STOP

Last week I was on a family vacation at Sequoia and Yosemite National Parks. I was really excited, because for as much of a city mouse as I am, I LOVE nature. And this is some serious nature! The Seqouias are HUGE.  We went to Muir Woods, where they are taller, and then Sequoia, where they are so wide that it took more than twenty of us, arms outstretched and holding hands, to complete the “circle” we were standing in, that was an outline of one of the tree stumps.

Big trees.

Like, this big

Sequoia anna

(that would be my teenage niece in the pink running into the tree.)

It was, literally, awesome. I was in awe.

And: I had no cell service.  The hotels in the parks supposedly  had “wifi” –the quotes denote that they called it wifi, but I experienced something barely resembling wifi. Those little curved lines were there, but alas, I was not online. And NO cell signal. Couldn’t even text my family if we got separated.
So no calls, no texts, no emails. For a few days.

Sidebar: I recently became a certified facilitator for a program called SHINE through the  Center for Mindful Awareness. I’m actually embarking just this week on my first formal gig after an 18-month training process, co-facilitating a 10-week group that offers mindfulness in practical, everyday ways to underserved populations (This one happens to be at a shelter).  The founder of CMA, my teacher Amy Bloom Connolly, came up with her signature nine “keys to mindfulness”.  Each one is not only a stand-alone, easily mastered practice, but they come on key tags so the participants can easily remember to use them.

And one of the keys is called “STOP”. It’s an acronym for: Stop, Take a breath, Open and Observe, and Proceed.  It’s a great one-super helpful, when you can remember to use it. Of course it can be especially hard to remember, often, when you might need it most. You know, those times when we get mind-less, when thoughts and stories and emotions take over. When the fight-or-flight kicks in, and we are anywhere but the present.

So….back to my trip. I was feeling torn.  Really stoked to be among these amazing HUGE trees in this breathtaking place. The smell of eucalyptus was literally intoxicating, and the sky was so clear, that we did a star-gazing night where we laid on the ground and looked up at a sky…. so devoid of unnatural light, so brilliant with stars, that I felt like I was at the planetarium. I had to remind myself: the planetarium is a freaking MOCK UP of THIS.

And, really anxious about not being digitally connected.  It’s ridiculous, really, but I’m as guilty of it as anyone: I missed checking my email.  (which really means, I missed deleting a bunch of emails from lists I should no longer be on, and reading non-essential things like there’s a new Meetup Group or an essay on a blog I follow.)  And don’t even start me on Facebook. I’m too ashamed.  Anyway.

After a full day of looking up at trees and walking THROUGH trees and taking panoramic pictures of trees and just feeling so completely full of fresh air and history and nature, I came back, and immediately re-commenced ruminating about what I was missing because of the “wifi” (not wifi). The ruminating continued on my walk back to my room to get ready for dinner.

And then I looked up and saw this.

STOP sequoia

And I did.

I stopped walking. I took a deep breath. I chuckled to myself, and I thought of STOP in SHINE: Stop. Take a breath. Open and Observe. Proceed.

And so, I did just that. I stopped, took a nice deep breath-inhaling the wonderful mountain air, felt my heart open, and observed: “hey doof, you are on a once-in-a-lifetime vacation in an amazing place!” and then proceeded….to walk to my room and get ready for dinner.

The Universe is always looking after us. We just have to notice the *signs*.

 

sequoia sun

(looking up at the sky in Sequoia National Park)

photo creds: EBWexler

 

Inspired (aka, creativity takes many forms)

I am currently holding the first online journaling class from Endless Exhale. It’s called “But I’m Not A Writer! A Four-Week Journey of Journaling” and it’s about writing as a means of connecting to the self. It’s not about the writing that’s produced, but rather the process. The format is pretty simple: four times a week, I email out journaling prompts for people to choose from/write into on their own schedule.  Once a week, I include a recording of myself leading a brief mindfulness or centering exercise.

It’s been….fantastic.

I mean, this has been brewing in me for quite a while, and it’s awesome to make it a reality.  I really love writing the prompts. I always love leading mindfulness practice–it actually helps me center *myself*.  And, because it’s the first class, I’ve been writing in response to the prompts. AND-like the participants, I’ve not necessarily been doing them the same day they are sent out. Or in any particular order, especially when I have a few or more from which to choose.

But the most fantastic, the real joy,  is the inspiration I feel not only reading people’s writing, but watching them connect to themselves. Stretch themselves. Become aware of themselves through the words that leave their fingertips (or pens) as they respond to the prompts.  And support each other on top of it. Most creative endeavors are a double-edged sword: they are a wonderful outlet for the creative spirit, and at the same time they are kind of a bitch-slap to the ego, which then comes out swinging. “what the hell do you think you’re doing?” the ego taunts. “really? you’re going to share THAT?”  And yet, they do. And then others say: “wow-I’m so glad you posted this!”

It’s a risk, to unleash and connect to the creative spirit. It’s even more of a risk to share it, with strangers no less.  But the rewards? They cannot be beat. To be heard, to have others witness your process….I’ve found few things more deeply touching, more gratifying.

So to offer these prompts and meditations and bear witness to the creative spirit waking up and peeking out has just been such an honor for me.

I had decided earlier that tonight I was going to sit in my writing nook and play some yoga music and write into some prompts.  And then, something kinda weird happened. I saw a few memes and articles on Facebook, all in a row (with no other posts in between), one after the other, that spoke to me. That spoke to where I am right now on my path.  I wanted to print them out; but more, I wanted to capture this place, create a snapshot of my emotional and spiritual landscape right now.

So….I made a different choice. I decided to make a collage. I either saved or screenshot the stuff I wanted from Facebook, and printed them all out. And then I went to get my sketchbook, which I have from a visual journaling class I took online last year (one of the many inspirations for this very class I’m offering now).  And when I opened my sketchbook,  I found some interesting pictures I had clipped from magazines. All of women, looking sort of mystical in long, flowing dresses, either in the woods, or at the edge of a cliff.

“well…..yup,” I thought. That captures just as much of my inner landscape, where I feel I am on my journey tonight. So I added them. The page wasn’t big enough to so I put some things partly hanging off the page. And I topped off this artistic feat with coloring–with crayons–the white spaces left in between.

Let me add here that my inner critic was whispering to me the whole time. I’m a writer–I always tell people “I cannot draw a stick figure!” I am usually quite reluctant, and self-conscious, to even attempt to produce anything resembling visual art. That’s where the inspiration from my class held me up-they, for the most part, do not consider themselves writers. If they can write, I can collage.

And I hung it on the “inspiration” part of my bulletin board in the nook. But right next to the corner, so it sort of juts out into the corner of the nook itself. The perfect spot so that when I sit down to do whatever I am doing here, it’s right in my field of vision. It both inspires and soothes me to look at it, the photos and the words.

And just after I hung it, my ego said: “what is THAT? that is not prompt responses.”

I smiled, and nodded. “Nope,” I thought. “it isn’t.  But I followed my inspiration and connected with myself.” I’m happy with it, so that inner critic voice (which I’ve had on retainer, I believe, since birth) doesn’t really have any place to land. At least tonight.

And this is all from the inspiration of the people in the journaling class.

Thanks, guys.

.collage in nook May 27 2016

 

Endless Exhale: The Story

In May of 2015, I was watching a video on Jennifer Pastiloff‘s page (as I often do). she had just had a LomiLomi treatment in LA from Kate Brenton. She was blown away, and as I watched Kate’s sweet face I was already emailing her to set up an appointment for the following month, when she would be in Philadelphia.
So in June I drove the two hours up to Philly. I’d had a head cold not too long before, and allergies were killing me this year. I had an annoying dry cough on my exhale; I often couldn’t do a full exhale without coughing.
Now I have had decades of healing treatments: therapy, medications, acupuncture, Reiki, massage. Yoga, meditation, drum circles, Shamanic journeys. All have contributed in some way to my journey.
and, perhaps this was simply timing. Conditions merging. The perfect storm.
But that session was the most pivotal, healing 90 minutes of my life.
I was face down on the table, face in the face cradle, and within about ten minutes Kate was on the table, putting her whole body weight (which granted, is not much) onto my upper back. She makes this soothing whistling noise sometimes as she is working to release stuff. And she said to me:
“your only job is to breathe.”
And so I breathe I did. Obviously, we are always breathing. But as she place her healing hands on my back, pushing and pulling and moving limbs around, I just took the deepest breaths I could.
Inhale…..
And on the exhale, in stark contrast to the dry cough that had been bothering me forever, I seemed to be able to exhale….endlessly.
You know when you exhale, and then there is that moment that you feel as if you might pass out if you don’t breathe in? During that treatment, that moment never arrived.
I only inhaled so that I could exhale again, so that Kate could inflict pain on a different part of me she from which she was facilitating some sort of release.
Endless exhale.
I remember first learning how to meditate about 20 years ago. My teacher said, over and over: the practice is simple: noticing when your mind wanders-which it will-and then returning the attention back to the breath. Gently. With friendliness.
Yeah…..right, I thought. Bullshit.

Over the past two decades as I’ve continued on my spiritual path, I cannot count how many times I’ve been reminded of this simple truth: back to the breath. Yes, the situations may be different. Some may be painful, some joyful, some stressful. The only real ultimate “fix” we have as humans is to return our attention, with friendliness, to the breath.
To return to presence.
for a long time (and sometimes still) this really pissed me off.

On the table, with Kate’s healing hands on me, in her feisty and loving presence, my exhale is endless. And it reminds me of a few important things:
*life is infinite
*healing is infinite
*possibilities are endless.

We have to inhale, so we can exhale again.
And, as long as there is breath to which we can return, possibility exists.

Namaste.

hike sunlight