Just One Thing - Feel Whole

When I look back on mistakes I’ve made—like dumping my anger on someone, making assumptions in haste, partying too much, losing my nerve, being afraid to speak from my heart—in all cases a part of me had taken over.

You know what I mean. The parts of us that have a partial view, are driven by one aim, clamp down on other parts, really want to have a particular experience or to eat/drink/smoke a particular molecule, yammer away critically, or hold onto resentments toward others.

The mega part—the big boss—is of course the inner executive, the decision-maker, and driver (some call it the ego) centered in neural circuits in the prefrontal cortex, behind your forehead.

This part is determined to a fault, running things top down, ignoring bottom-up signals of growing fatigue, irritability, burnout, and issues with others. It draws on and gets wrapped up in the sequential, action-planning, language processing parts of you that are based in regions in the left side of your brain. (The statements here about sides of the brain are reversed for about half of all left-handed people.) Meanwhile, the boss part shames, disowns, and suppresses other parts of you, especially those that are softer, more vulnerable, and younger.

But when you open to the whole of your experience, you have more information and can make better decisions. You perceive more fully, seeing the big picture, putting things in perspective. You free up energy that was spent pushing down your real feelings. You tune into your body, your heart. You’re less fixed or attached in your views. You recognize the good things in you and around you that you’d tuned out. You feel more supported, more protected. You take things less personally.

You feel at home in yourself.

Why?

Awareness is like a big stage upon which lots of sights, sounds, tastes, touches, smells, thoughts, feelings, memories, and wants pop up for a bit and then pass away. All this is in your consciousness, but mainly in the background. The spotlight of attention bounces around the stage, lighting up one thing after another.

In the practices that follow, you are going to widen the spotlight—the field of attention—to include more and more of the whole stage. This draws on networks on the sides of your brain, mainly on the right side, because it is specialized for holistic processing, for taking things as a whole, as a gestalt. By doing these little practices repeatedly when you have a moment of quiet, you will stimulate and therefore strengthen the neural networks that support feeling whole, so that you can sustain that sense of wholeness even when the oatmeal hits the fan.

Here we go.

For a dozen seconds or longer, be aware of all the sounds around you. Let them be what they are, lasting or changing. Disengage from inner verbal commentary about them; stay with the experience of sounds as a whole. Notice how this feels: probably more relaxed and at ease.

Soften your gaze and be aware of sights around you, the visual field as a whole. Explore lifting your gaze toward the horizon, which will tend to activate neural networks that process sights in a more global, I’m-integrated-with-the-whole-world way. (See James Austin’s book,Selfless Insight, for more on this.)

For a dozen seconds or longer, be aware of the sensations of breathing in the front of your chest, around your heart… aware of this area as a whole. Then be aware of your whole chest breathing, including the stomach, diaphragm, rib cage, and back. Take the whole chest as a single, unified gestalt, rather than attention skittering from one sensation in it to another.

Then broaden attention further to include the sensations of air moving down your throat… your hips and shoulders and head shifting slightly with each breath… sensations around your nose and upper lip… gradually taking the whole body as the unified object of attention… abiding as a whole body breathing. Notice how this feels; let the feeling of this sink in again and again so that you can come home to this way of being more easily in the future.

And you can take it a step further, with the sensations of breathing coming together with sounds and sights, these perceptions experienced as a single whole, all known together globally, nothing left out, breath after breath.

Resting in some sense of ease with yourself, try opening to the emotions you may have pushed away. Can you let them come up, and flow through you? Then try opening to longings you may have pushed away, opening to needs or vulnerabilities that have been silenced or set aside. Welcome these various emotions and longings into awareness. You don’t have to act upon them. In fact, by welcoming them you will make them feel more at home, so they will become less insistent or strident, and you will feel more at home in yourself.

With moments of practice that add up over time, you will feel more like a whole person, less fragmented and partial, less yanked this way and that by competing desires in your head. As this happens, you will feel more fed and fulfilled and thus less defended, less separated from others, less a part—and more connected, more entwined with the world as whole.

Notice how this feels, probably safer, more contented, and more loved and loving. Let it sink in again and again.

At home in wholeness.

Dr. Rick Hanson, Ph.D

What do I mean when I say "Food"

Brain dump to the order of 34 years of uncertainty

finally coming to a close.

I want you to GET how insanely powerful your body is, that it doesn’t need to be managed or punished but revered and deliberately tended to on a daily basis, meal by meal, sensational moment by moment. Every time you skip a meal under the guise of ‘not enough time’ you tell yourself, “you’re not important.” Every time you opt out of eating a full meal and binge on snacks you tell yourself, “you don’t deserve better.” Every time you look at yourself in the mirror and pinch and pull and say hateful things to your body, you render yourself homeless. It’s no different than a teen girl being kicked out of her house for having red hair instead of brown (hair color here is arbitrary.)

How much cleansing is necessary? How much fasting and dieting is necessary? Go ahead show me all the studies and facts of why this diet is superior and sooooooo important and I’m still going to ask you, “how’s your anxiety? your depression? do you orgasm and feel a sense of purpose?”

When you understand that regulating your digestion and your hormones IS the skeleton key to regulating your emotions and your thoughts, which IS the key to enhancing your experience of the world and being receptive to real and lasting relationship, you change the course of your life forever. You are the only one who puts or does not put food in your mouth. You are the only one who knows if it does or does not feel stable to bend and push your body, to what degree, and how often. You are the only one who sets the tone for this incredibly sacred space. You decide to keep it clean and inviting for yourself, or pretend it doesn’t exist and wonder why you have nowhere to go, no sense of solid ground, nowhere that feels like home.

Your daily practice is about recommitting to a sense of gratitude for what you HAVE, not what you wish, not what you hope will be, what you HAVE. It is an act of radicalism and the foundational component of living a life of service and not blind privilege, self-sabotage or complaint.

“The harder, duller work of self-care is about the everyday, impossible effort of getting up and getting through your life in a world that would prefer you cowed and compliant. A world whose abusive logic wants you to see no structural problems, but only problems with yourself, or with those more marginalized and vulnerable than you are. Real love, the kind that soothes and lasts, is not a feeling, but a verb, an action. It’s about what you do for another person over the course of days and weeks and years, the work put into care and cathexis. That’s the kind of love we’re terribly bad at giving ourselves, especially on the left.” http://thebaffler.com/war-of-nerves/laurie-penny-self-care

Taking care of your physical body is an act of radical revolt and deep, deep trust in yourself.

**STAY TUNED FOR MORE UPCOMING RAMBLINGS ON FoodSleepSex**

the ritual of addiction

It's time for me to be brutally honest, to say the things I've never wanted to say, and to take the steps I'm still not totally sure I want to take.  
 

I'm an addict and I have been for 17 years.  
I use food, alcohol and sex to bear the unbearable.

I noticed one day, years ago, that I felt tremendously alone most of the time, that feelings of stress and fear usually resulted from insecurity in relationship (which I had not yet connected to a brokenness in my relationship to Self) and that my default setting to cope with those feelings was isolating and eating, or clinging to the closest body and giving all of my attention (physical, emotional, mental and spiritual) to that intense moment of sexual climax in which I felt free, loved and whole.  

After years of therapy, Twelve Step support, yoga practice, inquiry, journaling, dieting, cleansing, study, training, teaching, catharsis, sharing, living, moving, fucking up and STILL feeling broken at a foundational level, I extended a hand to an entirely new source of support- my addiction.  I turned to myself and the compulsive desire I had decided (and been told) was the problem and asked for help.  First, I actually turned to my trusted and deeply loving Ayurvedic guide, Sunita Tarkunde.  Through our diligent work together I am establishing a pattern of observing and being with the pain.  I have allowed myself to articulate core beliefs about worth and wounds and not automatically shut them away for fear of anyone else's feelings about my (perceived) brokenness.  

I am becoming the source of healing, rather than the victim, the problem, the source of chaos and inconsistency.  

The body is ground zero when it comes to our human experience, but most of us stop our inquiry at that level.  Our culture fills us with absurd notions that it's our clothing, our diet, our exercise regimen and our brazenness in the bedroom that will curb or even satisfy our deeply rooted cravings.  On some level (the gross body level,) that could be true.  There's no doubt food, exercise, physical and sexual confidence and dressing in a way that feels authentic can create shift.  But under that physical craving lies much, much more that cannot be dressed up or dieted away.  

This process is not without tremendous difficulty.  I have relied on food, alcohol and sex as my most trusted allies in coping with the stress of life.  While they have not made me happier, they have ALWAYS been there when I need them, and in that consistency we have an incredibly strong alliance.  Over the next few weeks I'm going to explore with you the messages of your Four Levels of Being- Physical, Emotional, Mental and Spiritual and ways to integrate nourishing resources into the intimate ritual of coping.  We will, together, discover the source of impulse, pain, craving, creativity and healing.  

Please share if you know someone who will benefit from this work, and please reach out to let me know what your areas of greatest need might be.  

Tlatzolteotl, Toltec goddess called "the eater of filth," reminds us that that which has the power to overwhelm and destroy us also has the power to heal and transform us.  That which pains you is here to empower you.  Tattoo by Lisa Cardenas of Haunted Hands in Tucson, AZ.

Tlatzolteotl, Toltec goddess called "the eater of filth," reminds us that that which has the power to overwhelm and destroy us also has the power to heal and transform us.  That which pains you is here to empower you.  Tattoo by Lisa Cardenas of Haunted Hands in Tucson, AZ.

The Soul of Practice

In an increasingly media-based industry, yoga teachers have come to represent the physical elite.  Instagram, Facebook, websites, newsletters thrive on images of impressive physical feats and physiques.  Yoga pants sell, more often than not, because of who’s in them.  With all of this focus moving out toward the still image of the yogi, I’m wondering if anybody notices that the still point is actually a state of being and not a static posture or singular moment in time?  Certainly the body is a visible, tangible expression of self, but everything we see is literally a trick of the eye.  In order to know the embodied self we cannot merely look at it from the outside, slicing and dissecting, comparing and contrasting.  Furthermore, none of the asanas on their own has any sustaining power.  It is the way in which we inhabit each posture that gives them power.  From this conscious embodiment we as practitioners draw resilience, patience and autonomy into our mundane lives.  

So why do have asana/poses then?  What’s the point or benefit in working the body beyond the place of cardiovascular maintenance?  Most of our teachers (as in Patanjali, Shiva, Krishna, et. al.) said one or two things about stillness.  I think maybe something about yogas citta vritti nirodah, or, “yoga is the cessation of the modifications of the mind.”  And if you’ve ever tried to sit still without your mind wandering you know Yoga is more than just working your hips open to hit Koundinyasana.

Stagnant physical energy is what makes sitting and stilling the mind so difficult.  Energy, once set in motion, must go somewhere, and since most of us cycle our energy through the thought wheels rather than consciously through the nadis, the result is an anxiety-ridden being that just needs to sweat and chatturanga.  Teachers practicing in front of their class with a “come-along-with-me-to-this-very-cool-pose” attitude, forget that the body might be going through the motions, but the psyche could be fragmented and therefore the “motions” are likely causing more harm than good.  This premise is based on the work of Peter Levine, creator of Somatic Experiencing (which we will explore in future articles,) and the movement system of somatics.  “Somatics” refers to a lineage of movement studies that emphasizes internal physical perception (or the body as perceived from within), and employs techniques that highlight the mover's internal proprioceptive sensations, in contrast with performance-based techniques like dance.  Through the lens of somatics, movement is an indispensable precursor to that still point of transcendence, which brings me to my point: how do we know if ourasana is helping or hurting?

Let’s examine the word somatics for a moment.  Recognize that word, Soma? That wondrous elixir residing in the liquid contents of body and mind, Soma is the counterpart to Agni, the moon to the sun, the feminine to the masculine.  “Soma,” according to Dr. David Frawley, is “the delight inherent in existence itself (Brahman), not simply the pleasure produced by contact with external objects. Soma is the ‘pure delight’ that we are truly seeking in all that we pursue, not mere temporary pleasure that wears away the senses and is only its reflection.”

Soma might be exactly the remedy to our yoga conundrum: a felt experience of pleasure that is activated and contained by posture, then lingers and floods into every open space in the body like a nourishing stream.  In the Sri Vidya tradition, this is exactly the point of asana: to activate and engage Agni and Soma in equal parts.  How do we know we’re doing that?  First and foremost, with an inwardly focused gaze- beyond staring at fingertips or nose during Surya Namaskar, this gaze is self aware with an observational quality.  This gaze recognizes strain, rushing, unrelated self-talk and the difference between right and left, front and back, straight and bent.  Secondly, the practice must generate energy as well as contain it.  Throughout a vigorous sequence, if the breath comes through in starts and stops and the form becomes soggy, your Agni is probably burning more Soma than ignorance, and your Soma is nothing but a puddle on the mat.  Finally, it should feel pleasant to return to your life following practice, as though you have been fortified with supernatural powers to bear the weight of winter or rush hour or sick children (or adults for that matter.)  Sleep comes easily and harmful substances hold no temptation.  Practice is the balm that soothes all ills and prepares us to sit quietly in the presence of Om, the Absolute, Isvara, et. al.  

I don’t know if that can be captured on camera.