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Hold the question, until you live into the answer ~ Rilke


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Easter eggs and Full Potential

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I went to Yoga today. I bought a 10-session pass in September.  According to my app when I booked my class today, I haven’t attended since November.  It’s now April.  This winter was a rough one with record breaking temperatures, wind chills, and snow totals.   I suppose it’s safe to say that hibernation was required for survival.  In my defense, I did some yoga at home but honestly, I wasn’t dedicated to practicing.  Today, I attended the Hatha class which is supposed to be a bit more restorative and less strenuous.  During the class, which I was really looking forward too, I began to notice irritation arising towards the instructor.  The class was full and the room was warm and quiet.  No one speaks or makes eye contact which I really like. All of us are lying flat on the mat, resting or trying to gather enough energy to make it through class.

The teacher came in loudly and with way too much enthusiasm for 8:30 a.m.  Her voice was perky and shrill.  Her words, bossy with a touch of pseudo humility.  My annoyance didn’t surprise me.  I’ve been increasingly irritable and noticeably negative.  The teacher obviously came in with an intention which she boldly announced during her “welcome to class” lecture.

We were instructed to begin in child’s pose, resting our arms behind us so our bodies mimicked the shape of an egg.  As I rested there, desperately hoping to get out of my head and into my body, she squawked on about Easter, the renewal we feel in welcoming spring, and the budding trees and flowers all around us.  All the while my body and mind tightening around her words.  I just wanted to stretch, let go of thinking, and focus on returning to the sensations of the body.

The week had been filled with work related stress, discouragement, boredom, overly critical thinking towards myself and others, as well as a sense of deep loneliness.  I was spending too much time in my head.  I needed to connect with my body.  Unfortunately, the sage on the stage was winding up her sermon.  Her next instruction was to imagine  breaking through the egg, shattering the egg shell, to reach our full potential.  At that point I tried hard not to gag on my anger.  Full potential?  Lady,  I’m trying not to think about my “full potential” right now.  I’m trying to move from my head to my heart and into the limbs of my body.  My “full potential” right now consists of breathing to hold these poses, stretching to release trapped muscle pain, and trying very hard not to potentially yell “would you just shut the f*** up?” in the middle of this class.

Man, that would have felt good.

Or maybe not.

You’ll be happy to know I survived the 90 minutes and there were moments where I noticed a calm mind, and felt the connection of what it’s like to be embodied.  It took a while to let go of the resentment and pressure I felt towards being told to “reach for my full potential.”  Even in my yoga class, I can’t just be.  Really?  Even in my yoga class I have to be reaching, striving, attaining.

All of this pointed to a phrase my meditation teacher liked to use, The subtle violence of self-improvement.”  I don’t know who packaged that phrase into a bite-sized warning but boy I sure felt it today.

 

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The river and I are friends

I’ve lived in Elgin, Illinois since 1989.  I moved here right out of college for my first teaching job.  I’ve been minimally involved in the community; hearing stories of Elgin’s rich manufacturing history while chaperoning my class on field trips to the Planetarium, or the Gail Borden Library.  Elgin has a rich manufacturing history.  For example, the Elgin National Watch company, 1864-1967, located along the Fox River.  There is also the Shoe Factory, 1891-1929,  located on Congdon Ave.  Parts of the these factories remain abandoned or restored and repurposed.

Recently, a poet friend of mine, Chasity Gunn, did a reading at the library on the theme of the river.  She shared her original work and invited me to share mine.  The poem below “The river and I are friends” was written for this occasion.  In the poem I reflect on the life of the river, Elgin’s laborers, and the work of the apprentice.

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The river and I are friends

I

The river and I are friends

My steps are careful – light and tender

My heart heavy one day, a spring in my step the next.

There, a path in the earth, leads me deeper to the bank where I grab the oak tree limb

Balancing my spring or my burden.

How lucky the Oak, of all the places to be offering itself to the nest and the breeze.

How lucky the roots- gripping and absorbing the energy of the river from below

(The oak and I are friends)

The oak and the river are present, unburdened by time, or requirement.

The ducks are here,

The fish are too

And, of course the beaver’s home is chaos to the eye.  A shored-up hut.  Tight-tangled branches strewn like pick up sticks.

How tempted I am to peek inside.

But the river and the Oak know why I’m here.

I’ve come to listen to the past.

Here along the water’s edge live the voices and dreams of the shoemaker,

the watch welder,

The calloused hands of laborers who laid the tracks along her path.

The work of progress on the backs of those who’ve led me here to wonder.

II

The window faces the river

Sitting in the hard spindle chair my Grandfather crafted

The floor boards announcing the arrival of my weight.

I hold in my hands the vision I’ve called into being.

It’s come to pass.

The molds, bespoke, articulate, precise

From the start made of wood, scraps of Oak from a fallen tree, I have seen from my window.

Reaching for the metal tin

This is the time for soothing.

The salve of the apprentice rolled onto tender finger tips.

III

Tomorrow begins production

Adhesive, material, punch

Patterns and threads.

And tapping, tapping, tapping.

Treadle stitching, turning the wheel in the right direction

Peddle and check

Peddle and check

The treadle rhythm is a seesaw and I am hypnotized

Cut, slice

Pull, stretch,

Press, cork,

knot, paint,

fire

To feel the tension, where leather and stitch bind to contain flesh, muscle, tendon and bone

Where sole meets the Earth

The ease of each step carried forward into the world.

This is the River

This is the Oak

This is the job of the apprentice.

 

 

 


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Anam Cara, Soul Friend

friend

 

I have a few good friends.  I know I have the potential to create more friendships and I’m slowly learning how to be more comfortable with intimacy and vulnerability. PTSD treatment helped me understand the reasons why creating and forming healthy attachments is challenging for me.  Hyper vigilance, untrusting thoughts, negative rumination, scanning for potential threats, waiting for the other shoe to drop, and the straight up fear of being known and seen, are not the ingredients for building and sustaining close, intimate relationships.  Changing these attributes of PTSD takes time, patience, acceptance, and big doses of kindness towards oneself and one’s inner critic.

As I reflect back on 2017, four friendship themes rise to the surface.

Number 1:  Friendships will be tested; healthy ones will last.  One of the biggest obstacles in any friendship is communication.  Should I be brave and really tell him/her how I’m feeling about the conflict we’re having? How many times have we weighed the risk before having the hard conversation?  If a friendship is healthy it will withstand the discomfort and growing pains of a difficult exchange.  It may take some time to resolve and both people may need some space to process and assess, but in the end, the friendship will either grow or wither away.  It’s okay to let a friendship go.  If it’s not developing in a way that is healthy then what purpose does it serve?

Number 2:  Love is only one side of the coin.  It’s easy for friendships to exist when both people are behaving in lovable ways.  However, we all have a dark side, faults and inner programming that wreak havoc on our moods.  Do I have enough inner resolve to tolerate a friend who isn’t putting their best foot forward?  Can I offer acceptance and simply be present for whatever state my friend is currently in?  Am I only present for them when things go smoothly, when life is easy, and fun?  Does true friendship run on auto pilot?

Number 3:  Be curious about the nature of your expectations.  Our friends are going to disappoint us.  When I reflect back on the times a friend has let me down, more often than not it’s because I have an unexpressed or unmet expectation.  In fact, it’s only a perception of being let down.  In actuality, I’ve created a story or melodrama in my head and I’m disappointed because a friend didn’t rise to meet my perception of how things “should” be or how they “should” go.  Examine your expectations before you blame a friend for not meeting them.

Number 4:  Don’t exploit, dismiss or punish vulnerability.  Recently, I was in a situation with a group of friends where one of them over-reacted to something that was said.  His meltdown was shocking, out of character and caught us all off guard.  Clearly, he’d lost control and was embarrassed and very vulnerable.  One my friends started to laugh because his reaction was so surprising.  This added fuel to the fire and only made the situation worse.  What my friend needed was a supportive, safe space for his temper tantrum, and the ability to express his feelings without judgement.  Later, he shared with me why he reacted the way he did.  He connected the dots in a way that made sense even though at the time, it was hard to understand.

I’d like to close with a poem by John O’Donohue but before I do I want to say, Happy New Year.   May you be blessed with loving friendships, and above all, may you be a sweet friend to yourself.

 

For friendship

May you be blessed with good friends,

And learn to be a good friend to yourself,

Journeying to that place in your soul where

There is love, warmth, and feeling.

May this change you.

 

May it transfigure what is negative, distant

Or cold within your heart.

May you be brought into real passion, kindness,

And belonging.

 

May you treasure your friends.

May you be good to them, be there for them

And receive all the challenges, truth, and light you need.

 

May you never be isolated but know the embrace

Of your anam cara. 

 

John O’Donohue


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This way, my love

When I’ve forgotten how to Pray

And the words won’t come

Give me two,

Forgive me

 

When my heart searches for

The comfort of gratitude, but

My mind invades the space with

Judgment

Despair

And angst

Give me two,

Restore me

 

When loneliness threatens to

Imprison me

And the only color is gray,

When I’ve lost my way back from

the illusion of separateness,

her depths threatening to

Claim me

Give me two,

Receive me

 

When I forget, you point me to the poets

New England, Belfast

Caged or Free

Ancient, Asian, Greek

And my heart cracks open

Once again

 

There you are.

There I am.

 

And we sit

And I pray.


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The Art of Pain Management

To remember is to receive a gift.
Receiving gratefully today.

going outwords & inwords

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A couple of months ago I was talking to a sangha friend of mine about the nature of physical pain.  Knowing that I’ve been focusing diligently on the cultivation of joy over the last few years and that I’ve experienced a great deal of physical pain in relation to my chronic illnesses he asked me specifically what I did to deal with pain and how to cultivate joy in the midst of it.  As I see this as a common struggle (knowing how to deal with ongoing physical pain, limitation, and illness) I thought I’d take to writing about it, as that often helps me to better understand things for myself as well.

It’s important to note that I spent years doing the “wrong” things when it came to dealing with physical pain.  Doing the wrong things was what helped me to know and understand what the right things to…

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Getting to Neutral

A transition is the space between an ending and a beginning. I’m not a fan of them. As often as they occur, I’m still pushed off center by them. The graphic below uses the word “neutral” to describe the space between an ending and a beginning. “Neutral” is NOT the word I would choose for this space. On a good day, I would choose awkward, unnerving, or messy. On a bad one: terrifying.

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Of course I’d like to be “neutral” towards the transitions in my life and maybe one day I will be. I suppose my negative bias toward navigating change is due to the fact that I’ve made a few critical mistakes along the way. These mistakes while useful for cultivating maturity and wisdom also caused great pain. As best as I can, I’m learning to be still through the rough waters of transition. I notice the pressure, the awkward-unnerving-messiness that comes with moving forward through the neutral zone. My mind demands, isn’t there a faster way? Isn’t there a way to skip this part? Are we there yet? It’s not easy to slow down and be with what is but I’m finding it helpful. Slowing down allows space for possibilities to arise.

I love these words from John O’Donohue…….

“What is being transfigured here is your mind,

And it is difficult and slow to become new.

The more faithfully you can endure here,

The more refined your heart will become

For your arrival in the new dawn.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Endings

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I walked by the ending of this track today.  It was strange.  The end seemed so abrupt.  I thought, why here?  Why now? Then my mind began to reminisce through some of the endings in my life.  Some endings were a welcome relief; even celebrations full of joy.  Others were filled with pain, long suffering, avoidance, and resistance.

I am reminded that endings are unavoidable and inevitable.  Trying to control them is an illusion.  What I have control over is my relationship to the end.  I can control my response by being mindful of my emotions.  I can allow myself to grow into acceptance through the path of compassion and love.  Clinging, gripping, trying in vain to prolong or contain the joyful-present moment only serves to strangle it.  What if this is as good as it gets?  What if I never have this again?  I can never let this end.  But it does.  Of course the opposite is true as well.  When will the end come?  I can not suffer like this anymore.  Despair, avoidance, or a hyper focus on needing an ending only causes deeper suffering.  How can I befriend the despair of needing this moment to end, until it does?  Can I grow into a compassionate relationship with this suffering? Perhaps an end will bring relief, perhaps it won’t.

All things end.  With the right tools, I can choose how to respond.