My Inner Mystic

reflections and insight into my healing, transformation, and journey of the heart <3

Category Archives: presence

Love: An Inquiry

What does love look like, taste like, feel like?

This is the question I asked myself *after* I heard this question in my mind: “do I even know how to love?”  I was so taken aback by this question that I paused right in the tracks of the neural pathway from which this question arose.

I do not have a love relationship in my life and have not been in a committed relationship since the “ka-boom.”  The question “do I even know how to love?” came from a place of longing for love as well as a much darker place.  Somewhere deep in my psyche a belief exists that I am incapable of pure, authentic love, that I am somehow flawed, and this is the reason I do not have a love relationship in my life.

From that dark place in my psyche, I was blaming myself for not attracting new love into my life.  Because of my self-awareness I could see what my mind was up to.  I wasn’t going to play along.  I paused myself in the tracks of that darkened neural pathway and instead I chose to redirect myself with the question, “what does love look like, taste like, feel like?”  This moment of self redirect was me choosing not to fall into habitual thought patterns, choosing not to fall into the trap set by my mind.  I could have so easily started to feel sad and depressed around the absence of love in my life. Instead I chose to begin an inquiry of love.

I have spent weeks ruminating on love, trying to answer for myself “what does love look like, taste like, feel like?”  In my inquiry of love, I have made an effort to understand and discover anew the true nature of love; I have found myself considering the deeper essence of love.  From my rumination and contemplation on love, I have come up with a draft, very much a work in progress, of some essential ingredients of what I will call “mindful” loving.

Working Title:  “The look, taste, and feel of mindful loving.”

Giving.  Love is a gift that we give to others.  In love, we give of ourselves.  We give our time, we give our attention, we give our affection, we give our devotion.  We give support.  We become a pillar for the one we love to lean on.  In love there is no selfish motivation for personal gain.  Love is a gift that we give freely and from the heart.

Receiving.  We receive the gift of love.  We embrace the gift.  We cherish the gift, we treasure the gift and hold it dear.  We celebrate the gift.  And then we give back.  Love is fluid, flowing back and forth, back and forth.  In love we give and receive, give and receive. This giving and receiving, this relationship, is the balance of love.

Understanding.  To love is to understand.  To be loved is to be understood.  To understand deeply, we must inhabit the heart space of the one we love.  We must understand their joys and their sorrows, what lifts them up, what pulls them down.  We must be able to see the world through their eyes, to understand what it feels like to be in their mind, their body, their heart.  We must understand their inner workings.  How do we come to understand?  We learn the history of the one we love, how their mind and heart has been shaped by that history.  We come to understand through deep listening, through empathy.

Transparency.  For love to flourish, there must be openness and honesty.  We cannot hide ourselves or parts of ourselves behind those walls we built up around our hearts when we were wounded or hide behind the shields we are accustomed to holding in front of our hearts when we are not trusting of others.  In love there are no walls, no shields.  We do not hold back.  In love the window to our heart glistens.  In love we shine and can be seen.

Vulnerability.   We arrive at true intimacy, the depths of love, through vulnerability.  Vulnerability requires trust in ourselves, trust in the other.  To be vulnerable, we must feel safe.  To be vulnerable means to open our hearts and let another in, to allow that person to see our fears, our weakness, our flaws, our insecurities, our wounds, our struggles.  We spend so much of our waking lives trying to hold ourselves together. When we are vulnerable, we allow ourselves to fall apart before another, we surrender.  And we can do this because we are safe in love and we are held.

Presence.  To love means to stay.  We stay no matter how scared we are.  We stay no matter what has been triggered within us.  We remain present with whatever comes up in love, in life.  We stay with the turbulence.  We stay with the unexpected bumps.  We stay during the unforeseen catastrophes.  We remain present with ourselves, with another, with life.  We stay with love.

“The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers.”                                                                 ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

From my heart to yours. Thank you for reading, for staying, and for celebrating LOVE with me.

LOVE

Discovering Light in the Dark

Today we stopped saving daylight.  We have set our clocks back.  We have officially entered the dark season.  We have surrendered, but have we embraced the dark?

The day we stop saving light and turn back our clocks is my least favorite day of the entire year.  My body and heart rebel against it.  I surrender because I have to, because the calendar, and well, the tilt and rotation of the earth compels me, requires me, to do so.  I am a lover of sun, of sunlight.  The sun wakes me up on the inside, it fills me with energy, it lifts my spirit.  When the sun comes out, my heart brightens, I brighten.  Each emergence of the sun is a hallelujah moment for me.  The bigger the emergence, like after days and days of cloudy, stormy weather, the bigger my hallelujah moment.

We are now in the dark season.  We have been creeping into this dark season for a while.  The sun has been leaving us earlier and earlier every day and for those of us in the Pacific Northwest (and no doubt many other places), this time of year is even darker because the thick grey clouds of fall roll in and obscure our sun and our light.

The lack of sunlight in our lives is an external experience with a very real internal impact.  When the earth rotates and tilts away from the sun, as we are now experiencing in the northern hemisphere, the light and warmth of the sun moves away from our external landscape.  When the sun moves farther away from us, our internal landscape is also depleted of this energizing light.  With the absence of the sun in our daily lives, many of us feel less light, less of that bright shining feeling, and more darkness on the inside.

During the shift from summer into fall, I began to feel darkness creep into my internal landscape.  My heart and my body felt heavier.  I felt a rise of sadness and hopelessness.  I felt frustrated with the trajectory of my life and the lack of development and movement forward in a place where I am so ready for new growth to emerge.  I wrestled with an “I give up” feeling.  A scary thought began to form in my mind along the lines of, “what’s the point?,” as in, “what is the point to living?”  Fortunately my awareness of my mental processes and emotional experiences is quite keen and I was able to put the brakes on the formation of this thought.

The rising thought, “what’s the point?,” was a “whoa” moment, a wake up moment.  I was quite aware that this thought can lead to some very scary places and I have no interest in visiting these frightening places.  I made an intentional choice to pause and redirect my thoughts and feelings.  I was motivated to do this first, because I recognized the scary nature of my thought and second, because I do not want to allow my brain and my emotions to wire themselves into chronic depressive thought patterns.  It took a bit of effort to redirect.  I had to search within myself for a spark to keep the hope alive, to not give up, but instead continue to believe that what I am wanting most in my life will unfold and grow.

Reflecting back on my inner search for a spark of hope, the image of light, of fire, grew inside of me.  The search I did within my inner landscape was much like looking for and gathering wood from the forest floor to make a campfire.  When faced with the “I give up” feeling, I needed renewed hope to keep my fire burning.  I found it by digging around within myself, turning over some leaves and discovering a piece of nice, dry wood.  I threw it on the waning fire and a big flame shot up.  Whew.  Crisis averted.  I kept the wolves, those scary thoughts and depressing feelings, at bay.   This time I was able to find fuel fairly quickly and “save” my fire.  Keeping one’s light bright and one’s fire burning is not always this easy.  This time I found my way out of the dark rather quickly.  This time…

fire

My metaphorical search for fuel to keep my inner fire burning and radiating led me to contemplate light.  I pondered:  What is the fuel that keeps our light shining, our fire burning?  My fuel is drawn from hope, faith, optimism, devotion, insight, and my belief in love.  I re(source) my fuel, which is vital to sustaining my light, from nature, learning and discovery, my yoga practice and spiritual journey, inspiration, new experiences and adventures, connection with others, and giving of myself in ways that uplift and support those around me.  And I recognize that my strongest and deepest fuel source is an innate desire and will to not only survive, but to thrive.

I imagine each person fuels and (re)sources their light via different pathways.  However, I am going to guess that elements of our inner fuel and (re)sources are universal.   I suspect folks universally draw fuel from hope, love, faith, and devotion.  I also suspect most folks re(source) from nature, love, and spirituality, each of which are so vital to sustaining one’s inner light.  And not just unique to me, but to all of us, is an instinct to survive.  I believe this instinct, which resides within each of us, will always help us to discover the light in the dark.

After my initial “escape,” I decided to stay with the darkness for a while.  Adopting a mindset that Pema Chödrön speaks of so often, I became curious about the darkness that was permeating my inner landscape.  Instead of running away from the dark by trying to find light as quickly as possible, what would happen if I stayed and embraced the darkness?  Staying led me to contemplate my inner light.  Staying allowed me to become more intimate with how I fuel and (re)source my inner light.  I came away with this insight:  when we stay with the darkness and remain open to our experience, we will discover the light.

I was and remain inspired to stay present with the darkness by this quote, which came through a friend of a friend.  “When it gets really dark, you can see the stars.”

Be The Yoga

I recently returned from a family trip to Utah and I practiced yoga, a lot of yoga.  Not the outer yoga, the shapes we make with our bodies, but the inner yoga.

For those of us who are practicing yogis and yoginis or have witnessed a friend or loved one who practices yoga, we know that yoga is more than just the physical practice, the asana.  Yoga is about cultivating an inner strength, an inner quiet and stillness, peace and equanimity, balancing our emotional state by finding equilibrium, and so much more.

When we face life’s challenging moments, we tap into and harness the inner strength and balance we cultivate on the mat.  We remain steady.  We use our yoga as we face life’s struggles, hardships, challenges, conflicts, and storms.  Our yoga gets us through, we remain calm and still, and we come out on the other side just as we entered:  at peace, tranquil.

In the weeks and months that led up to this family trip, I was filled with a sense of dread.  I knew this would be the “ultimate challenge.”  This trip would be the first time in over eight years, other than a few brief moments three years ago, that I would be interacting and spending time with my older sister.  This would be the first time in the presence of my sister and now 14 year old nephew since the “ka-boom,” of which I received no acknowledgement or support from my sister.  I carried that awareness with me to Utah like a heavy weight on my heart.

Why had so many years passed?  Why did I regard this as the “ultimate challenge”?  I struggled with my sister’s selfishness and self-focus as well as her obsessive nature.  I found it incredibly uncomfortable to be around her husband whose hardened exterior and fragmented interpersonal skills made it difficult to interact with him and be in his company.  Because of this, I stopped making the effort and stopped reaching out.

Over the expanse of eight years my sister became extremely emotionally detached and disconnected.  From where I sat, she seemed numb.  When my mom told my sister that my relationship had ended, my sister said “oh” and that was it.  Silence when she found out my dad died.  Absence from my dad’s memorial service.  Absence when my mom re-married.  My sister’s absence and detachment from the family, as well as her numbness, left me feeling increasingly embittered, angered, and abandoned.

Why did I even go considering all the heart-ache I carried and what I knew would likely be more discomfort and lack of acknowledge around the painful end of my relationship?  I did it for my nephew, whom I love and cherish.  I missed out on too many years of his life and I really wanted an opportunity to have time together, to create memories.  I also wanted to share with him what had happened in my life, to give him insight and understanding around the devastating loss of “my person.”  And I did it because my sister reached out and I wanted to honor that effort.

Though I knew this visit would be the “ultimate challenge,” I also knew I was strong enough to do it.  I knew I had the inner strength and a whole new set of tools and skills to draw from.  I knew I had the capacity and ability to stay present in body, mind, and spirit, to stay present in the experience, whatever it may be.  Indeed it was a challenge.  Like I said, I practiced a lot of yoga, sans mat.

What did my yoga practice look like??  In moments of discomfort, I steadied myself, I remained grounded.  In moments of stress, I breathed peace throughout the depths of my body.  When I encountered selfishness and stubbornness, I practiced flexibility.  When I witnessed obsession, I was patient.  In the face of conflict and strife, I remained serene.  When I was met with coolness, I poured out warmth.  When I came up against hardness, I embodied softness.  When I treaded near and into differing views, opinions, and beliefs, I stayed open and I embraced the spirit of harmony, which to me means to “accept and respect” differences.  When I faced resistance and dominance, I remained graceful and countered with a strength rooted in thoughtfulness and compassion.  When I was not met emotionally, I bridged the gap.  When expressions of love were absent, I presented the gift of love freely.

“Be the yoga” was one of my survival phrases.  I said this to myself often.  Being the yoga was hard work, a very challenging practice.  I cried more than once, exhausted from my efforts.  It took a lot of strength and presence of mind and heart to be the duck when faced with the stubborn, selfish bull.  I could have fought back like a bull.  I know how to behave like a bull (my family culture was one of selfishness after all), but that’s not who I am anymore, that is not how I chose to live my life.  My “new” heart cannot sustain an ugly fight with the bull.

I’m still learning how to be the duck, to stand sure footed and strong, with grace, in the face of the stubborn, selfish bull.  What I learned in the few moments of conflict and strife with my sister is that it’s challenging to be soft when encountering something hard, that it takes a lot of inner strength to remain grounded in our hearts.  And yet we stay soft so we can remain open hearted and let our hearts fill with and pour out love.  If we stay with the practice of being open in our hearts, of letting love fill our essence and our being, we can be the love that melts away the hardness, we can create a shift in the coolness and draw out the warmth.

My duck analogy might seem kind of random, but there is a story here which I’ll share.  On one of our family hikes in Utah, I was standing on a large rock along an alpine lake shore.  My nephew and brother-in-law were nearby.  My nephew was “making friends” with the ducks.  Out of the corner of my eye I saw a female Mallard extend one of her bright orange legs and webbed feet backwards, whilst standing and balancing on one leg.  To my nephew and brother-in-law I said, “did you see that?”  What they likely saw was a duck standing on one leg.  What I saw was grace and elegance, steadiness and balance, equanimity.  My nephew’s duck friend was teaching us something important, modeling for us the life affirming qualities we can embrace, if we so choose.

Like the duck who modeled for us an affirming way of being, I too carried out my intention for this trip of modeling for my sister and nephew and brother-in-law a life affirming way of being:  flexible, grounded, patient, thoughtful, gracious, harmonious, peaceful, compassionate.  I modeled the life affirming, heart expansive qualities that I cultivate in my yoga practice.  I was the yoga.  I am the yoga.

Saluting the Sun

La Madelene, Provence, France

La Madelène, Provence, Southern France

On the heals of the summer solstice, perhaps my favorite day of the year, our yoga retreat instructor, Anne, shared this reading at the end of our first morning yoga practice, a practice enjoyed on the deck of La Madelène whilst looking out over the vineyards and facing the sun:

Some people say there is a new sun every day, that it begins its life at dawn and lives for one day only.  They say you have to welcome it.  You have to make the sun happy.  You have to make a good day for it.  You have to make a good world for it to live its one-day life in.  And the way to start, they say, is just by looking east at dawn.  When they look east tomorrow, you can too.  Your song will be an offering — and you’ll be one person in one more place at one more time in the world saying hello to the sun, letting it know you are there.  If the sky turns a color sky never was before, just watch it.  That’s part of the magic.  That’s the way to start a day.                               ~ Bryd Baylor

Provence is divine!  I absolutely love the climate here (warm, dry, arid) and of course I love and salute the sun!

A Change in Perspective

Before I moved to Seattle nine years ago, I lived in Montana for a year.  I came out to Seattle for a visit on a gorgeous and summery weekend in early June.  Some good friends of mine took me out sailing on their boat in Elliot Bay and I remember looking back on the city and feeling overwhelmed by the size of it, by the expanse of buildings.  All I saw were buildings and houses from one end of the horizon to the other.  The city looked so dense and it felt dense as I rode the bus through the urban neighborhoods of northwest Seattle, the same area of the city I live today.

After a year in Montana, where the sky is big, the landscapes wild, where every resident lives face to face with the wilderness even in the middle of a “city,” I was experiencing a bit of culture shock.  I knew that most likely I was going to be moving to Seattle.  My heart felt a bit squeezed by it.  How would I fare here after living in a place surrounded by wilderness, by beauty and nature, a place I felt so at home?  How would I fare among all the buildings, the urban sprawl, after all those afternoons and evenings spent wandering and exploring the trails in and around my Montana town looking for new vegetation, discovering new wildflowers?

Today I rode my bike across I-5, the interstate that runs from Canada to Mexico through Washington, Oregon, and California.  I-5 runs like an artery through Seattle, but instead of blood, it pumps cars.  As I rode over the pulsation of cars pumping through the city, I took in this place I live – the beautiful skyline of downtown Seattle, nicely contained at a “safe” distance from my northwest neighborhood; the green treetops that fill and color the slopes of Eastlake, one of Seattle’s urban neighborhoods; the expansive and radiant blue sky, brushed and billowing with clouds; farther south I saw the beautiful snow topped Mt. Rainier rising from the blue horizon, standing large and tall.  Sure I saw the buildings and was aware of the traffic beneath me, but what struck me most was an awareness of how majestic and utterly full of nature is this city, this place I call home.

Seattle is truly a dynamic city – we have water, lots of water, both fresh and salty; to the east and to the west we have the rugged mountain ranges of the Cascades and the Olympics; and we have birds, lots of birds, yellow birds, birds that sing beautiful songs, birds with giant wingspans and big white heads, birds that peck wood, birds that look like that image of a stork carrying a baby, known in these parts as a Great Blue Heron (one of these guys called out to me tonight as it stroked over my back yard, so low to the ground that I ducked as I heard and felt it pass over me), and of course, my little friend, the hummingbird.

As I took in the city, I thought of someone dear to my heart, someone who has left this city, maybe temporarily, maybe indefinitely, and I thought, “Seattle misses you.”  But then I paused myself and instead let myself feel and more fully absorb what I was seeing, what I was taking in.  Staying in the present moment. . . it’s not about them, it’s about us; it’s about our moment.  It’s about squeezing every last drop out of each moment life gives us and savoring it, for ourselves.  Staying present, this is how one fosters contentment and gratitude.

Not too long after this shift in my internal dialogue and perception, I drove to yoga class on the very same freeway, the artery I had just ridden over on my bike.  I was approaching the city, taking it in again.  I remembered that moment nine years ago of looking back on the city and seeing nothing but buildings and feeling squeezed by it.  Today it’s a very different feeling when I look out on and navigate through the city, a complete shift and change in perspective.  I felt a little proud of myself for having this moment of insight, for making this connection between then and now, and for recognizing that just like my view and perspective of this city has changed, I had a moment of awareness and was able to successfully, on the spot, in the moment, shift my perception and change my perspective.