We Are Like Sprouting Potatoes

To live, to produce more potatoes, the potato’s inner nature, its wiring, says sprout when conditions are sufficient. So when there is the darkness of a cellar or of the earth, potatoes sprout. In this way we are just like sprouting potatoes in the dark. We, too, have an inner knowing to live our lives forward when conditions are sufficient. This forward growth direction is a characteristic of life’s process.

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Life is process. We may feel like solid things, buffeted by situations and our environment, but we are not. We are process interacting with our environment. Consider the breath that keeps us alive. The breath is interaction with the air around us. We are not separate from our breath. We breathe and it feels right. The potato is not separate from the darkness—the darkness is intrinsic to how the potato lives forward giving us new potatoes. So, too, we are not separate from our situations and environment.

So how is it that we experience stoppages? That we feel stuck? That we are unable to live the lives we feel are right for us? When young and growing, we may not have the inner capabilities to live forward through a situation. The mother that ignores us. The parents that criticize us. The war that surrounds us. The illness that takes our loved ones away from us.  The people who are cruel to us. These are the kinds of things that can cause our inner process of living forward to stop, to get stuck.  As we grow older other situations may occur creating a stoppage or reinforce one from our youth. We may experience separation from loved ones, illness, or the harmful effects of a bad economy. Perhaps criticized as a child, as an adult, we feel inadequate and struggle to move forward in our chosen career. Or something else.

And when there is a stoppage, when something in us doesn’t live forward but remains stuck in some place in us, in our tissues, in energy channels, in our very being, then we feel that something is not right. Something may not be happening that we want to happen. We may feel our thoughts and emotions circling like wagons against attack. Something in us may rebel or capitulate. These are all signals that there is something that has not been able to process. Something in us lacked the resources and support to move through a situation and now we feel stuck.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. By coming into presence, feeling our wholeness of body, feeling how we are supported, by bringing gentle and curious awareness to that something that doesn’t feel right we begin our healing. It will emerge and come forward as something in our body that at first may not have words to describe it and yet by acknowledging it and bringing our gentle and loving presence to it, little by little it will show itself. And, by staying with it listening and reaffirming, we allow it to release its stuck energy and move forward with  a sense of rightness in life, just as the potato sprouts in the dark.

 

I’m Confused

“I’m so confused,” you might say to someone else. “Something in me is so confused,” you might say inwardly to self. So what about this confusion?

The dictionary defines confusion as a lack of understanding; uncertainty, or as the state of being bewildered or unclear about something in one’s own mind. When I am feeling confused, there is a lack of clarity. Murkiness abounds. And that feeling state of bewilderment and perplexity is there too.

It might also feel very dense, all tied up, or turbulent as though it is impossible to unravel the threads to gain understanding. It can be difficult to navigate confusion. What to do? Bring your presence, neutral space and time and empathetic listening.

Give yourself a moment to center, perhaps take a breath letting the exhalation last a little longer than the inhalation. Then say to it, “Hello, I see you are there,” with interest and curiosity. Take a moment and sense how it reacts.

If your “hello” engages it in a neutral but friendly way, take some time to describe it. How it feels, its texture or quality, or its shape. It may show you or tell you something.

If, on the other hand, it feels tense and tight as though there is not much or no space or air, back off a bit. Take another breath and bring your awareness to the ground your feet are touching and how that supports you. Sense your hands. Fingers, palms, and back of hands. Now as you take another breath allow your awareness to follow its journey through the nostrils, down the throat, into the chest and even further down to stomach and belly. Notice how it feels to arrive there.

Now, say inwardly, “I am the space big enough for whatever needs my attention. Sense the space. Back off a bit more, if needed. Sense the space again. Sense and see if something that is feeling confused is still there. Good, It is. Say “hello” gently or if that feels like too much. Just inwardly acknowledge its presence like you might inwardly acknowledge the presence of someone you don’t know who sits down next to you on a bus, train, or plane. Now, giving it lots of space, take some time to describe it. How it feels, its texture or quality, or its shape. It may show you or tell you something.

As you take your time and give it space, the feeling of confusion may change. You may notice that it is not one thing but maybe two or more things. Each thing that arises has its point of view and is wanting your attention. It wants to be listened to gently, deeply and without judgment.

Sometimes, when we sit down and keep this feeling of confusion company, we are struck by a sense of the unknown. This sense of not knowing can feel scary. That’s ok. We can reflect back to it what we sense, saying inwardly to this something, “I’m sensing you are not knowing and I sense you feel scared.” This kind of active and open listening is exactly what it is wanting.

Often, when working with a sense of confusion, two or more things arise. We may sense that they are engaging in some kind of dialogue, sniping, or acting out a tug-of-war. This kind of back-and-forth is wanting the wisdom of our presence to step in and say respectfully to each one. “I am here with you and will listen to you. You will have your turn.” Once you ave given this inner invitation to each hold all of them in the space and sense which one is needing your attention more right now. This way each part will have time and space to be with your full and open self so that it can be heard. Once heard in all its intricacies, its forward energy will release and confusion will transform into an appropriate action or understanding.

When we engage these practices of open and focused presence, of giving our attention, and listening deeply without judgment, confusion transforms. It shows us something from which clarity opens to us.

“This Cup Is Already Broken”

“This cup is already broken” writes Jack Kornfield remembering the words of Ajahn Chah who holding up a beautiful china cup used the image to teach that we cannot control, that we cannot be certain of any outcome, that we live with uncertainty. [https://jackkornfield.com/the-wisdom-of-insecurity/]

Uncertainty is a big concept. Most of us spend much time and energy trying to negate it and control the outcomes of our projects and careers, our children, our spouses, our friends, our own lives. “If only this. If only that,” we lament. We suffer as we watch, in spite of our best efforts, loved ones fall ill, our children fall on hard times, our projects or careers that we have poured our hearts and money into fall to pieces.

Planting my first cherry trees in my orchard last week, I was full of what-ifs. I worried that the clay soil would impede their survival, that the deer would jump the fence and nibble away their fragile leaves, or that disease would attack before the they were established enough to combat it. And, then I just let go. Taking a deep breath and allowing my exhalation to fully express itself, I surveyed my work knowing that I had done my best. I had bought hearty trees, planted to instructions, and fenced them in as recommended. I will continue to tend to them and when something goes wrong, as it surely will, I’ll deal with it.

Uncertainty, it turns out, is at the very quick of life. In particle physics the uncertainty principle “tells us that there is a fuzziness in nature,” writes Alok Jha [What Is Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, Guardian.com, 10 November 2013]. This principle says the more we are certain of the position of a particle, the less certain we can be of its momentum and vice versa. We cannot be certain of both at the same time.

Uncertainty is the stuff of life. We strive so hard to know both the position and momentum of every particle of our lives, to no avail. Just when we think we have control, the universe intervenes and fuzziness breaks loose. Fuzziness is our aliveness. When we focus on the outcome and things fall apart or go wrong, we suffer. So why do we keep trying?

At the heart of our desire to control is our need for safety.

To feel safe, we can shift our perspective. Rather than focus on outcome, focus on process. When we deal with what comes in measured and thoughtful ways, when we make reasonable plans and act on them, when we focus on what is in the moment, what is here right now, our endless worry subsides. The churning go-round of “what ifs” dissipates and in its place a calm and curious energy arises allowing us to respond creatively and meaningfully.

This change in perspective allows us enormous freedom. No longer tied to an outcome we cannot control, we are free to find ways to enrich our experience and relieve suffering in the moment, no matter what comes. We cannot make our runaway daughter come home, but we can find services and professionals to assist her. We cannot make our friend’s cancer go away, but we can find health resources for her and make our time with her caring and supportive.  Living on a flood plain, we cannot stop the flood that ravishes our home but we can prepare  with sandbags, insurance, and stocks of necessary provisions. It is our plans and actions and our ability to shift these without holding on that provides safety. Paradoxically it is in our letting go that we find safety and freedom.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How About It? Learn Focusing

I don’t often write about events or activities in my blog, but today I want to share some wonderful news. Perhaps you’re a reader of my blog and have wanted to dive deeper into Focusing but didn’t know how or didn’t feel you had the time. Here’s an opportunity to learn Focusing as well as investigate other topics like Thinking at The Edge.

The Focusing Institute, our professional organization, holds an annual summer school. This year it is being held from August 21 – 27, 2016 on the west coast at the Joshua Tree Retreat Center in Joshua Tree, California.

Why learn Focusing at the Summer School? Perhaps you’re needing time and space away from your daily routine or have vacation coming. Or maybe you prefer in-person learning and never seem to have the time for a once-a-week or weekend class when you are immersed in work and family. Perhaps you are wanting to learn in the safety of a supportive and accepting community of like-minded people.  Whatever your reasons, learning Focusing and experiencing how it can be applied in the arts, in deep thinking, and in work with children is what you’ll have the opportunity to do at Joshua Tree. Click here for more information and to register.

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About The Plate

Everything is always changing. And how we eat is changing too. During the day grabbing something on the run, on our way from here to there, is common. It didn’t used to be that way. There was a time when the mid-day meal was a time to stop, eat, and rest. It was a time for the parasympathetic nervous system to do its thing: Rest and digest. Often people would go home to lunch. The table would be set. The meal would be served and enjoyed. Then after eating and clearing, everyone would take a rest before heading back to work or school.

Now, we run and eat, and eat and run and wonder why we feel hyped-up, stressed, and burnt-out. It doesn’t have to be that way. Even if lunch is brown bag, take-out or cafeteria fare, we can still make a moment of celebration and rest. It is all about the plate.

Use a plate. Stash plate and utensils in your desk at work, in your locker, or in your car or truck. Wash and dry it in the restroom. Who’s looking. Who cares.

Take a moment to unwrap and place your food on the plate. Ah, you are already slowing down. Now sit down with the plate and food.

Take a moment to take in what’s on the plate.

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Notice the textures. The rough edges, the frond-like surfaces, and the smooth and round skin.

See the colors. The orangey red, the shiny black, and the palest green.

Now smell. Perhaps something sweet and acidy will rise up through your nostrils, hit the receptors there beginning a process that generates an electrical signal that travels to the brain receptor cells and then to the primary olfactory cortex. But enough of that. Just smell the food. Oh, by the way, you may not smell much. That’s OK. Just take a moment and smell. The more you focus your smelling, the better it becomes.

Bringing your awareness to the food on the plate now, just rest your eyes there. Take it all in. Now, breathe in slowly and gently following the breath down into the belly. Pause. Breathe out slowly. Do this a few times. Now, that’s good.

You are ready to eat. Enjoy.

About Eating

How does it feel to eat? Someone once told me, “When I eat I sense something grasping and gnawing inside of me. It feels like there is something desperate in there!”

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This person was really in touch with how it felt to eat for her. Eating is a complicated activity working at many different levels of our experience. It can tell us a lot about how things are going for us in that particular moment. When we are eating, it is a good time to pause and check inside to see how it is for us right then and there.

Eating is so basic and so complicated. It often brings forth in us something that is wanting our attention; something that is wanting us to deeply listen in a curious and respectful way. But, this something wanting our attention often goes unnoticed as our attention is elsewhere. Perhaps it is on the TV, on the phone, on the computer, in a book, in conversation with another. Or, maybe we are “zoned” out somewhere far from what we are doing in the moment, eating!

Pausing is a good idea. Some people say grace or a few words of remembrance before eating. Growing up, the custom in our family was to say grace. Even as a kid, there was something about that moment of being together in thanks that felt really right, a sense of appreciation for the food on the plate and being together.

Now when I pause in thanks before eating, I do it from the inside out. I bring my awareness inside to that whole middle space that will receive this food, the throat, stomach, and belly and check what’s alive for me in this moment of eating. Perhaps something is wanting my attention right now. It may need just a moment of respectful acknowledgement or perhaps it is something that is wanting of bigger chunk of my time and space. In that case, I say hello to it and let it know I am willing to come back to it when it is needing my attention.

Pausing in this way changes my eating. It slows me down. It increases my enjoyment of the food. And, it brings me in touch with situations, feelings, and emotions, triggered by food and eating, that are wanting my attention. This is a gift for which I am grateful.

I Am Here And This Is Here Too

When you are in a situation and feeling intensely or in the middle of an internal war of thought and worry it can feel all-consuming. It might feel as though the whole of you is trapped or stuck. You might be aware of how it goes around and around, repeating endlessly.

I have felt like this. In my case, anxiety would consume me. An anxiety attack. And, it was just that, an attack by many parts of me at war with one another. Each one was doing its best to protect and defend. Sticky, tight, closed-in, going round and round in an endless spiral of pent up emotion, feeling, and thought, I felt desperate and imprisoned.

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Perhaps you have felt something like this. You are wanting to get relief and feel better. What to do? Pause and bring your attention to your body. It doesn’t matter where you are. Start with really sensing your feet, pressing into the toes, the ball of foot, and heel and what they are touching. Ah, there they are. Sense how the floor or earth supports you up through your feet to your belly, stomach, chest, and throat. You might follow the energy with your attention as it enters the bottom of your feet and moves up through the legs to the hips, pelvis and buttocks and into that whole middle space of belly, stomach, chest, and throat. There you are.

Now, pause. A breath may come with the pause. That’s good. Just notice the breath. Notice the inhale and how it comes in and down through the nose, down the throat to chest and even beyond to the stomach and belly. And notice the pause at the end. That short moment of stillness. That’s the pause we are after, that short moment of stillness.

This is a good time to remind yourself by saying inwardly, gently and respectfully, “I am the space big enough for whatever needs my attention. Who is saying this? “This is your whole self, that self that is present, that can hold and open space, lots of space, for all those partial selves, parts of yourself, that are needing your attention.

Your whole self is here, aware and open. Now, you might invite whatever needs your attention to come forward or it may come flooding in with many voices, pictures, feeling states, and emotions vying with one another. Ah, how wonderful!  They are all here right now with you. This is is a gift.

Acknowledge each one with interest and curiosity. To the first one say, “Ah, I see you are here.” Acknowledge the second one, “Ah, hello. I see you are here, too. And both can be here.” And then acknowledge each additional one that comes by saying inwardly, “Ah, I see you are here, too. And, all can be here.”

This is what we mean when we say, “I am here and this is here, too.” Practice this. Pausing and bringing your awareness, your whole self, to what is needing your attention inside. And no matter how many parts come forward letting each one know that you are here and willing to listen to it. Ah, that feels better. Now space is opening inside just as the day opens to us.

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