Tag Archives: being present

Moving past lost while short of found

“Man is the strangest of all animals. He is the only one who runs faster after he has lost his way.” — Rollo May

I expected to arrive. I pulled a corner on the emotional road map of my life and expected to see this figurative place to pull into and get off the road. A long road trip over. I thought I’d arrive and sigh a contented sigh.

Until the truth dawned. I was not where I wanted to be. I was the opposite of arrived. Lost.

My red-rimmed eyes pinched as if somehow grief had crowded out their normal occupancy in my skull. My head felt crowded, like when visitors are sleeping on your floor with suitcases strewn about. Visitors usually arrive invited. The imposition becomes a temporary exchange for the pleasantness they bring. Instead, Grief had arrived without an RSVP.

“Just who the hell let Grief in?” I demanded, the obnoxious lump in my throat leaving skid marks on my voice box.

I needed to move around a bit. There was no room for me within me.

Fresh air. Sunshine. Sweat on the lower back. Camera poised at the ready determined to see something. Anything. Look anywhere expect in there where all the churn churned and churned. Except I didn’t really click the lens. With the menu of life all around me, my taste buds were bland and pasty filled with indifference to anything of flavor.

“Direction is so much more important than speed.”

My spiritual director posted this on social media. They have a way of pissing me off without even noticing it.

Surprise. No matter how fast you move when lost, it’s difficult to enjoy anything other than being found.

****

 

I’ve come to grips with me a bit since then. I chased Grief out with a broom. The dust motes of it remained behind.

I am a sojourner who dreams of home. It’s a discontented travel, one that misses the strides in search of the destination. My spirit wanders, while my mind talks trash. My gut clenches and wags an angry fist about how fucked up it is to be caught in the middle.

Can’t we all just get along, I wonder.

And then She speaks up.

“You have what you need. I have not deprived you. But only you can decide to see it or not see it,” God says.

I wince at a stern voice.

Well… hell, I think. That blows. Once again, I’m the fucking problem all along.

Memory plays tricks. Remember this? Remember when? Like watching an old movie, you feel something vague but sweet as you recall life’s finer moments that you want back. Instances of intense intimacy when every sentiment is shared with another, when feelings expressed are joys not burdens, when every touch is electrified not cloying, when every pain is dulled the by the light of the other’s eyes that look at you that way, the way that makes you feel immortal.

This is not false sentimentality or flaccid Rom-Com prose. No, we mock what we don’t know. This could be the glimpse across to the Other Side where our full humanity meets the aspiring divinity of another. It is rare and dangerous and wholly holy, a time of transcendent coupling when the sentimentalist in me believes he can hear the angels sing.

Life can only be lived in the present tense. Memories come along for the ride. Like unexpected emotion, they clutter up the living room of the soul. Not badly all the time. Sometimes they fall in place, but I still think it best not to leave them strewn about.

The present tense feels a bit lost. Found seems still out there under a blanket of Karl The Fog. But I’ve slowed down. I’ve tried to rediscover direction instead of pace.

I’ve given this wandering about of mine a different name than “Lost.” I’m calling it “today.”

Today is fine. And so am I.

Mindfulness is like living on the ocean shore

A few years back The Bride and I spent nearly a month in Mexico living along the Sea of Cortez. The beautiful seas could kick up waves and whitecaps and turbulence like most great bodies of waters. But its remarkable ability for morning stillness captures my memories most. I’d get up and that enormous, powerful, mystical sea would lie calm as a lake without a ripple across its surface. The pelicans would fly low, barely above the crystal clear glass with a perfect view of the breakfast swimming below. They’d fly up and with the urgency of Robin Hood’s arrow pierce the tranquility, snatch their prey and fly back up to the skies above. The water would ripple outward at the momentary disturbance but soon return to the silent calm.

Th hectic nature of the day would rise. Fishermen would crack the water’s surface with their boats and winds would stir up the waves and the sprinkling of tourists would splash up on its shores. By mid-day the waters would resemble their natural state, sea-like, with whites and foam and curling waves.

I grew up with the powerful Pacific nearby, always within a quick drive to visit. It’s relentless power never stilled. It’s slamming shoreline never quieted. So the stillness of Cortez showed me a stark contrast that offers a silent portrait for stillness, a power my mighty Pacific has never known.

Throughout my life my mind has been the Pacific. I’d stare incredulously at The Bride when I’d ask, “what are you thinking?” and she’d reply, “nothing.”

Impossible, I thought. The idea of a silent mind was as foreign as building a house on Mars.

I learned to drink to quiet my mind. For more than twenty years I took my medicine faithfully, never once letting a night go by without some measure of calming elixir dulling the crashing waves inside my head.

The Bride struggled with anxiety in those years.  I felt such compassion for her even though I was oblivious to the idea of “worry.” I didn’t really grasp it. She once asked me — during a particularly scary time in our life with the storms of life crashing powerful waves against our existence — what I feared.

“Nothing,” I said, fully meaning it. Because the alcohol had done its work, the relentless activity of my mind had dulled and even though a storm brewed outside our doors, my mind felt calm. Ah booze, you once made me feel like Superman.

It’s this reality that causes me to resist a gentle suggestion that I consider anti-anxiety medication. I’d love my mind to slow down, but I prefer to figure a way to do it naturally through the disciplines of silence, of yoga practice, of prayer, of relationship.

So now, both sober and finding far more common ground over our anxiety, we together pursue the mindfulness that keeps life in balance. The daily activity and winds through our life whip up a good internal storm now again, but the focus on that Sea of Cortez dawn-like calm remains a daily pursuit. Some days are more Cortez like than others. The Pacific routinely makes its presence felt on our shores. But we’ve learned a few things along the way that I consider critical for finding the balance that leads to a healthy emotional, mental state.

  • Relentless truthfulness — with yourself most of all — is critical. I read from the interesting book Pastrix, by Nadia Bolz-Weber, that Jesus didn’t compare good and evil but truth and evil. We don’t overcome our evil with white-knuckled goodness but truthfulness. As Jesus said, “the truth will set you free.”
  • Honor the silence — Even if I can only go for a few minutes, the discipline of silence is worthy of practice just as I exercise my body physically. Few doubt any longer the health benefits of silent meditation. I am often ragged at best with my efforts, but it’s worth it, in particular, the intentional disconnect to the digital world this affords me.
  • Season liberally with grace — Peace is not a place we arrive to but a condition of life’s journey. We will storm through life often enough. We will, frankly, make a hot fucking mess of our lives even on our best days. I am so grateful for grace. The 11th step is the daily moral inventory, which is paramount in my life. It’s like letting the air out of the balloon that has built up all day. I still struggle with the practice of simply admitting it when I’ve screwed up. This step forces me to do so and the waves inside me calm when I do. God’s grace is so abundant. I need to be reminded of it daily.
  • Learning what is — A change in the weather often comes when I simply embrace the weather. I hear the storm inside my mind. My nerves crackle with the energy of a power line. I feel the disquiet in my chest and gut. I do best when I simply name it all. This is what is it is, I tell myself. I’m anxious. I’m pissed. I’m scared. I’m tired. Life feels shitty right now in this moment. I learn to see what it is. Because once I do so, the mother’s heart of God comforts me and reminds me, “All that is true, but your are OK. You are still here. This storm will pass.” And sure enough, soon enough, if does — and for the last 57 months, it has passed without me taking the drink I always want in times like those.
  • Avoid future tripping — Do you ever have a conversation with yourself about a future conversation coming up that you fear will be ugly? I’ve driven down the road playing out the scene I anticipate before me so thoroughly, I can’t recall the drive at all. But my body feels the experience as if it’s happened. The back and forth rehearsal, in which I’ve played all the roles, usually goes dramatically bad. I play out the future and it’s like a Shakespearean Tragedy — full of woe. Then the real event arrives and it’s rarely as bad as I anticipated. But my body went through the agony of the worst anyway. This future tripping feels real and I suffer it as real, even when I’ve done it all in my mind. Perhaps this is why Jesus gently reminded us, “Do not worry about tomorrow, today has enough troubles of its own.” Jesus never expected us not to feel anxiety, he only offered the advice of staying present, in the moment, so you only experience what’s real not the pain you envision.
  • Combine heart and head with yoga and prayer — too much of our spirituality is sedate, which gives little release to the physical needs of our bodies. Yoga has remained over the last five thousand years because it refuses to compartmentalize our souls but deals with us as what we are, a vastly interconnected human being that all needs to sync in harmony to run at peak performance. Yoga allows the body to lead the mind and connect with the soul holistically. When I couple it with prayer I simply feel better almost every time. I rib my oldest friend — a gay pastor who loves modern Evangelical church services (ugh..) — that all those antics would be better served dancing at an Ozzy concert. He tells me with a silly smile, “I love happy clappy services. I’ll admit it.” I suspect it’s like his yoga, when his body can match the worship in his mind, so maybe it’s not so bad after all.

If you struggle as I do with anxiety, and with mindfulness and the discipline of being present, I hope some of this will help. Please understand that for many — perhaps even me, who knows — the problem is a chemical dysfunction within the brain and could best be treated with medication. I don’t suggest anyone should feel bad for taking what makes them feel better, no more than a diabetic takes insulin. That choice is yours and you should do as you will. I just know that these things don’t hurt either and we all can benefit from them to a lesser or greater degree.

Namaste, God Bless, Peace, and may grace abound.

 

 

Honoring the verb to be

As a writer I’ve been taught a relentless hatred for the verb to be. It is flabby, weak, uninspiring and dull. Yet, like crabgrass that refuses to yield, the verb to be is an arduous foe, constantly cropping up in my articles as it already has several times in these sentences. God I hate the verb to be.

So imagine how counter I find the yogic teaching to simply “be.” No active verbs, full of tension, drama and angst needed on the yoga mat, I’ve been told. Nor in life for that matter. Just be. (Even as I write this I stop and reconsider my first graph, nagging at letting those is-es stay for artistic effect… I’m twitchy over it I tell you…)

Be.

Be? BE what?

And therein lies the secret I’ve spent three years, several times a week quietly, fluidly, clumsily, breathlessly battling with the chatter in my mind to find what it means to be.

I get it mostly even as I admit I really don’t. The present moment is a restless embrace. It doesn’t last long. It refuses to easily allow being savored. But I’ve had enough moments to know where I’m headed even if its a fuzzy, muddled conception at best. Or was anyway, until the other day when suddenly the fuzz cleared and the crackling blur gave way to high-def clarity, even if for a mere moment.

I stood in Warrior One. I always strain a bit more than necessary in Warrior One. I’m a Warrior Two guy. That hip barks at the twist of Warrior One. So there I stood, struggling along when I noticed The Bride. She looked radiant on her mat beside me, effortlessly holding the pose, arms up, leg back like a photo in Yoga Journal.

As she mentioned she’s relatively new to yoga. She stubbornly held to the happy clappy bouncy flouncy mantra of fictional targeted fat burns and more-is-more exercise videos while I went about my yoga practice alone.

It took everything I had to let her be.

I nudged now and again. I glanced her way, eyes provocatively (so I thought) luring her to the mat. I couldn’t hide my annoyance at Jillian Roberts or Michaels or Go Daddy whoever she is. But mostly I let The Bride be.

Eventually she dabbled. I held back my enthusiasm. I even joined her bouncing around — “Come on girls…” notwithstanding — to show my solidarity and openness to change. It took a long time, and still, somehow, I let her be.

Finally, I could recognize her ah-ha moment. She started joining me in yoga practice. First, once a week. Then recently it began to change. She started to adjust her workout to fit mine. She started asking to do yoga. I could barely contain my enthusiasm. Still… somehow… I let her be.

Her first poses were less than beautiful. She had never really been taught. I wanted to spend just a few sessions working with her, showing her the proper poses and helping her find the energy of her inner self shining through. We’d do our practices and I found myself glancing over at her — something I really never do with anyone else in other settings — to see how she was doing. The saggy leg or the sloppy sun salutations twitched my nerves just a bit, yet somehow, strangely, I let her be.

Then came the other day as I struggled with my Warrior One I looked her way and saw what she had become, all by herself, in her own way and her own time. In that moment she was radiant.

I smiled and returned to me… present to myself for the first time in awhile in our practices because of my preoccupation with The Bride. A few moments later I heard her voice, quiet yet clear ask me, “how does this look?”

I saw the energy in her pose. I recognized the purposefulness yet less-is-more signature of a budding yogi.

“Beautiful,” I said. “Really beautiful.”

That’s what it’s like to simply be and it was wonderful, demanding a pause, to be in the present and honor it. I do so, even allowing the to-be verbs run amok in this post, welcome, for today only I hope, to simply honor the wisdom of the verb to be.