Mid-day thoughts, 7.22.2019: meditation and samsara

It’s been a while since I posted. It feels good to be back here, sharing my thoughts, feelings, and fascinations. I was busy, then spending a lot of time helping a friend in need, did some training and traveling, then a lot more time helping that friend, only to have that relationship unravel last week. It may have unraveled entirely and forever. I don’t know, and I don’t really care right now.

What I do know is that I am exhausted, reclaiming my space, my time, and my energy, while preparing to do some more travel. I’m taking time this week to recalibrate and nurture myself.

Processing is one of my favorite things to do. It’s such a great teacher, a guru, to feel so many emotions arise over time. To allow every one of them to express itself and move through me — it’s great company and also entertaining, this guesthouse. Feeling sadness, anger, judgment, curiosity, incredulity, a few regrets, the amazing aha of a huge insight that was right under my nose, disdain about their assumed entitlement and their obvious discomfort with their choices past and present, the deep compassion I have for them and their road ahead (yes, it’s gonna take 10 years), fears for self and others, stress, unwinding, missing the fun and affection before the criticism set in, recognizing my mistrust all along and the reasons for it, feeling a bit defensive that what they choose to believe are my issues are actually not — although they are based on inconsistent behaviors on their part, recognizing the need for a major shift in the relationship or perhaps shutting that door entirely, caring and yet oddly enough very coldly not caring what happens to them, recognizing they’ll survive, or not, and this break may be just what they need to ground themselves and do the difficult thing, that’s only hard to get started with.

Separation has many gifts.

Shocks instigate growth. Instead of whining about them, we can be grateful for the opportunities to further develop our resources.

I look back to see where I could have made better decisions, to take some responsibility and learn for the future, because there is never just one person at fault — we’re all in this together, always, even through misunderstandings, and even when we need to pull back. A few of my actions (especially the lack of me setting some clearly needed boundaries, in hindsight, regardless of being labeled “controlling”) are glaring at me.

“Knot by knot I untie myself from the 

past / And let it rise away from me like a balloon. / What a small thing it 

becomes. / What a bright tweak at the vanishing point, blue on blue.”

Charles Wright

I look at what’s ahead for me, and I feel pretty good about the choices I have and how to use them well. I can leave this relationship entirely behind (using the famous INFJ door slam — look it up if curious — I’ve done it before, though it’s rare). Closure might be healing, which was the intent in the first place. If we talk, it will be with a therapist present, and I have no idea if that’s going to happen. Either way. Take it or leave it. I have a good life that I”m happy with.

I’m grateful for my friends, one of whom has called me out and also been kind, and another who has been purely embracing and loving.

Mostly, today I want to share how much meditation is helpful. I got away from my daily practice. I missed my daily sit on June 20, and since then have had two gaps of as long as 5 days. I’m getting back on track — I can see how my brain, memories, and equanimity operate so much better when I do a daily sit.

I use Insight Timer to keep a log, even when I use another app (I used Waking Up with Sam Harris for a while). Before June 20, I had meditated for 990 consecutive days. Also in June, I reached the milestone of 1,000 days with a session.

Anyway, here I am living in the midst of samsara with all of its chaos, grins, and grief, and meditation allows me to take a small, temporary break from it.

I sit, I get still, I breathe, I tune into my experience in the present, and my thoughts begin to slow so there are gaps, sometimes long gaps.

In these gaps, I feel my sensations. I feel myself soften. I feel my energy body extend beyond my skin. I feel tensions releasing and leaving my body. I feel my chakras open and spin. I feel radiance in my face.

I feel kindness toward myself. I feel love. I experience an empty awareness that’s full of connection with Source, or whatever you call it in your tradition. I am plugging into Something.Important.

I become fucking Re-Source-full. Empowered. Full of grace and confidence, not the blustery let-me-try-to-impress-you kind, but the “I am present for whatever arises in each moment” kind of confidence.

I am so, so grateful to have this practice, to have experience with it, and I’m especially grateful for having done two 10-day Vipassana courses, which, in video-game terms, each took me to a higher level. Just as they say Rolfing is the equivalent of 5 years of yoga, a Vipassana course is the equivalent of 5 years of meditation. Generalities, of course, but pointing to something important. I hope to do another one within the next year.

The starting place for each meditation is so much more aware than when I began to practice, also after a relationship breakup, back in 2006. I get to return to Source, and that’s what is truly healing.

Loving you for reading this. Thank you, my friends.

Morning download, 3.13.2019

It’s a coolish, rainy morning here in the outskirts of ATX. Haven’t heard the mockingbird yet, but a cardinal made itself heard just outside my trailer. The rain now hitting the metal roof is drowning out all birdsong. It can get quite loud during a heavy downpour!

A friend texted me yesterday that her mother, in Missouri, is passing. She got to talk to her on the phone, texting me later, “Lots of Love exchanges. She said goodbye and to take care of myself.” The mother was conscious, in no pain, but very weak.

That’s a good way to die. I’d like to be conscious, unmedicated, and not in pain when death comes for me. It’s got to be quite the experience!

I wish I could tell you afterwards what it was like, but that seems to be against the rules. “Just one more blog post, please? This is too amazing not to share!” But I don’t think you can bargain with death. It might play with you, but it always wins, in the end.

Today: loving my matcha/sitting/breathing/downloading early in this day, then hairdresser, then biodynamic session for my friend who’s losing her mother, and then a visit with a shaman to work on some emotional/empath issues that i haven’t been able to resolve on my own.

Some friends have been studying with this shaman, and I look forward to meeting her and experiencing how she works. I received a yummy practice session from one of those friends, now studying energy medicine, who told me about a class for empaths, but the class had filled, so I’m doing 1:1 with the shaman.

I’m seeking something of a superpower for me: the ability to not feel others’ deep suffering. I can suffer well enough from my own losses and traumas and don’t need to experience the broken hearts and minds of others in order to be compassionate and supportive and resourceful. I can be more useful with a healthier boundary.

This image cracks me up. It came up when I googled “image empath”. It is a beautiful image but I don’t see myself like this at all. I do have green eyes, though. The rest of it is someone’s fantasy! Except that ajna chakra, third eye, is real. https://articles.spiritsciencecentral.com/empathy-101/.

It’s the biggest downside of being an empath that I can think of. If you’ve been a reader for a while, you will know that calling myself an empath is new, something I’m starting to dance with. Once it occurred to me, a lot of mysteries about me and how I’ve chosen to live began to fall into place.

What is being an empath good for? You tell me. It served extremely well once, may have saved my baby daughter’s life, but there’s a lot of weirdness, and some fun, that comes with it, so far. Premonitions, insights, auras, dreams, beginner’s mind, flow states, obviously empathy. I have marks in my hand indicating clairvoyance, but I don’t practice it.

There are some superpowers that with the right teachers, I could probably develop. Not sure I need or want to, though. For now, becoming a healthy empath is my intent.

I’ve begun paying more attention to the people and environments that are nurturing and those that are not. I had to go to the mall a couple of weeks ago. The commercialism — the bigness of the “buy this — enter this store — take this free gift bag” messaging — was overwhelming. Giant words are scary! Pushy people are scary! It was not a friendly place, and I felt like an alien — I wish I could say that was unusual, but it’s not.

I felt my resistance and stayed focused on my errand. Found a chair and closed my eyes and just breathed while waiting for a genius to replace my phone battery. Once outside under the big sky, trees in view across the vast parking lot, so much better.

I notice I have better rapport with intuitive feelers who may also be empaths. I’m so lucky to know and love a few!

If you are an empath and are reading this, what has helped you? Books, people, classes, practices, learnings. I want to hear it, please.

The rain has paused and the mockingbird is singing its heart out. Enjoy this promising day.

Morning download, 3.1.19

Sometimes I have second thoughts. My wild mind gets half-baked ideas that are so exciting, and the next day they don’t look that good. I took down my most recent post that was like that. It’s just not ready for public consumption.

So. New day, new topic. Please note I am not saying what follows to brag. I hope saying it gives those who need it encouragement.

For someone who was traumatized by a sudden, tragic, violent loss in childhood, who as a result had PTSD for decades before it was even a diagnosable malady — life can be good again.

I wake up happy to greet a new day, on most days. I feel balanced, grounded, centered, open, resilient, buoyant, strong, like a fountain constantly replenishing and renewing. I have more than enough.

Perhaps these good days are even sweeter because of the past. Trauma survivors, please savor and enjoy every good day, every good hour even, that comes your way.

It’s not as if the trauma in this bodymindfield is gone, over, done. Even when you’ve done a lot of work to remember, sort, get perspective, feel, self-soothe, reconcile, and heal that wounded self, a scar still resides in your nervous system. But it can disappear for long stretches of time.

You can work with your autonomic nervous system to rebalance it so that you read and respond to actual threats and to safety appropriately, but in reading what psychotherapists with 40 years of experience have to say, trauma is scar tissue in the psyche. Scar tissue will never be as healthy and resilient as unscarred skin. It’s more fragile. It’s not organized the same way at the cellular level. You can work with it to make it more pliable and reduce the scarring, but it will never be as if the trauma never happened, the skin unscarred.

Also, obviously, trauma resides in your memories, which are connected to your ANS. How often do you need to revisit those memories? Not that often for me, any more. I want to mention that some of the memories from the time of the trauma remained veiled from my conscious mind for a long time, and sometimes a memory shapes our behavior, unbidden.

Trauma is definitely something you want behind you on your timeline, not in the way of denial but in the healthy manner of moving on with your life, because healthy life beckons after trauma, if you let it. It may start with one peaceful hour.

Investigate peace, and savor it.

Facing forward, sometimes trauma from the past sneaks ahead and gets right in your face. Boo! Your ANS, which is instinctual and not really all that smart, interprets something as a threat that simply isn’t. Something happens in the present that unconsciously reminds the part of your brain that’s trying to keep you safe of a time when you were unsafe in the past, and you react sharply, as if past were present, get flooded with stress hormones, experience the fight-or-flight dance going on.

Hopefully, the thinking part of your brain will kick in to help you evaluate the situation! Are you actually in imminent danger? If the answer is no, then you get to wait it out while your system rebalances itself, recovering from the dump of stress hormones. Acupuncture and supplements for adrenal depletion can be very helpful.

Beautiful self-care is required when a memory hijacks the ANS and there is no actual threat. Be ever so kind to yourself. Rest as much as you can. Make beautiful cups of tea. Slow down. Light a candle and watch it burn. Take a long fragrant soak in the tub, preferably with Epsom salt. Just breathe. Listen to lovely music. Move your body with care. Do restorative yoga. Walk in nature. Spend time with a loving friend.

Afterwards, trauma resides in memories and the ANS. Build yourself a vast toolkit of self-care resources for the activated times.

Trauma can also play a huge role in your beliefs. We are run by our beliefs, and some of them are outside our awareness. Feeling cursed? Been there. Having bad luck with relationships? Been there. So many questions. Why me? Am I being punished? What did I do to deserve this? How can anyone love me? How could God let this happen? Does God love me?

What are some things you have believed about yourself, your life, your character, your worthiness, after a trauma?

At this point, all I can say about belief is to frame it in the healthiest way you can. If that means you acknowledge that you encountered misfortune — something that has happened to a lot of people throughout human history — and understand it’s just the way life as a human can sometimes be, and don’t take it personally, that seems like a great start. You didn’t cause this, you didn’t deserve it, you are not being punished, you are not cursed. You ran into some bad luck, that’s all.

This is how you build resilience and move on. If you need a little healthy delusion, I say go for it. If rocks or essential oils or photos of Ramana Maharshi soften the harshness, use them. I do.

Beliefs are about what’s important. Identity is who you are. By working with your beliefs, you start to change your identity.

NLP Neuro-Logical Levels of Change.

We live our lives inside a huge mystery. Theoretical physicists say that two thirds of all existence consists of dark energy, and no one knows what it is. I just love this, my favorite new factoid! We.Don’t.Know.What’s.Going.On.

So feel free to make something up that works for you, that gives you strength and courage and takes the weight of oppression or unworthiness off you, so you can rise up to meet the rest of your life. Why not?

By all means, take credit for and celebrate the good stuff — for taking right action, or coming to understand what that means or if that was even possible then. For persisting in the face of hardship. For recovering some of your mental health. For those who understand and accept you, or are willing to make that attempt. For self-care and self-compassion. For bonding with all of humanity through your compassion for all suffering. For finding your path.

After trauma, you get to work with your autonomic nervous system, your memories, and your beliefs. Exploring and reframing your beliefs are where you can make the most difference. Have courage. You’re worth it.

Morning download, 2.15.19

I’ve been waking before 6, lying drowsily in the dark, under the covers, all warm and snuggly, surrounded by pillows, luxuriating in not having to get up and (usually) not feeling like I didn’t get enough sleep and need to get some more shut-eye.

This daily journey from nonconsciousness to consciousness feels so good to take it slowly. Feeling my warmth, my body weight surrendered to gravity, I notice that energy is pouring out the soles of my feet — or maybe pouring in. Not even the entire sole, but a circle around K1, Bubbling Spring, where the kidney channel begins. The force is strong there.

The little part of my brain that’s always going, “But what does it meeeaaaannnn?” doesn’t know what that’s about except that it’s healthy. Am I letting out too much or being replenished? Don’t know. Maybe connected to earth element because feet, right? Powerful point, powerful channel, kidney chi.

I may doze a little, but when the light starts to return, I get up and pee and return to sit in my bed and just sit. Yeah, I have beautiful, fancy meditation gear, and I sit in my bed.

I used to think of it as meditation, but now I like to just call it sitting. Sitting with what is. I tune into breath and body, sounds, and I enter a state of integrity and subtle bliss. I notice sensations, thoughts arising and dissipating, sometimes an emotional tone. I open up and make myself available.

Sometimes my thoughts are strong and sticky. I use my will to return to stillness, over and over. Sometimes I command my unruly thinker to be still, and it actually obeys, which is amazing and gratifying. I like to go deep into the swirly energy currents and let them wash me inside and out. When I am being breathed, I’m there. No will needed. Just surrender.

After sitting, breathing. Current practice: kapalabhati, the 4-7-8 kriya that Dr. Fulford taught Dr. Weil, and nadi shodhana.

I make myself a cup of matcha (with Berkey-filtered water heated to 160 degrees F because I’m that kind of person) and return to my bed, stare out my window, hear the noise of birds, traffic, trains, and the motors and beeps of heavy construction equipment, because Austin. The city is reaching the country.

I come into some clarity, and I simply need to write and share. I’ve realized that it’s probably not a good idea to text my early morning downloads to the possibly unprepared dear ones I’m fortunate enough to have in my life, at least until I’ve had an opportunity to check in. Still, there’s that need to express.

Guess what? I have a blog, and you’re reading it! I used to post more personal writing here but haven’t for a long time. I can do that again.

So…I’m back, my people! Here we are with my new strategy: morning pages for all to see, being intimate in a way that’s safe for me and my associates in this sometimes crazy, dangerous world. You didn’t want to know the particulars anyway — you like melding minds, and here’s my contribution. This business of being human requires courage and boundaries and discernment and trust, and a whole lot more…and that’s what’s coming up today.

Some things I will be writing about: finally figuring out that I’m an empath and learning how to be a healthy empath because sometimes it is quite troubling and draining.

Also, what the fuck is right relationship and how can I be/do/create/collaborate on that?

And also, being an autodidact. Being both ordinary and extraordinary because so are you and let’s talk about it. And whatever comes up that’s appropriate to share here.

We all learning here on this bus. That’s all for today, lovelies. Be well.

Breathing and being breathed

I have been breathing since shortly after I was born, but I never really gave much thought to it until I started doing yoga a few decades ago, and there wasn’t much instruction. In fact, I was a mindless smoker for part of my younger, ignorant, addicted life.

Pranayama (breath work) is the 4th limb of yoga, right after asana (postures). A few of my yoga teachers have included pranayama techniques at the end of asana class. Awareness of where I feel my breath, feeling it down to my pubic bone, feeling it on the sides and back of my rib cage and in my lumbar area and between my shoulder blades, keeping my shoulders down, letting my diaphragm really expand downwards, moving the heart/lungs and liver/gallbladder/pancreas/stomach/spleen on either side of the diaphragm, increasing the movement of detoxifying lymph with each breath, being present with the energizing inhalation and the relaxing exhalation, noticing the pauses, noticing what happens in my chakras and in my whole being…

Some of the yogic breathing techniques that have stuck with me through the years are kapalabhati (breath of fire), a rapid bellows breathing that floods the body with cleansing, nourishing oxygen as well as increases motivation — and also prevents discomfort from my hiatal hernia, and nadi shodhana (alternate nostril breathing), calming and believed to balance the hemispheres of the brain.

Were you aware that throughout the day, one of your nostrils is more open than the other, and that they periodically switch sides?

Source: https://grimmly2007.blogspot.com/2015/02/krishnamacharyas-own-asana-and.html

I practice these two techniques every day along with a more modern technique, 4-7-8 breathing, that was taught to Dr. Andrew Weil by his mentor, Dr. Robert Fulford, an American cranial osteopath/shaman (Wikipedia describes him as a pioneer in alternative and energetic medicine) who obviously had studied pranayam.

Dr. Weil recommends doing no more than four rounds of 4-7-8 breathing daily for a couple of months to train the nervous system to quickly move into a relaxed state. I notice that the main times I need to use it are when I’m driving and I narrowly avoid hitting something or being hit.

Another practice that’s not a technique (at least that I’ve ever heard of) is something that occurs in meditation. I call it “being breathed”. It occurs after settling the body and calming the mind, paradoxically by using the breath to relax by lengthening exhalations.

As relaxation/parasympathetic dominance increases, a gradual detachment from controlling the breath allows it to shift to operate on its own, automatically — as it does naturally when we’re not paying attention.

When you notice that your breath has become automatic — you aren’t doing anything to it or with it — you’re simply allowing it to do its thing — breathing becomes completely passive, occurring on its own, and observing it doesn’t change it — that’s what I call being breathed.

There’s a kind of awesomeness to this experience. I wonder if this is what Shri Krishnamacharya, founder of modern yoga, may have been referring to when he said pranayama could result in samadhi.

Am I experiencing samadhi? I don’t know. There’s a sense of oneness and a subtle sense of bliss that permeates. Namaste, my friends.

So that’s my current practice, doing three techniques daily that take 5 minutes, plus meditating (10 minutes with Sam Harris’ Waking Up app, and usually a few more in silence, breathing equally through nose and mouth with my tongue on my palate behind my upper teeth, a Kum Nye technique).

Trouble making decisions? Read this.

A Facebook friend posted this quote this morning, and it hit me hard how much sense it makes. I have had issues making decisions in the past — I imagine everyone has.

Here’s something to keep in mind when you are going back and forth:

“If you obsess over whether you are making the right decision, you are basically assuming that the universe will reward you for one thing and punish you for another. The universe has no fixed agenda. Once you make any decision, it works around that decision. There is no right or wrong, only a series of possibilities that shift with each thought, feeling, and action that you experience.”

Deepak Chopra

Nutrients for the aging brain

I subscribe to Science Daily, and at a minimum, I check out the headlines for the results of studies in the almost-daily emails they send me. I follow up on a few, reading the plain-language synopses of scientific studies that may be over my head in terms of using “science-use”.

This one caught my eye: Nutrients in blood linked to better brain connectivity, cognition in older adults.

Many of my friends and integrative bodywork clients are 60+. I myself take supplements and try to eat a healthy balanced diet. I was curious: Am I getting the right nutrients to nourish my brain?

The article cites a study that shows that higher levels of specific nutrients is robustly linked with higher brain connectivity and performance on cognitive tests in older adults. They looked at 32 nutrients in 116 healthy adults age 65-75. They also invited 40 participants back after two years and got the same results.

Rather than surveying participants on their diets, they looked at biomarkers in the blood. This would show what’s actually being absorbed.

They also used fMRI technology to look at how local and global brain networks performed, to see how many steps it took to complete a task on several cognitive tests.

This appears to be a very robust study.

What they found is that indeed, several nutrients are linked with higher brain performance. The nutrients are:

  • omega 3 fatty acids (found in salmon, sardines, walnuts, flaxseed, hempseed, avocados and more — amount should be higher than omega 6)
  • omega 6 fatty acids (found in flaxseed, hempseed, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and nuts)
  • carotenoids (found in red, orange, and yellow vegetables and fruit)
  • lycopene (a carotenoid found in red tomatoes, watermelon, grapefruit, and papayas)
  • riboflavin (Vitamin B2, found in eggs, organ meats, lean meats, mushrooms, spinach)
  • folate (Vitamin B9, found in dark green vegetables, dried legumes, eggs, beets, citrus)
  • Vitamin B12 (found in organ meats, clams, sardines, fortified nutritional yeast, other fortified foods)
  • Vitamin D (found in sunlight on the skin and supplements — no foods contain enough to prevent deficiency)

The researchers found that higher levels of omega 3s in particular boosted the functioning of the frontoparietal network, which supports the ability to focus attention and engage in goal-directed behavior.

My take is to eat nutrient-dense foods every day for every meal. I eat wild salmon (it can be canned) or sardines several times a week, keep nuts on hand for snacking, eat the healthiest eggs I can get at least once a week, buy large bags of baby spinach and broccoli at Costco, enjoy fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice and watermelon in season, make a delicious chicken-liver paté, and eat dried beans almost daily. I cook with olive, avocado, ghee, and coconut oil.

Also, take note of what foods are not listed. What are some shifts you could make to improve your brain health?

I also supplement with Vitamin D and a methylated B complex. If you have had genetic testing that shows you have an MTHFR mutation (which I do), when you buy Vitamin B supplements, be sure the label says folate instead of folic acid and methylcobalamin (B12) instead of cyanocobalamin. If you don’t know if you have an MTHFR mutation, get these methylated versions of these nutrients because it’s estimated that 60 percent of Americans do have a mutation.

If you’re interested in using my online dispensary and saving 30% on good quality supplements, you can sign up for a Wellevate account here.

Updated products I recommend

I’ve updated this page with some new recommendations! New for 2018: the book How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan, a new online dispensary for supplements, stainless steel drinking straws, a hand/face/body lotion, and more.

Happy shopping!

 

Subjective measures of relaxation: what would you add?

How do you know you’re relaxed? I have a hunch that most people think they relax sometimes, but compared to people who’ve explored relaxation, they are not. Relaxing with a beer, with friends, in nature, on vacation, etc. is what comes to mind for a lot of people when they think of relaxation.

Yes, it’s different from working or feeling stressed, and yet the depth of relaxation can be so much more. It’s not about what you do, it’s what you experience in your body, and in your mind.  Continue reading

Polyvagal theory, applied

I’m summarizing polyvagal theory, originated by Dr. Stephen Porges, from a 10:48-minute video interview of him. I’m doing this for my own understanding, and I want to share because it’s a new way of thinking about traumatic responses. It has major implications for my work, and I’ve added my own comments in brackets. I am sure I will continue to refine my understanding.

Dr. Porges says that polyvagal theory is the understanding of how our body reacts to various challenges. The autonomic nervous system [involuntary, like heart beat] has evolved in vertebrates, changing and adding new circuits that function in a hierarchy. The newer circuits can inhibit older circuits. The older circuits were circuits of defense. Continue reading