Orienting to space

Not too long ago, I posted Orienting to stillness, orienting to motion, providing some options for people who are interested in exploring awareness. Today I want to share some experiences with orienting to space.

First, a little backtracking. Starting in 2010, I wrote here about the 12 states of attention (and also here), which I learned from Nelson Zink on his website Navaching (which also included instructions for night walking), which sadly he has taken down. Reading his book of stories The Structure of Delight is an experience I highly recommend. It’s like no other book you’ve encountered, and if you’re interested in acquiring wisdom from a bunch of interesting characters, you’ll enjoy it.

(If you don’t want to click the links about the 12 states, here’s a summary: We primarily use our visual, auditory, and kinesthetic senses. Our experience can be subdivided into narrow and broad. For instance, a broad auditory state would be listening to the whole orchestra playing, while a narrow auditory state would be singling out the oboe in the orchestra. These states can be further divided into external and internal. An external visual state is seeing your environment with your eyes, while an internal one is imagining or remembering something. The image below shows the 12 states.) Continue reading

Book review: The Nature of Consciousness: Essays on the Unity of Mind and Matter, by Rupert Spira

I occasionally receive books on spiritual topics in the mail, with nice cover letters from publishers or marketing people, because I apparently was added to some mysterious mailing list, perhaps of “bloggers who write about spiritual topics.” I (rarely) review books or films on this blog, as I don’t have much time to read them, being engaged in an intensely focused study and practice of biodynamics (a bridge between meditation and healing, as I’ve come to think of it).

I asked members of my long-time spiritual book group if they wanted to read and review some books I’d received, and Harry Lundell chose this book.

Here is Harry’s review: Continue reading

Working with forward head: myofascial release

Read the first post in this series here. My notes are at the end of this post, along with a link to the following post. ~ MaryAnn

by Cate Radebaugh

So, I had another ‘forward head position’ appointment with Mary Ann. She is very excited about the new Zero Balancing work she’s learned and briefly contemplated adding that to this session, but decided against it. Myofascial release it was.

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Notice that Cate’s ear is in front of the middle of her shoulder. The SCM runs from behind her ear to her chest.

First, she took a picture of my neck so we can all track my progress.

Then, because this is “take some of your clothes off and cover up with a sheet” work, that’s what I did. (Those sheets are so soft. They’re made of microfiber. I suggest you get some for yourself. Or go do work with Mary Ann, because they’re part of the treat. Now back to the forward head thingy.)

One of the advantages of working with Mary Ann is she shares her knowledge about bodies with her clients as she’s working on them. I feel on speaking terms with some of my muscles now.

Two big ones are the sternocleidomastoids, SCMs for short. They run from my mastoid processes – the two bumps behind my ears at the base of my skull – down my neck and attach to my collarbones and sternum, and are what turn and nod my head. Continue reading

The mindful diet

First. Let yourself get hungry. Abstain from eating so that you feel hunger. Check in with what your body is feeling every so often for an hour after you first feel hunger. Notice whether the sensations stay the same or change.

Drink water and notice what happens. Sometimes we mistake thirst for hunger. Learn the difference.

Savor these sensations. They are wisdom from your body. They are real, present sensations. Hunger for them. Trust them. You may have been ignoring them. You may have trouble recognizing them.

(Don’t worry. If you are reading this post, you will not die from hunger in one hour, or thirst, although your mind may be telling you differently. Your mind has been conditioned to mindless eating. That’s what is changing.)

If your mind starts thinking about food, write about it. Make a list of foods you daydream about. Evaluate this list. Is it good for you? If not, could something else satisfy you — a hug, a walk, dancing?

Notice the difference between what you feel with your body and what your mind is doing. Each way of being has a signature.

What would your life be like if you only ate after you fully and consciously felt hunger? Would you eat at certain times, or might the times vary? How often do you really need to eat to maintain or improve your health?

Second. Eat. After an hour of hunger and its sensations has gone by, eat. Eat some food that is healthy. Eat it slowly with an eye to noticing the sensation of satiety, of having eaten enough.

Do not eat with the goal of cleaning your plate. Give yourself a small serving.

The goal is to really notice eating and “enough”. Take one bite. Chew it. Taste it. Notice as many qualities of the taste as you can. Swallow.

Take another bite. Chew, taste, swallow. Move your arm slowly as you pick the food up with your fork or spoon or fingers and bring it to your mouth. Chew slowly.

After the third bite, pause for a minute. Notice the sensations in your stomach. How have they changed? Do you still feel hungry? Do you feel less hungry?

Remember that your empty stomach is the size of your fist, and your full stomach is the size of both fists. You don’t even have to fill your stomach to feel satiated.

Eat ten bites and notice your stomach sensations.

You might decide to stop then, or you might decide to eat 15 or 20 bites. But stop when you’ve eaten less than you would mindlessly eat.

Then see how long it takes for you to feel hungry again, and do it all again.  It might mean you need to have food available as you go through your day, perhaps some nut butter, a banana, an avocado. Just enough to stave off your hunger pangs. You could eat half a banana or avocado, or a teaspoon of almond butter.

You might also think about where the food came from, plant or animal, soil, rain, sunshine, farmers, and all the places it has been and hands it has passed through to get to your mouth. With gratitude.

Third. Do this often. It’s a great way to lose weight, because it’s portion control, but more importantly, it gets you back in touch with your body, and it extends your experience of gratitude and connection to the planet.

Also, if you are only eating when hungry, and only eating enough to stave off hunger for a couple of hours, you will want every bite of food you eat to be nutritious as well as delicious. No HFCS, please.

And that’s it. I’m posting this to remind myself that I can eat like this, because I have put on a little more weight than I’d like. I’m having a small cup of quinoa tabouli for breakfast, then it’s off to work.

This is water.

Here’s a video made about a  commencement speech, about the banality that is the water we swim in in our modern daily lives, and where our freedom truly lies.

The capital T Truth is about life before death. It is about the real value of a real education, which has almost nothing to do with knowledge and everything to do with simple awareness, awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over, “This is water. This is water.”

In remembrance of Gabrielle Roth: freedom is our holy work

One of the significant teachers in my life died yesterday, and I’ve struggled with writing about it. I find myself getting too heady, and yet this loss is actually so profound that when I took a nap yesterday, I dreamed I was balancing upside down on my head on a dance floor, surrounded by lively, active children.

When I woke, I could feel the pressure on the crown of my head.

Headstand is definitely about changing perspective.

I stumbled into ecstatic dance 18 years ago, first encountering the 5 rhythms of Gabrielle Roth and Sweat Your Prayers after I left church as something I could no longer take part in with integrity.

I found a tribe, a practice, and a way of experiencing myself and the world as energy.

I’m not sure, but I suspect that the latter is the change in perspective that I’m integrating with this shock of loss and review of Gabrielle’s influence on my life, that it’s all just energy all the time, and it’s always changing, always dancing. The best I can ever do is to be centered, grounded, embodied, and ready to meet it. What’s solid is awareness.

I’ve had issues and struggles at times with that tribe, practice, and worldview, and they have deeply shaped me. I keep coming back.

Here’s what ecstatic dance is to me: being free, feeling joy, being embodied, clearing, cleansing, breathing, sweating, extending myself, being aware, taking care of my body, pushing to my edge and beyond, being in the moment, sharing, delighting, inquiring, discovering, connecting, having compassion, being inspired, seeing, allowing, playing, surrendering, breaking myself open, feeling what comes up, being danced, letting go, grieving, dancing with other versions of me, dancing with the entire room including the space, letting life and everything flow through me, being totally and completely alive, being fully present, blowing all the blocks out of my energy channels.

I feel so grateful to have found this and that I am able to do this.

Thank you, Gabrielle Roth, for your life’s work. Thank you, dancing tribe.

Here’s Gabrielle in her own words.

I became a mapmaker for others to follow, but not in my footsteps, in their own. Many of us are looking for a beat, something solid and rooted where we can take refuge and begin to explore the fluidity of being alive, to investigate why we often feel stuck, numb, spaced-out, tense, inert, and unable to stand up or sit down or unscramble the screens that reflect our collective insanity.

The question I ask myself and everyone else is, “Do you have the discipline to be a free spirit?” Can we be free of all that binds and bends us into a shape of consciousness that has nothing to do with who we are from moment to moment, from breath to breath?

Dance is the fastest, most direct route to the truth — not some big truth that belongs to everybody, but the get down and personal kind, the what’s-happening-in-me-right-now kind of truth. We dance to reclaim our brilliant ability to disappear in something bigger, something safe, a space without a critic or a judge or an analyst.

Sunday morning: a little trauma release, a fine buzz, then some yoga jazz, and a tribute to a teacher

Long-time readers know I spent some time and energy on learning the trauma releasing exercises of David Berceli and practicing them. (If you’re a new reader, go to the tag cloud in the right panel and click TRE or trauma releasing exercises to see the many posts on the topic. If you want to learn them, I recommend Berceli’s book and video.)

I haven’t written much about them for a while. I still value them very much as a tool for releasing tension.

Sometimes at ecstatic dance, I allow my legs to shake for a little while, which releases leg tension, especially around my hip joint. (Nobody notices or comments, ever.)

Some mornings I wake up and just know I need to do them. I may tremble for 30 seconds to a minute or two. It doesn’t have to last long to be effective.

I imagine that the more you do them and really surrender to them, the less you need to do them. Also, the more you do them, the more aware you become of tensions accumulating in your body, and you adjust sooner — taking a deep, cleansing breath to let it all out, stretching and moving the tense area.

This morning I did them for longer, because my body wanted to keep going. First my legs surrendered to the shaking, then left my arm flapped, then right my arm flapped, then my lower spine hammered, then my upper spine waved, then more legs, and so on. It’s entertaining to witness where the surrendering moves!

Then afterward, the fine buzz inhabiting my body. Mmm.

Walk to my yoga mat. Tadasana, feeling feet, upward energy. Stretching arms up into hastasana circling to anjali mudra several times to warm up, each with my gaze a little higher, a little more backbend.

Then from hips, float down into uttanasana and just hang. Feel my tight hamstrings. Hold. Breathe. They become like rubber bands, surrendering to the stretch. Then extend spine and re-bow.

Left leg back into lunge. Feeling the tight gastrocnemius and soleus. Push heel back and breathe. Right leg back to join it. Breathe length into calves.

Plank, with spread fingers, sturdy column arms under shoulders. Feel strength. Pressing palm and fingers evenly into mat, slowly lowering into chataranga, feeling creaks and twinges in shoulders and elbows.

Once flat, press pelvis and tops of feet into floor and lift up into bhujangasana, cobra. Imagine the fronts of my vertebrae, deep in the middle of my torso, fanning wide open to give and receive and expand my energy. This spine, this flexible column of bone, fluids, muscle, nerve, this backbone. Yes.

Turn toes under. Strongly lift my body up, elevating my pelvis as high as it will go. Push palms and fingers evenly into floor. Push heels back to stretch my soles (I’m hearing my teacher Eleanor Harris now). Lift sit bones to ceiling. Feel strong shoulders. Downward-facing dog, adho mukha svanasana.

“Enjoy your breath,” as my teacher Brigitte Edery is fond of saying. And I do.

Then bring right leg forward into lunge. Then today’s standing sequence: warrior two, extended side angle, reverse extended side angle, triangle, reverse triangle, ardha chandrasana, warrior one, warrior three. Nice standing vinyasa (with room for improvement in the sequencing, I notice), and I am aware of all the different stretches each pose brings where spine meets pelvis meets thighs.

I am pleased with my balance in ardha chandrasana, but I need to put my extended arms on the top of a stool to hold warrior three. There’s always an edge. Today, and probably for a few weeks (or months, who knows?), that’s mine — balancing in warrior three.

Then back to lunge, uttanasana (notice how much deeper my fold is), extending spine, and reverse swan dive up, arms circling into anjali mudra.

Repeat on other side.

I follow with pigeon, a deep twist (thrilling as my shoulders reached the floor), happy baby, and rock to standing.

I am in my body, ready for today, for ecstatic dance, for community, for work, for learning prenatal massage.

Feeling very grateful for my friends, and for my teacher Gabrielle Roth, whose work I knew better than I knew her personally, who was so influential in opening my awareness up to new movements, rhythms, and energies in life, who is in her own life now moving into stillness. She dedicated her life to healing the mind-body split. Amen to that.

Here’s my favorite Gabrielle quote:

After you jump, before you land is God.

I’m going to light a candle and open myself up to God.

Renewing my sitting practice, massage self care, oil pulling, and a 21-day challenge: Byron Katie’s The Work

I got away from my meditation practice. For many months.

It always seemed like a good idea when I thought about it, and I still didn’t actually do it more than occasionally. Committing to 20-30 minutes of doing nothing — well, it seemed like I didn’t have time. I had other things to do.

This is after years of meditating and a full year of daily sitting.

Hmmm. The mind plays tricks, takes itself way too seriously, makes excuses, avoids.

I missed it, and when a friend told me she gets out of bed and sits first thing every day, it inspired me to start again.

I was also inspired by the film The Dhamma Brothers, about a program in an Alabama prison where inmates did vipassana meditation, 10 days of silent sitting. It was profound to see peace on the faces of men who had committed terrible crimes.

One inmate said:

I thought my biggest fear was growing old and dying in prison. In truth, my biggest fear was growing old and not knowing myself.

Meditation has always been about facing my self, from the day I started, so tentatively, having realized that nothing else I had tried was taking my suffering away, so I might at least fully face it.

It didn’t take it away, but I quickly understood that my experience was larger than my suffering.

Aren’t we all in prisons of some kind? Fears, mindless behaviors, disconnections, denial, insane beliefs…

I want to know myself. And that in itself is such a koan, I felt inspired to sit with it.

Getting on the computer first thing in the morning is my worst distraction. I seem to have developed an affinity for my laptop, for Facebook, email, checking my blog stats, reading what interests me. Time can get away from me. It’s like an addiction.

So I realized that I need to sit first thing. Actually, I do a couple of sun salutations first. Otherwise, more of my attention goes to my aches and pains when I sit.

Yoga frees my mind to pay more attention to noticing my thoughts and sensing the subtle energies.

Today I experienced this:

Indeed, the ineffability of the air seems akin to the ineffability of awareness itself, and we should not be surprised that many indigenous peoples construe awareness, or ‘mind,’ not as a power that resides inside their heads, but rather as a quality that they themselves are inside of, along with the other animals and the plants, the mountains and the clouds. ~ David Abram

Tom Best would love that quote. Living inside of awareness. Sweet. I miss him.

~~~

I’ve been giving 15-20 massages a week, and my body is feeling it. I like the honesty of physical work, and I’m learning about remedies like rosemary oil for achy thumbs, trigger points on the forearm, wrist stretches.

Immersing myself in the cold waters of Barton Springs and snorkeling a lap is very, very good for aches and pains. I sleep well.

I’ve also changed up my mouth care routine. I’m brushing with turmeric (if you try it, be careful because it stains towels and possibly porcelain, but it whitens teeth and reduces inflammation in gum pockets), tongue scraping, flossing, oil pulling with organic coconut oil (sometimes adding a drop of peppermint or clove oil).

I do the oil pulling for 20 minutes most days.

So far, my teeth are whiter, my mouth feels cleaner, and my breath smells good throughout the day.

I’ve done this about a week now. I want to do it for a couple of months and see if it makes a big difference. Some folks claim that oil pulling has huge unexpected health benefits; some say that’s because it reduces inflammation in the mouth and body.

I’ll let you know.

~~~

Finally, I am planning to start a new 21-day challenge on Sept. 1, ending on the fall equinox. I will be doing The Work of Byron Katie, starting with her Judge Your Neighbor worksheet.

I will do at least one worksheet online so people can see how The Work actually works.

I’m also re-reading her book, Loving What Is (which she autographed for me last time I saw her!), and will add insights from that and the workshops I’ve attended.

If you’d like to do it along with me, here’s a link to the worksheet online.

Awareness through hearing: a three-minute exercise

All experience is embodied!

I feel like shouting that from the rooftop right now after several days of learning from and working with Bryan Mahan, Somatic Experiencing Practitioner.

There is no separation of body and mind except the one that the mind makes. When that happens, it’s called “not being in your body”. It’s also beginning to dawn on me that perhaps that is what “ego” is—and that is my mind playing and making busywork!

This may be a complete no-brainer (hah!) to you, but I can tell you that most people do not fully inhabit their bodies.

So here’s a three-minute experiment that could be quite profound in you experiencing life-as-it-is:

Use a timer. Spend one minute listening to actual sounds in your external environment. Notice whatever sounds enter your ears, even the background noises like the air conditioning that you usually tune out, as well as voices, TV, whatever, in the foreground. Notice sounds coming in your left ear and sounds coming in your right ear and sounds coming in both ears. Notice changes in sounds, rhythms and silence and pitch, as well. If your attention wanders, quickly bring it back to just listening.

After the minute is up, check in. What is the state of your bodymind?

Now spend one minute listening to your internal sounds. Swallow and notice the sound. Notice the sounds of your breathing, inhaling and exhaling. Notice your stomach rumbling. Is there a constant internal background noise? Do you have a sense of hearing your heartbeat or pulse? Notice pauses and rhythms.

Check in. What are you feeling? How are you experiencing yourself?

Now spend a minute letting your mind operate as it usually does. Notice your internal dialogue. Notice the quality of the dialogue. Is it wandering? Choppy? Inquisitive? Doubtful? Opinionated? Judgmental? Are there pauses, or is it constant? Is there a voice? If so, whose?

Check in. What’s happening?

I can tell you what my experience was.

After the first two exercises, I felt calm and present in my body. My mind thought, “I like this really hearing. There’s a lot of richness there. I feel happy.”

After the third exercise, I felt separate from my environment, with very little body awareness. I felt not present. I felt caught up in the future (“What’s for dinner?”—even though I’m not hungry at all) or the past (“Whoa, that was a bad experience”). My mind evaluated, “I don’t feel very calm or happy when I’m in my head like that.”

Now I could certainly write a long blah-blah-blah about this experience and what it “means”. I’m not.

I’d rather that you just let your experience speak to you itself. What literally makes you happy?

What if awareness is a quality you are inside of?

Indeed, the ineffability of the air seems akin to the ineffability of awareness itself, and we should not be surprised that many indigenous peoples construe awareness, or “mind,” not as a power that resides inside their heads, but rather as a quality that they themselves are inside of, along with the other animals and the plants, the mountains and the clouds. – David Abram, The Spell of the Sensuous

Thank you, Gioconda, for sharing that quote at the beginning of your yoga class a few weeks ago, and thanks for sending me the actual text and source. The profundity of this quote has been playing with me.

I invite you in this transitional week leading to the new year to play with this concept, to try it on. Ask yourself these questions.

Better yet, pull some questions out of thin air!

What if mind, or awareness, is something we walk around in and live our entire lives inside of, like the air?

What if our entire bodies — torsos, limbs, skin, bone, muscle, organ, connective tissue — are as immersed in this mind as our heads are? Can you experience yourself that way? Can you know with your toes? Discern with your liver? Learn with your heart? Understand with your hand?

What if mind is an element like air? Among the elements, air does represents mind — what if it is mind? We breathe it in for nourishment and exhale into it for release? Does that give new significance to your breathing? And because everyone is doing this all the time, what if the quality of Mind changes by what you and others put into it and take out of it?

Is this the illusion or is it real? Is this consensual reality?

What if expanding your mind, or if you prefer, expanding your awareness, is nothing more than more sensitively experiencing yourself and your surroundings?

And, what if there is no limit to how sensitively you can do this?

What if the boundary between self and environment is just a convenient construct for communication purposes but actually doesn’t exist?

For more on David Abram, here’s a chapter from The Spell of the Sensuous. Excerpt:

For none of the several island sorcerers whom I came to know in Indonesia, nor any of the djankris with whom I lived in Nepal, considered their work as ritual healers to be their major role or function within their communities. Most of them, to be sure, were the primary healers or “doctors” for the villages in their vicinity, and they were often spoken of as such by the inhabitants of those villages. But the villagers also sometimes spoke of them, in low voices and in very private conversations, as witches (lejaks in Bali)–dark magicians who at night might well be practicing their healing spells backward in order to afflict people with the very diseases that they would later cure by day. I myself never consciously saw any of the magicians or shamans with whom I became acquainted engage in magic for harmful purposes, nor any convincing evidence that they had ever done so. Yet I was struck by the fact that none of them ever did or said anything to counter such disturbing rumors and speculations, which circulated quietly through the regions where they lived. Slowly I came to recognize that it was through the agency of such rumors, and the ambiguous fears that such rumors engendered, that the sorcerers were able to maintain a basic level of privacy. By allowing the inevitable suspicions and fears to circulate unhindered in the region, the sorcerers ensured that only those who were in real and profound need of their [healing] skills would dare to approach them for help. This privacy, in turn, left the magicians free to their primary craft and function.

A clue to this function may be found in the circumstance that such magicians rarely dwell at the heart of their village; rather, their dwellings are commonly at the spatial periphery of the community amid the surrounding rice fields, at the edge of the forest, or among a cluster of boulders. For the magician’s intelligence is not circumscribed within the society–its place is at the edge, mediating between the human community and the larger community of beings upon which the village depends for its nourishment and sustenance. 

For more on Gioconda Yoga, click here. She’s got some cool workshops coming up!

(By the way, this is my 500th blog post. When I started this blog two years ago, I had no idea I’d post 500 times or post about this topic. Yay life for creating itself anew every day!)