Sometimes I get an itchy feeling inside. Restless. Like I need something but I’m not sure what it is. Maybe you can relate.
It doesn’t happen everyday, but when those itchy days happen they start around 10 am. I pick up my phone. No texts? I read pop culture web sites. I do some work. I check out the spiritual blogs. I respond to emails. I eat a donut. I keep working. I drink some tea. I listen to some music. I talk to a colleague. I do some work. Is my phone on? Seven hours later, nothing has scratched that vague internal itch. I can’t seem to settle.
I take the bus home. I watch people. I notice myself being watched. Still itchy.
I get home. Should I eat dinner? Turn on the TV?
I roll out my yoga mat. I start to move through postures. My breath deepens. I hear the chatter in my mind. Wow, that’s loud. I move through my postures. My breath deepens. My mind gets quieter. Fifteen minutes later I notice something.
The absence of that inner itch.
I keep practicing. Not only is the itch gone but there is something else. I feel at home in myself. Content.
Have I been outside of myself all day? Have I not once come home, to me? Did I keep doing things and staying busy, forgetting to just be? When did I pause to notice my breath? My body? My thoughts?
When did I create space to notice the me underneath the working and emailing and phone checking?
Did I really spend the whole day outside without turning inward?
I forgive myself. Tomorrow is another day.
It’s a great practice to meditate daily. Totally awesome to do yoga or run or paint or whatever practice helps you feel centered.
In addition to those amazing pauses, I’m experiencing the value of returning to my inner home over and over again in little moments, all day long. It is necessary. Without those mini pauses, it is so easy to forget that what we seek is within us.
As I write this I think, this seems obvious. But yesterday was an itchy day. So maybe it’s not as obvious as it seems.
I appreciate that inner itch. It’s an early warning system. Come home. You’ve been outside for far too long.
Come home to your Self.
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My new dentist looks like the guy from nip/tuck, pictured above.
Of course, he is also charming and empathetic and Mensa-level intelligent.
I have never experienced any of these things in the form of a dentist.
And it really, really made me regret the curried lentils I’d eaten for lunch. Of course I brushed, but curry has this funny way of sticking around long after you’ve asked it to leave.
I just don’t think dentists should be hot. Ditto for the person on the other side of the eye exam thingy who asks, this one or that one, while staring into your soul, I mean, your eye.
I had a hot gynecologist once and you would think that would be terrible, but he was such an arrogant bloviator that he was both no longer attractive to me and highly comforting in that his supreme arrogance assured me my surgery would be successful.
Back to hot dentist. I bet all of his patients have amazing outcomes, because the next time his watery brown eyes are looking into your mouth you want him to think, now that is the finest oral landscape I’ve ever seen. You want him to see evidence that you’ve been brushing an extra 30 seconds and flossing just perfectly. As I write this I realize that the mixture of my vanity, obsessive need to please, and his hotness is the trifecta that will catapult me into the best oral health this body has ever seen.
What is it about the dentist that evokes such vulnerability? I saw a man leaving the office who was so loud, so heavy handed in his bossiness of the staff that I looked closer and when we locked eyes I could almost see the little boy in him trembling. I wanted to pat him on the back, and say yeah, me too. I get in that chair and immediately revert to some super young age and it is scary and hard to feel that exposed while your mouth is exposed. While someone can see evidence of how well you’ve taken care of yourself (or not).
When I was leaving the office, the receptionist was trying to chat me up again, and I had little to say because my brain was quite engaged in the work of realizing that I was not four years old, I was 36, and it was time to reach into my big girl purse and pull out my Visa.
And I figured the day was already 0 for 0 so I would put the misery cherry on top by going to the bank to get the divorce papers notarized.
I walked in, and I’m waiting in line, and I’m holding it together. Awesome. And I sit down and I sign the papers, and I’m holding it together. sweet. And I give him the papers, and he’s filling out his ledger book. And my chin starts quivering. And I’m thinking, please, whoever hears these prayers, do not let me start crying in the TD bank on 18th and walnut. Please. (As if I would’ve been fine crying in the West Philly branch? What gives, self?)
And now my chin is full on Claire Danes and I am not holding it together. I turn away from the guy and now I’m facing the people waiting in line. Awesome. Maybe I look like the pretty woman removing an eyelash from her eye? Here’s hoping. Now the Claire Danes chin tremble has progressed into full out crying and I’m telepathically begging the guy, I’m not sure what you’re writing in that book (are you practicing your cursive?) but for the love of god finish it so I can leave this place. He was a gem. He finished right up, and gave me the papers so I could hustle the hell out of there. I have never been so grateful for a lack of eye contact.
The world seems different to me. I’m walking around with my skin on inside out and being vulnerable doesn’t seem to be a big deal to anyone but me. I guess this is just the next scene in my movie. Hot dentists happen. TD bank tears happen. Shit happens. And I’ve decided to channel my inner David Sedaris so I can at least have a giggle or two while shit is happening.
A few weeks ago I was at the dance studio, waiting for Hip Hop class to start. I greeted the owner of the studio, and she exclaimed, “Wow, Nicole, you look great!” I thanked her and then she asked me if I’d lost weight. I said I had, and she said she could tell.
“I mean, you lost a LOT of weight.”
As opposed to the giant Oompa Loompa you met before?
“You look like a different person!”
I mean, who am I to you, Augustus Gloop?
“Yeah, HUGE difference! Wow.”
I contemplated singing, “Oompa, Loompa, doom-pa-dee-da, Given good manners, you will go far.”
But I didn’t. I was saved by the girl next to me who asked, “How did you do it? Dance classes? Diets?”
And before I could stop myself I blurted out, “Made healthier choices, more exercise, but mostly its because I’m getting a divorce and couldn’t eat for a week.”
The girl stood up, mumbled “That was honest,” and slowly backed away from me.
I thought, if I don’t start shaking my ass to some Justin Timberlake soon I will start singing the Oompa Loompa song and I don’t give a shit who likes it. Thank goodness for all of us the instructor came in.
It made me wonder, is there such a thing as too honest? I’m sure the studio owner meant well, but her effusive praise came off like a backhanded compliment and an indictment of the extra curves I’d shed and partially missed (at least on my backside). Was this karma for all of the times I’d remarked on someone’s weight and not realized the compliment was smuggling an inherent judgement of their previous size? Lesson learned.
And since I’m in the middle of a life transition, I’ve got a touch of oversharers disease…which is its own awkward form of honesty. Was it completely weird to admit to a stranger that my heart hurts and it affected my appetite? Should I create a name tag for myself that says “warning, extremely raw, don’t speak to me unless you want the unfiltered truth because I don’t have the energy for social graces right now.” Not only would that be the world’s largest name tag but it is also an over share.
This morning when I woke up I had the phrase “Presence is free” floating through my mind, along with a bunch of images.
I thought about watching 12 Years A Slave this weekend with friends. There was one scene where Solomon Northrup has just buried someone, and everyone around him is singing a Christian song during the ceremony. You can see that he is trying to stay detached, and then you can see him decide to be present with his anger, and he starts to sing along in a way that you can feel it’s an act of defiance. To me, the defiance was, I will not let you dehumanize me. I am here. I feel.
I also thought about Viktor Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning, and his treatise that no matter what level of suffering someone is experiencing, they still have a choice to find meaning in their inner life. It takes being present with yourself to find that meaning.
Last night I was riding a giant wave or grief about something that’s ending in my life, and I was present with myself for about half of it…then I wanted to jump off the surfboard. And my friend was like, let’s ride this baby together, and his presence with me in the midst of that pain was quite healing.
Yesterday I was at a conference listening to a talk on health disparities, and the speaker was describing in detail the level of poverty and violence the residents of Camden, NJ have to face on a daily basis. And I felt this huge wave of sadness and a panic of what can I do? I offered to join his group and teach yoga but he said many of the people he helped were disabled and couldn’t do yoga. But what about stress reduction techniques? What about teaching people how to be present with themselves?
Also yesterday a woman shared with me the most heart wrenching story of her dad being near death, and how callous and numb the medical residents were when they brought her into the room where they’d been trying to resuscitate him, bloody clothes and instruments everywhere, and said they needed her to make a decision about his care. And how it was the presence of the attending physician who pulled her out of the room, and gave her his cell phone number, and gave her time to breathe and think about what the options were…his presence was what helped her get through that day.
So for all those reasons and many more, I woke up this morning with the words “Presence is free” in my mind. And upon reflecting on that through writing this, I would add, “and healing.”
In all of those stories above it wasn’t yoga or a retreat or Lululemon pants or iPhones that made a difference.
It was the ability to be with yourself or someone else.
Yoga and meditation or whatever spiritual practice we have can help to attenuate those beliefs and mind states that fool us into thinking we can’t or don’t want to be present…that there’s something to run from or to. And as those beliefs thin out, we get to experience the glory of our presence, the boundless spaciousness and love that’s within.
Maybe presence is the great equalizer. No matter what circumstances arise, it is something we all have.
Yesterday at the ass crack of dawn (okay not really, it was 7 AM) I was in the car on the way to the airport. My back was spasming and I hadn’t slept well, but I’d just eaten a giant plate of baked french toast covered with berries and whipped cream, so things were looking up. The driver kept trying to talk to me when all I really wanted to do was hang out with my best friend, iPhone (c’mon, she addresses me as Goddess). I had this moment where some evolved part of me was like, you’re taking 1s and 0s over human connection? For serious? I put the phone down and talked to the man. He had nothing brilliant to say, and neither did I since all of my energy was going into digesting the sugar and wheat bomb that had just detonated inside of my belly. We alternated between silence and small talk. I commented on the lack of rain and he told me it didn’t rain much in Seattle, that was just something they told tourists to keep them from moving there. Nice subterfuge. It’s like not telling people about your favorite brunch place ‘cause you value not having to wait. Kind of a dick move, but I totally get it. He asked me how the trip was, and I told him I’d connected with three friends, hung out at a Russian bathhouse, bought some actual paper books at Pike Place Market, and was ready to pass out in my window seat on the plane ride home.
He said, “Sounds nice. Sometimes the stars do align.”
I felt a little blip in my heart. Yes. I think they always do.
What if we are human metal detectors, with the metal being whatever we choose to focus on? When my detector is set to “stars aligning,” I notice that things are pretty easy, and if they aren’t, whatever the course of action is that has less resistance appears pretty quickly. And then I have a choice. I can fight against the stream or I can go in the direction the water is taking me and see where it leads.
And when my detection is set to “these stars are crap” everything gets hard. Like walking uphill both ways hard. Or maybe only somethings are hard, but the only things I really notice are the things that confirm my “stars are crap” detector.
Why don’t we see the stars as always being aligned? Fear of being seen as naive? Fear of disappointment? Maybe the mistake is in thinking that the stars aligning means things are nice and perfect.
*Insert super loud buzzer sound.*
Stars aligning might look like mutually and amicably deciding to dissolve your marriage. It is sad and it wasn’t how you saw life turning out and yet at the core you know it’s the best thing for both of you. Stars aligning might look like dropping your phone in the toilet with no way to buy a new one for a few days, which allows you to be more present with yourself and others and have deeper conversations and connections. Stars aligning might mean something dies so something more beautiful can be born.
The stars are always aligned. The question is, are we?
**This photo is has nothing to do with this post and is here strictly because I love how full this little guy’s cheeks are of nuts and stuff.
Forgiveness is a huge part of truly embarking on a path of nonrejection. This has recently been my experience. I imagine it’s the same for other people, as I remember sitting in a room with my teacher and watching him look into the eyes and hearts of each person in that room as he said, “Forgive yourself.” And you could feel how each person went to that place inside, that place that needed to be seen and loved.
For me, forgiveness is the out breath to the in breath of self-inquiry. When you keep asking yourself who am I, everything you’re ready to disidentify with will come up to be seen. And released. And I say it’s the things you’re ready to let go of, because each thing feels like the motherlode, and then you acclimate, and then the next motherlode comes up.
Lots of times I’ve read about how there’s nothing to forgive. And on one level of experience, I think that’s true. It really is, right in this moment, all good.
And on another level of experience, I have found that this practice of forgiveness cannot be skipped. When you are descending into the cavern of your unconscious with the world’s brightest flashlight (which is any practice that makes the unconscious conscious), you are going to see some things. And rather than run back upstairs and paste a smile on your face, sit down facing it, shine the light on those things, take a deep breath and forgive yourself for it being there.
At some level we know we are creators. Even for those terrible things that are outside of our control, my experience is there’s some aspect in that painful place for which we need to forgive ourselves. We may need to forgive ourselves for staying quiet and not telling. For choices we made that at the moment were necessary for survival. For compromises that went against the deepest parts of ourselves.
Whatever it is, put it in the fire of your love and forgiveness. Liberate the energy tied up in keeping it hidden, by forgiving yourself and being willing to let go of identifying with this action or set of behaviors.
Allow that freed up energy to propel you into an even deeper experience of the unique ray of light that is your gift to the world.
Yes! This is consistent with all of the wisdom traditions. And I have learned, through the grace of amazing teachers and being in the right place at the right time, that much of this journey is about bringing awareness to these places where we have bought into the illusion of separateness.
Find those places where you don’t feel whole and use all the tools at your disposal–breath, love, presence, nonjudgmental attention, yoga, meditation, silence, acceptance, fire, light, pranayama, dance, stillness–use everything in service of dropping that story.
Do more of what helps you remember and experience your wholeness.
#5532: Prioritize your aliveness. This is key. I woke up feeling energetically a bit off-center. Decided to do some yoga and was on my belly doing locust pose when I saw my hoola hoop under the bed. YES! I had a brief thought, do I have time for this? Finished my practice and went down to the living room to hoop. In ten minutes, my entire mood and energy shifted. I now feel totally, joyfully in myself. It took 7 minutes, and those minutes are the difference between a nagging feeling that something is off, and feeling deeply centered and ready to rock whatever comes my way. What makes you feel alive? Do that thing, with complete presence. It returns you back to yourself. Make aliveness your priority. And don’t kid yourself that you don’t have time. Seven minutes (or if you’re really pressed, 5) is a blip on the radar timewise, but 7 minutes filled with presence and breath and something that lifts your energy can set you right for the entire day.
#5533: Hoop in the opposite direction. I was giggling and enjoying hooping with so much ease, and then I switched sides and made it really hard. I felt tense and kept dropping the hoop and feeling frustrated. It was a perfect window into my patterns. I noticed my breath was choppy, and you can’t hoop when you’re tense. Gotta be fluid. So I softened into it, and it got fun again. My hips moved differently, and there was an entirely different energy to it. Maybe your thing isn’t hooping, but whatever your thing is, choose to do it differently! There is some beautiful learning to be had in that experience, from noticing patterns to finding joy in shifting your perspective. And you just might find that your hips don’t lie whether you’re moving them clockwise or counterclockwise.
And all this before work. Good goddamn it is great to be alive! Thanks for playing. Go be awesome.
This morning when I woke up, instead of hopping out of bed and starting the day, I let myself just lay there. For a while I simply enjoyed the softness of my bed, the feeling of the sheets on my skin, and the coolness of the breeze. I felt more and more relaxed, and my attention went to my breath and then to my whole body, just noticing how my energy was flowing.
And then, from what felt like the depths of me, came roaring up all the thoughts and emotions I hadn’t realized I had not fully felt. Anger, sadness, rage, confusion, jealousy, with a “woe is me” cherry on top.
First I was like, oh shit, that’s in there?! For a brief moment I contemplated running away from myself by getting up and starting my to-do list. But something stronger told me to stay still.
As I laid there, feeling the waves crashing through, I turned toward and presenced each one, until there was no residue left.
And what was left, was space.
The shadow is only a shadow when we reject certain parts of ourselves.
It can’t be a shadow once you shine the light on it. It becomes what it is, just a wave passing through.
Be present with it.
I feel [whatever "special" feelings you don't let yourself fully feel].
By doing so, you set yourself free. And you create space in yourself to be able to enjoy life even more than you already do. Because when you hide nothing from yourself, it really is all good.
As a child, I remember thinking that all women were lawyers. We lived in upstate New York as my dad was putting himself through school, and I remember spending lots of time with my aunts, three of whom were either already attorneys or were in law school.
When I say I thought all women were lawyers, what I mean to comment on is not necessarily the profession, but the fire and intelligence and power and tenacity and resilience that my aunts embodied. I remember them teaching me and showing me that the sky was the limit and that I could do whatever I put my mind to, no matter how far out of reach it might seem.
I am thinking today of my aunt Bernadette, who passed away last week. Our extended family rarely gets together anymore, except at funerals, so I think it has been 10 years since I’ve seen her. In some ways I feel sad that I don’t have more recent memories of her, and yet I am grateful for those memories I do have. Today I am picturing her youthfulness, how when she would babysit me she would bring all her textbooks and let me flip through them, the way her hair was always parted down the middle with a French braid down either side of her head, how she favored bright red lipstick for even the most mundane of tasks, the lingering scent of her perfume, and how she would put funk music on and dance with me.
I remember her having the most serious demeanor out of all of her sisters, but how there would be these brief moments where the hilarity of her inner world would shine through. I remember her wedding, and the bliss on her face during the ceremony. I remember the joy and pride in her smile when she had her first child. And how when I saw her, despite there being years between visits, she would ask me what I was up to and radiate such pleasure at hearing the answer.
I just found a picture of her from a wedding, and in it she looks joyful, sexy, and powerful, and her gaze is quite direct. I can see how she faced the world, with a playful attitude of “Bring it.” I see that same attitude in myself and I’m so grateful to her for modeling what it meant to honor all of those different facets. I appreciate her and my aunts for embodying how as women we can be such a huge bundle of contradictions, and yet hold these seemingly opposite ways of being in harmony to be full, bright, bold beings who live loudly and joyfully, facing all the ups and downs of life with humor, a direct gaze, and an invitation to Bring it.
In a yoga training I took earlier this year, we did an asana practice with long holds where we tapped into that part of us that can handle anything. This practice is not about a grin and bear it type mentality, rather, it is about accessing the deepest part of yourself, the part that is pure light and can handle whatever life brings you.
I am thinking perhaps I drew on the lessons I learned from Aunt Bernadette, during this one moment when we were holding Salabhasana (locust pose) for a few minutes. My body started to tremble and shake and tears streamed down my face. I thought for a moment, I can’t do this, and at the exact same moment when I contemplated just letting my body rest on the ground, something welled up inside of me and I felt my self lift even *higher* into the posture. There was this sense of exhilaration, like yes, this fucking hurts, and I would rather be doing anything else right now, but I am going to stay in this moment, I am going to honor myself and this moment by turning toward my experience, turning toward the pain and the possibilities for rising above it, and I’m going to see what is left in me that can go even deeper into this experience. And when we came down out of the pose I had this newfound sense of respect for a part of me that I knew was in there, but that I hadn’t until then, allowed myself to experience so deeply.
I like to think that if all of our cells contain in them parts of those who came before us, then maybe that ability to rise up, even as part of me wants to give up, maybe that part of me is also part of Aunt Bernadette, and maybe each time I invite life to Bring It, I honor her memory.
To me, death only sucks for the living. I picture her back with the Source off all things, the veil of maya removed, and basking in an experience of The One.