The Messenger

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My photo is just one of the many items named “The Messenger.” In my experience the concept of the messenger – as in don’t shoot – is the most consistently salient theme encountered. I was the messenger in my family – there were others before me – I don’t know if that’s why not many of them speak to me. I don’t know because they don’t say. There is no message.
Pema Chodron states that.. “feelings like disappointment, irritation, resentment, anger, jealousy, and fear, instead of being bad news, are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is that we’re holding back. They teach us to perk up and lean in when we feel we’d rather collapse and back away. They’re like messengers that show us, with terrifying clarity, exactly where we’re stuck. This very moment is the perfect teacher, and, lucky for us, it’s with us whenever we are.”

Who do you listen to. What are you looking for? Do you see anything? Do you hear the messenger? Are you listening?

And, to make my point, this photo is the most consistently bought and used – program covers, magazines, set designs, in all sizes – that I have ever produced.

The Give Away

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What we create with another Being is not ours to give away.
While looking at a photo of two people I know intimately, I was struck suddenly by what the photo did not show.
It did not, could not depict, their years together. How they met, what they feel like now – yes, what they really feel like – which may not be the smiles shown for the taker of the photo, who is also not in the photo but is very much there.
No children or other travels, houses, books, sex, honesty, lunches or breakfasts are depicted. No loving or nasty moments, no clutching or letting go.
We take them as they are this moment photographed by the person we don’t know, in their lives or not, past and future not here. Only the moment. This moment. This one important moment. And if this photo gets into an album and if the album is shared and seen by present company and future grandchildren and further on, they will think they got something. They will think they know something.
And they will. They will know this moment. And they will make of it what they will in their moment. And nothing will be given away, it will be taken.

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Liam

IMG_0432It is just a week since Liam and I went on our last walk in the circle of the field Paula and I made for an infirm Tashi some years ago.
I wasn’t aware of anything much, going out as usual, gathering of dogs and me, a leash for Guinnie, no particular clothes – it was a beautiful warm fall day – we marched around the path’s circle, each in our own world sharing the gorgeous morning.
Open to all, I felt enchanted by the change of season, the enormous gift of sky and temperate weather, I turned around to repeat the circuit and was transfixed by the breathtaking view of Indian Mountain with her colors lit. Twenty steps later, Guinnie pulled the leash out of my hand, I turned behind to see Cho, Jules and then Guinnie, heads to the ground where Liam lay. The colors of Liam, always racing through the grass, on the path ahead and behind, were still. My mind could not grasp what I saw as my body reached him, my arms easily pulled him up and we all headed for the house.
In coordinated and purposeful motion we all reached the door, went in, my friend Rosie was here, I called, she drove me to the vet – not ten minutes had passed when I felt his breath gone and we were still a minute away.
I realized not one sound had come from him. He, so heavy in his life, so wiggly with promise and devotion to the next minute, was still and light in  my arms.
Incredible to me how fast change can come to life in death. How full and empty, weak and strong is the moment as it passes. I am always aware and at the same time dumb of change. I talk about it, teach it, this morning a week ago I got a lesson about it, with it, through it. My heart is full and empty, some human confusion in the empty bed and lap, the unseated place, the now extra dishes. When he was a puppy he would bury himself in toys or pillows or bed covers and we would ask, “where’s Liam?” I am asking that now, and every day he tells me a little more, teaching me, loving me from his place, just as always.

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My Teacher Says

A Teaching by Narayan Helen Liebenson

Reading the papers and listening to the news these days is not for the faint of heart. We may have the perspective that terrible events have always happened, but because of 24/7 media, we are just more informed. Even so, it may be difficult not to react with helplessness, fear, and grief. How can we stay connected to the pain in this world and engage in beneficial ways without becoming caught in emotions that paralyze?
Some yogis try to avoid reading the news because it is all too much. Personally, I’ve never favored this approach, other than when on retreat or when the intention is to disconnect from electronics for a given amount of time. For me, even during the time many years ago when I was hitchhiking around the country, I usually found ways to read the paper. Maybe my mind during that period left much to be desired but I still appreciated being in touch with the wider world.But how to read? Mindfully, of course! You already knew that. Mindful reading, viewing, and listening means awareness of reactions rather than becoming lost in reactions. It also includes awareness of motive. Are you connected or merely provoked? Is attention to the news an addiction or entertainment — or is it a vehicle of connectedness, an invitation to offer metta and compassion to the very real people being read about?One approach to practicing mindfulness while we read or listen to current events is to include attention to the body and the breath. Aware of the belly, aware of an ache in the chest, aware of numbness, tension, temperature. This is difficult in the beginning but becomes easier as we engage with it. Staying connected to the body keeps us connected to the here and now and allows something other than mere reactivity to take place.

By merely reacting, we join the crowd of frustration and fear. By reading, viewing, and listening mindfully, aware of the body, there is a deeper engagement with what with is being received, as well as a growing strength of heart to respond with greater wisdom and compassion. In this way, even if we are “faint of heart”, we can participate more fully in this world of profound pain and also, always, this world of deep inspiration and beauty — the ten thousand sorrows and the ten thousand joys.

 Narayan is one of the teachers at Cambridge Insight Meditation Society. I am a founding member and in the eighties I was happily in her “Old Yogis” (time meditating, nothing about linear years on the planet) group until I moved away. If you have a chance, it is a great and wonderful place of respite. 331 Broadway, Cambridge MA

 

You May Never Know What’s Eating You

It has long been both my assumption and very clear to me personally that there is no gold in mining the past for anything that will “cure” whatever distress is lingering in my daily life. That is not to say that where something disturbing me comes from cannot be useful, it’s that I don’t think it’s necessary.
In fact the more I am exposed to quantum theory and the research coming from the genetic dynamics we are heir to, the less I am inclined to lean on the past for anything but storyline.
I want to share with you this article I found recently as I think it speaks to so much clarity we could have using strategies in the moment without the concomitant muddying of waters gone still.
Reminds me of the teeshirts I have seen proliferating – Keep Calm and Carry On or variations which satisfy the makers’ intentions.

Phobias may be memories passed down in genes from ancestors

By Richard Gray, Science Correspondent   @The Telegraph

Memories can be passed down to later generations through genetic switches that allow offspring to inherit the experience of their ancestors, according to new research that may explain how phobias can develop.

Scientists have long assumed that memories and learned experiences built up during a lifetime must be passed on by teaching later generations or through personal experience.

However, new research has shown that it is possible for some information to be inherited biologically through chemical changes that occur in DNA.

Researchers at the Emory University School of Medicine, in Atlanta, found that mice can pass on learned information about traumatic or stressful experiences – in this case a fear of the smell of cherry blossom – to subsequent generations.

The results may help to explain why people suffer from seemingly irrational phobias – it may be based on the inherited experiences of their ancestors.

So a fear of spiders may in fact be an inherited defence mechanism laid down in a families genes by an ancestors’ frightening encounter with an arachnid.

Dr Brian Dias, from the department of psychiatry at Emory University, said: “We have begun to explore an underappreciated influence on adult behaviour – ancestral experience before conception.

“From a translational perspective, our results allow us to appreciate how the experiences of a parent, before even conceiving offspring, markedly influence both structure and function in the nervous system of subsequent generations.

“Such a phenomenon may contribute to the etiology and potential intergenerational transmission of risk for neuropsychiatric disorders such as phobias, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.”

In the study, which is published in the journal of Nature Neuroscience, the researchers trained mice to fear the smell of cherry blossom using electric shocks before allowing them to breed.

The offspring produced showed fearful responses to the odour of cherry blossom compared to a neutral odour, despite never having encountered them before.

The following generation also showed the same behaviour. This effect continued even if the mice had been fathered through artificial insemination.

The researchers found the brains of the trained mice and their offspring showed structural changes in areas used to detect the odour.

The DNA of the animals also carried chemical changes, known as epigenetic methylation, on the gene responsible for detecting the odour.

This suggests that experiences are somehow transferred from the brain into the genome, allowing them to be passed on to later generations.

The researchers now hope to carry out further work to understand how the information comes to be stored on the DNA in the first place.

They also want to explore whether similar effects can be seen in the genes of humans.

Professor Marcus Pembrey, a paediatric geneticist at University College London, said the work provided “compelling evidence” for the biological transmission of memory.

He added: “It addresses constitutional fearfulness that is highly relevant to phobias, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorders, plus the controversial subject of transmission of the ‘memory’ of ancestral experience down the generations.

“It is high time public health researchers took human transgenerational responses seriously.

“I suspect we will not understand the rise in neuropsychiatric disorders or obesity, diabetes and metabolic disruptions generally without taking a multigenerational approach.”

Professor Wolf Reik, head of epigenetics at the Babraham Institute in Cambridge, said, however, further work was needed before such results could be applied to humans.

He said: “These types of results are encouraging as they suggest that transgenerational inheritance exists and is mediated by epigenetics, but more careful mechanistic study of animal models is needed before extrapolating such findings to humans.”

It comes as another study in mice has shown that their ability to remember can be effected by the presence of immune system factors in their mother’s milk

Dr Miklos Toth, from Weill Cornell Medical College, found that chemokines carried in a mother’s milk caused changes in the brains of their offspring, affecting their memory in later life.

Everyday Choices

“When you are more aware you can make better choices.”

Deepak Chopra said that in his book, What Are You Hungry For? But anyone can say that, has said it. Your mother or father probably told you that. They may have substituted other words – older, more one thing or another – but basically it’s a simple thing to say and very true.

Not simple to do. It’s one of those moments in my practice – or with myself – when I say something really obvious and they say or I say, “Oh I know that!”

Yes, but what can you do about it? That’s the question, and the follow through pretty much determines how you feel about your life.

What is “awareness?” We all talk about it a lot but defining it in the moment is another thing. The nasty word “discipline” comes to mind. We all think we are disciplined until we really look, then, if we are lucky, we can see the cracks of where we could be better, where life can teach us something maybe without hitting us over the head.

Start with joy, love, fear, a feeling of peace. Their presence or absence and how much and how often. You can go a long way just watching your life according to those feelings.

Emotions cloud the feelings sometimes with justifications, sometimes with resentments or envy. Those pretty much take the equation to a much lower level and as long as we dwell in “I’m better than or worse than,” the fear we live in will be masked by jealousy and hubris and all their relatives and cousins and the truth of who we are will elude our grasp.

In the moments of willingness to take a risk, to take time off, not check something, take a breath, we let in what’s real for us – or it knocks at our door and to the extent we are comfortable or not, we make excuses or see a thing as what it is.

Our lives are changing all the time – our thoughts wiggle around like the microscope slide of pond water. We are never still, even as we are completely still in our human viewpoint, our bodies are oceans of activity. Our thoughts send neuropeptides all over our bodies. Our hearts have more receptors for emotions than our brains, every organ we recognize (and those we don’t) is listening to us, eavesdropping on our every micro moment. Even thoughts we don’t recognize ourselves as thinking are heard in our body in their fullest voice. What passes through the conscious mind is picked up by the unconscious with full comprehension.

The reason meditation is so impressive an avenue for change and positive growth is that it is channeling the unconscious, the part of us not so involved in our outside world of fame and misfortune. The unconscious has, from our sentient inception, been aware of our every thought and move, has received all the input that our cortex was not mature enough to take in and is processing it as I write. The more it can be counted in any decision-making process we embark on, the smarter we can be.

Finding well-being doesn’t happen by itself. It isn’t lying in wait for you ready to pounce. You must receive it. Your motion of looking, seeking, opening – the door, the box, the mind – is a way of saying you’re ready, you are not too full or empty to take more in. Awareness isn’t like food of which you can have enough, it’s a quantum field, expanding as you fill in and inhabit its spaces.

There is a story about what’s important. There is a jar, water, big rocks, small rocks and sand. Maybe you’ve heard this, bear with me. The jar is your everyday life, the choices you make in every minute, and the big rocks represent what’s the most important to you, the smaller rocks, yes, you get it – and the sand, the sand is all the phone calls to return, facebook posts, emails and so on.

Many of us put the sand in first on an everyday basis. We say something like, “oh, they’ll (our loved ones, family, friends) be there, they always are.” Or, “nobody cares anyway so what difference does it…..”  You get where I’m going.

So with the jar full of sand, there’s no room for the rocks, or you have to choose really carefully. What to do? When I have the visual, it’s perfectly clear that you’re going to get nowhere with the sand first, it just doesn’t work. So I take it out – because if I start my day with things like emails, I’ll have a lot of sand in the jar and a few little rocks and maybe a big one on a good day.

When I put the big rocks in first (I’ve chosen ones that fit), and then I place the smaller ones, maybe shake the jar a bit, then I put the sand in. It all fits! And I can add the water, which will make everything happier and more workable.

In practical terms what that all means is I put my oxygen mask on myself (big rock), I take care of what is important to me every day – more likely than not it’s just an attitude (very big rock), not something you’ll see me grinding away at. Keeping the long view (big rock), looking at the nitty (what I have to do to get where I want to be – part big & little rocks, sometimes involves sand) of life not so much as gritty but as supporting the long view. If there’s something I’m doing I find frustrating or painful, hopefully it will be in support of a brighter, more aware future me. If it isn’t, I hope I can let it go. Just as I let this lily be the next thing it’s going toward.

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The Long View

A few weeks ago I spoke with a young man of 25 who (I think) was trying to impress me with his plans. He said he had just landed a job with a well-known company in the tech field, He was being paid to be trained and he claimed to be willing to work for that company for 35 years, he had the list of his steps up the ladder: one year entry level, three years field work, and ending somehow in management after 35 years.

I have to admit my head swam and I might not have gotten all his details correctly. Why would anyone put themselves on such a journey. I didn’t hear about discovery, I didn’t hear about enjoyment. I heard entrainment, a version of responsibility. I was at a loss – for words, among other things.

After spending much of the summer researching trauma and loss, fear, recovery and memory – and why would anyone study that unless they felt they would grow in the understanding of those close around them (that would be me!) – I did recognize that I was listening to fear. I was hearing about unacknowledged choices, unrecognized chances and a life lived within the barest of minimum tracks.

Of course I see myself in him. The fear of failure, the holding tight to what is known. We can all relate to some degree to the young who are starting out with what we call “chances of a lifetime,” while we know something about lifetimes and the longevity of denial. Denial had its own life. It can go on and on. It can hide in the smallest cracks, the most reasonable choices, the most sensible moments.

Who among us does not have a story about a dream unfilled, a lover denied. Not all of mine were chances lost, most were gains – but what about the mini-moments of denial, the tiny efforts let go, the chances I thought I couldn’t handle because I wasn’t good enough or didn’t deserve. There are those moments that come to each of us every day. How do we meet and greet them. What plans do we make to avoid them, what skills do we fall back on to justify choices? How do we treat our moment of green thrust? Do we make room?IMG_7843

 

 

Do Good Work

In my office right now – among other things – are two dogs and a wilted iris. As far as doing work goes, the iris is finished, but the rest of us are very able to do more.
The question is, “are we willing?”

The dogs are easy. They are. They are waiting for the opportunity and eager for a chance. In the meantime they are being their best selves. That’s what they do.

I, being the human in the mix, have choices. I can be excited for the next moment like the dogs and the iris when she was a bud, or I may succumb to any of the temptations my flesh is heir to.

In my favor, in the myriad possibilities, lies much pleasure. Same for pain, though that wouldn’t be called a plus although it might bring me to happiness if I let it.

I don’t have to change my world to get happy or sad, I need to change my mind. In order to do great work I can be here – wherever I am – and, as the dogs, be the best I can be right here right now.

Going to a place far away or even near, changing my life or keeping it the same is not the matter of great work. I can make a difference, change my attitude and create opportunities without changing my shirt.

“If you don’t change your beliefs, your life will be like this forever. Is that good news?” Douglas Adams

Up to you (me) – is that good news?

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Better and Better

In the 1800’s a physician named Emile Coue – my type doesn’t allow me to put the accent on the e – helped thousands of people in the town (city?) of Nancy, France. It was the era when those who were healers would hold group healings and/or see people one by one. Another worth looking at is Florence Scoville Shinn – same-ish era and modus operandi – writing and talking about auto-suggestion.

I have been delving into their work for some years now and marveling how far we have come from helping ourselves when we go to seek help from someone else. I remember once I asked my (very) country vet – no one here – about flea powder for my cats. He looked at me – I’m sure I was trying not to put it on my cats – “you might as well put it on your shoe and expect the fleas to go away.”

Reading Florence and Emile I notice how much they teach about how to apply the wisdom they espouse. No pills, no treatments other than developing the mind/body to align with the sought after result.

I believe that is my job too. For myself, yes, but also for those who come to me for guidance. And I know it best because, having done it, I see the result. Nothing is a straight shot, my misses are as fruitful as my hits.
I found this poem in my head while I was pondering these wonderful mentors, Florence and Emile, who I thank so much.

I am getting better and better every day.
Better at what? You might ask
Or, you might not. I’m getting better and better
No matter what I say. Or you say. That’s
The height of better.

I have ideas about myself that I no longer
Parade in front of me, take on for my
Impression of you. Or your impression of me.
Whichever comes first and stays longest.
I’m cozy on my own.

It’s not that resentments and dramatic fantasies
Of someone who was nasty to me don’t enter.
Perhaps I can roll around
Having a bit of a hard time. I might even participate
In that hard time but it’s brief.

And mental. That’s’ why I’m not so mental anymore.
Yes, I’m getting better and better every day. Did I
Neglect to say, “every way?” I did, didn’t I?
Well I have nothing to make up for because
I didn’t really do anything wrong, did I?

More heights, with sunny and light breezes.
There were some other things I wanted to say.
But I forgot or they slipped away. I
Don’t know which. Does it matter?
What matters is that the air is nice and
Spring is finally here.

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Something Old, Something New

The field fallow for fifty years

Does not open to rain right away

But takes its time in the slow days

Of age that fly by, the days marked

By the rise and fall of sun and moon.

The moon taking the greater impression

 

This field has taken care of others all its life,

So far. All its time it has been a caretaker

Never grown its own crops. So how can the

Seeds not planted grow? How can the life not

Lived look in the mirror when what’s

Been the view all these years were others’ needs.

 

Think a minute in the still white mind

Take a moment of the apron’s cloth, know

The Larch for what it is, see the water pouring

Into the kettle. Watch the egg bounce to the boil,

Take into your sweet hand the spoon stirring gently

And do not lift the veil of loneliness but dwell

In the land of you and promise to love.

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