10 good reasons not to call your ex

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Roxane Robitaille, a wise couples therapist, has the following advice for those who are going through a hard time after a breakup.     I found the following very helpful:

Some years ago, I went through a difficult break-up. When my relationship came to an end, one of the most difficult things for me was deciding whether or not to call him back. I have to come clean and admit I did call him, many times (sigh). Unfortunately, these phone calls never went the way I wished they would go. Being a professional on-again off –again couple we went back and forth for months. I knew deep down that the relationship was making me miserable, yet I wanted to “fix” it, cause no one likes to feel miserable right? These phone calls sometimes lead to more sadness; they sometimes lead us to seeing each other again for a short while. As you read the following, ask yourself why you want to be in a relationship. Is it because you want to have children? Is it because you’re afraid of being alone? Well, think about this, the on-again off-again relationship is very likely to be nothing but a waste of your precious time, time you could be spending taking care of you and feeling ready to meet someone who sees just how fabulous you are. If you do want to have children, do you want to be with a partner like this one? A partner who left you for reasons you don’t really understand, a partner who makes you the future-mom-to-be feel less than amazing, a partner who doesn’t accept and love everything about you and wants you to change, a partner whom you want to change? If things do get patched up between the two of you, are you going to be sitting right back here in 6 months? In a year? Don’t call him babe.

1. You should feel desired and confident. I’m guessing that if you’re reading an article about why not to call your ex it’s not because you’re feeling like an energized, gorgeous, popular and desired person. You feel rejected and you want that feeling to go away. So you think about calling him back and smoothing things over. But calling him will inevitably make you feel worse.

2. You might make things worse. Are you feeling angry at him right now? Are you feeling vulnerable and lonely? You might blow up at him like a crazy-lady or you might end up crying and pleading on the phone for him to take you back. In either case, not a good situation (I am speaking from personal experience here, unfortunately). Do you really want to convince him to be with you? Argue him into taking you back? Plead yourself back into this relationship? Why should you convince anyone to be with you? You’re amazing!

3. What if he doesn’t answer? He has caller-ID doesn’t he? He’ll see that you’ve called. Are you going to call back in 5 minutes? In an hour? Tomorrow? Are you going to leave a message? What if he doesn’t call you back? You’ll be sitting there wondering why he’s not calling you back. And you’ll sit there, like I did, doubting yourself because you ex is not calling you back. If you’re anything like me, you’ll be frantically looking at your phone every 10 minutes to see whether you have any missed calls or missed messages. Here’s an idea: turn the phone off. You can do it. When you turn off your phone, you are taking back control and not letting yourself become obsessed with him his call. Free yourself from the phone and decide that for now you have better things to do than sit by the phone and wait for him to call you.

4. And if he answers? He might be busy and hang up in haste. Or he might not be so hot about hearing your voice on the line. But what if the convo goes well? Well honey, even if the conversation goes well, and he’s not likely to cry out: “oh baby, I’m so glad you called, I’m sorry I dumped you, let’s get back together!” And I’m sure anything less than that would be disappointing to you. Right? You’ll be hanging up sad, disappointed or angry.

5. You might end up in bed. If he does want to see you after he’s dumped you, and he’s happy to come over and hang out with you, he might want sex. That may feel nice for you as well, because let’s face it, our exes are our most intimate partners. It’s also the easiest person to sleep with after a breakup. You might feel connected for a short while, but honey this guy dumped you (cheated on you, didn’t want to get married to you, didn’t listen to you, didn’t spend enough time with you, didn’t make you feel like your best self, deceived you…) so why are you having sex with him? Although, you are a hot mamacita, your lover should see way more in you than your hot physical looks.

6. He’s not the one calling you. If your ex wanted to get you back and was madly in love with you, he would let you know. He would cross all bridges and climb all mountains to get to you. So let him call you and let him prove to you that he deserves to be with hotty such as yourself. Be strong. Don’t give-in. Think highly of yourself. Don’t sell yourself cheaply. And don’t call him back. Let him come back to you if that is what’s in the cards for you. Think that you are worthy of a man coming back to you with flowers and sweeping you off your feet.

7. Is he that great anyways? Even though he might have left you, and even though he may very well have been a super-stand-up guy, he wasn’t perfect either right? I mean, he dumped you, so there’s obviously is something wrong with him! He couldn’t appreciate what a prize you truly are.

8. There’s someone better for you out there. You know this is true (I hope). Right now it just feels like you might be alone forever. You might get caught up in the false beliefs that all good guys are taken and that it’s hard to meet someone. Those kinds of thoughts only make you feel more desperate and make you think you’d better hang on to this one. Well, no. I’m not having it. There are plenty of really good guys (good looking ones too!) out there who would feel happy to call you every day and spend time building a relationship with you. Imagine what your perfect relationship would feel like. Now multiply that by 10 and that’s what’s out there waiting for you right now. So turn off the phone, get out there in the world and open yourself up the possibilities that are all around you. Try to going out anywhere, to the supermarket, to a coffee shop, to the pet-store, anywhere, and smile at people. Just smile. Smile at men, smile at women, smile at kids, smile at the elderly. People will smile back at you. Now how good does that feel? There are plenty of people out there you can easily engage with just by smiling. Get out of your sweat-pants and go out and smile at people. Start to feel it IS true: there is someone better for you out there.

9. You’re not taking advantage of your time alone. When relationships end, we are left with a whole lot of extra free time. Time that used to be spend on doing fun activities together, time shared having meals and interesting conversations together. But wait! You are still a fun-loving, interesting person! Take advantage of this time to get to know yourself, to heal your vulnerable heart, and to love yourself. Do some of the things you like, surround yourself with people who care about you, call a friend. Take out your agenda and try to schedule fun things for yourself for the night, for the weekend etc. If you know in advance how you are going to fill your time, you’re not going to feel so obsessed with calling him because you’re going to be busy (and happy hopefully!). I know this is going to sound unoriginal, but look at the breakup as a time to re-evaluate your life. Take it as an experience in personal growth. There is nothing more attractive than a woman who is confident and happy with herself!

10. You are meant to have and enjoy a wonderful life. All aspects of your life are meant to lift you up and make you feel good about yourself. You don’t need to wait around for another person to give you what you need. How can you make yourself feel more wanted and secure? As a friend once told me, bees are naturally attracted to a piece of sugar. Sugar doesn’t have to do anything except being its sweet self, and all the bees want to be around it. So go ahead honey, make yourself feel well, beautiful and happy, that’s really all you have to do to attract to you the perfect partner, and a wonderful happy life.

Gamble Everything for Love

The Sufi poet

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Rumi (1207-1273) ,who was known as Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Balkhī (Persian: جلال‌الدین محمد بلخى‎) and Mawlānā/Molānā  (Persian: مولانا‎) wrote:

Gamble everything for love,
if you’re a true human being.

If not, leave
this gathering.

Half-heartedness doesn’t reach
into majesty.  You set out
to find God, but then you keep
stopping for long periods
at mean-spirited roadhouses.

The Beauty of Being Very Quiet

Hendrick Jansz ter Brugghen (or Terbrugghen) (1588 – 1629) Old Man Writing

When I was six or seven, my parents went on vacation and left my brother and me with the German ironing lady and her husband, neither of whom spoke English.  We lived in Augsburg then, on an army base, and employed a local woman to wash, fold, and iron our clothes.  She also served as a babysitter from time to time.

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The ironing lady and her husband were elderly and unaccustomed to rambunctious children.  They lived in a small apartment stuffed with large, dark, polished wooden furniture.   One day I was sitting at the dining table with the ironing lady’s husband, who was writing something with a fountain pen.  I am not sure how it happened, but my brother was probably napping and I had decided to be both very quiet and very alert.  I became utterly absorbed in the experience of listening to the sound of the pen scratching on the parchment, gazing at the old man’s mild face, and sensing my slight weight on the chair in the atmosphere of that cozy, small space.  I tasted the flavor of the air, smelled the ink and the old man and the wood and the carpet, and felt a thrilling, exquisite pleasure of curiosity about everything that I was sensing from moment to moment, second to second.

I did not want it ever to end, and sat utterly still, rapt in what I knew to be both profound and ordinary.  It was the first time in my life that I realized that simply sitting and paying attention could be enjoyable.  It was so easy to be patient, so wonderful and beautiful to experience watching and listening.  I felt as though there was a powerful, fragile tension between myself and the old man, and that my very stillness and quietness was part of his writing and thinking and breathing there, across the table from me, the table that I could barely see over, as though in that room at that moment a fantastic energy sprang alive and palpable and real and exciting.

This was a moment of what is called Abhyasa,  in the Sütras of Pantanjali.    Abhyasa might be described as a measured, calm, yet determined intention to pay attention to what is, as opposed to a wild, rushing and blasting and pushing energy, or the reckless passion with which, for example, a warrior flies into battle, or an athlete dedicates all her energy and power to winning a match or scaling a steep hill.  Abhyasa is experience without reaction, awareness without judgment, perception without response.

As I sat with the old man writing, I was stirred, but not stirred into any response other than observing his movements as something to observe.  I liked the activity of observation, and became, later, attached to the pleasure I remembered having during this moment.  This attachment, of course, became a source of suffering because it was something that I could not will into being, and had to wait for.

A Yoga Sequence to Cope with Lower Back Pain

Like many people, I have developed a weakness at the base of my spine precisely where the lowest vertebra of the lumbar spine, L5, meets the first vertebra of the sacrum, S1.

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Many people experience pain at this intersection, where the flexible lumbar vertebrae curves up and back, and the inflexible, fused sacral vertebrae curve down and forward. When this structure becomes overstressed, the disc between the vertebrae gets compressed, or squished, and bulges out, putting pressure on the sciatic nerve and causing pain.  When severely stressed, the disc herniates, or protrudes outside of the spine.   Fortunately, my disc has not yet degenerated to that point.  Nevertheless, my disc had degenerated enough to make it hard for me to bend forward, to walk, and to stand.

As luck would have it, this condition flared up during the year in which I trained to become a yoga teacher.  At first I could not figure out why I could not relax comfortably in Shavasana or move into and out of Virabhadrasana without extreme pain.  After ten years of pushing myself in yoga practice, I had to pull way back and accept the limitations of my body.  I consulted a physiatrist, who sent me to a very good physical therapist, and took a break from all forward bending for two months.

All the forward bends that I thought were so good for my spine were actually worsening my condition, because the movement encouraged the disc between L5 and S1 to bulge out further.  In addition, other muscles in my core began tighten up as they overcompensated for the  weakness at the base of my spine.  My psoas muscles, which runs from the middle point of the spine over in front of the sacrum and down to the femurs, the large thigh bone, were overly consctricted and working like a tight rubber band that bent me forward at the base of my spine.  Furthermore, deep in my back musculature, the quadratus lumborum that run from the top of the lumbar spine down to the sacrum, were also overly tight.   In consultation with my physical therapist, I developed a yoga sequence to release these muscles, strengthen my abdominals,  and regain some of the flexibility I had lost.

For the first two weeks I did nothing more than simple press-ups, a variation on Bhujangasana, or cobra, in which you press your arms into the mat until they are straight, raising the chest and hips but leaving the legs on the mat while releasing all muscles in the buttocks.  I still begin every session with ten repetitions of this simple back-opener.

For weeks three and four I tightened my abdominal muscles with uddiyana and mula bhanda locks as often as possible–especially when moving from a seated to a standing position, or while seated and standing.  Basically: all the time.

Here is the sequence I started with.  It helps me a lot.  A word of caution:  if you have severe back pain due to sciatia, a herniated or degenerated disc, please do not practice these exercises without consulting your physician or physical therapist. 

Also, as always in yoga, let pain be your guide.  If you begin to feel an intense, burning or cutting pain, immediately cease what you are doing.  Seek sthira and sukkha, discipline and sweetness, a balance between exertion and ease, in every asana.

Bhujangasana variation.  10x. Lying face down on floor, bring your hands along the body just beneath your shoulders.  Press your palms against the mat to lift your chest and hips up,  keeping your buttock muscles loose.

Benefits of bhujangasana: strengthens and stretches the spine, opens chest and shoulders, relieves pain from sciatica and herniated discs.

Shalabasana (Locust)  4x  Lying face down on the mat with arms along the body. Strongly pulling your shoulder blades together, lift your chest and thighs off the mat, lengthening the crown of the head away from the feet and the feet away from the body.  Hold here for three breaths.

Benefits of Shalabasana: Strenthens the lumbar spine; helps the psoas muscle to release, posterior hip and thigh muscles, opens the shoulders and chest.

Dhanruasana (Bow) 3x  Lie face down on the floor. Bend knees and grasp ankles, one at a time.  Pull your chest  and thighs up while squeezing shoulder blades together.  Hold for three breaths.

Benefits of Dhanurasana: stretches the psoas, flexes the lumbar quadratus, strengthens the spine, opens shoulders, chest and throat.

In between each pose, Rest in a passive neck stretch–bringing your head all the way to the floor, turned, alternately to the left and right, for three full breaths.

Setu Bandhasana (Bridge)3x  From a supine position on your back, bend your knees and bring your heels towards your hips, keeping the feet hip-width apart.  Lift your hips by pressing your upper back against the floor and lengthening the stomach and spine.  Tuck your shoulders underneath your back and grasp your fingers together. Release your buttocks muscles and hold yourself here by pushing your feet against the floor.   Hold for 3 or 4 breaths.  Exit by unclasping the fingers and slowly lowering the spine to the floor, one vertebrae at a time.

Benefits of Setu Bandhasana: strengthens middle and upper spine, stretches psoas; relieves low back tightness.  It also may alleviate symptoms of depression by increasing circulation to the thyroid gland.

Dhammapada, 1:1-2

All experience is preceded by mind,

Led by mind,

Made by mind.

Speak or act with a corrupted mind,

And suffering follows

As the wagon wheel follows the hoof of the ox.

All experience is preceded by mind,

Led my mind,

Made by mind

Speak or act with a peaceful mind,

And happiness follows

Like a never-departing shadow.

Buddha, Dhamapada  1:1-2

The first verses of the Dhammapada remind us to guide our thinking, because our thoughts inform our experience.  Everything that we go through, every event, we interpret with our minds.  But experience also has a way of shaping the way we interpret our experiences.  The families into which we were born, the people and cultures that shaped us, inform our minds, the ways we see the world.  So, for example, a child who is mistreated from the moment she is born,who is told that she is worthless and stupid and incompetent, nothing more than a thing to be used by others, is likely to grow up with a false understanding of herself.  She will not know her true nature as a being of light and beauty, deserving of all love.  She will have a corrupted mind, and suffering will follow her.

The wonderful knowledge that the Buddha offers to us here is this: no matter what has happened to us, no matter how corrupted our ways of understanding the world have been, each one of us has the freedom and the power to learn, through practice, to step aside, as it were, from the false, corrupt thoughts that have been imbued in us, and to have a “peaceful mind.” This is the only path to lasting happiness.

 

On Pantanjali, the Self, and why I practice and teach yoga

The aphorisms composed by the Hindu siddha guru Pantanjali, who flourished in India during the second century B.C.E., are among the oldest and most revered scriptures of yoga teachings. Yoga was originally a practice of meditation designed to awaken higher consciousness about the universe.  In the Sutras, Pantajali explains that the purpose of yoga is to “disarm the causes of suffering and to achieve integration” of the self with the universe (Yoga-Sutras of Pantanjali, translated by Chip Hartranft, Sutra 1-9). Ignorance of one’s true nature is the source of suffering (dukha), he says.  This ignorance (avidya—lit. “not seeing”) is an inability to understand that there is no such thing as a separate, individual self.

The concept of an isolated self, or ego, is a construction, produced by experiences and reinforced by cultural conditioning.  In other words, the “I” is the sum  of conditioned responses to experiences—good and bad—that reiterate the false impression that there is any other way to be.  One imagines that one’s self is always either an active agent or passive victim, the hurter or the stricken.  Resistant to change, the “I” dwells in the inertia or tamas, stuck in a polarized sense of a self that exists only through the experience of opposition, of “me” vs. “them”, “self” and “other,” as well as in false notions of the self as divided into similarly opposed arenas of “goodness” and “evil,” “acceptable” and “unacceptable.”

To move past this dukha, suffering, born of avidya, ignorance, we need to engage in action, Kriya.  But energetic effort is only useful if it is expended in the right direction, towards sadhana, realization.  Thus, for example, action taken in response to anger or guilt or self-righteousness will not take us where we want to go.  It leads into more suffering, not away from it.

In 2.12-16 Pantanjali considers the causes of suffering (samskara), which can either affect us immediately or lie dormant for a while.  A dormant or latent cause of suffering can be activated by a weaker, more trivial experience of unpleasantness, which allows the older “root” to erupt and overwhelm the mind and body.  Yoga helps us to break down this conditioned experience.

Moving through the postures (asanas) day after day, week after week, we experience the impermanence of all emotions, abilities, and states of being.  Some days I am strong.  Some days I am weak.   Most days the practice of yoga itself allows me to tune in to what I am experiencing.   When my mind and body, reason and emotions, are integrated, I recognize that my “self” or sense of an “I” is not fixed or even definable.   Rather the “I” is a pattern of consciousness that shifts and moves continuously, always in response to one thing or another.

The regular tuning into the body and the mind through practice allows me to distance myself from my habitual understanding of myself as a “self” existing in opposition to an ‘it” or an “other.”  Thus I recognize that we are all connected beings.  My experience of aversion, or opposition, to others itself is a fleeting body/mind energy, a pattern, an acquired habit of interpreting reality, and not necessarily a necessary way to be.

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Gelek Rimpoche

Tibetan Buddhist lama Rimpoche Nawang Gehlek relates a wisdom from seventh-century Indian pundits:

You can look carefully at suffering itself to see if it can be corrected or not.  If it can be corrected, put all your effort into correcting it.  If there’s nothing to be done about it, why be unhappy?  The unhappiness only adds more suffering to the suffering.

Like the Buddha, who lived approximately 400 years before him,  Pantanjali recognized that suffering is unavoidable.  Like the Buddha, he also believed that “suffering that has not yet arisen can be prevented.” What does this mean?  Hardship, pain, dukkha, is unavoidable, but we often add to our own suffering by shooting what the Buddha called the “second arrow.”

The Buddha once asked a student, “If a person is struck by an arrow, is it painful?” The student replied, “It is.” The Buddha then asked, “If the person is struck by a second arrow, is that even more painful?” The student replied again, “It is.” The Buddha then explained, “In life, we cannot always control the first arrow. However, the second arrow is our reaction to the first. The second arrow is optional.

The first arrow is the suffering itself, however it came about.  We experience a loss, someone is cruel or rude to us, we experience an injustice or a trauma.  We cannot control that, but we can control how we react to the first arrow.   If beat ourselves up about how we feel, if we blame ourselves for being weak, or indulgently feel very sorry for ourselves, we shoot the second arrow at ourselves.

We don’t have to do this.  Why do we do it?  Because we are conditioned to think of the self, the “I” as a fixed and determined entity.   If we simply accept the suffering, acknowledge that it is there without imagining that this particular experience of suffering somehow defines who the “I” is, we can prevent extra suffering.

The conscious, patient, focused practice of breathing and moving through asanas allows us temporarily to step aside from our punishing habits, the products of ignorance, avidya, and to glimpse what it feels like to refuse to send the second arrow.

I don’t agree with Pantanjali that the goal of yoga is to allow purusha to see itself (2.20), or to realize some absolute truth about existence.  My practice of yoga does not carry me further towards salvation or to the understanding that the “phenomenal world exists to reveal” (2.21) “fundamental qualities of nature” (2.19), which exist somehow somewhere else, in some abstract realm of purusha, perfect, “pure awareness” (Hartranft, 27).

No.  For me, yoga is both a means and an end, a dynamic method of awakening whereby we understand anguish (dukha), let go of its origins or causes, realize that dukha ends, and cultivate the path, the method of awakening itself.

As Stephen Batchelor, a former Zen and Buddhist monk who now leads a secular Buddhist group in England, writes,

The Buddha was not a mystic.  His awakening was not a shattering insight into a transcendent Truth that revealed to him the mysteries of God.  He did not claim to have had an experience that granted him the privileged, esoteric knowledge of how the universe ticks.”  Buddha did not found a religion.  He taught a practice for actively awakening, an ongoing, conscious effort to free ourselves from habitual impulses and irrational, false illusions.

This is how I understand yoga.  Yoga is an ongoing, conscious effort to awaken, not to any particular truth, but rather to free ourselves from the need for fixed truth.

My intention is not to proselytize or preach, but rather to guide people to find sthira and sukha, strength and ease, to “come home” (as Tara Brach likes to say) to whatever is actually going on in the body and mind by moving, breathing, stretching, and resting in various positions, asanas that stimulate awakening.

NOW: I LOVE MY BODY AND MY MIND

Paula Moderson-Becker

I really do love my body.  There is a lot more of it than there used to be, but what is here is strong, and muscular, and sensuous, and good.

This blogpost is my contribution to NOW’s “Love Your Body Day” Blog Carnival

In our masculinist culture men and women, boys and girls, learn three fundamental untruths:

  • that masculine beings are superior to feminine beings;
  • that the mind is separate from the body; and
  • that feminine beings are more like things than beings and that they can in fact be reduced to their bodies because their minds do not really count.

A masculinist culture is one in which the first falsehood–that male beings are superior to feminine beings–is a dominant and central principle of religious, educational, political and family life.

When girls develop in such a culture, they learn to regard their bodies as things that are either

a) polluted,
b) dangerous,
c) tools with which to manipulate men; or
d) all of the above. 

This makes most women insane and depressed.  From an early age we learn to regard our bodies as filthy yet seductive things that we can use to our advantage in relations with men. This is insane, as in the following definition from Webster’s Dictionary:

insane, adj. in a state of mind that prevents normal perception, behavior, or social interaction.

Men also learn from an early age that it is okay to use women’s bodies as things and then to throw them away when they are finished using them.  This makes men insane and sometimes also slightly ashamed of themselves.  Sometimes men feel soiled after using a woman’s body as a tool for their own gratification.  Some religions teach men that they touch of a woman who is menstruating pollutes them spiritually as well as biologically. This is, of course, insane, a state of mind that prevents normal perception, behavior, and social interaction.

We women learn to hold our bodies in certain ways, to suck in our stomachs, to teeter on high heels, to elevate our necks, to sway when we walk, to slide our legs deliciously together and apart. We are praised for being “feminine” when we do these things, and condemned and insulted if we can’t manage them.

Unfortunately, even those of us who are pretty good going along with the feminization project also get condemned and insulted. Generally this happens after we have  been treated as things by men who are only too happy to blame us for having asked for it. To be embodied as a woman is considered a curse, a disability.  Aristotle, who has exerted an enormous influence over western philosophy for the last thousand years, said that women were deformed beings, freaks of nature.  Orthodox Jews thank Yahweh in their morning prayers for not having made them female.

Whether we position and drape our bodies in ways that our culture tells us are “feminine” and “attractive” or not, we are still told that our bodies are dirty.  We are still called whores, bitches, sluts by people who refuse to believe that we are more than simply body-things.

But the truth is that we are not simply bodies, not simply things to be used, but rather whole, conscious beings whose minds are intricately connected to our bodies in ways that we still don’t fully understand.  Emotions register as bodily sensations and bodily sensations–hormonal fluctuations, for example–register as emotions.  Emotions trigger thoughts and thoughts trigger emotions.  Bodily sensations trigger thoughts and thoughts trigger bodily sensations–adrenaline, the flight or fight response of our sympathetic nervous system.  It is impossible to decide where the body begins and the mind ends.

Of course, this is what the masculinists have been telling us for thousands of years–that we as women don’t have transcendent minds, as they do, that we are governed by our emotions, that we either do not have any brains at all or that our brains are vastly inferior to those of men.  This, of course, is nonsense, the sort of thing that we should recognize as the product of insanity, not wisdom.  Men are no less affected by their hormones, their emotions, their impulses.

We women are embodied and our bodies are utterly mixed up with our minds. Therefore it is very important for us as women to keep track of what we are thinking and feeling about ourselves, and to understand how certain thoughts that we accept as real might only be responses to certain bodily sensations.  At the same time, it is important to remember that certain bodily sensations and emotions might only be habitual response to certain thoughts that we have accepted as truths.

Paula Moderson-Becker

How do you feel when you tell yourself that you love your body?  How do you feel about your body, and about yourself, when you accept the mass media representation of an ideal woman’s body?

Learn to re-wire your thoughts and emotional responses.  Practice telling yourself that you love your body and remember how you feel when you say this.  Practice recognizing how often you dismiss your body, or deride your body, or feel disgusted by your body.  When do these thoughts arise?  What brings them into your mind? When they come, catch yourself and say, “Nonsense! I love my body because I love myself!  I am my body and my body is me, and I am a good woman.”

Take care of your body.  Don’t eat so much that you feel sick; don’t drink so much that you can’t walk.  Get exercise.  Drink moderately.  Stretch.  Stay clean.  Put lotion on your body and move your hands sensuously up and down and around your curves.  Get enough sleep.  Move languidly in your bed and feel how lovely it is to be embodied. Breathe consciously and notice how alive you are in your body; how wonderful it is to be alive, to be embodied, to feel, to see, to hear, to move, to touch, to taste, to speak–if you are lucky enough to be able to do all of these things.  If you are not so lucky, then acknowledge what you do have, for you are still embodied, and your body is the not just the temple, but also the very structure, of your consciousness and spirit.  You are your body and your body is you, and you are beautiful.  You are a good woman.

Equinox

The equinox is the period when the day and night seem be the same length.  For just a moment, the earth tilts neither away from nor towards the sun.  This is a time of transition, of passage from one state to another. Many cultures celebrate major holidays during the spring and fall equinox.

Rituals are useful because they help to make us conscious of our place in time and space on the planet.  They help us to mark and process change,  which happens so quickly sometimes that we don’t notice it.

Today, for example, I took the dogs through Hartwood acres, as I did just three days ago, and even though we were walking the same paths, the world seemed to have changed.

Last Sunday the forest and fields were fully and radiantly in bloom.  White snakeroot blossomed in patches of sunlight under the trees, and last year’s leaves were slowly disintegrating into a ruffled, brown carpet.  The woods were still vibrant, green and pulsating with summer. That day we walked in dappled, open forest for an hour or so, when the dogs caught the scent of some deer and began to strain against the leash.  Instead of reining them in, I raced up the hills with them, just as eagerly, with spontaneous, unrecognizable power, and then came to a sudden, blissful stop.

The deer, fleeing, had led us, panting, out into the most glorious goldenrod meadow that rolled and undulated before us.  It was wildly yellow, interspersed with purple aster, thick and heavily fragrant.  It buzzed loudly with bees gathering pollen on both sides of the path.  Bits of straw and ochre petals stuck to my clothes and the dogs’ fur as we pushed through.  Monarch butterflies scattered.  Across the golden ocean a thousand squadrons of dragonflies were zooming, diving and whirling, just like the hawks and the buzzards circling above us.  All of nature was intensely, enthusiastically, wildly alive.

Just three days later, the first red and yellow leaves were falling to the forest floor. The canopy was still verdant, still filled with yellow-green light, but it was as though the trees had sighed all together and shaken their hair out for the last time.  They  were now sending their energy to their roots, not to their branches and tendrils.  There seemed to be fewer grasshoppers.  Flotsam floated carelessly down to the path, which was muddier than it had been, messier, muckier, denser.  A moth fluttered into my face and brushed soft cobweb wings against my cheek.

I came out into the clearing expectantly, looking for that golden, wild fertility of a few days before.  The fields were still yellow, but not as brilliant, even though the sun shone as brightly as it had before. Bright plumes ostentatiously waved at the sky, but many of the flower heads had begun to brown and nod in the breeze.  The bees were still gathering, buzzing and burrowing into the petals, and the dragonflies whizzed, as before. Yet the season of decaying, decomposing, withering, wilting, leaning, and breaking down had begun in earnest.

It had happened just like that, in a matter of days. Plants and trees loosened and flung their seeds into the air; squirrels, chipmunks, and groundhogs stuffed themselves with nuts and shoots; and everywhere everything was sliding into rot or sleep.  Yet the very moment with which all of nature prepared itself for death was also the moment of new life in motion, copulation, fertilization, and regeneration.

My mother died during this season.  She was 55.  My father suffered a nearly fatal stroke just a few years later, and fell into a dark depression for 15 more years.  I am thinking about my friend Philip, who is my age. He makes a living as a sculptor.  Just a few days after Hurricane Irene filled his studio with mud, Philip suffered two strokes that left him paralyzed.  The prognosis for him is hopeful, as it is for my friend and sister MJ, who has recovered from Stage 4 ovarian cancer.  None of us knows how long we will enjoy what we have right now, this minute, in our lives.

Treasure your health, your ability to walk, to see, to sing.  What you have now is greater and more valuable than you probably know.

Of Gods and Humans

I’m watching Of Gods and Men.  It’s about a group of French Trappist monks who chose to stay in their community rather than flee to safety during the Algerian civil war.  They were kidnapped in 1995 by terrorists, but their death was never explained.  Some have argued that Algerian soldiers killed them during a botched rescue attempt.  The first part of the movie shows the monks selling their own honey and vegetables in the market, offering medical care and advice to the locals, who are mostly Islamic.   When fundamentalists come to their town, the town leaders come to consult with the monks.  When the terrorists come closer and begin to kill all foreigners, the monks refuse military protection.  The Algerian army, in fact, is just as brutal and violent as the terrorists.   This beautiful movie highlights the monks’ incredible forbearance and dedication to peace.  It is a portrait of truly peaceful Christian practice, so unlike the practice of our allegedly Christian, elected representatives, who wage war around the world and who never cease to find reasons to kill and main and destroy in the name of freedom.  But the film also highlights the peace and love that are central to Islam, as well, showing the daily lives of the people, their friendliness, their vulnerability, and their civility.  The terrorists are presented as men at odds with Islam, men who hardly know the Koran and who have a simplistic and militaristic interpretation of scripture.  They are not unlike those among us who vote for bombs and landmines and hatred for people who don’t worship the same god.

Since I have returned from Nepal I have reclaimed my sense that we are all united in a great web of being, of aliveness and no longer identify myself as an atheist.  Love is our greatest resource, the power most essential to our nature as well as the link between us all.  We are not singular and cut off from one another.  We only exist with one another, in relation to one another, and the relationship that we have with one another when we are being true to ourselves is loving.  We are true to ourselves when we treat each other with love and compassion.   Everything else about us—guns, violence, hatred, oppression, war—is against our truest nature.

Since I have embraced this essentially spiritual way of understanding the world, which was always very basic, if buried, in me, my attitude towards other believers, especially Christians, has changed.  I’m no longer angry.    I still dislike the masculinism underlying the Abrahamic religions (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam), the ancient and arbitrary division between Self and Other that recognizes men as subjects and women as objects, but I have given up the burden of burning indignation.  My fury and resentment hurt me more than objects of my fury.  As Donna Farhi relates, “harboring resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.”

The Dalai Lama was asked how he could feel loving kindness for the Chinese, who invaded his country, destroyed most of the monasteries, murdered thousands of Tibetans, and were continuing to repress and eradicate his people and culture.  He was silent for a long time, and finally answered that he distinguished between the act and the agent.  He could repudiate the actions of the Chinese but still feel compassion for the Chinese agents who brutalized his people.  They are suffering greatly, after all, because they have strayed so far from their true nature.

My true self is not the crazy tangle of thoughts and emotions that continuously run through my mind, nor my ever-changing body, but rather the silent, neutral witness of my experiences in the world.  It is this quiet aliveness, this prana, the shimmering vitality that I share with all other sentient beings, the life-force that courses through the forests, the oceans, the mountains, the rocks, the sun, the fiery core of our planet, the rivers, the plains, all plants, all organisms, even the stars themselves, that is my truest ground of being.  This is what Rainer Maria Rilke calls “the infinite ground of our deepest vibration.”  As he wrote,

Be in front of all parting as though it were already behind you,

Like the winter just gone by.

Because among winters is one so endlessly winter.

Only by over-wintering does your heart survive.

Be and know at that time the state of non-being,

The infinite ground of our deepest vibration

So that you may wholly complete it this one time.

Sonnets to Orpheus, 11.13.

The Place that Grants all Wishes

I wrote these words in my journal when I was at Boudhanath, in Kathmandu:

Here is the Buddha himself magnificently before me, strong, rounded, ample, powerful.  They say that this place, more than any other place in all the world, is where wishes are heard and answered.

What are my wishes:

1.  I wish to heal.  Heal the mother in me who feels wounded.

2. I wish for true companionship.

3. I wish that my son will find his way, his strength, his chai, his chi, his life-force, and know his inner beauty.

The first wish is nearly granted.  I am a good mother if hardly conventional.  I have done my best.  This wish is the one I came to Nepal to plead.  It requires a sacrifice.  I would like to stay here to explore further sides of myself in the world, accomplish something that feels like an accomplishment.  But it is time to return.  The journey must be completed for the wish to come true. This is what the spirit of the place, Boudha, tells me.  It called to me and I came.  There was much to learn.  Have I learned what I came here to learn? Here is what I found out:

That I love my son.

That I have a great desire to take care of him and to be with him.

That, although he can care for himself, I want very much, very much, to spend more time with him.

He has confessed that I drive him crazy, that he doesn’t always like me!  This makes me laugh.  Bravo! I am shouting.  Hooray for you to be able to tell your mother this!

I like Boudha.  I could spend a long time here.  It is a good place.  I like the people circumambulating the stupa, an anarchic procession they call chora or kora.  I liked riding my bicycle here.

I have been watching a man doing his puja, his prostrations, for over an hour.  He is wearing shorts and a Hawaiian shirt and he is bald.  He has wrapped his prayer beads around his wrists.  He stands, raises his beads with both hands to the top of his head, then to his third eye, and then to his chest.  He kneels, hands sliding up the wooden prayer board, lays himself out and pushes himself back up, swings his hands above his head, touches his third eye, his chest, and down to the board.  His hands slide up to support his body in plank, and then brace to push him back up again.  He has repeated this movement twenty or thirty times while I have been describing it.  He looks older, maybe 60. A woman in a pink kurta sits indolently on the board next to him, where a dog is sleeping in the shade.

I am looking up at the Buddha’s stern, blue eyes and this is what they say to me:

“The connection was never lost, never broken, only tested.”

“But,” I complain, “there were gaps, missing slats on the bridge between us!”

The Buddha says,

“It is whole.  All is well.  The bond, the bridge, is sturdy.  Trust it across wide distances and deep canyons.  You will never break it.”

The sky is so beautiful tonight.  Bright clouds are puffing out behind the dark mountain and the golden roofs of the gompas.  Bells are ringing, dogs are barking, and the tourist stores are broadcasting “om mane peme hum.”  Prayer flags are swaying gently in the wind. My heart is full of love.