Monday, July 21, 2014

Enter the Center

The best teachers at massage school remembered to say, before we began working on each other, "Center yourself." Not one of them explained how to center ourselves, though, which puzzled me since balance is so rare. Human beings are not designed to be eternally balanced. All is change with us, always. We are dynamic beings: soulful, tender, ambitious, loving and hating. We swing out of balance all the time, every day. We are in flux.

Centering methods are always referred to as practices, like meditation, for instance. It's a practice, not something that is achieved once and for all. No matter what the method, where or when it was devised, becoming centered is not a matter of doing it once or twice and that's it. Oh no. We have to keep at it.

There are so many ways to come back to center! I wouldn't think of trying to name them all. It really helps to find one or two that work for you, and then practice, practice, practice, even though you will never reach perfection.

Here's a centering method I use all the time. I toss it into the pool of centering practices today because it's a very dynamic week astrologically, a great week to practice coming back to center.

The first part can be the hardest. Become curious. This requires some openness that is easier for some than others. You want to be empty, not like the wine glass put away in the cupboard, but like the glass on the table, an open bottle of wine poised above it, about to be poured. Be empty, yet welcoming. Can you?

The next part is easy. Ask these questions internally, pause to notice what comes up, then go to the next question. You don't have to do anything, just pay attention. Please try not to judge yourself since that will take you out of your center. If nothing comes to you, that's fine, too. Just notice.

Ask yourself, What story am I telling myself right now? 

Ask yourself, How does my body feel right now?

Ask yourself, How is my emotional weather at this moment?

Ask yourself, Can I feel my connection to God? If you don't like the word God, find something else that is bigger than yourself. Can you feel your connection to the greater wisdom, greater kindness, to spirit, soul, unconditional love, universal love, that sort of thing.

That's all you have to do. Simply asking these questions helps me find my way back to my center. Even if that lasts only a few seconds, it is well worth it. I have access to wholeness and wisdom only in those brief moments when I'm centered.

Here, I'll do it right now.

What story am I telling myself right now? I'm thinking, these people who read this blog need to know about this centering method.

(Maybe, maybe not! But that's my story for now.)

How does my body feel right now? I'm feeling some stiffness from sitting on the sofa with my computer in my lap. I'm well rested, a little sniffly, peckish but not terribly hungry.

What is my emotional weather at this moment? Slightly anxious, which is not abnormal, a little worried, a little cranky, too.

Can I feel my connection to God? Yes. Thank you!

Even as I'm typing this final paragraph I can feel my thoughts shifting in different directions. My anxiety is urging me to Be Productive, my body is begging me to Get Up and Stretch. But for a second there, I was centered, present, with all my dirt in one spot, as we used to say in the Midwest. Layers of my being aligned and I was whole. I was aware. I was clear.

If you don't have a centering practice, well, why not? Give this one a shot. Take a meditation class. Go to yoga or t'ai chi. Sit down and pray.

Centering practice brings out the best in us. Right now, at this insane moment in history, we need the best of us. We surely do.


Saturday, July 19, 2014


It is not a popular opinion, my sense that we homo sapiens, no matter how we wish to transcend matters of flesh and blood, are instinctually motivated, always - yes - always. Because of our humongous brains we're able to weave lovely narratives to describe behavior in ways that make what we do sound lofty, somehow above our instincts, beyond our limits. If only! It's ambitious, but of course that's a part of who we are as a species. Problems arise because we are so invested in our narratives. We believe them to be "true" - whatever that is. It's a conundrum.

I will survive explains everything we do. Survival is the god of instincts. Like the many arms on a Hindu deity, survival takes on many shapes, colors, descriptions. There is a lengthy spectrum of survival behaviors, from brutal violence to great philanthropy, and everything between. We are really complicated animals, endlessly creative, tender, soulful. All among us are driven by the instinct to survive, thrive, and make more of us.

I mention this because of the Malaysian airplane shot out of the sky, because of the ground invasion of Gaza by Israel. Here in DC, on FB, on the radio, in the newspapers, every story is full of horror and outrage. It's a completely understandable urge to think the Russian separatists are not like us. They're animals, unable to rise above their instincts. How could they?

Maybe they're like us, but less fortunate, way less fortunate than the president, members of Congress, also far less fortunate than the crowd at the coffee shop on Capitol Hill. We in my community, even the most desperate among us, lives a life far more luxurious than most of humankind has ever experienced anywhere on earth. Yes, we often take it for granted. I do, too.

I have no idea how anyone could fire a rocket at an airplane, but then I have never been truly hungry either. That I can't imagine that behavior betrays my incredibly comfortable life situation. My survival instinct expresses itself by way of duck and cover behavior. I hide, and I survive. In many situations, that wouldn't work out over time. I have a truly luxurious life.

How to do you survive? What's your strategy? Have you ever thought about it? What is the narrative of your strategy? It's interesting, at least to me.

Good to remember: humans are capable of love and compassion. It's in there, it is. Through love and compassion, we can move along the rainbow bridge of instinct from survival to something more opulent, a state in which we can thrive, in which we can become generous. To get there I believe the basic needs must be met: food, shelter, that sort of thing. It's hard to be generous when hungry or in pain.

Every person I know on Capitol Hill has the luxury of developing love and compassion because we live so well. My prayers today are not about vanquishing the bad guys, whatever that means, or even assessing blame, something many people are eager to do. My prayer today is that the hearts of those who can afford it will open in love, connection and trust instead of blame and outrage. Adding more of that energy can not possibly help unravel the tangle of this moment in time. Let our hearts and minds be clear and calm in the midst of the insanity. May it be so.

May these horrible situations unwind without spinning out of control. May we survive - all of us. May it be so. Shalom.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Act your age

Four Cones, Ursula von Rydingsvard, National Gallery of Art, cedar and graphite.

Human beings are not designed to be healthy or live very long lives, no we are not. We're designed to be really motivated to, and very good at, making babies. As a species, we have excelled at the making of babies and oh my are we ever motivated to try. Sex is everything to our species. It is such a pleasure that we are now in a place where sex often has nothing to do with the instinctual urge to procreate. The instinct is there for sure, but we have added a lot of flourishes to it. We have turned sex into a high art of expression, connection, and creative inspiration. We are so clever.

We are down with the idea of sex, we surely are. It's the successful completion of pregnancy, and particularly labor and delivery, that is so difficult. Until very recently, women and babies died all the time in the process of childbirth. Our heads are so big. Babies and mothers still die regularly from childbirth, actually, though in my culture we have made some progress in helping babies be safely born.

I could write another post about this leap in evolution that we're now in the process of experiencing. Our brains are learning to function differently in order to adapt to the changing climate, hence we will not have to grow bigger heads to accommodate bigger brains as we have in the past. That evolutionary strategy, of increased cranial size, will no longer work. Instead, we are changing not only how we think, but how we think about how we think.

But that's not what this post is about. It's about we old people and how we just have to stop buying in to the idea that old age is so horrible. We have to stop pretending to be younger. We must stop - for god's sake - our grousing about how we wish we were young again. Old folks: KNOCK IT OFF!

I know it is instinctual to wish to be young, because it's only while young that we can make babies. This is the most foundational instinct we have.

Make. Babies.

Up until recently, there weren't that many old people. One hundred years ago the average life expectancy was fifty. In my grandparents' generation, living to sixty was an extraordinary accomplishment. Living to one hundred, almost unheard of. As a species, we have always been sickly, which is why healing is the oldest art, and why there are so many different approaches to healing. We are tender and need a lot of help. It was almost a miracle to live a long life until recently.

What I imagine is that old people before the modern era were revered for bucking the statistical probabilities, or were viewed in the same way as a foreign exchange student, unusual and therefore exotic in some sense.

Now there are so many old people, oh my. Folks of every age are scrambling to adjust. The greatest generation parents lived long enough to be put into assisted living, then nursing homes and wheel chairs, where they withered away. We boomers want none of that kind of experience. We dream of old people communes with younger people coming in to help now and again. Capitol Hill Village is a perfect example of the way my generation is trying to accommodate the reality of our long, long lives.

I wonder what the kids of my generation will do? They're too young right now to imagine it's going to be a reality for themselves. They're way too busy doing young adult things like expanding their fiefdoms, being successful, climbing the ladder in some way or another, establishing themselves. Also they are very busy making babies or at least thinking about sex all the time. This is perfectly healthy and normal. Old age shouldn't seem real to a 30 or even a 40 something.

One thing that would really help them figure out better solutions to this fortunate dilemma is to actually look forward to it. The only way for us to set a good example is to stand tall and be proud of our longevity.

I often decry the rampant ageism that's part of my society. It's every bit as serious as the weight thing. Yet we old people, who should know better, contribute to the ageism by lying about our ages, getting hideous plastic surgery, and using the word "old" as if it means being a total, helpless deadbeat who smells funny.

People: you can be a total, helpless deadbeat who smells funny at any age! I mean, really.

The fact that we can't have babies any longer, and mostly don't care much about trying, is a Good Thing. There are plenty of humans - we don't have to have more of them. What we need is a body of people who are willing to hold history, to be grounded and light hearted, active, thoughtful. We could be great elders, wise advisors, to the grandchildren. They could use some help from people who have been around the block once or twice. But why would they ask us when we're knocking ourselves out trying to pretend to still be young?

We could guide, reassure and encourage the grandchildren. We could show them by example how wonderful it is to live a long life. Why don't we?