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Settling the Mind in Savasana: A Body Scan Technique

Recently I took a look at some different Savasana variations to help your body feel comfortable and relaxed for rest. When our bodies are supported and at ease, we give our minds a better opportunity to be calm and peaceful. Sometimes, even with the body in its most optimal position, our mind is still racing and we’re not able to truly relax. What’s a yogi to do?

This week, I’ll offer you a technique to work with the breath, body and mind to cultivate greater relaxation in Savasana (or any time you’d like to encourage the mind to settle). This is a variation on a body scan adapted from Reginald Ray’s excellent book on somatic meditation, The Awakening Body. “My” version of his technique is by no means intended to replace or replicate what he teaches (which is a much more nuanced and intricate process), but may work to help soothe body and mind.

  • Lie down in your comfortable Savasana. Begin by bringing your awareness to all of the places where your body is supported, resting on the earth. Imagine that gravity is rising to meet your body as your body sinks downward.  Feel those points of connection where the back body rests into the earth.
  • Now, bring your awareness to your feet and notice any places in your body where you feel tension, tightness or pain. As you inhale, recognize the tension, as though the breath could move into or occupy the tension itself. On the exhale, invite the tension to drain away into the earth through the heels (or whichever part of the body is supported on the earth, closest to the feet). You could stay with the feet for a little while, or move up to the ankles and calves.
  • Continue on in this way, gently noticing tension as you inhale and inviting it to drain away into the earth with an exhale. Move up the body bilaterally, so that you are working with both legs, hands, etc., at the same time.
  • In each body part, feel that the stress drains directly through the back of the body at whichever place is closest and supported on the earth. For example, at the chest, the tension moves through the shoulder blades and rinses away.
  • Be sensitive and kind, especially with areas where you know that you may hold tension, or that feel emotionally difficult. If you find tension that does not “want” to let go, it’s important to simply allow it to be as it is for now, and feel that you are resting with the tension. When it’s ready to leave, it will.
  • You may find that as you release tension in one area, you get a release in another part!
  • When reach the face and head, allowing tension to drain into the earth through the back of the head, you can continue the exercise by now allowing the whole body to breathe. Continue to lightly scan through the body, noticing where tension may be present and inviting the exhale to drain it away.
  • Before rising, take several full-body breaths to invigorate and enliven the body and mind. Trust that you did good work and that you can return to this practice at any time to continue to invite your tension to wash away.

 

Louis in Savasana.jpg

 

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After Gym Class: Learning to Love Movement via Yoga

Malasana September 2018A few weeks ago, I read an article in the New York Times entitled “How You Felt About Gym Class May Impact Your Exercise Habits Today.”  This is something that feels so obvious to me I was kind of surprised that it merited an article, but then again, I think way more about my traumatic life experiences (and other people’s) than is probably healthy, so I’m all over this topic.

Exercise and movement are such a big part of my life now that it’s hard to reconcile my current lifestyle (a daily practice of gym, yoga, weightlifting, occasional awkward excursions into Jazzercise, jiu-jitsu, running, biking, you name it) with the first three decades of my life, in which exercise was something you did if you were required to, or if, as one of my ex-boyfriend’s mothers said to me, “You are getting fat. You need to make exercise” (there was a cultural difference, so I’d like to think I’ve let this go, but here I am writing about it on the Internet 20 years later, so probably not so much).

As a kid, I liked to play outside, but mostly I used that time to enjoy being alone, spending time with my dog, reading and daydreaming. When my friends forayed into group sports (softball, field hockey), I gave it a try, but really struggled. I literally did not understand how the games worked or what the rules were. There was no Google to look these things up, and although you might reasonably ask, “Why would you not just ask someone?” it didn’t feel that simple to me. If everyone else already understood this thing that I clearly was supposed to have learned somewhere or somehow, the best my introverted self could manage was to kind of pretend and hope it would all work out one way or another.  Don’t pass to me, I’d pray during the game.  Oh, they’re running that way– must be time to run with them down the field now. 

You can imagine, then, how much I did not enjoy gym class. I was a child of the 80’s, and all I knew of politics was that Ronald Reagan liked jellybeans and that he, in his infinite, grandfatherly wisdom, had decreed that we must complete the Herculean tasks of the Presidential Physical Fitness Test. Pull-ups. Sit-ups. The Shuttle Run (ugh). The Mile. The Sit-and-Reach.  I can’t remember what I wore yesterday, but the agony of the Physical Fitness Test is super fresh in my memory. Our gym teacher had big puffy brown hair and chewed gum as she noted, bored, on her clipboard, my subpar efforts. A quick romp through the Internet tells me that I am not the only child who remembers the tests with a lingering sense of shame and anxiety (“Sit and reach. I sat, I reached, I farted. Ruined 5th grade,” says one person.  You can read more of “The Sad, Sad Stories of the Presidential Fitness Test” here).

Middle school was no improvement. Some of us threw hard rubber balls across the gym. Others were hit with a stinging whack (guess which one I was!). It was only an hour or so, but that was nothing compared to the mandatory public shower afterward.  In order to earn a passing grade, we were required to walk into the communal shower area (open to the entire locker room), take off our towel, place it on the low wall, and twirl around once under the shower so that the teacher could see us do it. This had nothing to do with hygiene and everything to do with body shaming, anxiety and often bullying from older girls.

So yeah– gym class missed the mark for me. I know plenty of kids who enjoyed it– the naturally athletic ones, the ones whose bodies moved easily through space, who could kick or catch a ball or yell “Pass it to me!” with confidence. Extroverts thrived on the team experience– I shrank and wilted.

Let’s go to the Times article:

“People’s memories of gym class turned out to be in fact surprisingly “vivid and emotionally charged,” the researchers write in the study, which was published this month in the Translational Journal of the American College of Sports Medicine.

And those memories had long shadows, affecting people’s exercise habits years later.

The most consistent associations were between unpleasant memories of P.E. classes and lingering resistance to exercise years later, the researchers found. People who had not enjoyed gym class as children tended to report that they did not expect to like exercise now and did not plan to exercise in the coming days.”

-Gretchen Reynolds, How You Felt About Gym Class May Impact Your Exercise Habits Today

All of this is a long preamble to say– despite my struggles with gym class and the US Physical Education system, I have managed to find my way to being a reasonably healthy person who loves to exercise. I like to learn new movement skills and I’m relatively confident as an athlete, even if I’m not good at something (I’m pretty bad at most new things, FYI). Was it a miracle of some sort? Life coaching? Sheer willpower? Nope. It was yoga.

Yoga bridged the gap between the social anxiety, poor body image and low self-confidence that I felt as a human adult attempting exercise. I’ve taught yoga for several years now, and I think I have an understanding of why yoga managed to convert me into an active adult when other modalities failed: it teaches body awareness, creates confidence, and it’s essentially non-competitive.

One of the most crucial skills that I began to develop when I began doing yoga was proprioception*. This is simply the sense of where your body is in space.  Some of us don’t develop this terribly well, for many reasons, but luckily it is a skill that can be learned and taught. Chronic “klutzes” may find themselves moving gracefully! It’s pretty awesome.

Once we have a greater sense of where we are in the world, it’s natural that we start to feel stronger and more confident. As I continued to practice yoga, I built strength and found that I could actually enjoy moving my body through space in a deliberate way. I also found that I could appreciate what my body was able to do, and to find ways to nurture it so that it could work even better.

I often remind my students that one of the best things about the yoga practice is that we can stop anytime. This may sound a little silly, but for me it’s quite meaningful. If exercise has been challenging for you, committing to a 90 (or even 60) minute yoga practice may feel too overwhelming. Perhaps it’s not the physical challenge that scares you, but social anxiety. In that case, too, knowing that there is no pressure to compete or keep up, that there are very few rules to be memorized, no team to let down, and that nobody in the room has any expectations of you can be tremendously freeing. You really can stop at any time. You can sit down, or do a different pose, or you can try something on one side you didn’t do on another. You can roll up your mat and practice another day.

Having this freedom– to try something different, or to simply stop when we need to– has an interesting psychological effect. Because they don’t feel that they have to, often I find that students are eager to practice and even try things that might always have been outside of their comfort zone. The anxious students, gaining confidence in themselves and finding that they can be comfortable in an “exercise” environment, find themselves relaxing and engaging with fellow students.

The pressure to perform is off, and the joy of movement and play has returned. In this way, yoga has the potential to repair the damage caused by a poor educational approach to exercise (I’m looking at you, Presidential Physical Fitness Test). I have seen time and again that learning embodied awareness and cultivating an appreciation for movement and our body’s abilities leads not just to greater health and more functional movement, but to strength and confidence in the rest of our lives and in our relationships with others.

Of course, not all yoga classes are created equal. In order for to be truly empowering, a yoga class should include instruction on and time for inquiry (rather than merely imposing external alignment principles). Variations on poses should be taught and celebrated, and students encouraged to meet themselves where they are that day (teachers– we’ll take a look at how to create this kind of environment in an upcoming blog). Otherwise, yoga classes run the risk of simply recreating the same uncomfortable, inequitable experience so many of us lived through in that gym class.

 

*Yoga and meditation can also teach interoception (a sense of the internal state of the body– am I hungry, thirsty, tired?) and exteroception (a sense of what’s going on outside of the body). This means we have the potential to use and care for our bodies more skillfully, and to engage with the world around us in a more mindful, integrated way. 

Presence in Yoga, Presence in Love

I love to teach yoga to newbies. There’s an almost palpable sense of coming alive in those first few classes. As students learn to move in new ways, it’s not unlike a toddler explore her range of motion- testing out a foot here, or the gaze here, or marveling at what her body can do and how it feels to be in different shapes. Finally, when savasana comes and a group full of workaholic adults lies down to rest and breathe together, I love to watch as their faces soften and their bodies relax into their mats. I think most teachers would agree: it’s pretty magical to watch and work with the someone waking up through the practice of yoga.

There’s also quite a visual distinction between the novice and the experienced student, of course. As a new student moves into a standing pose, you might observe a sort of “floppy” quality to his arms and legs. He’s watching the teacher, following the verbal instructions, and simply moving himself into what seems like it might be the correct position. You might observe that the hands and feet seem disconnected, even lifeless; an afterthought, or a forgotten accessory.

A more senior student, on the other hand, is keenly aware of the sensations in her fingers and toes; the lines of energy lifting and expanding from uddiyana and mula bandha; the subtle changes in the breath and the micro-shifts of flesh, bone and breath within the external shape.

So we see, then, that there’s a distinct difference between simply bringing one’s body into a shape, and bringing the feeling of the shape into the body. The beginner student moves (or, in many cases, forces) the body-pieces into an approximate puzzle-shape and then stands lifelessly in place. The senior student moves her body into her variation on the asana and then begins to occupy it actively, breathing and moving within the pose in a way that feels completely embodied and alive- full of presence.

Tara Brach’s latest book, True Refuge, defines this quality of presence beautifully:

Presence is not some exotic state that we need to search for or manufacture. In the simplest terms, it is the felt sense of wakefulness, openness, and tenderness that arises when we are fully here and now with our experience.

I remember very well what it felt like to “wake up” through this process- suddenly I was in my body, and breathing with it, and truly, there is such a sweetness and tenderness to being completely with yourself, aware, awake, alive. It was quite poignant and almost, in a way, heartbreaking, when I realized how I’d neglected myself in this way.

As is so often the case, the on-the-mat experience provides a fantastic metaphor for our lives off the mat. Recently, I’ve been examining my relationships with others- current and historical- in light of this quality of presence.

I believe that it is not enough to simply move ourselves into position with another person- that is, to say, I’m your lover, I’m your friend- and then occupy that space lifelessly. True love- romantic or otherwise- is only, I think, alive and breathing when it is infused with this wakefulness, openness, tenderness.

Maybe it’s inevitable that this will happen with certain relationships, at certain times in our lives. Perhaps we are so occupied with our own challenges that we can’t embody love in this way. Maybe we’ve never learned how. In my own case, I can see quite easily that while I might have called myself a wife, or a girlfriend, and truly felt that I was living in that role, there was an inauthenticity, an incompleteness, to my actions. At the time, I didn’t know how to fully be present with that person- to love him fully, actively- because I was so unhappy with myself. It’s also clear that we were poorly matched, in many ways- so that to be fully present would have meant to acknowledge a painful truth.

In another case, I can recall asking myself why I felt so terribly lonely when I was with someone who said that he loved me deeply. I knew that it was true- and yet I believe at the time he simply wasn’t capable of completely embodying love. He was in the pose, so to speak, but the presence, the attention, the wakeful, open and tender quality was not there- and so our relationship could not flourish.

“If you do not give right attention to the one you love, it is a kind of killing. When you are in the car together, if you are lost in your thoughts, assuming you know everything about her, she will slowly die. But with mindfulness, you attention will water the wilting flower. “I know you are here, beside me, anti makes me very happy.” With attention, you will be able to discover many new and wonderful things- her joys, her hidden talents, her deepest aspirations. If you do not practice appropriate attention, how can you say that you love her?” -Thich Nhat Hanh, The Heart of the Buddha’s Teachings

As part of the spiritual path, bringing mindful presence to our relationships is far more challenging than the work we do on our mats, at least in my experience. While I can do hours of asana practice or meditation with some degree of awareness and presence,  I’m challenged deeply by the daily work of embodied love. My concern with my own self-image, my need to protect myself in some way, often stands between me and full presence with others in my life. Like most people I know, I’m struggling to somehow look good and feel in control. There’s a vulnerability in setting that aside in service of this quality of presence. With practice, this grows easier, I’m finding, and the feeling of really, really giving your full loving attention to someone is its own reward.

Some yoga students never make it past their first class. It’s not easy to work with ourselves in different ways. Sometimes the pain of waking up may feel like too much. And yet- that tenderness, that feeling of being fully present- oh, that’s worth it. We deserve our own kind attention in this way, and we find that because we are kind to ourselves, we’re more able to give that same kind attention to others. And, waking up, we become open and receptive to embodied, active presence from those who are also learning to love fully and completely.

 

 

Who the heck do I think I am, anyway?

Dear Whomever,

The other night I dreamt of an orchestra. It was an odd dream (aren’t they all?)- it had nothing to 10857830_10153961465707729_1143988602728086179_ndo with how the music sounded. Instead it was sort of a broad overview of an orchestra as a unit. I saw my dream-orchestra clearly as a collection of people, musicians with instruments, a conductor, the players who created the whole. I noted how, over time, individuals joined, lived out their careers, retired, and were replaced by new individuals. In my dream, I thought, ‘The orchestra changes over time as people come and go. It’s made up of many different fluid parts, and yet we refer to it as one solid unit- a thing- as though it were permanent, individual, and unchanging. That’s how you see yourself, too. But it’s not true.’

This thought woke me, and I opened my eyes in the dark to look toward the ceiling. I felt myself breathing and absorbed this thought. This wasn’t a new concept to me- my teacher, Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, and many other Buddhist writers speak of this frequently. But I felt I wanted to share this with you, to try to explain how it’s unfolding for me.

“A river flows with fresh water, always changing, and we still call it a river. If we visit that place a year later, we think it is the same river. But how is it the same? If we isolate one aspect or characteristic, this sameness falls apart. The water is different… ‘Appearance’ is quite an unstable basis for ‘truth.'” –Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, What Makes You Not A Buddhist

In my experience, it has taken some time, coupled with meditation and contemplation to begin to have a felt sense for how this might be true. After all, isn’t there some continuity to our experience? Aren’t I the same person I was when I was a baby, a child, a teen? Upon examination, the facts don’t really support this assertion: cells in our bodies die and are replaced. Studies show that through meditation we can alter the structure and function of our brain.  And I certainly don’t look the way I did 10, 20, or 30 years ago. We can accept that some things will change. In another part of the same passage listed above,  Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche notes,”of course, we say that some things change. A bud blooms into a flower, and we still think of it as a truly existing flower as it changes. That growth and change is part of our fixed idea about the nature of the flower. We would be much more surprised if it became permanent.” Still, I think, it feels more comfortable and familiar to feel that we are essentially the same person, with a quality of identity, self, or me-ness that we reinforce through habits and labels.

Initially, I experienced some discomfort with the idea of not being the same me. I began to unravel some of the stories that reinforced my idea of a continuous, ongoing, more-or-less-unchanging Laura experience, and found that I had some nostalgia, an attachment, to those labels- even when they were negative. I remember seriously asking myself- “Who am I if I’m not depressed?”- Yuck! There was a sense of fear, emptiness, and an immediate need to fill that gap with a new label. “I’m a yogi- or a recovering depressed person- or something-!”

Returning gently to this inquiry again and again- who am I?- or, even better, letting go of the “I” and asking, “‘Who is it that is experiencing this/breathing/eating this piece of chocolate cake*”- I began to feel that I could loosen up and relax into the ambiguity of moment-to-moment experience.

“In a book I read recently, the author talked about humans as transitional beings- beings who are neither fully caught nor fully free but are in the process of awakening. I’m in the process of becoming, in the process of evolving. I’m neither doomed nor completely free, but I’m creating my future with every word, every action, every thought. I find myself in a very dynamic situation with unimaginable potential. I have all the support I need to simply relax and be with the transitional, in-process quality of my life.” -Pema Chodron, Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change

What does it feel like to ‘relax’ with this quality? Like most humans I know, there are things I’ve said and done that have caused others and myself great pain or even harm. You know: moments that used to make me cringe; things I’d tucked away into dark corners of my memory as too painful to recall. The time I threw a plate at my ex-boyfriend. The hurtful, mean things I said to a friend. The way I ran out on friendships or relationships rather than dealing honestly with the challenges. If I experience myself as a fluid, changing, “transitional being,” I am able review these past actions with a quality of genuine kindness and understanding while still feeling remorse. Because I can now look honestly and critically at these events, I’m able to resolve to handle myself differently in the future.

Yet habits are strong, and the more we repeat them, the stronger they grow (remember this blog entry?). So, in many cases, I’ve found myself repeating many of the same “mistakes.” I forget that I am fluid, in-process. Sometimes I even feel trapped, as though I have to do something simply because I’ve done it so frequently before!

A few months ago, I experienced this when I visited a friend for a weekend. He’s an incredibly kind person, and when he asked me how I was, I crumpled like a Kleenex- I was sad about the end of a relationship and his warmth just triggered my tears. After I pulled myself together, I felt the pull of my past habits. “Now,” I thought to myself, “I’ll be depressed for the next two days. I’ll skulk around and avoid everyone because they saw me cry and be sad.” (Hey, I’m not saying this makes any sense, I’m just saying this is how I had handled this in the past. Maybe you have your own neurotic tendencies. I bet you do.)

So here’s the “aha” moment- I felt an almost physical shift-lightness- in my body as I realized- “I don’t need to do that at all. In fact, that would be really kind of silly, and a huge waste of time.” I remembered this passage from Mingyur Rinpoche’s The Joy of Living (yes, i do have it memorized):

“At any given moment, you can choose to follow the chain of thoughts, emotions and sensations that reinforce a perception of yourself as vulnerable and limited, or to remember that your true nature is pure, unconditioned, and incapable of being harmed… If you’re determined to think of yourself as limited, fearful, vulnerable, or scarred by past experience, know only that you have chosen to do so, and that the opportunity to experience yourself differently is always available.”

That’s it, guys- the opportunity to experience yourself differently is always available. You’re not the same person you were yesterday. You’ll be different tomorrow. The orchestra seems like a continuous, solid entity- and for convenience, we refer to it that way- but it’s constantly changing, and so are you. So is your partner, your best friend, the guy in front of you at the grocery store who’s maybe a little bit smelly or rude or whatever offends us.

Again, I am speaking here to my experience- for me, one of the dangerous things about the earliest steps on the spiritual path has been my tendency to feel like “I’ve got it!” So, in reading a piece like this, for example, someone may be feeling like, “Yeah yeah, I’ve got this, I’m changing, I’ve changed, I quit smoking, I do yoga, things are great now! High-five, soul sister!” One of my meditation instructors- a compassionate, kind, brilliant man- frequently says, “Every insight is a false summit.” I return to this again and again. Every time I think I know something- every time I think I understand a concept or really “get” impermanence, for example, I find that I really don’t know anything at all. It’s humbling: the more I learn, the less I know. So right now in my life, I’m asking myself, again and again, Who Am I? Who Is This?- and hoping that maybe I’m continuing to loosen up. Flow on, fluid friends. You’re not trapped. You’re not stuck. You’re in process. And that’s really good news.

Love,

Laura

 

*This is Pema Chodron’s idea- in fact, I believe she says she might ask herself, “Who is eating this third piece of chocolate cake?” More reasons to love her!

Creating New Karmic Patterns, & Some Crazy Good Ginger Chocolate Chip Cookies

In last week’s post, I talked about the self-sustaining karmic energy of recurring habitual patterns. I mentioned that meditation has been helpful in creating the space to identify the pattern and then to create a new pattern.

How exactly, though, does the new pattern get created? In the past year, I was lucky* enough to find myself facing similar situations again and again. In fact, sometimes it was really almost the identically same situation, with the identically same person. Thanks to my meditation practice, I was able to see this happening (okay, after a while. Not so much right away) and I gained some time between stimulus and response.

Then I’d ask myself: 1) How did I handle this last time? 2) Was I happy with that outcome? and 3) If not, what had I not yet tried that might have a different, better outcome?

This was a pretty painful process at times. It caused me to look back at the many previous times I’d been in the same situation, and how my actions had caused suffering to others, as well as to myself. There were days where I felt like a total scumbag and thought it might be best to stop interacting with other people. But seeing how I’d hurt others was powerful enough to enact change where the fear of simply hurting myself wasn’t enough. As I mentioned in last week’s post- I just had to try something different.

No doubt I’m still wreaking havoc with my life, but I’m certainly trying to do better. Being able to ask myself those three questions feels a bit like standing at the entrance to a labyrinth- which way to go?- knowing that even if I screw up, I’m still moving forward. In Richard Buckminster’s words, after all, “there is no such thing as a failed experiment, only experiments with unexpected outcomes.”

In the spirit of trying something totally different, I offer you this delicious recipe for vegan ginger chocolate chip cookies. If you’re a fan of soft molasses ginger cookies, and love a dark chocolate fix, I think you’ll enjoy this mash-up. This recipe started with this delicious recipe from Oh She Glows. Thanks, Angela!

(Oh, and to illustrate my point? The next time I think, “I’d like a cookie, why don’t I bake two dozen,” I’ll stop and ask myself those three questions. Because really, I don’t need to be unsupervised with two dozen cookies. 🙂 )

Try Something Different: Vegan Ginger Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup coconut oil
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup molasses (I like sorghum)
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp ground chia seeds (I ground them in my coffee grinder, but you could leave them whole if you had to. They add crunch that way)
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • a sprinkle of cardamom, or get creative with any spices you like!
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2.5 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup dark (vegan) chocolate chips (if you leave these out, it’s still a fantastic recipe)

Making It Happen: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine coconut oil, sugar, molasses, vanilla, and chia seeds until well-mixed (I throw it in my Kitchen-Aid and let it run while I mix the dry stuff). Separately, mix the dry ingredients. Add the dry ingredients to the wet until combined, but don’t over-mix. Add chocolate chips. Wet hands lightly, and roll into small balls. Flatten lightly with your hand and bake 10-12 minutes or until done. Rest on baking sheet for a few minutes before moving to cooling rack. Enjoy! photo

 

*Not being facetious. Until I was challenged in this way, I was likely to keep creating the same karma again and again. I was forced into growth!  

Laura’s Magic Kitchen, Now with Expanded Menu Options

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A few months ago, I started reading The Mastery of Love by Don Miguel Ruiz, and it’s had a serious effect on the relationships in my life- including that most treacherous of relationships, the one with myself.

I could say a lot about this book- but today I just want to share with you one of my favorite themes in this book- Ruiz’s “magical kitchen.” He says:

Imagine that you have a magical kitchen in your home…you can have any food you want from any place in the world in any quantity. You never worry about what to eat; whatever you wish for, you can have at your table… Then one day someone knocks at your door, and it’s a person with a pizza. You open the door, and the person looks at you and says, ‘Hey, do you see this pizza? I’ll give you this pizza if you let me control your life, if you do whatever I want you to do. You are never going to starve because I can bring pizza every day. You just have to be good to me.’ Can you imagine your reaction? In your kitchen you can have the same pizza- even better. Yet this person comes to you and offers you food, if you just do whatever he wants you to o. You are going to laugh and say, ‘No, thank you! I don’t need your food.’

Ruiz goes on to describe what it’s like if you forget that you have a magic kitchen. Suddenly, you’re starving, and the pizza deal sounds not so bad. And then you’re hooked on the pizza- and dependent on the pizza pimp.

Your heart, of course, is the magical kitchen, and food is the love that we have for ourselves and others. Our ideas of self-worth, self-appreciation, are all cooked up in this kitchen. When we forget about the kitchen, then we try to look elsewhere for love, appreciation, validation. Sometimes we get pretty desperate and do some stupid stuff to try to feed the unending hunger.

This metaphor was really powerful for me (because I love food? I dunno) and came at the perfect time in my life. I realized that, despite all the work I did, and continue to do, I’d forgotten that the power to feel loved, valuable and worthy was in my own hands– not in someone else’s. And yet, I kept forgetting it- I was looking for someone to feed me.

If the thought of falling in love with yourself sounds overly dramatic or self-centered, perhaps the magic kitchen metaphor will appeal to you more. To me, it’s so silly that it’s sort of fun to work with. Sometimes I like to imagine myself turning around and saying, “Oh, there’s the kitchen!”- as though I’d forgotten about this room in my house for a while.

It also lends itself to more elaborate metaphorical musings. For a while, I was really longing for a relationship. ‘Sure,’ I thought to myself. ‘I’ve got a magical kitchen, but all it makes is burritos. I’d just like a freaking panini once in a while.’  With time and distance, I came to feel that the panini wasn’t so great. Laura’s Magic Kitchen Brand Panini is way, way better.

Here’s an inferior panini story: I dated someone not too long ago who expressed great appreciation for me in many ways. At first, it felt good- yay, pizza!- but occasionally the (still metaphorical, are you tired of it yet?) pizza supply would dry up a little bit. “You know,” he’d say, “If you want to lose weight, you should….” Or, “I even like this about you.” This hurt, of course, because I was depending on the pizza to fill my growling tummy.

I saw the panini guy not too long ago (he’s no longer dealing, or at least I’m not buying, so to speak). He has also read The Mastery of Love, and we spent a little time talking about the Magic Kitchen. When we hugged goodbye, he said to me, “Thanks for letting me bask in the warmth of your Magic Kitchen for a while.” I loved this!  I’m like a food truck, y’all, out driving around loving myself, loving you, just doing the best I can to remember that I’m behind the wheel, standing over the oven…(this metaphor is really getting out of hand, I think I’m about done with it).

Okay, but one last little story to share. That picture at the top of this post- me doing a handstand? That’s from a photo shoot by the genius, talented Jennifer Sampson of Sampson Photography. And it almost didn’t happen because I forgot about the kitchen.

I’d had that photo shoot scheduled for months, and when it finally arrived last week, I was feeling pretty lousy. I weighed more than I wanted to, my skin was utterly broken out, and I felt, in general, like a hideous beast. I know how stupid this is. I do, I promise. But I also imagined people looking at the finished photos and picking out flaws. Once again, I’d put the power of love and appreciation and worth in someone else’s hands, rather than in my own.

Don Miguel Ruiz puts it this way:

There’s no problem at all with being beautiful or ugly, short or tall, thin or heavy…There’s no problem with being gorgeous. If you walk through a crowd of people and they tell you, ‘Oh, you are beautiful,’ you can say, ‘Thank you, I know,’ and keep going. It doesn’t make any difference to you. But it will make a difference to you if you don’t believe you are beautiful and someone tells you that. Then you are going to say, ‘Am I really?’ This opinion can impress you, and, of course, that makes you easy prey.

I do believe I am beautiful, and that things like weight, skin, and hair will come and go. Sometimes it takes me an embarrassingly long time to remember that I believe these things, but it’s getting easier. Not everyone is going to think I’m beautiful. Not everyone is going to fall in love with me. And, with my new extended menu options of self-worth and appreciation, I really don’t need them to.

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone-  may your kitchen be full of delicious options today.

 

 

Is Your Love Enough? (The Post About Depression)

Depression, for me, is a drag. It looks a bit like seeing  the world through dirty glass. It feels a bit like  walking through knee-deep water. It’s like Monday morning after a weekend spent doing chores. It’s like your car needs new brakes and your toilet won’t flush and you know something else is going to go wrong, but you’ve accepted with a bone-weary knowledge and keep trudging forward.

It’s also a little bit like I’m the only person in the world. It’s a selfish thing that hurts the people I love, if I let it. It’s like I’m standing on a beach full of pebbles, and I’ve picked up one tiny pebble and am holding it in front of my eye and it’s enormous, and now I can’t see the others because I am confronted by this boulder.

“How can people kill themselves?” a friend of mine asked recently. “How can they do that to everyone around them?” Well, in my experience, there’s a certain kind of self-centeredness that comes with serious depression. It’s an ugly side effect.

The holidays were hard for me this year- after the sweeping life changes of 2013, the holidays by myself felt a bit like a dirty nightcap at the end of a wild party I didn’t want to attend. I felt more down than I had in a long time.

Yoga and meditation have been a tremendous help to me in fortifying my defenses against this disease, though. Recently The Onion published this piece:  New Antidepressant Makes Friends’ Problems Seem Worse. Although it’s a really funny idea, there’s a great truth to it. The antidepressant is compassion. The secret is love.

I do what I can to remember this: When I am allowing depression to get the better of me, I am not able to give my best to the people in my life. Now, this doesn’t mean that I can just “snap out of it,” but it does help to give me direction- to remind me to do the best I can to take care of myself so that I can be more available to people who need me. Friends, family, students. It helps me to make better decisions.

Michael Franti and Spearhead have a great song- I’ve posted it at the top of this entry- that I have been listening to in dark moments. Although it’s about free speech, the chorus speaks to me like a call to arms: “Is your love enough? Can you love some more?”

So I am reminded that I can help myself to walk through this time by doing the things that will help me- my practice on the mat. A walk in nature. Meditation, regularly. And if once in a while I need to take a nap at 3 in the afternoon because I just can’t face the world, then dammit, I’ma do just that. I’ve got work to do, serious loving compassionate work to do, and I’ll do what it takes to help myself get to a place where I can be more effective.

Here’s a poem to share with you. It arrived via Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac in my Inbox on December 30, and I burst into tears when I saw the title. If you’ve ever been so far down that you thought you couldn’t keep going- if you thought nobody would care- I hope this speaks to you as it did to me.

No Hemlock Rock (don’t kill yourself)

by Jennifer Michael Hecht

Don’t kill yourself. Don’t kill yourself.
Don’t. Eat a donut, be a blown nut.
That is, if you’re going to kill yourself,
stand on a street corner rhyming
seizure with Indonesia, and wreck it with
racket. Allow medical terms.
Rave and fail. Be an absurd living ghost,
if necessary, but don’t kill yourself.

Let your friends know that something has
passed, or be glad they’ve guessed.
But don’t kill yourself. If you stay, but are
bat crazy you will batter their hearts
in blooming scores of anguish; but kill
yourself, and hundreds of other people die.

Poison yourself, it poisons the well;
shoot yourself, it cracks the bio-dome.
I will give badges to everyone who’s figured
this out about suicide, and hence
refused it. I am grateful. Stay. Thank
you for staying. Please stay. You
are my hero for staying. I know
about it, and am grateful you stay.

Eat a donut. Rhyme opus with lotus.
Rope is bogus, psychosis. Stay.
Hocus Pocus. Hocus Pocus.
Dare not to kill yourself. I won’t either.