Rest in the Gap

When we stop to rest, to see what’s here, sometimes what we find is nothing, or the perception of space. Suddenly it’s quiet, as opposed to the chaos we’re used to.
Sometimes, when we find no-thing, quiet, we get scared because we want to find something- something that we think means… well, something.
Because we live in a thing based and a thing filled reality, finding no-thing or quiet can be disturbing. But if, for a moment, you can rest in the no-thing that you’ve discovered, without pretense or without wanting something, you’ll find peace in that nothing.
And yes, that peace can be uncomfortable because we’re not used to quiet.
Breathe and rest in the gap.

Getting to know you: An Embodied Monthly Gathering- August 19

When we don’t know ourselves we aren’t aware of thoughts we’re having, or our relationship to them. When we don’t know ourselves we aren’t aware of what triggers us, or even that we’re triggered. When we don’t know ourselves we don’t know what we need or want, or what has been missing with regards to our needs and wants. When we don’t know ourselves we don’t know what we’re feeling, or if it’s safe to feel. When we don’t know ourselves we become at the mercy of forces outside ourselves to take care of us because we don’t know ourselves well enough to take care of ourselves. When we don’t know ourselves it’s like having a party and all the guests showing up with masks on. Can you imagine such a party? I’m guessing there would be very little intimacy or connection. How can we love ourselves, how can we have compassion for ourselves, if we’re disconnected from ourselves?

 

When we know ourselves we are aware of our thoughts and if they have significance for us. When we know ourselves we know our needs and wants, and how to get them met without resorting to drama or manipulation. When we know ourselves we’re familiar with sensations, and how to connect with them in a way that feels safe. When we know ourselves we can develop a reservoir of inner resourcing, which empowers us and makes it possible for us to hold space for ourselves, love ourselves and offer compassion to ourselves. When we know ourselves we no longer feel like children caught in adult bodies, but capable human beings. When we know ourselves, we are aware- we are self-aware.

 

It’s easy to get to know ourselves, but it takes time, and often some guidance, as we learn how to do so. For most of us, no one has helped us to really get to know ourselves. In fact, too often we’re taught and encouraged to put all our attention outwards, and we lose our own sense of self in the process.

 

This monthly gathering will focus on practical and experiential exercises that are specifically designed for the development of self-awareness. There will be time for questions and optional sharing amongst group members. We will meet for 60-75 minutes on zoom. Each call will be recorded, and yours to keep.

When This month’s gathering will be August 19th, 12-1:15pm EST.  Future dates TBA

Please contact me with questions

Where: Zoom, link sent after payment is received.

Cost: $15, paypal to llmeuser@me.com, subject line “Gathering.”

The Gift of Endings

The Gift of Endings.

We got in a car wreck last weekend while driving home from a family trip.
It was a surprise, of course, as car wrecks are never planned. Thoughts of how it could have been avoided were interwoven with thoughts of gratitude in regard to how lucky we all were…all things considered.

The latter was at the forefront of my attention, though, as I continuously found myself grateful that I was paying full attention to the road at that moment. I can’t say the same for the dude three cars back who wasn’t and ended up slamming into the person in front of him which contributed to—and perhaps even caused—a nine car pileup.

We walked away with the usual neck and back pain that comes with being rear-ended, and that was it.

Actually, we drove away. With the help of some sharp tools from the highway patrol, the metal that was bent into the rear tire was cut away and we made it home the following day. But the back door was permanently jammed shut and the trunk was destroyed. I was later told that the car was deemed irreparable—a total loss.

Only a month before, I was considering getting a new car when my hybrid battery expired, because hybrid batteries are crazy expensive. But I found a friend to help me out, which made it cheaper and eliminated the need to get a new car. I was quite fine with the one we had, thank you very much.
While later talking with a good friend about what had happened, she gently reminded me that I sometimes stick with old models when they are “past their expiration date.” She wasn’t just talking about cars: lovers, friends, clothes, jobs, houses, ideologies, teachers, behaviors… The list seems endless when I consider those things with which I’ve not wanted to part.

Now, I like beginnings. The beginning of beginnings, and the time right after beginnings. But completions and endings? I have learned how to bring a lot of conscious attention toward them, and yet I still find myself avoiding them.

What makes endings and goodbyes so hard? Is it possible that it comes down to having to feel feelings I’d just rather not feel? The awareness that comes along with facing reality: that things do end (quite often), that death is a constant part of life, and that all things are temporary? Yes, that might just be part of it.

While cleaning out my car, preparing for it to be towed away, I found some old toys of my daughter Kathrynn’s, and even a baby picture. I shed tears of nostalgia. I am deeply in love with my daughter, and I love all things “of her,” including the two toy horses that she used to play with while in the car, and the picture of her wearing a campy grin as I was changing her diapers at three months old. We’d travelled around the country for the past 11 years in that car together… I was flooded with memories—and more gratitude.

Eleven years is a substantial amount of time to own a car. I’ve personally never owned a car this long in my life, nor has any family member that I’m aware of. It seems quite reasonable in our culture to replace cars frequently, depending on financial resources, of course. Left to my own devices, however—i.e., without culture telling me I should have more! Better! New!—I’d just as soon stay with the old. And yet, again, it’s reasonable for this car to now be dead, so I can move on to the next one. I shed my tears, and off went the car. Cars don’t last forever, after all. Endings.

The day that we had our nine car pileup, I got a call from our vet. Our cat Michelangelo had fallen into a diabetic coma with other complications that I still don’t understand. Hundreds of miles from him, we had to make the horrible decision to have him immediately euthanized to keep him from future suffering.

Unlike with the car accident, never once did I consider how lucky we were as the pain of abruptly losing our cat flooded over us. In this case, gratitude was the furthest thing from my mind. Instead, I was unrelentingly tortured by a slew of thoughts like, “How could this have been avoided?” and, “How could this have happened?” He had seemed just fine when we left for our trip. I was being blindsided by life, and I simply was not having it. I refused to accept this ending.

Michelangelo was seven. Seven years is a long time, and at the same time it’s hardly the blink of an eye. I could have sworn he was still three. Our last cat, Jazmine, had died when she was quite old, and it was fine when she died…because she was old. She was so old. She was 18 and, honestly, we’d expected her to die long before that. Just as we expected Michelangelo to have plenty of years left. Seven is too young for a cat to die.

Michelangelo was years from death, said me. He was supposed to live a long time. Cats live forever, or nearly forever! He’d had some issues—kidney failure twice—but he’d recovered and seemed entirely healthy. Still a kitty at heart, really. Running, jumping, very playful and very loving. He was the sweetest cat, my sweet Michelangelo, and after he recovered from kidney failure, I felt immense gratitude that he’d lived through it. Not taking it for granted, I routinely gave thanks for his existence. I really loved his energy, his spirit, and especially his sweetness. He was the epitome of joy.

After my heart had broken a million times over, after I resisted letting go of my sweet boy with every thought I could muster, after I was done arguing and debating with reality, after I was able to sit with the deep pain of loss, my mind stopped having those “how could this have been avoided” kinds of thoughts. Finally gratitude found me. Gratitude that he didn’t suffer, of course, but mostly gratitude that we were gifted seven years of love and joy with this delightful sweetheart. I was grateful for his sweet meows, his mothering of our younger cat, Pearl, his roly–poly belly, and so much more.

My dad died last year, right around this time. He, too, left us too soon. Having lived an already fulfilling and meaning-filled life, he still had plenty of years in him. The week before his stroke he helped me move into my new house. He’d been on the elliptical at the gym the day before. But as he lay helpless in his hospital bed, the nurses had no idea that only 24 hours prior he had been a very active 75 year old. For some, “active” and “75” might not go well together, but my dad was indeed active, with no end in sight. My dad was supposed to live forever. Well, at least into his nineties. Right?

He’d had his stroke while sitting down, and I was immediately told how grateful I should be that he didn’t have it while driving my mom home from church. And I was grateful for that. His carotid artery had been 99 percent clogged, and I was grateful that he was alive at all. But my dad was on a hospital bed, in critical care—and we all knew somewhere deep inside of us that his life would never be the same. I felt much despair, grief, pain, and burning anger.

My dad lived for about a year after his stroke, and during that year my emotions traversed a range of depth I never knew existed. From great joy over the smallest yet most profound improvement in his health, to the lowest of lows as he’d have another setback.

I found myself dancing in immense gratitude one moment and plunging into the depths of sorrow the next. I always knew the hug I gave him before getting into my car to go home could be the last. Beginnings and endings were constantly being shoved in my face, sometimes accepted and other times fiercely denied.

While my father was living, dying, living and dying, I was in an intimate relationship that was also constantly hovering around death’s door, and I was unable to walk through it. I feel it’s no coincidence that, after my dad finally did die, the relationship died not long after. I tried with all my might to keep that relationship alive, while modern medicine did all they could to keep my father alive.
But both were past due, and we were trying to avoid the inevitable. Deals with God, deals with one’s self, deals with the inner narrative…these never go well. The denial of endings and the refusal to let go only create more dissonance and suffering. Eventually the pain of loss has to be met, and for me it was debilitating as my heart felt ripped open and torn to shreds.

The heart is a mysterious organ and, despite anything I’ve just written, I don’t actually think our hearts are truly breakable. But they do seem to break apart, and in the healing they become stronger…bigger. Over the last years, my heart seems to have stretched to capacities I never knew existed, and this expansion seems nowhere near its end. In that expansion, there seems to be room for everything—pain, joy, anger, and even fear. How paradoxical is it that, when I live from my heart, fear can be included, but when I live from fear, most of life is excluded?

A teacher once told me, “Do whatever it takes to make your heart break.” As counterintuitive as it may sound, I grok this wisdom because I know deep inside that, when my heart is breaking, it’s getting wider, deeper, larger—growing, as she simultaneously expands. That doesn’t mean that I don’t sometimes attempt to shrink and protect and defend when pain reaches a certain amount, but I continuously invite myself back toward my heart, meeting whatever is there—pain or joy—again and again. And as I do, I find that my heart never really shrinks. She just pauses in her expansions.

Maybe it’s like when we were kids; we can’t grow all at once, right? Growing happens, along with some growing pains. Then it pauses for a while. And then we grow some more. Maybe our hearts are the same. Growing, growing pains, pausing, more growing pains, more growing—if we’re lucky.

After we made the decision to euthanize Michelangelo, and after experiencing a nine car pileup, I was weary. Having been consumed briefly by a wave of fear earlier that day, and knowing there is another way to live, I made a conscious commitment to myself: Stay turned toward your heart, no matter what.

My heart was aching, tender, and it took a lot of conscious willingness to turn toward her and not tighten, defend, or shut down. Breath by breath, over and over, I turned toward her. As I did, I felt my system widen—and deepen—and loosen. The habit of closing up in the face of pain returned quickly and often, but each time that I felt this protective closing, I reminded myself to open back toward my heart.

I was on a conscious journey of choosing my heart over fear, and over and over I chose my heart. I practiced with each breath until I no longer had to remind myself, because, even though it was still not easy, turning toward my heart had become the kindest and most beautiful action I could enact—especially when compared to how it felt to go toward fear.

As I went to sleep that night, I felt peace, but I woke up in the still of the night. In that quietness, my mind kicked back on and fear returned. The “what could I have done to prevented this” thoughts returned to try to cover up what was being revealed quite loudly to me: Life is fragile, life is temporary, and worst of all, I am not in control.

Half in and half out of sleep, I saw visions of car accidents and bad things happening to my daughter. I replayed the events of the past week time and again, looking for a way that things could have gone differently, so as to have an alive Michelangelo instead of a dead one. I was mentally fighting against not being in control, as my mind kept trying to understand what had happened—how my sweet cat was suddenly gone.

I was fervently resisting endings—both current and possible future ones. I was afraid, and even in terror at some moments. Eventually, I calmed myself, and I fell back to sleep. As I got out of bed early the next morning, I reminded myself once again: Move toward your heart. Even though it hurt to feel the deep pain in my heart, the alternative hurt more. As I felt the truth of how fragile life is, how everything is temporary, and how I am not in control, it once again felt like my heart was being ripped open. Endings loomed everywhere.

But something curiously exquisite happened. The more I leaned in toward my heart and the pain there, the more I felt connected to life and safe within it. It took a while, but breath by breath, life stopped being scary and started being beautiful and mysterious again. In that ripped-open state, nothing was excluded, and all of life—including its inherent transient nature—was allowed. Bit by bit, my existential angst turned into existential sacredness. I knew that as long as I picked my heart over fear everything would be okay, and that as long as I didn’t shrink into a protective and defensive space I’d be safe. I knew that life was safe, even though it was comprised of constant endings.

Life really is a mystery. Life itself doesn’t care if I’m grateful for it or bemoaning and resisting it. Life doesn’t care if I’m open or if I’m closed, if I’m turning toward fear, or turning to love. Life has its own “plan,” and doesn’t seem to take into consideration my ideas of what’s suitable or correct.

Life doesn’t seem to follow my (or anyone else’s) rules or follow a particular timeline. (In fact, the idea of “timely” with regard to life makes me giggle a bit.) Life doesn’t seem to know what is appropriate or inappropriate, and doesn’t seem to subscribe to the concepts of right and wrong, good and bad. Life doesn’t ask me what I would like it to do before doing it. And lastly, life knows nothing of “making sense,” and refuses to be figured out.

Life itself may not care, but residing in love, turning toward my heart, and being present yields an experience of life that feels kind, gentle, and simple. That day I drove eight hours back home, and throughout the drive, I continued to turn toward my heart—my sweet, tender, courageous, blossoming heart. Whenever I felt fear approach, I felt the hardness that comes with a sense of the self trying to protect itself. This visceral sense was a quick reminder to return to the softness of love that resides in my heart, where everything is truly allowed.

I felt immense gratitude during that drive, a gratitude which continues to live on. Gratitude for being reminded of the fragility of life, and of life’s truly exquisite nature. Gratitude for what it feels like to be in the experience of heart presence, as opposed to being in a state of fear. And gratitude at being in awe of the mystery of life, as opposed to being scared of it.

Death and endings may never feel “good” in the traditional sense, and sometimes new beginnings can be scary, too, but when approached and met from the present heart, everything seems manageable and okay. Perhaps it is only when coming from a self who thinks it will live forever that the need to defend, protect, and resist arises. When we can truly remember that everything is temporary, including the self that is experiencing that awareness, it becomes apparent that our only sane option is to constantly turn toward the heart, no matter what.

 

Heart Presence

As I’ve written about, my sweet cat Michelangelo died a couple weeks ago. I found myself deeply missing him this morning, yet resisting the missing. My thoughts were getting in the way of feeling, while i believed them.I spotted this, I went below thoughts and toward the experience of loss. Yes, towards it.

As I moved toward the loss, regardless of what thoughts were purporting. I moved toward the seeming realness of my heart aching as I saw images of my sweet cat. My heart ached as I remembered his kindness, his softness, his gentle nature.  I moved toward that ache, and I no longer what all of this was about, just that my heart was vying for attention.

As I moved toward the ache, I was able to surrender to the missing. Without trying to control or shift the discomfort, and instead surrounding *into* it, there was no need to try to escape via thought strategies or doing strategies. Thoughts were rendered useless, and external referencing was stopped dead in it’s tracks. There was full allowance to feel, to grieve, to move **through**, as opposed to trying to escape around, what was being experienced.
As loss was allowed to be felt, the birth of a wider heart revealed itself. What I seemed to be missing and longing for was within me. It was me. And it didn’t come from the outside- it was within the interior of being.  Michelangelo’s softness and kindness isn’t gone. His form may be, but what came through his form, the energy itself, is eternally present. Heart Presence is a living energy.

So much loss, and birth, everyday. Every moment. Death and rebirth. And yet, it’s all here. Nothing is missing, or truly lost. And yet to grok that, to know it deep in our being, one has to **explore into** the perceptions and seeming realness of los as it is being experienced via words, images and sensations. One has to deeply feel loss, to know that it is not true.

Stay turned toward heart, toward loss, toward heart break. Only then will the lack of separation become known. Turn toward. Turn toward. Turn toward… Heart Presence. <3

Deepening Course-The Innocence of Love Addiction: exploring our need to be loved

 

Like many of us, I started altering my behaviors to please others- to get their attention and love- from a young age. I routinely didn’t have someone to support me when experiencing strong feelings. My emotions were often discounted, and my discomforts were usually treated with medication. I quickly learned to suppress what I felt, and I behaved in such a way as to not cause problems, or push people away. If I did that, I was rewarded with positivity and attention- perhaps what we commonly call love.

 

Human beings are hard wired for love (or at the very least, attention). When it’s not given and received freely, we innately feel that gap- and we can literally spend the rest of our lives innocently trying to figure out how “to get it,” or figuring out how to cope in its absence. As we try to figure out how to get it, cope in its absence, or deny our needs for it, we often turn to all kinds of addictive behaviors and substances.

 

Beneath that is an innocent addiction, which fuels all addiction: the want and need to be loved/feel love. Accompanying this is often a fear of being alone/feelings of separation- resulting in the subconscious dance of trying to avoid/fearing rejection, fearing/avoiding intimacy and/or anxiously craving intimacy weaving its innocent way through our lives.

 

As I matured into adulthood I realized that there was another way to be than trying to figure out how to get love, cope in its absence, or deny the need for it. I discovered that there were other options than numbing myself out, or altering who I was. I discovered that I had the capacity to use mindfulness and inquiry to study my relationship to “the gap” and even to see through that illusive gap altogether I discovered that love, and ultimately wholeness, was (in) me all along, whether I was in relationship or not.

 

Join me in this course as we explore barriers to feeling and experiencing love. I will compassionately and gently journey with you as you get to know your innocently developed strategies, core beliefs, and blockages which have contributed to harmful behaviors in an attempt to feel and experience love, but which ultimately yield a sense of separation and pain.

 

This course will utilize the Living Inquiries, the N.O.W. practice, natural rest, breathing techniques, and some gentle body movement to explore your various experiences- shame, trauma, depression, anxiety, compulsions, identities, body contractions, debilitating thoughts and/or memories and more. You will also become familiar with the nervous system, vigilance centers, the fight-flight-freeze responses, attachment theory, and learn about ways to support and be kind and loving with your self. Lastly, you will get to experience the different inquiries first hand, and be able to practice skills for learning how to self-inquire.

I will be facilitating and guiding you in practices which will start to re-wire your nervous system and limbic system in ways that are profound.

You will have recordings so that you can practice on your own between class dates, which will help replace old habitual behaviors with new useful behaviors. All of this will set the stage for deeper self-intimacy and knowing, with compassion and love.

 

Course Information:

When: Aug 12, 26, sept 9. Noon-2 EST.

Where:  This is an on-line course. I use zoom, which is similar to Skype. You can attend from anywhere in the world using a phone, iPad type of device, or computer!

What: On top of the 3 group sessions, you will receive a total of six individual facilitations: Four with Senior Facilitator Trainer Lisa Meuser and two facilitations with Certified Living Inquiries facilitators. Cost is $425. This counts as a prerequisite for Living Inquiries facilitator training.

Also included is free attendance to the August and September Embodied Gatherings, which are recorded. http://integrativehealingnow.com/blog/embodiedgathering/

All classes will be recorded so if you are unable to attend one, you’ll receive the recording. Also included in the course will be multiple natural rest and guided rest audios and videos, and a private FB group for participants to share and receive support.

Please email me for questions. llmeuser@me.com

 

 

 

Getting to know you: An Embodied Monthly Gathering: July 16

When we don’t know ourselves we aren’t aware of thoughts we’re having, or our relationship to them. When we don’t know ourselves we aren’t aware of what triggers us, or even that we’re triggered. When we don’t know ourselves we don’t know what we need or want, or what has been missing with regards to our needs and wants. When we don’t know ourselves we don’t know what we’re feeling, or if it’s safe to feel. When we don’t know ourselves we become at the mercy of forces outside ourselves to take care of us because we don’t know ourselves well enough to take care of ourselves. When we don’t know ourselves it’s like having a party and all the guests showing up with masks on. Can you imagine such a party? I’m guessing there would be very little intimacy or connection. How can we love ourselves, how can we have compassion for ourselves, if we’re disconnected from ourselves?

 

When we know ourselves we are aware of our thoughts and if they have significance for us. When we know ourselves we know our needs and wants, and how to get them met without resorting to drama or manipulation. When we know ourselves we’re familiar with sensations, and how to connect with them in a way that feels safe. When we know ourselves we can develop a reservoir of inner resourcing, which empowers us and makes it possible for us to hold space for ourselves, love ourselves and offer compassion to ourselves. When we know ourselves we no longer feel like children caught in adult bodies, but capable human beings. When we know ourselves, we are aware- we are self-aware.

 

It’s easy to get to know ourselves, but it takes time, and often some guidance, as we learn how to do so. For most of us, no one has helped us to really get to know ourselves. In fact, too often we’re taught and encouraged to put all our attention outwards, and we lose our own sense of self in the process.

 

This monthly gathering will focus on practical and experiential exercises that are specifically designed for the development of self-awareness. There will be time for questions and optional sharing amongst group members. We will meet for 60-75 minutes on zoom. Each call will be recorded, and yours to keep.

When This month’s gathering will be July 16th, 12-1:15pm EST.  Future dates TBA

Please contact me with questions

Where: Zoom, link sent after payment is received.

Cost: $15, paypal to llmeuser@me.com, subject line “Gathering.”

Leaning into endings… leaning into heart <3

We got in a car wreck last weekend while driving home from a family trip. It was a surprise, of course, as car wrecks are never planned. Thoughts of how it could have been avoided were interwoven with thoughts of gratitude with regard to how lucky we all were…all things considered. The latter was at the forefront of my attention, though, as I continuously found myself grateful that I was paying full attention to the road at that moment. I can’t say the same for the dude three cars back who wasn’t, and ended up slamming into the person in front of him which contributed to—and perhaps even caused—a nine car pileup. We walked away with the usual neck and back pain that can come with being rear-ended, and that was it.

Actually, we drove away. With the help of some sharp tools from the highway patrol, the metal that was bent into the rear tire was cut away and we made it home the following day. But the back door was permanently jammed shut and the trunk was destroyed. I was later told that the car was deemed irreparable- a total loss.

Only a month before, I was considering getting a new car when my hybrid battery expired, because hybrid batteries are crazy expensive. But I found a friend to help me out, which made it cheaper and eliminated the need to get a new car. I was quite fine with the one we had, thank you very much.

While later talking with a good friend about what had happened, she gently reminded me that I sometimes stick with old models when they are “past their expiration date.” She wasn’t just talking about cars- Lovers, friends, clothes, jobs, houses… Ideologies, teachers, behaviors… The list seems endless when I consider those things with which I’ve not wanted to part. Now, I like beginnings. The beginning of beginnings, and the time right after beginnings… But completions and endings? I have learned how to bring a lot of conscious attention toward them, and yet I still find myself avoiding them.

What makes endings and goodbyes so hard? Is it possible that it comes down to having to feel feelings I’d just rather not feel? The awareness that comes along with facing reality: that things do end (quite often), that death is a constant part of life, and that all things are temporary? Yes, that might just be part of it.

 

While cleaning out my car, preparing for it to be towed away, I found some old toys of Kathrynn’s, and even a baby picture. I shed tears of nostalgia. I am deeply in love with my daughter and I love all things ‘of her,’ including the two toy horses that she used to play with while in the car, and the picture of her wearing a campy grin as I was changing her diapers at three months old. We’d travelled around the country for the past eleven years in that car together… I was flooded with memories. And more gratitude.

Eleven years is a substantial amount of time to own a car. I’ve personally never owned a car this long in my life, nor has any family member that I’m aware of. It seems quite reasonable in our culture to replace cars frequently, depending on financial resources, of course. Left to my own devices, however—i.e. without culture telling me I should have more! better! new!—I’d just as soon stay with the old. And yet, again, it’s reasonable for this car to now be ‘dead, so I can move on to the next one. I shed my tears, and off went the car. Cars don’t last forever, after all. Endings.

The day that we had our nine car pileup, I got a call from our vet. Our cat Michelangelo had fallen into a diabetic coma with other complications that I still don’t understand. Hundreds of miles from him, we had to make the horrible decision to have him immediately euthanized so as to keep him from future suffering. Unlike with the car accident, never once did I consider how lucky we were as the pain of abruptly losing our cat flooded over us. In this case, gratitude was the furthest thing from my mind. Instead, I was unrelentingly tortured by a slew of thoughts like “How could this have been avoided?” and “How could this have happened?” He had seemed just fine when we left for our trip. I was being blindsided by life, and I simply was not having it. I refused to accept this ending.

Michelangelo was seven. Seven years is a long time, and at the same time it’s hardly the blink of an eye. I could have sworn he was still three. Our last cat Jazmine had died when she was quite old, and it was fine when she died…because she was old. She was so old. She was eighteen and, honestly, we’d expected her to die long before that. Just as we expected Michelangelo to have plenty of years left. Seven is too young for a cat to die.

Michelangelo was years from death, said me. He was supposed to live a long time. Cats live forever, nearly forever! He’d had some issues—kidney failure twice—but he’d recovered and seemed entirely healthy. Still a kitty at heart, really. Running, jumping, very playful and very loving. He was the sweetest cat, my sweet Michelangelo, and after he recovered from kidney failure I felt immense gratitude that he’d lived through it. Not taking it for granted, I routinely gave thanks for his existence. I really loved his energy, his spirit, and especially his sweetness. He was the epitome of joy.

After my heart had broken a million times over, after I resisted letting go of my sweet boy with every thought I could muster, after I was done arguing and debating with reality, after I was able to sit with the deep pain of loss…my mind stopped having those “how could this have been avoided” kinds of thoughts. Finally gratitude found me. Gratitude that he didn’t suffer, of course, but mostly gratitude that we were gifted seven years of love and joy with this delightful sweetheart. I was grateful for his sweet meows, his mothering of our younger cat Pearl, his roly poly belly, and so so so much more.

My dad died last year, right around this time. He, too, left us too soon. Having lived an already fulfilling and meaning-filled life, he still had plenty of years in him. The week before his stroke he helped me move into my new house. He’d been on the elliptical at the gym the day before. But as he lay helpless in his hospital bed, the nurses had no idea that only 24 hours prior this had been a very active 75-year-old. For some, ‘active’ and ‘75’ might not go well together, but my dad was indeed active, with no end in sight. My dad was supposed to live forever. Well, at least into his nineties. Right?

He’d had his stroke while sitting down, and I was immediately told how grateful I should be that he didn’t have it while driving my mom home from church. And I was grateful for that. His carotid artery had been 99% clogged, and I was grateful that he was alive at all. But my dad was on a hospital bed, in critical care—and we all knew somewhere deep inside of us that his life would never be the same. I felt much despair, grief, pain, and burning anger.

My dad lived for about a year after his stroke, and during that year my emotions traversed a range of depth I never knew existed. From great joy over the smallest yet most profound improvement in his health, to the lowest of lows as he’d have another setback. I found myself dancing in immense gratitude one moment and plunging into the depths of sorrow the next. I always knew the hug I gave him before getting into my car to go home could be the last. Beginnings and endings constantly being shoved in my face, sometimes accepted and other times fiercely denied. While my father was living, dying, living and dying, I was in an intimate relationship that was also constantly hovering around Death’s door, and I was unable to walk through it. I feel it’s no coincidence that, after my dad finally did die, the relationship died not long after. I tried with all my might to keep that relationship alive, while modern medicine did all they could to keep my father alive. But both were past due, and we were trying to avoid the inevitable. Deals with God, deals with one’s self, deals with the inner narrative…these never go well. The denial of endings and the refusal to let go only create more dissonance and suffering. Eventually the pain of loss has to be met, and for me it was debilitating as my heart felt ripped open and torn to shreds.

The heart is a mysterious organ and, despite anything I’ve just written, I don’t actually think our hearts are truly breakable. But they do seem to break apart, and in the healing they become stronger… bigger. Over the last years my heart seems to have stretched to capacities I never knew existed, and this expansion seems nowhere near its end. In that expansion there seems to be room for everything- pain, joy, anger, and even fear. How paradoxical is it that when I live from my heart fear can be included, but when I live from fear most of life is excluded?

A teacher once told me, “Do whatever it takes to make your heart break.” As counterintuitive as it may sound, I grok this wisdom because I know deep inside that, when my heart is breaking, it’s getting wider, deeper, larger… growing as she simultaneously expands. That doesn’t mean that I don’t sometimes attempt to shrink and protect and defend when pain reaches a certain amount, but I continuously invite myself back toward my heart, meeting whatever is there—pain or joy—again and again. And as I do, I find that my heart never really shrinks. She just pauses in her expansions.

Maybe it’s like when we were kids- we can’t grow all at once, right? Growing happens, along with some growing pains. Then it pauses for a while. And then we grow some more. Maybe our hearts are the same. Growing, growing pains, pausing, more growing pains, more growing- if we’re lucky.

 

After we made the decision to euthanize Michelangelo, and after experiencing a nine car pileup, I was weary. Having been consumed briefly by a wave of fear earlier that day, and knowing there is another way to live, I made a conscious commitment to myself: Stay turned toward your heart, no matter what.

My heart was aching, tender, and it took a lot of conscious willingness to turn toward her and not tighten, defend, or shut down. Breath by breath, over and over, I turned toward her. As I did, I felt my system widen…and deepen…and loosen. The habit of closing up in the face of pain returned quickly and often, but each time that I felt this protective closing I reminded myself to open back toward my heart. I was on a conscious journey of choosing my heart over fear, and over and over I chose my heart. I practiced with each breath until I no longer had to remind myself because, even though it was still not easy, turning toward my heart had become the kindest and most beautiful action I could enact, especially when compared to how it felt to go toward fear.

As I went to sleep that night, I felt peace, but I woke up in the still of the night. In that quietness my mind kicked back on and fear returned. The “what could I have done to prevented this” thoughts returned to try to cover up what was being revealed quite loudly to me: Life is fragile, life is temporary, and worst of all, I am not in control. Half in and half out of sleep, I saw visions of car accidents and bad things happening to my daughter. I replayed the events of the past week time and again, looking for a way that things could have gone differently, so as to have an alive Michelangelo instead of a dead one. I was mentally fighting against not being in control, as my mind kept trying to understand what had happened—how my sweet cat was suddenly gone. I was fervently resisting endings—both current and possible future ones. I was afraid, and even in terror at some moments. Eventually I calmed myself and I fell back to sleep. As I got out of bed early the next morning I reminded myself once again: Move toward your heart. Even though it hurt to feel the deep pain in my heart, the alternative hurt more. As I felt the truth of how fragile life is, how everything is temporary, and how I am not in control, it once again felt like my heart was being ripped open. Endings loomed everywhere.

But something curiously exquisite happened. The more I leaned in toward my heart and the pain there, the more I felt connected to life and safe within it. It took a while, but breath by breath life stopped being scary and started being beautiful and mysterious again. In that ripped-open state, nothing was excluded, and all of life—including its inherent transient nature—was allowed. Bit by bit, my existential angst turned into existential sacredness. I knew that as long as I picked my heart over fear everything would be okay, and that as long as I didn’t shrink into a protective and defensive space I’d be safe. I knew that life was safe, even thought it was comprised of constant endings.

Life really is a mystery. Life itself doesn’t care if I’m grateful for it or bemoaning and resisting it. Life doesn’t care if I’m open or if I’m closed, if I’m turning toward fear or turning to love. Life has its own ‘plan,’ and doesn’t seem to take into consideration my ideas of what’s suitable or correct. Life doesn’t seem to follow my (or anyone else’s) rules or follow a particular timeline. (In fact, the idea of ‘timely’ with regard to Life makes me giggle a bit.) Life doesn’t seem to know what is appropriate or inappropriate, and doesn’t seem to subscribe to the concepts of right and wrong, good and bad. Life doesn’t ask me what I would like it to do before doing it. And lastly, Life knows nothing of ‘making sense,’ and refuses to be figured out.

Life itself may not care, but residing in love, turning toward my heart, and being present yields an experience of life that feels kind, gentle, and simple. That day I drove eight hours back home, and throughout the drive I continued to turn toward my heart- my sweet, tender, courageous, blossoming heart. Whenever I felt fear approach, I felt the hardness that comes with a sense of the self trying to protect itself. This visceral sense was a quick reminder to return to the softness of love that resides in my heart, where everything is truly allowed.

I felt immense gratitude during that drive, a gratitude which continues to live on. Gratitude for being reminded of the fragility of life, and of life’s truly exquisite nature. Gratitude for what it feels like to be in the experience of heart presence, as opposed to being in a state of fear. And gratitude at being in awe of the mystery of life, as opposed to being scared of it. Death and endings may never feel ‘good’ in the traditional sense, and sometimes new beginnings can be scary, too, but when approached and met from the present heart, everything seems manageable and ok. Perhaps it is only when coming from a self who thinks it will live forever that the need to defend, protect, and resist arises. When we can truly remember that everything is temporary, including the self that is experiencing that awareness, it becomes apparent that our only sane option is to constantly turn towards the heart, no matter what.

 

 

 

 

 

Support your nervous system

 

“Nervous system first!”

 

I find those words, or that sentiment, in my attention a lot. Clients who want to explore into their thoughts, behaviors, or past trauma often want to “get to business”- they want to do the deep core issue/trauma work I’m known for. Which is great! However, sometimes in order to do the deep work, we have to support the deep infrastructure of our being- the nervous system.

The efficiency of our human mechanism depends on a healthy nervous system. Our left and right brains, our physiology, or hormones-  everything functions better for our human selves when our nervous systems are in homeostasis.  If we’re in a state of terror, or fight flight freeze or feign, our nervous systems are triggered, and our brain is not running at full capacity, and nor is our physiology.

So the first step- when we feel a little or a lot “out of whack” is to tend to our nervous systems. Otherwise we become more frustrated, less capable, and wind up with a more stressed out nervous system.

The attached recording is a 15 minute snippet from a recent session.  We connect in such a way as to support my client’s nervous system. Taking care of the nervous system sets the stage for kindness and compassion for one self, for a healthy human mechanism, and for the capacity/ability to do deep inner looking.

As much as we’d like to just jump to the deep inner looking, we can’t when our nervous systems are in a state of terror. Do yourself a favor- be kind to yourself and take care of yourself in this most elemental way. The impact can be profound. Life can look completely different once our nervous systems are soothed.

Please help yourself to downloading this recording. Push pause on the recording any time you’d like more time to rest. I’d love to hear your feedback! On behalf of your body, thanks for taking care of you. xxx

https://www.dropbox.com/s/hvoukvie4hvd8sg/Nervous%20System.m4a?dl=0

Practices and pointers: are they doing you, or are you trying to do them?

Despite what our left brain, and culture, often is telling us, there is no “right” way to… well, do anything.

 

For a long while my morning routine was to stay in bed until I felt my system soften. As I’d start to wake up, and cognitive happenings started to come into attention- whether it be from dreams or just whatever spontaneously showed up- I’d go “underneath” them to the direct experience of the moment. Said another way, I’d notice and feel through the layers of “mentaling”, going to the direct experience of being present to the moment. This took me toward what was “here and now” as opposed to thoughts about what was happening, or thoughts referencing past or future, or other thoughts.

For the longest time this was a really profound gift to myself- no phone, computer,  or anything else until the surface layers were “seen through.” I am extremely grateful for my commitment to practice this, especially when I wanted to engage in compulsions/escape from what I was feeling. My commitment to this practice unwound some unhealthy behaviors, and reset neural pathways that supported my nervous system and relationship to direct experience.

The truth is, I still routinely have this “practice” but I no longer call it a practice because it’s morphed into a way of living. And, it doesn’t just happen in the mornings. All day long I invite my attention to go beneath the surface area of attention, and rest in direct experience. What was once a practice has morphed into a way of living.

The other day I woke up and my mind was going. and Going. My inner manager decided that i needed to stay in bed until my hamster wheel of a mind stopped. Which made sense in that this had become my “normal” morning practice. As I laid there, my thoughts continued to go. And they kept going.

At that point staying in bed was no longer coming from usefulness. It was coming from a me trying to be in charge of how i was going to start my day, as opposed to an organic gift revealing itself to me.  It was me trying to be in charge by doing it “my” way (my inner manager’s way) – based on an idea that that’s how my morning should go. It was a subtle way of how I try to take charge of life (albeit with the best intentions) as opposed to staying open to the possibilities organically coming my way.  Doing it “my way”, as opposed to Life’s way, brought with it a harshness and a hardness, as opposed to a softening and expansion.

Luckily I caught onto what was happening, got out of bed, and went out to sit on my porch. It was only a moment later that my hamster wheel of a mind had shifted, and my somatics came on line. Hello direct experience. Hello this moment.

I’ve decided to share this because clients are often asking me what the “right” way to do XYZ is. There is never really a “right” way- but there may be a way that feels supportive, kind, and empowering to your system.

Some days it was the most kind thing in the world to stay in bed and feel through the hamster wheeling thoughts until my attention was able to meet what was underneath. But kindness may not always look that way.

Pointers and practices often have a shelf life, or sorts. It’s as if at some point “the ego” comes in and makes the practice or pointer “a thing.” It is at that point that the pioneer/practice tends to loose it’s effectiveness or usefulness- as it shifts from being that which curiously supports evolution, to that which is built upon right/wrong/should/shouldn’t/etc.

Be aware of what pointers and practices you’ve made into a “solid thing”- that is coming from ego as opposed to from the curiosity of life. It may be time to shake things up, and explore life in new ways!

 

 

 

Relaxation: an expression of self love.

A client of mine is exploring her alcoholic consumption. She’s committed to not drinking during the week, and is doing great holding herself to that commitment. But once the weekend approaches she often drinks Friday or Saturday night, sometimes both. “It’s just a habit,” she said today. “Are you going to drink tonight?” I asked her. “Well, I’m going to be with some buddies who will have a glass or two, so probably.” “What will it give you?” I asked her. “Relaxation,” she shared.

The session could have gone in lots of directions but something jumped out with that very last word. “Relaxation.”
Ahhhhh. Relaxation. Yes. Who doesn’t enjoy and want relaxation? It’s just an innocent desire, right?
Turns out, not for my client. As we continued to explore she discovered that she’d never really allowed herself to take in how wanting relaxation was valid. She explained to me that relaxing just wasn’t something that was recognized as Ok in her family of origin, or during her adult years. Instead she was focused on working hard and being successful. She hadn’t realized that there was a push/pull dynamic in wanting relaxation- that it was actually a source of subtle conflict for her. As she explored her internal relationship with relaxation her whole system softened, and, well, relaxed.
By the end of the session her system had groked how important relaxation is, how innocent it is to want it, and how valid it is to find ways to give it to herself. Phew, what a relief because our bodies need to relax! Our nervous systems and brains work best when they’ve rested. To help ourselves be efficient, effective, and empowered it’s important that we experience relaxation. As such, it’s kind to give ourselves relaxation. In fact it’s more then kind – it’s a sign of self-love. We are worthy of relaxation.
After my client was viscerally and cognitively able to deeply take in how it was safe, healthy and loving to experience relaxation we returned to the topic of hanging with her buddies that night. At the start of the session it had seemed as if it was the alcohol that would be giving her permission to relax- the alcohol would “give” her relaxation. But post-exploration something had shifted. She no longer saw herself drinking with her buddies as she no longer needed the alcohol to relax. She could give herself permission to relax, groking deep inside that she was worthy of relaxation. Furthermore, it was self evident to her that she didn’t need alcohol to relax, as she’d been relaxing for during the length of our session without drinking a drop of alcohol.
As we continued to journey, we explored strategies that would support her in relaxing without engaging in behaviors that don’t bring her sustained relaxation, and instead result in stress. We also realized that there was more to explore on this topic, including: what is relaxation? What does “relaxation” include/exclude? Is it possible to bring “relaxation” towards discomfort, or the lack of relaxation? These and other questions are all good questions to explore in future journeying.
What is your relationship with relaxation? What qualifications do you attribute to relaxation? Do you think you can only experience relaxation under certain circumstances? Do you overtly or covertly consider it a waste of time to do things to bring about relaxation? Do you see it as a something kind? Are you worthy of it? Can it be a sign of self-love?
Get to know yourself and your relationship with your nervous system and your well being. Get to know what nourishes you and brings you sustained spaciousness. Get to know  your relationships with relaxation.  I’d love to hear about you! Drop me a note or feel free to leave a comment.