Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Stepping Away

There is this thing I sometimes unconsciously slip into that does not work well for me. I learned it early- a coping strategy in a childhood home where th­­e adults’ underlying rage and unhappiness was like an ever-present threat beneath the antiseptic scent of well-scrubbed appearances.

What I learned to do to survive was to continuously tune into others: to vigilantly and constantly watch and listen with my whole body and being; to anticipate what might be required; to disconnect from any sense of my own life- whether casual preferences or soul-deep desires- in order to serve the other’s priorities.

I felt I had to earn my right to be for one more day, every day. 

When my marriage to my sons’ father ended I remember telling a friend, “When I live with another I turn too much of my inner face toward them and lose myself over time.”

Over the years I've become better at setting and keeping clear healthy boundaries with friends, students, clients and colleagues. But in times of great change- even desired change- as my all-too-human anxiety arises I sometimes unconsciously slip back into focusing my inner attention and energy on the other, losing track of myself on some essential level.

As most of you know I've been working on a new book. The writing is deeply personal, a story of healing losses that both cultivate self-sabotaging survival strategies and offer some life-shaping gifts. But to write this story, to live the fullness of the healing the writing offers, I have to be deeply connected to my own life, body, heart, spirit. . . . I have to turn my face toward the inner landscape..

So, I am stepping away from Facebook and my weekly blog. Honestly, social media has brought incredible joy into my life- has brought connection with wonderful people around the world; a way to offer something and engage in and be stimulated by conversations that have added insight and contemplation, new ideas and laughter. (Yes, I enjoy a good giggle-inducing cat pic as much as the next person!)

But it has also offered me a way to turn my face away from my inner world when the writing I am doing makes it easy to want to look elsewhere. The hundreds of weekly emails, messages and comment filled with stories of challenge and courage touch me deeply. It's easy for me to unconsciously slip back into the old belief that I must exclusively focus on others’ needs to earn my right to be (or write or rest or pay the bills. . . ) The more the writing provides the possibility of truly uprooting this belief (a possibility that is simultaneously exhilarating and petrifying) the easier it is to turn my face to the many others with whom I connect on social media.

Here’s what I know: I have to write this book. Whether or not it is ever published or ever sells more than a dozen copies, I have to write it. For my life. For my health. (Oh how my fingers itch to write- for my contribution to the world- but I want to let the flourishing of this one small life be enough just for this minute.)

So I am stepping away. I will leave the pages up- but I will not be posting, reading, commenting, liking, sharing. . . .  I don't know for how long. For as long as it is something I need to do.

The Grandmothers in my dreams (who usually tend toward understatement) have said repeatedly: “Write or die Oriah.” It’s not a threat- it’s just a description of what is true for me. Death can be a slow moving away from the vibrancy of life, a hardly noticeable shrinking of living deeply and loving completely. Writing from the centre of being is what opens my awareness, what brings me to the Beloved within and around me, what cultivates the fullness of Life in me.

So the adventure continues. I hold you in my heart and prayers. May each of us find the next step in our journey. This is mine. In deep gratitude, Oriah

Oriah (c) 2014 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Neither Driftwood nor Masters of The Universe

On a pretty regular basis someone responds to something I post on Facebook with an enthusiastic, "JUST go with the flow!" 

It's understandable really- our you-can-do-anything-and-should-do-everything culture tends to cultivate an inflated sense of individual control over and responsibility for all aspects of reality, and that can feel exhausting. Surely we could do with a few lessons in surrendering and acceptance, particularly in the places where we do not have control (for instance, over other people.)

On the other hand, we are not driftwood. 

Consciously or unconsciously, we are all, to some degree, co-creating participants in our shared world and life. We have free will and are often able to make some effective choices. Of course choice is tricky, often shaped by aspects of self that are largely unconscious. Effective free will expands proportional to our awareness of what is happening within and around us, and let's face it- some moments are definitely better than others on the awareness front.

To my mind (and heart) it's not about flipping between or orchestrating the perfect mix of reaching for control or passively going wherever the strongest current takes us. Being an effective and full participant in life is a different way of being, one where we hold the tension between the idea of haplessly going with the flow and the fantasy of being masters of the universe.

It's more about using our free will to come into alignment with and surrender to present-moment surges of the surf -conditions within and around us- while relaxing into our limited but profound ability to shape where a wave will put us down. Often it's about timing- knowing when to paddle hard and when to let something larger carry us.

It's about choosing the wave to which we want to surrender, and deciding how we want to ride it in this moment. 

Oriah House (c) 2014

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Take a Walk with Me

Some days you just have to surrender and let life show you the magic.

Monday I was feeling blah- woke up with the migraine I'd had the day before. It happens. But I put on my runners and headed out for my brisk morning walk. (I'm a little late to the party on this one, having only recently discovered the profound effect that exercising first thing in the day has on mood and metabolism.)

I stuck a twenty dollar bill in my pocket, thinking I might go pick up a few things for my post-walk smoothy. I was grumpy about needing to do this (I blame the headache) but as I walked I was lifted as I often am by the beauty of my neighbourhood: the spectacular old maples and oaks; the lilacs still blooming; the kids running and laughing on the way to school; an elderly couple walking arm in arm pushing their granddaughter in a stroller. . . .Life! I was listening Bill Withers singing, "Ain't No Sunshine,"  on my earbuds ( as I arrived at the grocery store, now smiling and thinking: I love this city, this life, people.

Now the shift in my mood was magic enough, but then things started to. . . get weirdly wonderfully. An older woman (ie- a woman my age) who was stacking the produce shelves paused to help me find mint. We found one package but she frowned and took it from me, saying, "Wait." She tapped it on her hand and looked closely at the herbs, before announcing, "Okay- they are still alive! Otherwise by tomorrow they'd be no good." I thanked her, touched by her caring.

Of course, by the time I'd gotten to the check out line with my chia seed, mint and bag of kiwis (the things I'd come for) I'd also picked up an avocado and a huge elephant garlic. My total was $22.92 so I told the cashier to take off the garlic and avocado.

But before she could do that, the woman in line behind me said, "I'll pay the difference." Shocked, I turned to her and assured her that she did not need to do that, but she insisted, saying, "I've done it myself- been a little short. It's no problem."

I agreed and thanked her, in part because I was starting to get a little choked up at her spontaneous generosity to a total stranger.

As I walked out of the store, I pulled my sun glasses from my pocket. A young man standing ahead me of waved and pointed saying, "You dropped something." Turning I saw the key card to get into my apartment building on the floor. I picked it up and thanked him, leaving the store more than a little overwhelmed by the courtesy and caring of total strangers.

Smiling as I walked along, I said a prayer of gratitude and muttered, "I get it. Head pain or no, I am not alone, I am connected, I am cared for, I am part of this big messy beautiful family of life. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you."

I wandered through the tree lined streets toward home. Suddenly a group of children were moving toward me on the sidewalk, herded by three women quietly urging them forward. They were in pairs holding hands, hats on, all between two and three years old. They made me think of ducklings bumping along, easily distracted, alternately wandering and trying to keep up. As they approached me I stood aside but one little girl stopped abruptly (causing a bit of a gentle pile-up behind her) and thrust her hand up to me. She was holding a bright yellow dandelion. "For you," she said with a big smile.

"Oh," I said startled. She'd caught me so off guard, I didn't know what to do.

She frowned, a line creasing her forehead between startling blue eyes, and then repeated with some fierceness, "It is for you!"

"Ah," I said smiling and taking the flower. "It's beautiful! Thank you."

And I walked into the little park a few steps away and sat down on the grass. It would be fair to say that by this time I was a little undone by the random kindness of the morning. I just sat there my heart aching with fullness.

Some days life breaks your heart with all that is hard: injustice, illness, injury, poverty, violence . . . But there is also courtesy, caring, kindness, generosity, connection, and incredible beauty. I'm not into conspiracy theories, but I think that Monday morning some power, some force- the Great Mystery- conspired to show me the simple healing magic of everyday life,  the beauty that reminds of us of our wholeness every day.

And I am filled with gratitude, carried by grace.

Oriah House (c) 2014

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

She Grew Down

I am writing this week- and doing a bit of a dietary detox (time will tell if that was a good idea or not, to be doing the two at the same time.) So, instead of a regular blog, here's a little snippet, an epigraph that introduces one of the sections of the new book I am working on. Just where all the pieces fit never becomes clear to me until near the end, when chaos reigns and I wonder if I have a book at all. All just part of the messy creative process. But in the meantime- here's a glimpse at the landscape of the story:

She'd grown up too fast.
Now, it was time to grow down  
into the earth. 

She wanted to be a woman 
who couldn't be seduced 
or intimidated 
into abandoning what she knew
in gut and heart, in blood and bone.

So she grew down
into the life she'd been given,
into this being human.

Oriah House (c) 2014

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Here: A User's Guide

Every time I post something that some consider "negative" I get a little flurry of emails and messages urging me to think more positively. The latest was a Facebook post when I mentioned that the weekend had not been the respite I had hoped. Care for my father who has advanced Alzheimer's had required a lot of driving and some difficult decision-making so I was offering up a little prayer that my sleep be deep and replenishing.

Several people wrote to tell me I was making myself tired by acknowledging this condition, suggesting that I simply keep saying to myself, "I am not tired. I am full of energy."

Now, I know that how we view conditions- both inner and outer- profoundly impacts our experience. But I was tired- not dying, not angry about being tired, not panicked or catastrophizing in any way. Because I could acknowledge I was tired, I went to bed early.

What bothers me about this so-called positive thinking is that it assumes that all thoughts of what is, when what is does not meet our ideals, are negative. There are often truly positive things that come out of days when I am tired and can acknowledge it- I deepen my kindness toward self and my compassion for others who are not having a full-throttle day. Tired isn't in itself negative or positive- sometimes it's just what is.

Fundamentalist positive thinking implies that acknowledging conditions creates them, and that denying what is will instantly create desirable change. But while we are human beings we are embodied souls/ ensouled bodies living in a physical reality prescribed by certain conditions. If I jump off the roof of my building with only positive thoughts about flying, I'm still going to hit the ground, because gravity trumps thinking in the experience of falling.

If we don't honour the physical realities of being an ensouled body, we aren't likely to honour the very real conditions of living on a physical planet- and this is really what concerns me. An economic system that relies on and tries to create infinite growth on a finite planet ultimately can't work. And just having positive thoughts that it will all be okay is not enough to change our unsustainable growth and voracious accumulation of stuff. We can't think away the garbage we've put in the ocean, and if we believe that thinking about that garbage is what creates it, we're not likely to do the thinking necessary to find a way to repair and stop the on-going damage so that life can be renewed and sustained.

Denial isn't just unnecessary, it's dangerous.

I have tremendous faith in human ingenuity, creativity and the inspiration that comes when we are aligned with Life and Spirit. But all of that happens within the very real conditions of being here- and being here is a gift. I want to receive that gift in all aspects- those I find easy and those I find not-so-easy with my eyes and my heart wide open, and in deep gratitude.

Oriah (c) 2014

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Two Ways To Avoid Being a Menace

I've noticed two very common ways we get into or create trouble. You know, the places where we do not do what we know (at other times) is good for us or the world; the moments when we are baffled that others could misunderstand or react to us as they seem to be doing; the occasions where (in hindsight) we inexplicably did something that created unproductive chaos and confusion for ourselves or others.

Many how-to missives boil things down to numerical lists: Six Ways to Enlightenment; or Seven Steps to Being All You Can Be; or Thirteen Things You Must Know About. . . Women, or Men, or Cats, or Your Colon etc. etc. Finally, I can add to the number-loving trend. Because it seems to me that there are two primary tasks that need tending if we want to maximize acting on our best intentions and minimize wreaking havoc on ourselves or others. We need to:

1) Recognize and be with our anxiety when it arises in ways that do no harm.

2) Set and keep clear, healthy boundaries with others.

Anxiety arises. It's part of the human experience. Sometimes it is caused by external conditions and sometimes it seems to arise on its own, perhaps pointing to an inner concern that isn't even conscious. Or, maybe we just watched the late night news. Life is a wild and woolly place that includes anxiety-provoking pain and loss.

Recognizing anxiety can be tricky since everyone's moments (or months) of inner mayhem show up in different ways- mysterious tears or laughter; loss of memory or focus; hyperactivity or paralysing procrastination etc.

People are not, on the whole, masochistic. That's why we often reach for something- anything!- to deal with anxiety. Anxiety is uncomfortable and cake or alcohol or overwork or hours of television (and a thousand other things- in this human beings are endlessly creative) can numb us to its raw edge. But numbing to discomfort, numbs us to joy. So, having other, skilful ways to be with anxiety (regular meditation, exercise, skilful distraction etc.) keeps us open to life's beauty even as we may be experiencing this inevitable aspect of being human.

Boundaries- or rather, the lack of them- is often a source of anxiety. If I don't know where I end and you begin, if I can't tell if something is my business or yours, or ours, or that which belongs to something sacred and bigger than the two of us together, I am likely to feel easily overwhelmed and overburdened- and that can create anxiety.

I was raised by a mother who had no sense of boundaries. She spoke always of "us" and "our" (meaning her and I) - as in, "our thighs are heavy," (I was a skinny nine year old!) or "we don't go along with that," (which referred to any of the many things she found unacceptable in other people, including me.)

Knowing that my mother's take on things was just that- hers- and not about me, took some work (and years.) But not getting continually emotionally batted around like a ping pong ball by other people's opinions, perspectives, agendas, or concerns is what lets us remain open and connected. Otherwise, we'd get so overwhelmed we'd hide in the woods. (Not that I haven't done that- I have- but I prefer to have real choice about embracing times of solitude or being with others.)

Here's the tricky part for us "spiritual" types: Being rooted in a sense of our deepest soul-self may seem like the "cure" for both of these challenges. After all, if we are aware and awake to the true nature of inner and outer reality doesn't that banish anxiety and offer us clarity about where our attention is required?

Well, yes. . . and no. Being soul-centred helps us hold our humanness tenderly and without judgement- and that goes a long way in easing anxiety, and discerning boundaries. But there is no cure for being human- and that's a good thing. Because the gift of being here is found not in separating from our experience, but in embracing and learning from life as an embodied soul/ensouled body- as one small, gloriously messy and spectacularly beautiful human being!

Oriah House (c) 2014

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Gift of Resentment

Oh I know what you're thinking: How could resentment- that nasty, sticky, often covert anger that drains us of energy and blocks access to joy- ever be a gift?

Well, here's what I've discovered: Every time I feel resentment about something someone has said or done, I uncover a place (and it takes a little work to drag this sucker up out of the depths where I've hidden it) where I've unconsciously made some kind of "deal" that I feel has been violated. Usually the deal involved me making some kind of sacrifice (keeping quiet where I wanted to speak up; taking responsibility for something or someone when I wanted to lay down and rest etc.) in exchange for some kind of reward (being loved or seen or forgiven, belonging etc.)

When these resentments arise around other people the first question we need to ask is: Was this ever an explicit deal made with the other? For instance, did s/he know that I was silent about being hurt by their comments so they would overlook any unskilful communication from me? The answer is usually, No. The other didn't even know there was a deal. Not that people don't sometimes break clear agreements- but I have found that those violations are easier to speak to (because they were explicit) and the feelings they stir are often cleaner and more short-lived than smouldering semi-conscious resentment.

Sometimes these secret deals (as in ones I often don't even acknowledge to myself) aren't with other people but with some kind of higher power- God, the divine, the Universe- that I am vaguely hoping will reward unasked-for sacrifice with things I know are not earned- like perfect health and inner peace for myself and those I love.

And I know I am not the only one secretly playing Let's Make a Deal with God. Recently, someone confessed to me that she was hoping that giving up chocolate would mean her house would sell quickly for a good price. She was a smart woman, but she gave up chocolate just in case.

Resentment is a gift because it points to something unconscious and gives me a chance to bring it to consciousness. When I bring a bit of gentle curiosity to resentment I discover unconscious deals made and broken. It usually makes me shake my head and quietly laugh. And quiet laughter dissolves resentment, lets us hold that small crazy inner deal-maker tenderly, reassuring her that she does not have to wheel and deal for the beauty of life with all of its inherent rewards and challenges. All she has to do is receive the gift of one small, spectacular human life.

Oriah House (c) 2014