Picture and Words Project: Limbo

This post should have two photos, a drawing I’m working on, and what I wrote on the back of the paper.

I started this particular drawing at the beginning of August. One of the key ideas about drawing that I wrote about and is important to me is the not knowing how the drawing will end up or look, and trusting the process and the mystery and enjoying it. That is one thing that connects this drawing process to the Altered Books I’ve been writing a lot about. You don’t know what will happen next, or if you will cover what you’re doing now or how things will end up. The book just unfolds as you make it, like with drawing…

Here’s what I wrote while continuing the drawing two months later:

” I started this drawing in August. Sometimes it’s hard to pick up a drawing from a while ago. I can’t get back in it, or I don’t know if it’s perhaps finsihed. This drawing is very unfinished and I felt like going back into it. Sometimes when I use a lot of colors and all different pens, I get frustrated with there being too much color. Then I cover it with a dark color to get it to feel less chaotic. For some reason, this drawing didn’t give me the urge to cover it. I got the urge to fill it up and started on the left side but jumped to the far right side. I haven’t used this paper in a while. It’s think. Also it’s not smooth so you sometimes have to press into it. This drawing still feels like it’s about freedom. Anything can happen next time I work on it. Do I fill up all the white space of leave some of it alone? Is it another cityscape? Maybe it’s something else. I don’t know. It’s a weird limbo. Maybe the title is Limbo. Then I look at it again and feel impatient. I want to finish it quickly. Then when I pick up a pen, I just draw and don’t care about it taking hours more. Would it look different if I spent 3 full hours on it instead of 15-20 minutes at a time? Not knowing is a big part of drawing for me. It’s none of my business how this will look. All I know is the now of drawing it.”

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New Year, Yoga and Writing

This year I have avoided the usual obsession with new year’s resolutions versus intentions and turning over new leaves, etc. Usually I get excited to start new habits, make all kinds of exciting changes and feel like I’m going to accomplish all these goals, then, like most people, run out of steam and keep very little going or follow through.

A while ago, as a way to look at the new year differently, I started picking words for the year. Last year was “Abundance”. It really turned into a year of abundance, which required patience and trust because abundance doesn’t just pour into your life on day one or month one or two! This year the first word I came up with was “AWESOME”. Then I picked two other words, “Quiet” and “Concentration” as intentions/motivation to continue things I’m already doing, especially my yoga practice.

My yoga practice has been the one thing I’ve kept up regularly for the last 3 and a half years. I already wrote two very long disorganized posts about it and realized I do want to write about it, but I need it to be organized and as usual, much shorter.

So this year, to add to my 6-7 times weekly 25-40 minute home yoga practice, I decided to link yoga with writing, as my intuition was that the two will go together well.

So this post is just a short post about my new year’s intention to link my yoga with writing. Since the new year, I have read a bunch of blog posts about different aspects of yoga, found some books, and started writing about my yoga practice.

Yesterday I wrote a long draft for a post on this blog, journaled a bunch before doing yoga, and then attempted to write in my journal a little while doing yoga and filled a page after my daily yoga in the evening. I decided to try to write immediately after doing yoga at least 3 times a week.

It’s going to be an experiment to see what comes up that I feel like writing about and how I am thinking about my practice, or what comes up specifically in any sequences or poses or other things that come up that may have little to do with yoga or seem to have little to do with it.

The words “Quiet” and “Concentration” can be connected to my writing and yoga. Sometimes doing yoga on my own is for the goal of getting quiet and working on disciplining the mind and body and learning how to be able to really focus and concentrate, which is definitely challenging with an undisciplined disorganized and full ADHD mind. I also associate these concepts with a story that I read a few years ago with my daughter that we’ve read several times and is one of both her and my favorite stories,  “The Wonderful World of Henry Sugar”, by Roal Dahl. It’s written long ago but the basic concepts are very universal and the story is about the use and misuse of yoga/training the mind. It’s a great transformation story in the category of stories like A Christmas Carol and the movie Groundhog Day. A selfish self involved character full of flaws, who goes through a spiritual transformation and becomes an enlightened evolved person who gives of themselves to the world, very uplifting. Everyone loves a sinner to “saint” type of story!

Sometimes getting quiet while doing yoga involves just noticing how not quiet my mind is and how distracted I am or how I am focused on what the next yoga pose will be or getting over with each pose. The challenge of concentration involves a lot of mindfulness/DBT “Radical Acceptance”.

Other topics I’d like to write about that go with yoga/writing are:

-how I got going with my home practice after 7 year hiatus of not doing yoga

-what my home yoga practice actually involves and how I learned to sequence from an intuitive approach in the moment

-the role of my yoga “coach” and teacher Liza in helping me learn about the physical, mental, and spiritual practice and deepen my practice

-yoga in everyday life and ways to use yoga to live life from a more accepting and moment to moment awareness

-yoga and “failure”

-the yoga of speech

-my specific challenges with my writing process

-yoga and ADHD and other issues like anxiety

 

The New Mid Life Crisis

What is a mid life crisis? Everyone thinks of some middle aged guy with a receding hairline in a red Porsche having an affair with a 20 year old when they here the phrase.

Well, we’ve come a long way baby, since those backwards days. Now your gender doesn’t matter, it’s age that does. It doesn’t have to be about feeling physically past your prime either.

Maybe being 40-45 used to be when people had this “syndrome”. Now it could happen to you in your late 30’s, early to late 40’s or 50’s. Whatever feels mid life to you.

You don’t have to leave your spouse or disappear or find a new identity. You don’t have to spend tons of money on something stupid that is supposed to represent your last threads of holding on to your youth.

What is a mid life crisis? My definition is, you reach an age in your life, where you start looking back on your life, and wondering, sometimes regretting, sometimes wishing, sometimes scared to death. Usually it sinks in that you have less days ahead of you than behind you (I just heard that one, and it shook me). Even if you think you may live to 100, you have an equal number of days ahead of you than behind you, or you feel the weight of whatever many years are behind you and the time ahead of you looms as time you don’t want to waste, time you want to do something that makes you feel alive.

If you’re even thinking in terms of days you’ve spent that are over and days you have got left, you’re probably in the land of the Mid Life Crisis.

So it starts or is defined by a sense of urgency, thinking about your life as limited, ta a thinking about your death and what you did, could have done, could be doing, could do, might miss forever if you don’t do it now.

The actions that go with this self conception, the “red Porsche”, can take many forms. It may seem mild to some, getting a tattoo, changing your hair, going on a trip, taking trapeze or tango lessons, sky diving or bigger things, moving, spending a lot of money on something, whether a house, a car, a swimming pool, a horse, or picking some collection of books to read you never were interested in before. Its could be crazier, starting a drug habit, doing stuff that you always thought were “against the rules”…

There are other types of actions that are not so “bucket list” like things. Changing careers, suddenly realizing you want to run a bed and breakfast instead of working in a big city. Taking up some creative activity nobody thought you were interested in.

What do you think of when you think of Mid Life Crisis? What have you done or seen others do? To be continued…

Everyday Inspiration Class: Letter

Write a letter to someone or something:

Dear Digestive System,

You have been torturing me all day. I eat and feel terrible stuff going on in my stomach area, I don’t eat and feel it also. Right now it is so sharp and blunt. I don’t know how else to describe it.

You visit me from time to time; there is no warning. I drink coffee every day, sometimes sipping on it all day long, and you leave me alone. I don’t eat consistently healthy foods. I have not been motivated lately to be careful or mindful of food choices. My mind has been on other things. You know I try very hard from time to time, and then let go and stop caring about proper nutrition when I have other more important things to deal with

I would gladly feel the knife in the gut pangs of hunger than you. You come whenever you feel like it. You are supposed to be inspired by stress but stress is an everyday thing in my life, and you often leave me alone. You like to pick times like weekends or vacations to come and make yourself at home, because you are a sadistic asshole.

Today you were determined to make me suffer. In the morning I was fine. I ate ice cream because there is an article out there that says very intelligent people eat ice cream for breakfast. No, as you well know, I wasn’t suddenly deciding to eat ice cream to convince you I was intelligent. You already knew this years ago. As a child, I had grand ambitions to eat lots of ice cream as an adult. In fact, I saw little other reasons to be excited about becoming an adult. I’ve eaten ice cream for breakfast at different times for years. In fact, this morning I had sneaked some ice cream before anyone else had any idea to want ice cream for breakfast. I was excited to be given the green light f to eat ice cream this morning, out in the open.

I felt fine before, during and after that. You struck later in the day before the trip to Ikea. By the time I was making lunch I had no interest in eating as the pain had begun. It wasn’t as sharp as it is now. I brought some bread with me in case I decided to eat it at Ikea. I drank my coffee late; I decided not to let you prevent me from having my coffee since you had already started tormenting me.

I think you went away for a bit and I got alittlebetter in the late afternoon. I decided to eat whatever I want as an experiment. You’re there not because of any specific food, so why bother avoiding any foods in particular? I decided to eat through you and see if you might retire and leave me. Things I ate: a bowl of spinach linguini with pesto,peanut butter, not that much, dark chocolate, and some cheese popcorn. By the time i ate two handfuls of that pop corn, you had settled in for th night and were not going anywhere. I’d already gotten out the rolaids and taken 3 of them.

At this moment as I write this, you are now a big monster doing your worst. I am not tired enough to just force myself to go to sleep; it is true that you often fall asleep during the night and slink off and leave me alone by the time I wake up. My stomach middle area feels like it’s riveted with bullets, or that you’re twisting something in there.

I thought writing this letter might help. At the moment of the pop corn, I had this urge to eat a lot more food, maybe eat my way through you. Right now, I think I will try ginger tea.

It’s 10:56pm. Still time to do my almost daily yoga. Earlier I thought it might help push you away for a while, but at this point I can’t imagine doing much besides lying on the couch and trying to find a Twilight Zone episode to distract me from your relentless insistence on making me feel like I’m being punished for something.

What could it be? I could come up with many reasons. I acted like a jerk early in the day. I tried mightily to improve my behavior and succeeded. I mostly acted quite well as I can sometimes do if I catch myself and turn things around, somehow back to trying mindfulness to manage my angry thoughts.

I know you have something to do with anger as you’re right in the center of the third chakra, the fire, the action and ambition chakra, all about doing and using the fire. Fire is part of anger, when controlled and focused it can be a great energy. Indifference and complacency are the enemy of focused thought out action. Anger is the friend of action, activism, ambition, caring. You are angry at me first, you came here unannounced and now I’m angry I have to endure you for hours on end.

At the moment I find it hard to care. I am in selfish mode and negative cloud. I am cut in half by a sword.

I don’t expect this to be great writing or a great letter. IT’s not helping me feel better physically or motivating me to do yoga to try to fan the flames and make you smaller.

Please, I beg you, just go away. You can return another day. The tea does nothing

Ok. I should try that thing where you go into the feeling rather than run away from it. Not effective either.

Sometimes if I don’t eat anything for hours, I feel better, like this afternoon. It was a terrible idea to eat through you.

I hope you’re having a great time in here.

How do I end this? Sincerely? Best? Goodbye? Be gone? Fuck you forever? A plague upon your house! Actually I am your house for now. I hope I’m just a cheap motel with free breakfast in the morning.

Your host, my body.

PS.You’re still  here…

 

Wednesday: Image Post Day

I started doing “Mindfulness Drawings” at the beginning of this month, February. I got the idea from a patient who showed me their journal and how they were trying to write down the time and do something to get them more in the moment doodling things.

It’s a great idea and has brought me back to drawing in an observational way. It’s also a great way to draw everyday things without judging your drawing harshly.

It started like this one below in my journal, done on Feb. 4. I wrote down words that were either in my head or observations of the environment or conversation if I was with other people.

I was thinking about mindfulness principles in this one here, like “Observe and Describe” from DBT Mindfulness. In DBT there is also noticing when you’re in “rational mind”, “emotional mind” and “wise mind”.

Some of these drawings are layers of time, where I did some one evening and added more the next day.

The drawing below shows the heart hole puncher I drew as I was using it to make Valentine’s. I drew most of it during a phone session. My communications expert friend had told me recently, “Communication creates reality.” and I shared it on the phone. It was resonating for me and my patient.

This image below is the other side of the page posted as the first image, with the words “Observe and describe.”  I was looking at my watch and a clock so I drew the hands of my watch as well, and the song quoted was going on in my head about time…

The image below from Feb. 9 is in my journal. I started drawing scissors a lot because they were there. I hadn’t yet gotten inspired to make the objects talk.
  This one above is the other side of the journal drawing from the same day/time.

This one below is from yesterday afternoon during another phone session, and the tea pot is talking…

The one below was done last Friday, when I discovered that the heads or objects on the page were talking to me and about me. It started with the objects saying whether I drew them right or not and kept going. I had been drawing these heads from the coffee mug I made out of my images. The heads are from a collage piece; I noticed I was thinking about posting this picture of this drawing on Facebook which I do a lot, so the heads made a bet about when I would post it!  

This one above is from earlier yesterday. I had been drawing pens a lot and hadn’t drawn a bunch of pens in a cup as it seemed too hard. I was thinking of Morandi’s still lives and looking at post cards of them. I think I’m also thinking of Morandi as he mostly did still lives of everyday objects, and this series is starting to be about objects which are used, mostly basic office materials or art supplies, cups, etc.

This one above is on a piece of drawing paper and done last night as the date shows.

These drawings have become a way to be reminded to be mindful, in a different way than the bracelet. Drawing things you see often does get you into a different level of discovery, of looking closely at things you see every day.

This morning I drew the keys on my keychain; I’ve been challenging myself to just draw things, which get rid of judgment, another aspect of mindfulness, which is to be neutral about what is going on right here right now.

The added discovery of the objects talking to each other or saying things is partly thanks to my reading more this year, and thus reading more graphic novels, which inspire me to make my own talking pictures…

Tuesday Post: Words: One Sentence or More

As a therapist, I sometimes say some useless, some unnecessary things, some not-well-thought out things, and every once in a while I say something quite useful, as I did yesterday with a patient who wrote it down and asked me to print it. Here it is and, not to be showing off too much, I have to follow this “advice” myself often! It’s pretty simple and not anything people haven’t said before…

If you are too busy trying to hold it all together you can’t let it all hang out.

Blogging 101: Kindness is Magic Movie Serum, Transformations, Transformers and Transformees

Blogging 101: Assignment 1, Stream of consciousness writing about anything for 20 minutes.

I did mine yesterday during a long car ride and timed it; it turned out I was writing for 51 minutes in my journal, so now I’m transcribing it to post it. Warning! It will be over twice as long… Some frustrations: not remembering character’s full names, so I will look them up before posting, and not being able to discuss a bunch of the movies I mentioned, especially: Tootsie, St. Vincent, Birdman, Barefoot, Bringing up Baby, Philadelphia Story Being John Malcovich, Stranger Than Fiction (2006), and going into detail about the transformations in them, but it would be a way too long post!

My topic: Kindness is Magic Movie Serum, Transformations, Transformers and Transformees:
Most movies that move people involve transformation of course. Even though that’s obvious, I’m very interested in the mechanics of it, as I’ve been watching a bunch of different kinds of movies, both in theaters and on DVD or Netflix or other at home movie venues.

Here’s a list not in any order of recent ones I’ve seen: Cinderella 2015 made with people not animated, Home 2015 animated 3D in theaters, then movies at home: Groundhog Day (3rd or 4th viewing), The Anderson Tapes (from the 70’s?), Gone Girl 2014, Birdman 2014, Tootsie (1982), St. Vincent 2014, Barefoot (2014).

In most of these movies, which are a mixture of genres: romance, children’s fairy tale romance, children’s adventure movie sci-fi save the world, crime thriller, romantic comedies and for Birdman – independent style not sure the genre- drama? But it’s a “second chance/mid-life rebirth” type movie or falls into the category of movies like one of my fave classics, All About Eve, actually very similar. Bette Davis is the Birdman character; she is not changing genres like he is from blockbuster superhero to serious stage actor as an “old” actor”, but competing with her so-called admirer crafty younger actor who resembles the Edward Norton guy – very similar issues involved actually. Then St. Vincent- not sure the genre, drama with bad to good style plot- the guy Vincent starts out “bad” and is revealed to have always had good qualities, but also transforms in the present into a “gooder” person, a bit like the guy Jay in Barefoot, who has just come out of jail and is viewed as a total mess up failure, especially by his family. In St. Vincent, the boy Oliver is the Transformer, and in Barefoot it’s the girl/woman Daisy whom he finds on the psych ward who is an “idiot savant” type. I love Bill Murray and I’ve seen him in a bunch of movies with this kind of transformation, you have Scrooged, Ground Hog Day and St. Vincent all similar transformations. He’s even in Tootsie but not playing the main person, Dustin Hoffman’s Guy/Woman, Michael/Dorothy Michaels.

So my intense interest in transformation in these movies is the way there is the main character, usually has to be “likeable” despite being self-centered, uncaring, an “asshole” etc. like Vincent, Phil in Groundhog, Michael in Tootsie, and just how the person gets transformed by another key character and/or device that transforms him/her, what I call the “Transformer”. The word “trans” means cross over so the whole word means to cross over from one form to another. Many of these movies play with physical transformation versus spiritual, or outside appearance versus what’s inside/soul. Tootsie and Cinderella are the most obvious ones. In Tootsie, what is so fascinating is that Michael invents Dorothy and then he himself as the better part of him, in the form of the invented woman actor Dorothy Michaels is the Transformer. Unusual where the Transformee is transformed by a Self inside him of his own making; in addition, as Dorothy he transforms many of the characters in the film…

Crossing over involves a kind of metaphorical bridge- the plot device that the character goes through. In many movies the Transformer character is usually “heroic” in some way and can stand for some idea, like Cinderella in this version stands for goodness and courage. She is transformed spiritually or “inside” at the beginning of the movie through loss- a common transforming device –death-, the loss of her mother. Her mother passes the transformation message to Cinderella: “Be kind and have courage.” The girl Ella loses her mom and eventually also her dad and is changed into Cinderella, given a new name by the evil stepsisters and turned into a maid/servant by the evil stepmother.

Whether in tattered clothes or magically fancy princess clothes on the outside which have an expiration time, midnight, – Cinderella remains the same on the inside. Ironically, in this version the fairy godmother turns from homeless old woman to fancy fairy lady and uses her magic to create the changed dress, coach and footmen horses, – lots of dazzling outer transformations which do nothing to the inside sweet courageousness of C. She meets the prince, who is the Tranformee in this film (it’s the opposite of the usual movie focused on the Transformee, here most focus and scenes involve C. the transformer and luckily, hardly any involve the prince.)

The meeting in the forest, their first meeting, is where C’s Transformer power passes the message to the prince, and when he receives it like a truth serum he becomes transformed, not from bad to good but from ordinary and oblivious/unaware, uninteresting to awakened and aware. C’s power on him is to get him to see the world around him completely differently and to become awakened, much the same as what the young woman Daisy in Barefoot does to Jay through the movie device of a mixed up “road trip” (many road trip movies use the idea of going on a long journey in the physical realm crossing into a journey in the metaphorical realm). The rest of the film involves the usual drama with the fairy godmother, The Fancy Big Ball, the glass shoe and magic stuff, but for me the moment of magic –prince out hunting encounters girl on horseback saving the deer and shooting her truth arrow into him such that he spares the deer’s life at her request and calls off the hunt. That was where the movie’s main interest sort of ended for me.

Often Transformer characters are very sensitive and have an awareness or even communion with animals that ordinary people do not. Cinderella reminds me of Derek in Ricky Gervais’ TV show Derek, as both pass the message of “kindness is magic” and both love animals and have a special relationship with them. So I confess I loved the moment C locks eyes with the handsome deer (more majestic and dazzling than the silly looking prince, maybe the big male deer symbolizes whom the prince turns into) as well as her relationship with the mice who are her only friends. While this movie didn’t thrill me, it made me think, and I liked the focus being mainly on C. portrayed as a real person, slightly elevated in kindness, also an outcast/outsider/loner, seen by her step family as stupid, foolish, unworthy and not even a girl, and less focus on the prince. The way C. gets transformed is that her faith in life/hope is challenged when she loses her father and gets kind of abducted controlled by the stepmother and sisters, and she has a moment of not believing and stopping hoping for anything to get better for her, then is restruck with faith- a common transformation of a transformer good person character.

Like in Groundhog Day the character Rita, she doesn’t change much as a person but even she has preconceptions that Phil is shallow, selfish and egocentric. Throughout the movie, she gets thrown from one side to the other, seeing him that way and being surprised by something unknown about him, and in “falling” for him she does transform her view of him, but she is mainly the Inspiration/Muse of his big transformation.

The device that transforms Phil is the Supernatural, the plot of the movie. Every day he wakes up is Feb. 2, Groundhog Day until he is fully transformed by the end of the movie into the man he could be and turns into it through living the same day over, maybe 100 times or more, so that by the end of the movie, his goodness and caring for other people which is caused by his “awakening” actually lead to his focus shifting from getting the muse- Rita, whom he is in love with, to falling for the town he is stuck in and all the people in it. It’s great that he keeps waking up but it takes a lot of literal wakings up to really “wake up”!!!

There is a lot of interesting metaphorical stuff in his repetition of the day, he is literally reborn as he dies many times and wakes up back in the inn at 6am Feb. 2. I’m areal sucker for this film, I rewatched it a few months ago after years, so that time I hardly remembered the details and that viewing of the movie did have a kind of magic transformation on me, the viewer. I really love these types of awakenings movies; even the C movie (I’m super sick of that fairly tale I am so annoyed by it,) but still, it cast a spell on me.

Groundhog Day, like Cinderella, actually gave me a dose of wakening/inspiration serum to become a better person. Yesterday I saw it a third time a few weeks after the other time. Again I had an “aha” moment where I made a conscious decision work on being present and mindful more in my life, to try to be the kind of person Phil has become at the end. After seeing Cinderella I felt the same, so the movie itself can be not so great/mediocre and still shoot the arrow of, wake up in your life, look around you and be aware and wake. Of course it’s better if the movie is really good. So now I’m testing out this recent viewing of Groundhog Day to see how long this “spell” may work on me. It’s on my list of favorite “romantic comedies”; up they’re with Happy Accidents – also involving supernatural, Bringing up Baby, and The Philadelphia story, Being John Malkovich and Stranger Than Fiction. Groundhog Day crosses from romantic comedy to supernatural comedy like Stranger than Fiction. There are more old movies that I love, but that’s what I remember without looking on the Internet while writing this.

Groundhog Day’s spell on me – its’ the next day of my life, but I’m still in a heightened sate of consciousness induced by it. I love the idea that lera to really be present and awake and mindful of the here and now, you really do repeat the same day over and over. The movie is saying that life itself is like that. Ordinary daily life can by transformed by one’s own consciousness. Every day we wake up with a new chance to live in that simple magic of the moment, and when that happens it sometimes does seem like animals can talk…

Daily Prompt: The Waiting Room of Life: With Photos

As I am taking the WordPress “Blogging 101” class to improve this blog and my blogging skills, I am trying out their daily prompt. I picked this one from Nov. 16, as it is very timely.

The Daily Prompt is:Waiting Room “Good things come to those who wait.” Do you agree? How long is it reasonable to wait for something you really want?

Lately, in sessions with patients, this topic comes up a lot, during transitions such as moving to a new neighborhood, job searches, a long paper, thesis or dissertation, other career issues and relationship issues, even waiting for a psychiatrist appointment.

WhenI usually bring up Dr. Seuss’s book “Oh, The Places You’ll Go!”, because my favorite page is his interpretation of the “Waiting Room” of Life, and you see the people waiting and his text includes “waiting for their hair to grow”.

I found a link to the exact page spread from the book!:

Everyone is just waiting for serious stuff like a Better Break, or for material things. My favorite is about the hair, as I have experienced that in the past few years. I like changing my hair a lot, and I decided to grow it long. As I have no interest in extensions, I felt like I was in that waiting room, waiting for my hair to grow. At several points in that process, I felt urges to cut all my hair into a short hair cut, and it was hard not to run to a barber and do it, very tempting, every time I saw some actress with a “Pixie” Haircut I missed having that hair cut from for me the late nineties into 2000. But I stayed put in that waiting room and my hair eventually grew to the point where I needed to trim it. then there was the urge to change it up, but I haven’t acted on it.

the other funny thing is I have never had a “waiting room” in my private practice which most therapists of all kinds tend to have. Even now in my relatively new studio, I have two rooms and could have made the first one a waiting room, but I chose instead to use both rooms for art making and art therapy and therapy. So the waiting room in my practice where patients may bump into each other is the hallway, elevator or bathroom…

Right now, I am waiting for a bunch of things alongside several patients waiting for their particular things. I started a graphic novel in the year 2000 and it is waiting patiently for me to get back to it and eventually finish it. At this point, the new pages I did last year are in some box in my apartment but I have no idea which one, so I hid the project from myself! Now I”m waiting for those pages to show up somewhere. I find that misplacing things at my house or studio involves waiting for them to suddenly appear. Whenever I am looking for something, I usually find something else I forgot…

In sessions with people who are in that waiting room, they are acompanied by me as their therapist, waiting with them, and we explore what it is like to sit with the not knowing, non clarity, no answers, no doing aspect of the waiting, which usually is what is most uncomfortable for people. Meditation in action or sitting meditation or yoga are good for this too as you notice what is going on with your breathing. Are you waiting for your next breath? Are you waiting to end the meditation if you set an amount of time?

The sentence “Wait and See” has been difficult for me throughout my life, as I am the impulsive type; I make decisions quickly and don’t like prolonging the pros and cons list or even making this list, which has gotten me into trouble, so I am working on sitting with things more and not reacting so much. “Act, don’t react” the Yogi teabag told me just this morning.

The altered book project is an interesting aspect of this waiting as I have 16 projects in various states and stages, and I’ve been fine with working on different ones and not having an urge to finish any…
These are photos of the two rooms in my studio office. (I didn’t clean up to take the photos.)

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The age old dynamic of spirituality versus organized religion… Another Book About It

If you’ve been waiting for a book on this topic, it seems like Harris has synthesized it all, and that his book is a mixture of memoir and non fiction, which in itself is an interesting genre (I found a great book about insects by a naturalist that did this mix well), but none if it will seem new to anyone who has dropped whatever organized religion or religions they were surrounded by in favor of spirituality as the more inclusive and non violent non excluding of parts of the human race which all religions love to do (we are right and the others are wrong. Therefore we will force every in else to believe what we believe or we will consider ourselves “chosen” in some way and better and more worthy than everyone else…) that the term “spirituality” embraces. Spirituality has become a slightly meaningless word, or maybe a word that gets thrown around a lot especially in opposition to “organized religion”, but I like to think of it as a combination of the ideas of mindfulness, which leads to appreciation of what is in and around you in the moment, and the practice of loving kindness towards all other beings, ultimately with the goal of not arranging people and beings in some kind of hierarchy of importance, which all religions seem to do. The bible is filled with stories of getting rid of groups of “bad people” and saving others, even killing innocent babies born to the wrong people. So many stories of wiping out lots of groups of people and starting anew with a few, the Noah story repeated endlessly. Genocide it turns out, in the bible, is practiced by the character “God”.

Before I go on into more related topics and meanderings, here is the link to the description of this book and quotes from it: The book is entitled “Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion”

Neuroscientist Sam Harris on Happiness, Spirituality Without Religion, and How to Cultivate the Art of Presence

Mindfulness is not religious; it works well with science as it involves the practice of basic detailed observation of the world around you, as well as observation of your own mind and noticing what your senses are perceiving. It also involves observing your own breathing and even your heartbeat, all of which are quite obviously agreed upon types of realities. You need believe in nothing to practice mindfulness. And not magically but probably due to something that occurs in the brain that neurologists will be able to explain, loving kindness towards other creatures will eventually follow mindfulness practice. It has already been well documented that empathy and compassion when practiced release some kind of endorphins and make the person practicing it feel good, which is why it has survived alongside human beings’ great interest in ways to destroy themselves and others and the planet. So science is taking an interest in certain topics that are also entertained by spirituality. If you go at it from the point of departure of spirituality, which could be defined as some kind of meaning seeking or meaning making that humans engage in and basically through the perspective of individual experience, basically engaging in mindfulness type activities, versus the scientists working on ways to map the brain and observe what goes on in the brain and rest of the body during mindfulness activities, you can choose to try to engage in the actual experience or in the observation of it and mapping of the brain. In some way those two activities do intersect, as the scientist who is mapping the brain is probably engaging in mindfulness while observing someone else’s brain engaged in it…

I am not sure about the mysterious connection between being more awake and aware of the world around you and your presence in the world with the practice of compassion and loving kindness. Harris describes the discovery of this kind of compassion towards all creatures as something he observes feeling after taking the drug exctasy. Luckily you are not required to take any drugs to feel this kind of equanimity mixed with compassion and a melting of the concept of self and others. Ironically, the practice if mindfulness will eventually take you there, but it’s a slower more annoying and boring path. Mind altering drugs have been documented as the quick ticket to this kind of awakening and awareness of really taking in the present moment and feeling your mind and consciousness expand. There are other documented ways to go this route by depriving the body of food and/or sleep or exercising to an extreme point of feeling this expansion at the expense of your health. People have starved themselves and stopped sleeping to achieve a mind altering state of consciousness, probably since the first humans were around, just like there have probably always been some kinds of substances like peyote, magic mushrooms, extasy, LSD found in nature that humans have ingested and noticed a mind altering state of consciousness experience.

Anyway, the cheap, challenging and not fun but healthy route to experiencing a real awakening to regular old reality is to practice disciplining the mind through mindfulness exercises which can range from simple meditation (following your breath, noticing when your mind has run away, returning to the breath) or meditation in action which simply involves being as aware as possible of your present environment and of your mind and body in the moment. According to this practice of “observe and describe”, you can really have a “spiritual” experience. Look at Harris’ words, which are similar to the new “Positive Psychology” and Psychology of Happiness that has become a flavor of the moment:

“Most of us spend our time seeking happiness and security without acknowledging the underlying purpose of our search. Each of us is looking for a path back to the present: We are trying to find good enough reasons to be satisfied now.

Acknowledging that this is the structure of the game we are playing allows us to play it differently. How we pay attention to the present moment largely determines the character of our experience and, therefore, the quality of our lives.”

This is nothing new, it’s similar to what is said by Marsha Linehan in her writings and practice of DBT, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, which combines the dialectic of total acceptance as the route to change, and which has a big mindfulness portion as part of its “practice”, as DBT is ultimately a practice that is not limited to teaching people with BPD, but a practice that all of us can benefit from. If you read about the mindfulness aspect of DBT, it will probably sound a lot like what Harris is talking about, with more specific types of exercises to help the individual become more mindful and aware of self and environment. Ironically, by listening to our senses and perceptions in our minds, we are observing both what is in the present moment and what is going on in our minds in the present moment.

In the end, all of this stuff is very simple, but very difficult to achieve. Try, for example, testing your ability to experience time in the present. Unless you are very super aware of seconds, you will either be living faster or slower than real time. You start a stopwatch, or look at a second hand, then sit and wait until you think a minute has passed and check the stopwatch or second hand. Has a minute passed? Did you think it passed and only half a minute went by or did a minute go by and more? I knew I would be the former, as I am aware that my inner motor goes too fast, so when I first tried this, only half a minute had gone by, no surprise! You would think that as therapists we have a good sense of time, at least in 50 minute chunks, but it is not true!

Roald Dahl wrote a great story called “The Marvelous Story of Henry Sugar”, which is all about the use of extreme mindfulness and concentration exercises which he originates with yogis. In this story, you can see how this type of exercise can be used for personal gain versus for helping others. What is so great about this story, is that he captures how the practice of mindfulness type exercises leads to a natural change in a human from selfishness and obliviousness of others’ suffering to great compassion. He takes the character of Henry Sugar, who is wealthy, lazy, bored and completely oblivious of himself and the world around him, and transforms him. What is truly great is that Henry Sugar reads a story that convinces him to try the practice of yogic concentration in order to see through playing cards so as to win at the casinos and make money easily by in essence a kind of “cheating”; he spends many months training his eyes and mind to see through playing cards. Because he changes his actual daily experience from one of wealthy meaningless pursuits spent with other wealthy people, to spending a lot of time alone, meditating and focusing on the middle of the flame of a candle and then focusing on a playing card and concentrating for hours every day until he starts to be able to see through the cardboard of the card and see the number and suit.

As he is practicing this and becoming obsessed with spending his waking hours basically in yogic training, he is changing a lot more than his ability to focus and concentrate on a playing card. I was very excited when he was ready to go to the casino, to see if he would right away have a weird response to the casino and the people there, which of course he did, as he had a heightened sense of observation and taking in the present moment, so the world he had been used to inhabiting was now transformed into something he was observing from the outside. Even more excititng, once he had carefully won a lot of money but sometimes lost on purpose so as not to draw attention to himself, he noticed that he did not feel the way he had anticipated. He was almost disappointed, and definitely not that excited to go winning more wads of money for the fun of it. The rest of the story was splendid; in the morning he woke up and started throwing twenty pound notes on to the streets and caused a huge commotion. A police officer goes up to his apt. and has an interesting encounter with him, basically telling him he is causing a public nuisance and that this is a stupid careless way to give away money. It turns out the police officer himself grew up in an orphanage and suggests to Mr. Sugar that he give his money to an orphanage. The rest of the story involves Henry Sugar engaging in a focused plan to travel the world’s casinos, winning Black Jack with his yogic powers to see through cards and starting orphanages in every country with all of his winnings.

Besides the fact that this story with a story within the story, the story Henry randomly picks up and reads, is so well written and engaging, this is a great story about how the practice of mindfulness techniqhes leads naturally to compassion, and Dahl takes an extreme example of a very limited uninteresting, selfish uncaring man who becomes transformed by simply engaging in exercises of focus and concentration, simple exercises that require a lot of discipline and patience though, into a totally different compassionate and purposeful human being. There is some connection between midnfulness practice, compassion, and the experience of meaningfulness or “purpose driven” living. This explains how Marsha Linehan helped many extremely suicidal individuals with terrible BPD illness go from a state of constant emotional pain, self harming, suffering, suicide attempts, to not just being able to get through the day without engaging in unhealthy coping choices, but eventually transforming their lives and finding meaning beyond the terrible pain of their illness.

It seems that it is really true that the only way to overcome or go through suffering to something on the other side is to truly embrace the present moment and accept all that it contains, being in it while observing it as neutrally as possible. A whole new post could be devoted to the connection between finding a neutral position on the moment and self acceptance and acceptance of others…