try it… and let me know what you find.

in KC. Actually for all my brothers and sisters (that’s you, gentle-fierce reader), but with the two coolest guys I know front and center in my mind.

Who would you be if you quit smoking?

(insert your habit of choice… Who would you be if you quit talking to yourself that way, avoiding that situation, multitasking or running so hard? )

You’d be you, the same you you are now. You have nothing to loose. Or do you? What do you think you might loose? How would it feel? Would it leave a hole? Would you replace that space, or leave it bare? How would it feel?

We each contemplate mortality in different ways. It turns out I’m a real lightweight.  I go to work and hold hands and sometimes ease pain, sometimes joke, sometimes breathe for someone or make the blood circulate temporarily, maybe fix a rhythm, maybe hold those left behind. Don’t get me wrong, these things touch me down to the core. I swore a long time ago I’d quit when they didn’t. But all it took for me to have the scared-in-my-sleep confrontation with my own (these words are a ficton) mortality was a really bad chest cold.

I’ve been sicker the last two weeks than I remember being since I walked around with a burst appendix 20 years ago in college (yeah, I know, body awareness came late). But being of strong stock and some healthy habits, I’ve escaped much real feeling of diminishment. I mean not just “wow I feel like crud today” but “Wow, I wonder if I’ll ever feel like myself again.” Wondering whether the deletrious habits may have caught up, may have wrought their damage, may have come home to roost.

I quit smoking last fall, I’m pretty sure for the last time (oh, yes, there were many others. there always are.) And I turn 40 this August. The key to my quitting was really sitting alongside, for the first time in an abiding way, what I was doing by smoking: stuffing my feelings as surely as a veteran member of Creampuffs Anonymous eats them. Yoga and meditation (there’s little light between the two) had paved the way with skills and tools for this transformation, and I hoped had mitigated the damage I’d done to myself.

But as I’ve recuperated, contemplating the gore I hack up from my much abused and long suffering lungs, as I inhale the medicine I’m used to seeing on the TV table next to the COPDer still sucking nicotine under a constant stream of oxygen through two prongs in their nose, I’m struck: what if I’m never up to my old tricks again? What if my old tricks have depleted my stores so relentlessly as to be unrecoverable? What if despite having stopped at least one of my deletrious habits, I’ve hit the wall?

Drama. I know. But drama is hard to avoid when describing moments so easy to contemplate in the abstract and so difficult to manufacture because their power comes from their creeping up upon – or within – us.

And then the deeper truth came: The wall exists. Whether I’ve smoked  or drank or done yoga or meditated or lived in a goddamn convent my whole life, there is The Wall. Quitting smoking didn’t dissolve one moment of The Wall. What is The Wall? The diminishment of whatever we’ve come to rely on, whatever we have taken in as part of our Selves, whatever we think we cannot do without. Energy & vitality are evidentally right up there for me. The transparent ability to process oxygen from my environment without worrying about it.

And so it turns out that being sick wasn’t about having smoked and lived the rockstar lifestyle for too too long, and it wasn’t my Waterloo either. It was about being depleted and remembering I need to restore. It was about the biology of being human and the trajectory of being a paramedic: the latter puts me among the germies, the former makes me susceptible. It’s both random and it’s wickedly determined (we should talk about free will some time…)

And it was about being thankful I’d found out who am without smoking. Ultimately we won’t change that we’ll die or that it will suck or whether it contains pain and diminishment. But we can impact how light we are when we get there, and what we bring along.

I finally gave in. No, not to the couch. Well, that, too, was a result of giving in. I had to acknowledge I was sick enough, long enough – two months now of grapefruit seed extract and emergen-C and more water than the Bellagio etc… – to need… the doctor.

I hate going to the doctor. Don’t get me wrong, I finally have a great one. She’s sensible and kind and listens and takes time and is smart and has a great sense of humor. It’s not her. It’s the institution. It’s admitting that I’m weak, that I’ve failed in the self-care regimins that are supposed to keep me hale and healthy. It opens a deep pit of what’s wrong.

So for me to go, well, let’s just say it wasn’t pretty. I actually had to leave the yoga studio while my students were in Savasana to go out front and hack up goobers last week. I sounded like a scratchy record and four sun salutations completely did me in. I was sick and needed help.

After the appointment, I gave into the time honored sick passtime: I slept for four days. I took the antibiotics, the inhalers, I hacked and took the expectorant. And when I got up… I brought my pillows and comforter and Sudoku and humidfier and jar of water to the couch and started to see “what’s on.”

Now, before you give up on me completely, there was restorative yoga and internal chanting and breath awareness through this in small doses. But what I saw was a direct consequence of having just enough energy to get out of bed but not enough to organize thought or make it out the door. What I saw was, among other things, a whole world of makeover shows. Some, I couldn’t even bear to keep on with one eye partly open and dozing through most of the show. Some were so shallow as not to warrent attention. And then there were others that surprised me. They weren’t berating or telling the person they had to change, to loose weight, firm up.

They were saying, “Look at you. Stand there for just one minute and pay attention to your body (at least how  it looks). See what’s really there. Maybe it’s pleasant, maybe not. Maybe you’ll be happily surprised by what’s underneath, maybe not. But let’s actually pay attention to your body, just as it is and as you live in it right now.”

Ok. So they weren’t exactly teaching meditation. And it was painful sometimes to watch as people underwent the mirror. And they weren’t giving breath reminders, at least not as a rule. And they weren’t teaching people how to feel a pose – or their body – from the inside out. But people were shedding illusions and gaining acceptance and detachment in a supportive environment. Maybe I’m hypoxic and brain addled but I could see why these shows are so popular.  

Of course there was the moment of un-zen, the reveal, the advertising underbelly that belied a need to convince us of flaws we can only pay to fix. I was lured in because it started well: The dermatologist actually said on cable, self-improvement commercial TV, With all the hormones in meat and milk and eggs these days we are seeing a tremendous rise in facial hair on women. Most women have actual beards way before their cronage! There someone said it! I thought, Wow! They’re going to tackle diet and food consciousness next! This is awesome! Clearly I’d been inhaling the humidifier too deeply.

Now, back before Whole Foods and Natural Meat Counters, my friends and I joked about gettin’ Militia Meat. Twenty years ago the Amish were the only ones who could guaruntee their animals and therefore food products were cared for organically. And in the part of Mid-Missouri where I lived, Jane and Joseph were the only middle-people with whom the Amish would deal. JnJ would drive their 70s limo with a seven foot cooler out the settlement and then distribute the goods – to your door – every Sunday. Jane and Joseph also believed directions for the immanent UN invasion were on the backs of highway signs and drank hydrogen peroxide. But they were kind and had the only clean farm goods for a hundred miles, so I made a pot of coffee every Sunday and waited for their knock.

So you don’t have to tell me about the benefits of clean meat and the dangers of all the hormones and antibiotics with which we pump our poor unsuspecting farm animals. And do I have to tell you how incensed – absolutely, disbelievingly livid! – I was that the proposed solution is LASER HAIR REMOVAL!!!! Seriously??? You don’t even have arrange to get clean meat these days – just go to your local Organic Grocer! But nobody even glancingly acknowledged this – they just blythely recommended lifelong laser hair removal for all women.

Now, I get it: she’s a dermatologist on a TV show – duh. She’s not going to advise against these things. But to run up to the cliff’s edge, to hang her toes over, to see the clear, deep, blue, sparkling water below, to say it so clearly – our food is changing us in ways we’d rather not change! – and then, not to jump! Not to acknowledge there’s an option, a better way  (or THREE) to eat! Buy clean, go veggie or even vegan… No. Apply lasers to your face periodically and don’t worry about what other damage might be going on beneath the surface.

All that ranted, here’s what I still watched and enjoyed. These shows are applying a level of meditation mind, of calm detachment – to how we see ourselves. We don’t always have to take their doe-eyed advice on changing it.   Raise your hand if you quiver when asked to look in a full length mirror for more than a second. (wait, I’ll continue after I’ve put my hand down. there) Now, they’re not perfect. They tell the recycling manager that she’s not representing recycling very attractively and that sort of thing… but there’s an impersonal, practical truth to what they’re saying. They support the person in looking at and being with themselves in a way that leads deep human emotion. And they get clothes, which is of course the worm the hook anyway. And the TV show gets ratings. I know.

I’m not advocating we all hang out on the couch this weekend for enlightenment. If that worked America would be the land of the midnight-dazzling-enlightened-soul-sun. I’m just commenting on the world from my particular perch, which today has been a cushy couch. And I’m interested in seeing our bodies more meditatively. Despite the consumerism, the product placement and the uniformity of the advice, there’s a collective consciousness developing about just acknowledging what is true about our bodies. There’s yoga in this. But then, I can see yoga anywhere 🙂 Now I have to go – I’m practicing vashistasana. On the couch. And my pranayam: putting my face right in the humidifier and breathing deeply.

Redundant? Perhaps, but it’s a groovy new collection of web places determined by clicks by you, the reader. So as a collection, it may be redundant, but it’s a fun way to find new, cool sources of information and inspiration!

So go check it out now, before your next downdog or sun salutation… because you know you were about to go do some yoga, weren’t you? ;>


I was listening to Elizabeth Lesser’s discussion after A New Earth aired last week (I download it on iPod for my walking pleasure) and was so taken with Kim Eng’s integration of the spirit and silence evoked in the book on which the web class is based. She teaches movement based awareness, and counts yoga among her “modalities” with Chi Kung and T’ai Chi. She talked about progressing from breath, to sensation to innerbody feeling. I’ve been using this as a sort of template for myself and for my class, and the results have been, well, peaceful.

She brought people to their own silence by first suggesting a breath focus. She progressed to noticing sensation – usually tension, stress – but not naming it. Just being it, being with it.  She calls this the outer body. And finally, casting your attention, awareness, your inner gaze on your own sense of aliveness. She suggested the question “How do you know you are alive?” Answered not by words, not by concepts, but in silence, by feeling.

This corresponds in essence to a yogic view of embodiment. Since I don’t relate to yoga as a modality, but as a way of being – like the Tao – encompassing and companioning other ways, I just see the reality to which different systems point. Yogic Philosophy describes embodiment as “koshas” – sheaths. There is a purely physical, the food body, there is energy or breath, there is interactive mind, there is the wisdom body and finally just bliss. Each within and among the others. One way to say what yoga is, is to focus on allowing the alignment of these koshas, or bodies. Allowing, because it’s not a relationship that can manufactured, only facilitated. The kinks and blocks are part of the whole and awareness is alchemical element that dissolves what demands dissolution, cleanses what clings to what is not its own, awakens what is dormant and grows what is nascent.

And breath awareness is lovely, immediate access that defies conceptualization, making it an open and wide entryway into the space we all are.  Sensation really takes the open awareness and gives it a finite determined object  with which to practice open awareness. And aliveness, chi, prana, spirit: awareness opened on this vista gives rise to presence and joyful action. That’s really the point of it all.