Always Stay Open

releasing control
is a chance to rest
to consciously accept
whatever comes

anguish adds up quickly
when you try to achieve perfection
leaving no room for error
is a dance with dissatisfaction 

its funny how quickly I lose sight
of the intention behind my machinations
was I looking for precision or peace?
the latter is always mine when I choose it

there is nothing to fear
when you're open to everything
closing ourselves off
is the cause of all distress

a flower that only opens to the sun
under pristine conditions, perfect circumstances
will surely wither and die
from stubbornness if nothing else

the plucky dandelion that sprouts up
through the crack in the crumbling cement
will still find the light there waiting
to offer warmth and life

what we need, we can always find
if we decide to lower the strict barriers
blocking and restricting our sight
an open palm to receive what a clenched fist cannot

how absurd to sacrifice happiness
in our pursuit of it
to give up our inner peace
to exert power over our surroundings

the true trick is to learn
how to soften when we are scared
to remember that sometimes surrender
will be what saves us

Humanity

The wicked humor of humanity
is distraction sold as a delicacy
the art of always having too much
power and opulence
taking the place of happiness
rising above the supposed stupidity
of our ancestry, of all lesser beings
perpetual progress opined
by those who have forgotten intention
productivity over purpose
mistaking momentum for meaning
drugged and disconnected
digging deeper holes into delusion
dancing frantically towards
our own destruction
the legacy of becoming lost

Don’t Look at the Wall

I recently read that one of the most important tips given to new race car drivers is, “whatever you do, don’t look at the wall.” When I heard this, it immediately reminded me of one of my very first practice driving sessions with my mom when I was a teenager. As I was driving 25mph down a street in my dinky little home town, my sister yells out from the back seat for us to look at a house to our right. Without thinking, I turn my head to look. In just that one split second, turning my attention away from the road and just to the side, I had swerved the car and nearly driven up onto the sidewalk. Whether you realize it or not, where you place your focus is the direction you are heading.

We say something similar when teaching arm balances in yoga. In teacher training when we practiced cues for bakasana (crow pose) we were told to always make sure to emphasize the importance of our gaze. If you look straight down between your hands as you try to lower your body’s weight forward onto the backs of the arms, you’re inevitably going to tumble forward and possibly hit your head on the floor. The trick is to look a few inches ahead of you. Looking forward, but not down. Our gaze is a reflection of our focus and intention and a reminder of how important these things are.

I think these physical examples are an excellent demonstration of how this same principle applies in more abstract matters. If you look at the wall, you’ll hit the wall. If you look at the floor below you, that’s where you’re going. If you focus on the potential problems or possible ways you might fail, that is where you’re going to find yourself in the future. It seems so obvious when I think about it in this context.

My anxiety is always directing me to the worse possible outcome. It would be great if I were able to print out a pie graph of my mental energy expenditure from day to day. I’d be willing to bet that 90% of my thoughts are about what I’m afraid of or what could go wrong. Even when things usually go pretty well for me, I always immediately find the next fear to latch onto as soon as one disappears. Somehow my brain convinces itself that it is doing this to keep me safe. And to a certain extent, it is smart to contemplate obstacles that may come up and how we can deal with them in the event that they do. However, this is not really what my anxiety is doing. It’s not coming up with calm, rational contingency plans. It’s telling me that the experience will be inherently stressful and traumatizing and trying to find a way to avoid it all together.

It’s really helpful for me to remember the real life examples of the way our focus determines our experience and even has an influence on future outcomes. Yoga gives us ample opportunities to practice these principles before putting them into action in other areas of our lives. Getting into an arm balance is scary. You’re quite likely to fall down the first few times you try. But if we focus on that fear or how it feels to fall and hurt ourselves, we’re never going to master bakasana! Focus on what’s in front of you. Focus on where you want to be or what you want to see happen. If you focus on falling you’re going to fall or perhaps never let yourself try in the first place.

Realizing and reminding myself that my focus on fear is not helping me to avoid it, but instead propelling me toward it, is exactly where I need to begin. Normally when I contemplate shifting my thoughts to the positives and letting go of my anxiety about any given situation, I become afraid that by not looking at the scary bits, they’ll sneak up on me or something. It’s like trying to keep your eyes on a spider at the corner of your room so that it won’t suddenly appear on your arm. But what if staring at that spider was an invitation for it to come over to you? You’d probably keep yourself busy with whatever you’re doing and leave it alone.

It’s time for me to start giving my energy to the good things in life that I want to create, not the parts that I want to avoid. If I focus on the good, I’ll naturally move past or through the obstacles in due time. When I let myself focus on only the scary parts of life, that is all I’m going to experience, whether my fears come to fruition or not. I’ll have already lived the worst of them out in my mind anyway. It’s okay to let myself think about the good things that might happen too or the things I hope will happen. It’s safe to let myself be happy. It’s safe to imagine a future full of positivity and light. In fact, that’s the first step towards manifesting that future.

Cycles

My sorrow comes in cycles
waxing and waning with the moon
regular intervals of lapping tides
frigid dark waters against a jagged shore

long desolate seasons of solitude
convince me that joy was never mine
the cosmos close in around me
a heavy weight upon my sunken chest

when the sun finally emerges on the other side
of that cruel and endless winter wasteland
happiness breaks over my heart
like a revelation

my sleeping soul cracks open
shivering with delight in the warm heavy air
finally freed from its cramped cocoon
to absorb the majesty of the world reborn

open and unafraid, buoyantly held above
the stark reality of the season past
the second side of my dual nature
shaking off the bizarre burden I've been carrying

why was I so sad before?
what was it that I'd been pained by?
now suffering seems so far away
was it ever here at all?

I don't recognize myself
as I look back through the snow
and the aching, bony trees
caught in the swift, sharp wind

the summer beckons me forward
into a bright mirage of green
where nothing can cause me harm
where this time the cycle has surely stopped

each moment maintains its own eternity
forever paralyzed in each part of the pattern
immovable sadness giving way to boundless joy
always and again

Pondering Pride

Only now am I making the connection between my childhood and the way I celebrate myself. It’s interesting to think about. When I was a child, I was exceptional. I didn’t realize it at the time, having no perspective on the matter. But now that I work with children every day I understand why so many adults in my life (my teachers, colleagues of my parents, etc.) seemed so amazed and excited about me as a person. I was always able to outperform my peers in nearly every way. I was incredibly intelligent and curious. I was creative and quite talented in my artistic endeavors. I even got straight As all throughout school, even in college.

Despite the showers of praise I got from so many people, my parents and family members never seemed too impressed. Because of this, I assumed the other people were just being polite or kind, and didn’t take their compliments to heart. My parents always treated me like I was a normal, average child. While other kids in my class got money for a report card with Bs and Cs, I never got anything at all for returning home with perfect marks. I was barely even patted on the back. While this was frustrating, I still believed it must just be because that was expected of me and I wasn’t doing anything special or impressive.

I’ve come to find out that, despite my parent’s apathetic reactions to my childhood accomplishments, they were very proud of me and knew I was gifted. In their minds, they didn’t want to make me arrogant or conceited with constant positive reinforcement. While they meant well, this approach definitely had other unintended consequences. Namely, as an adult, I find myself unable to give myself credit for my accomplishments or feel proud of anything that I do.

I never learned how to celebrate and enjoy personal success. Instead when I succeed I merely think that’s what I’m supposed to do, so it’s nothing to be especially pleased about. I find myself looking at other people’s lives and thinking I would be so happy and confident if I were them, but in reality I don’t think I would be. After all, I have a lot of amazing qualities and achievements myself. I just don’t acknowledge them. In fact, I even feel rather guilty when I try to tap into a sense of pride for who I am and how far I’ve come in my personal journey. I guess my parent’s fear of me developing an inflated ego has seamlessly transferred into my own mind.

Today, no matter how uncomfortable it might make me at first, I want to take the time to consciously note all of the incredible things I’ve done and continue to do on a daily basis. With the perspective of an outsider looking in, I’d like to try to adopt an objective perspective of my personal growth over the years. Maybe then I won’t feel so guilty about “doing nothing” or being “lazy” all the time. So here is a list of some things I think I should feel proud of.

  1. Bachelors Degree in Psychology, Minor in Writing: I’ve learned a hell of a lot about the human mind and my own internal biases and blind spots through my education. Sometimes I forget that the general public is not privy to a lot of the information I now use to guide my everyday life and decisions. While society doesn’t seem to value my degree very much, I’m still glad that I chose the major I did. I’m also proud that I graduated at the very top of my class, Summa Cum Laude.
  2. Certified Yoga Instructor: It sounds weird, but I feel so unworthy of this title that I often forget to even think of myself as a yoga teacher. I still remember idolizing my teacher in college and having a pipe dream that maybe I could teach yoga one day. Well I did it! I’m that incredible, beautiful, spiritual person that I once looked up too. And damn it, I deserve to give myself all the credit in the world for accomplishing something I hardly thought would ever be possible.
  3. Healthy Habits: In my late teens/early twenties, I really aspired to form healthy lifestyle habits. I would watch YouTube videos and follow Instagram accounts of people that I saw living the life that I so wanted to emulate. I really put people that could wake up early, exercise, and eat healthy on a pedestal. Yet, now that I’ve been waking up at 5AM and working out before work everyday and doing yoga and meditating religiously for years, I feel like it’s no big deal. It’s helpful for me to imagine how elated my younger self would be with the life I’ve cultivated for myself.
  4. Veganism: Being vegan is another goal that I had for a very long time, but never thought I would be good enough to manage it. Now that I’ve been vegan for just under ten years, it is just second nature. Even though it’s ridiculously easy now, I have to remember that this is an impressive feat to a lot of people, my former self included.
  5. Creativity: Despite not feeling very creative or talented most of the time, it’s still impressive that I manage to find time to dedicate to my creativity and imagination every single day. Even people that loved to write or paint in this youth often have given up these endeavors entirely once they transition into adulthood. My own sister, who is a phenomenal artist, no longer paints because she can’t find the time. I might not be a great artist or ever make anything that will have an impact on the world, but I think it’s beautiful that I make an effort to foster that artistic nature that we all have within.

While these things are not the only things that I’ve accomplished or think are deserving of my pride, they are a few of the most important to me. When I start feeling down on myself, like I’ve never done anything worthwhile with my life, I plan to look back on this list, add to it, and remember that I’m still an extraordinary individual.

Desire

Desire is what propels us forward. Without desire, without longing, there is no kindling for motivation and pleasurable productivity. There is no direction in life. I don’t know why life necessarily needs a direction, but it just feels better when there is one. The child I once was, had no lack of passionate desire. In fact, there were so many things I desired that it was impossible to focus on just one or to be without direction at any given moment.

Perhaps its not that I lack desire now, but that my desires have become inverted. I no longer feel inspired to reach for things I want. Instead my only motivation is to avoid and shrink away from things I don’t want. Ten years ago, if you asked me what my greatest desire was, I’m sure I would have said to find a loving partner to share my life with. That was really the only long term, significant goal I ever had in life. It meant everything to me, and it did a lot to nudge me forward each day with hope and determination even in my darkest hours. If asked the same question today, I would have no answer.

I honestly don’t know when that fervent wish fell away from my mind. One day I just stopped wanting it so much. At first it seemed like a gift. I was finally free. I truly believed for the first time that I didn’t need to find this one perfect, romantic relationship in life to be happy. I accepted that happiness would be available to me even in the event I lived the rest of my life alone. After awhile, the relief of not needing what I had always wanted gave way to despondency and apathy. Okay, I might not need love to be happy, but that doesn’t mean I am happy without it either.

Strangely enough, I think to a certain extent, that yearning, that striving for something is what brings happiness and meaning to life. Obtaining our desire or reaching our goal isn’t really what gives us the satisfaction. It’s working towards something, it’s that flutter in our chest that appears when we fix our gaze on some distant horizon and imagine getting there that gives life meaning. Without desire, life seems empty, motionless, and rather scary.

The most frustrating part of it all is not knowing how or if it’s possible to generate desire where there is none. We may think it’s unbearable to want something we may never get, but it’s even more unbearable to wake up every morning and not know what you want. It isn’t exactly that I want nothing. I want to be happy. I want to feel that hunger and excitement that I’ve lost. I want to be free from my mental suffering. These desires are far too abstract to act on though.

When I ask myself what would make me happy, what would spark that inner flame, what would ease my suffering, I genuinely have no idea. I don’t have the foggiest inkling where to begin to find these answers either. While setting myself of a rough, uncertain path toward an ideal love was never easy, it was still easier than wandering aimlessly. A mountain is hard to climb, but the vision of the peak is enough to keep our spirits up. Now I find myself is the vast, flat expanse of a massive desert. It’s not hard to keep walking physically, but mentally it’s much harder, with no end in sight, no reason to trudge on.

Premature Suffering

Of all the things I fear, it isn’t now and it isn’t here.

Make a Change; Nahko Bear & Medicine for the People

I have been so very fortunate to not have suffered much misfortune in my life. My family members and myself have been healthy and safe. I’ve been treated with kindness, love, and respect by the vast majority of people in my life, most importantly my parents. I’ve never had to go to sleep hungry. Never lost a home due to financial strain or environmental disaster. I’ve always had wonderful, close friends. I’ve always lived amongst the lush green silence of nature. I’ve only experienced the loss of one close relative. I’ve never even broken a bone or been hospitalized.

Despite this, I seem to internally be in a state of constant suffering. I suffer the things that have not happened, the things that have yet to happen, the things that might happen someday. I’ve worried myself sick over thoughts of things that never came to pass. The vast majority of the things I’ve suffered were not realities, only fantasies. Anxiety is a near constant state of suffering future events. The worst part of that is, while there likely won’t always be something happening in your life that’s painful or frightening, there will always be something in the near of distant future that could be. This allows me to prolong my suffering indefinitely.

My pattern is to tell myself that whatever it is I’m fixating on is the “reason” I’m upset/unhappy. I desperately wish I had a magic wand to resolve this particular, isolated issue so that I could find peace and happiness. Even if I had the ability to immediately address, resolve, or prevent whatever it is I’m worrying about, I seem to forget that something else will just as quickly press in on me to take it’s place. Sometimes that same fear comes and goes on a revolving cycle, shaking me to my core and then dissipating without consequence.

My anxiety tells me that I have to be constantly vigilant, that I cannot let these possible catastrophes catch me by surprise. Somehow it feels like if I keep my mind constantly glued to what might happen, I’ll be more prepared if/when it does. I know this to be false though. For example, my dog has been ill on and off for months now. Each time she has a flare up, I grieve over her as if she’s died. I fear that day’s inevitable arrival and I ruminate on the pain it will cause me endlessly. Then when she feels better in a couple days, I forget all about it. Do I really believe that thinking about my beloved pup’s death will make it hurt any less when it happens? Obviously it will hurt terribly, unbearably. I can’t prevent that by making myself experience it before it even occurs. All that does is intensify and prolong my suffering.

This perpetual fear of the future is a thief that robs me of all the joys and wonderful moments of my life. It’s devastating to realize, looking back, that although I’m exhausted from the daily suffering I carry with me, nothing bad has actually happened to me. Surely my dog, as well as everyone else I love, will die someday. How can grieving those losses right now make that situation better? The knowledge that bad things can and likely will happen in the future shouldn’t take away the pleasure of living today when everything is alright. The thought of death and loss doesn’t have to be something that causes pain in the present. It can be a reminder of how wonderful our lives our right now. It can remind us to treasure every moment we spend together, to not take even the smallest moments of tenderness for granted, to make sure we express how much we love those in our lives.

My dog is going to die some day. Maybe tomorrow, maybe five years from now. Maybe I’ll be in a car accident on my way home and never have to experience her death at all. We don’t know what’s going to happen in the future. Even the things that seem inevitable, might be things that you won’t end up being around for anyway. The future is all just possibilities, created and crafted by our own limited minds. The present is real, it’s right in front of us. We hold it in our hands right now. It should be cherished. It deserves our full attention, our mindful presence, and loving awareness. Don’t let the future take away what you already have. If control is what I’m after, I should focus on what I can control and that is this moment, what the universe has placed before me in each unfolding moment, as it happens.

Lessons From Mr. Micawber

One of the funniest characters in David Copperfield has got to be Mr. Wilkins Micawber. We first encounter Micawber as a somewhat landlord/roommate of the young Copperfield. We quickly learn that he is perpetually in debt that he has no hopes of paying back. He is constantly on the brink of utter disaster for himself, his wife, and their large, growing family. Micawber remains a primary character throughout the novel. He is a character in which I think we can all stand to learn a lot from while still being someone exaggerated and ridiculous in nature.

Part of what is so humorous about this man is that he seems to drastically jump from one condition to another suddenly. One moment he will be on the verge of suicide, the next, Copperfield will find him skipping along the road, whistling an upbeat tune. He writes these dramatic, superfluously worded letters that at first glance make you quite worried for the man. Then the next day he is the epitome of high hopes and lightheartedness.

Even though I find it exceedingly funny in the book, I actually admire this quality in Micawber. It might make him seem silly, but he is none the less likeable for this trait. He is a heartfelt and honest man. He is true to his feelings even if they oscillate rapidly from one extreme to another. And he is unashamed of expressing himself. This is something I’d like to be brave enough to practice in my own life.

I’ve noticed many times, that if I share a strong negative feeling with someone else through behavior or actual words, I feel very reluctant to let it go even when internally, the feeling has subsided. This is especially true if it’s a mood that has come and gone quickly. I’m almost embarrassed to contradict myself by getting over something that I proclaimed to be so passionate about. Perhaps I’m worried people will think me a hypocrite? Or maybe I fear them not taking my concerns seriously the next time? Or maybe I’m even afraid they’ll chuckle and laugh at me, as I do about Mr. Micawber? I don’t know the exact reason, but something within me resists dropping a grudge that I’ve just vented to someone else about or allowing myself to be happy if the day before I was presenting myself as irrevocably depressed.

Mr. Micawber has shown me that even though it does appear silly to be crying one moment and laughing the next, it is silly in the best way possible. I don’t disregard his sadness even if I highly suspect it won’t last long. And my laughter at his sudden recovery is not done in a mocking way, rather a delighted way, out of wonder and surprise. Micawber is an excellent role model for the slogan: It’s okay to feel your feelings. Even when they might not seem logical to someone else.

It’s truly a shame how often we, myself included, deny ourselves the happiness of the moment under the shadow of some larger problem looming over our lives. We get the thought stuck in our heads that “I’ll never be happy unless…” or “Once this happens or this stops happening, then I’ll finally be able to be happy.” With our eyes set on this imagined future happiness, we overlook or disregard the small opportunities for happiness we encounter every day. Micawber didn’t wait for his problems to go away or for his massive debts to be repaid to enjoy his life. He did so whenever he got the chance. I think we’d all benefit from trying to do the same.

Pain Puts Things in Perspective

Without the fear of loss would we ever truly appreciate anything? We suffer from the mere thought of a loved one becoming ill or dying. We wish that we could live in a world without such awful realities. Yet, I wonder if a world without these negative moments, would be worth living in. It’s easy to imagine that in a world without pain, sickness, or death we would all be eternally happy, loving, and grateful. I’d like to believe this is true, but part of me knows myself too well to even pretend.

When I first became an atheist, the loss of the afterlife I’d imagined, didn’t make life less meaningful, it made it more so. Life was no longer simply a dress-rehearsal for eternity. This was it. This was what mattered, all that mattered, and I had to make every moment count. There would be no waiting to reconcile with someone past the pearly gates. There would be no final repentance or forgiveness or second chance to share my love with those most precious to me. This what it. This time I have on earth was all that I was going to get. Wasting it was not an option. When I died, when a family member or friend died, that was it, the final curtain call. Never knowing when that moment might come, the contemplation of that fact, is what give me the courage to not hold back.

Oh course, we can’t help wishing we could avoid it when the pain inevitably comes. I desperately wish that my dog was healthy and I didn’t have to go spend god only knows how much on expensive treatment, but somehow at the same time, I’m grateful for this experience. The small, petty problems of day to day pale in comparison to the joy of holding my dog in my arms. Even my recent fears and worries about money, seem insignificant. I have enough to save my baby, and that’s all I need. What a blessing it is that I can afford to help her. Nothing else matters.

Ideally we’d like to always recognize the love we are blessed with and never take an opportunity to bask in that love for granted. The reminder that my dog will die one day, that she will become sick and beyond help one day, makes the time I share with her all the more poignant. I want to think I’d always treat her with the devotion, attention, and affection she deserves regardless of the time we have in the future, but I know that isn’t true. These past few days of fear and uncertainty have shown me that. They’ve highlighted for me just how much I have been taking her for granted.

How many times have we said we’re “too busy” for those dear to us? Would we ever have enough time for them if our time together was not limited? Or would we keep putting off those quiet, tender, attentive moments indefinitely? I honestly don’t know. All I know is that I’ve never felt more grateful for every caress and sloppy kiss shared with my sweet dog daughter than I have in the last few days. Even the thought of her sweet, loving face and wagging tail brings tears to my eyes. I want to spend every moment I can with her. I want to make sure she knows just how important she is to me. I want her to feel this love I hold for her inside and know what I cherish her.

It pains me to say it, but I know that without this recent health scare, I would be continuing on as always. I’d be paying little attention to her and getting annoyed at her for little things. I’d speak harshly to her for not doing as she’s told. I’d feel irritated by always having to clean up after her. The realities of suffering, pain, illness, and death are sadly essential. We need them to shock us back to our senses. When faced with these hard truths, we are reminded again and again that love is the only thing that really matters. Everything else is irrelevant. Suddenly we see just how absurd it is to waste time and energy on anger, hatred, jealousy, greed, fear, etc. We should be spending every ounce of our beings on putting forth more love and happiness into the world. No phone call is more important than acknowledging your child. No chore is so urgent that you can’t take the time to be kind.

These are life lessons that we must learn again and again. In this way, the things that bring us the most agony in life are actually things to be grateful for. Death and loss are hard to accept, nearly impossible at times, but without them there would also be no love, no peace, no joy, no perspective. We must always try to be grateful for it all, even when it’s hard.

Funeral Tech Startups Expand Your Posthumous Possibilities | WIRED

Rethinking The Age of Innocence

I finally got around to watching the movie representation of the classic novel, The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton. First I must say that I was very impressed and pleased by how faithful the screenplay was to the original text. Nothing seemed to be overlooked or left out. There was little to no deviation from the text’s plot. There was even a helpful narration from time to time to fill in anything that couldn’t be directly expressed in the scenes. That being said, the movie or perhaps just experiencing the story a second time, allowed me to gain new insight, understanding, and perspective.

When I first wrote about this book and its effect on me many months ago, I feel I was only taking things at face value. I was devastated at the tragedy as it unfolded before me. I saw a man and woman that loved one another, were perfectly suited for one another in fact, being kept apart by life’s trivialities and the judgement of others. I saw a sad husband and wife living a lie in silence while true love withered just beyond reach. Now I’m not so certain in my initial perception.

I think perhaps one of the unspoken messages of this book was that an inner fantasy is always better and more perfect than anything in real life could ever be. I think this is the reason why Archer walked away at the end rather than go meet Madam Olenska when finally, they could have been together. It’s truly bizarre how the span of only a few months could completely change the impression this story left on me. Now instead of being baffled and angered by Archer’s final decision, a part of me understands and feels sympathy for it. It wasn’t merely that he didn’t really love Olenska, nor that he was a coward, unwilling to take that love when it was finally held before him.

Now I see Archer as a young man, believing in that idealized love, that perfect relationship, growing slowly older and wiser throughout the course of his married and family life with May. In the end, it was worth more to him to sacrifice what would most likely be a disappointing manifestation of a youthful ideal in order to keep the perfect memory he already possessed just as it was, pristine yet unobtainable. The love he shared with Olenska, sadly could never have been realized, even if they had run away together. I think Archer, after all his years, finally understood this. Perhaps Madam Olenska, in her wise, worldly way always had. She hoped against all hope, but somehow because of her life experience, was never quite as naive as Archer in believing the life in which they would be happy together could ever truly exist.

I sincerely hope that I too will outgrow this naive image of a perfect, fated love in order to more fully enjoy and appreciate the real love in my life. And perhaps even learn to enjoy that pang of regret and curiosity for what could have been when it strikes my heart, knowing that the memories I hold, the future I imagined, will always be more lovely than the reality would have been.

Why I Love 'The Age of Innocence' | by Mel Campbell | The Look | Medium