THE REAL : Radical Self-Care or Tyrannical Task-Mastering?

Peekaboo shot

 

We all want the same things.  Happiness.  Love.  Health.  Me, I’m a fine-tuner, a tweaker.  I once read a birthday book that described January 1 people as chronic self-improvers.  It’s the word chronic that has me suspecting that the inference might not have been positive.  Whichever position the book was taking on it, it did nail me. That is my nature in a nutshell. When the lug nuts are loose, on my life, my soul, my character, I tighten them. The thing is, the little suckers do get loose again; that’s just the normal wear and tear of living. I can either keep my tools at the ready in order to re-tighten and keep going, or I can beat myself up for not doing the job right in the first place. Even though the definition of doing the job right – when regards a lug nut – does not guarantee that it’ll never have to be tightened again.  In fact, the only thing that is guaranteed is that it will.  And yet that is where I get seriously tripped up.

Let’s take today.  My first completely non-agenda day in more than a week.  Very stressful week prior, and I’ve been looking forward to this day, all week long, of powering-down and blissfully thinking of nothing.  I’ll just give a few bullet points on how this “day off” unfolded.

I wake up this morning – no alarm clock – and instantly, instinctively, ritualistically, catch my naked form in the mirrored closet door that spans the wall’s entire length and width.  Judgment.  Instant.  Merciless.  Am I bigger than yesterday?  Smaller?  I do this assessment every single morning, because I’m perpetually trying to lose weight.  It’s so routine, in fact, that I’m not even shattered by it anymore.  What I am, though, is unhappy.  I will at least give myself this much credit; I no longer talk disgustedly about my weight gain.  These days, when I do speak of my desire or my efforts to lose weight, it is with a conscious gentleness.  I just can’t be the one who starts a frenzy of self-loathing among my women friends of a similar age, most of whom are trying to lose their middle-aged weight too.  I’ve seen it happen, and have even been the instigator of that soul-crushing domino effect of “my disgusting arms, my disgusting belly,” but no longer am I the one who starts or participates in that avalanche.  Make no mistake, though; I am not happy.  I wish I could let go of an idea of how I used to look, and embrace where I am today. That has been a great challenge.  And where I find myself divided to points of utter hair-pulling confusion is: Do I believe in embracing self-acceptance of my present, or do I believe in going after goals? Or is there a way for both concepts to work together for the benefit of body AND soul?  I actually do practice a radical self-care lifestyle. I eat whole, clean food, I hydrate like crazy, I walk and hike and do yoga, I meditate, I make certain to get some nature time in, I have therapeutic and creative outlets.  I am so much healthier, and feel so much better, in this lifestyle, yet still I judge myself everyday for not looking like I used to. Such a miniscule part of the whole schematic, yet I make it larger than everything else. That particular lug nut gets loose an awful lot. I catch myself in the mirror and furiously try to dissect why my body changed the way it did. Menopause! Laziness!  Depending on the day of the week or my mood, there’s a different culprit to blame. And so, the ritual of judgment. Every day. And today, my DAY OFF, is no different.

Next I check email.  Brush my teeth.  May not shower today since I have no obligation to leave my house.  Still, a twinge of guilt hits me at this decision.  I should take a shower.  I don’t feel like it. I’m utterly exhausted from a busy and emotional week (a dear friend was in the hospital), and I won’t be encountering anyone today, so why should I care so much about a shower?  Yet the twinge lasts. Apparently not enough to make me turn the nozzle and hop in, but just enough to make me annoyed with myself, and harshly critical at what I have decided is laziness and apathy.

I start breakfast with my second annoyance of the day already in gear and it’s barely 10 a.m. Leftover ginger soup, made with turkey bone broth, and fresh spinach tossed in. Yummy. I should walk today. That’s my mode of exercise. Vigorous walks through my lovely neighborhood, or hiking the nearby canyon. But I can’t think about that right now. Really very tired.  My soup is so delicious, and I love the smells it puts in my home. I don’t smell! Why can’t I shake the shower thing? I’m home alone. Why does it matter? Mmmmm, savory ginger soup. I should really walk.  Goddamn it!  See?

I’m already exhausted from the ludicrous back flips my thoughts are doing, all while trying to eat my breakfast.  I should sit in silence and eat my food mindfully.  Uh oh, is that another should ? And if you read my blog article, Mindful Eating, you’ll know why this is even in my head.  But I don’t sit in silence. I turn on the TV to Kelly & Michael.  It’s my morning ritual on days when I have to go to my part-time office job two days a week.  On those mornings I bop around getting cleaned and dressed, making breakfast and feeding the cat, all while Kelly’s and Michael’s sparkling repartee provides white noise.  I don’t tend to do the ritual on days off.  I prefer a quieter morning ritual on those days, a ritual more befitting my Mindful Eating essay.  Except that today my brain is romping like crazy, so I’m looking for television’s dynamic duo to help distract my head while I sip my ginger broth.  Of course the guilt arises that I am giving any amount of my morning to this vapid time-waster.  So, now I am killing two birds with one stone, as I judge both the TV show and my indulgence in it.  I’m on a roll.   I need a day off from my day off.

I don’t need to give you the full play-by-play of the remainder of my day.  You get the gist. Nothing much actually happened, which was exactly the point of the day, and yet by the end of it I was thoroughly spent from all the noise.  My head was so filled with guilt, and judgment, and shoulds, and the niggling pressure to DO something, and the harshly critical indictment that I even chose to have a down day, as if it is something shameful.  Because what are we, as Americans, if not putting all our value in doing and accruing, as opposed to just being? Meditation always helps. But even just getting myself to the proverbial mat is really tough when a day like this occurs. Today it was impossible.

I can’t say I don’t know where the penchant to punish comes from.  I do.  I have made a decent but very humble living for a long time now, all the while trying to get something of mine to burst wide open, whether it’s the music or the books.  And my attempts at this have been largely futile.  You don’t deserve a day off, my inner imp whines at me.  You need to get in that corner and do some thinkin’, young lady, about all the missed opportunities and wasted potential.  And you need to nitpick at everything.  And so . . . I punish.

Take the DVD I chose to watch later on of this “day off.” Twenty Feet From Stardom deserves the Oscar it won. It’s a powerhouse movie that I’ve been excited to re-see for sometime now. It’s also a movie that takes me to a melancholy place, because of the subject matter. I’m a singer. I’ve made my living at it for a very long time. But if some of the remarkable singers in this movie are, to a certain degree, bemoaning their lot of always being the session and touring singer and never the star, I watch it bemoaning my lifelong inability to reach even THEIR heights of being the sought-after voices for some of the most iconic songs in pop history. My own history, and deeply grateful living, has been quite a ways humbler than that. Most days I’m incredibly happy with the career I’ve had, and the musicians that have given me work as well as their ardent respect. But a movie like this can, on occasion, take me to a pretty dark place. So, why would I even choose to see it a second time?  The easy answer is because it’s a wonderful movie. But is it purely coincidental that I chose to watch this particular movie on my day of chilling out? Or is the pesky little deep-seated self-punishment imp deciding to hang around, brilliant saboteur that she is, and telling me that I have not accomplished enough in my life to deserve to chill? That I need, instead, to be up on my hindquarters in white-knuckle anxiety. Guess what, Miss Thing? You’re not gonna get to relax. You’re gonna exhaust yourself with all the doubts and the what-ifs and why-didn’t’cha’s that can be mustered. Because you SHOULD be further along in life, and shame on you for not being.

By the end of the movie, just as I did when I saw it in the theater, I am in tears, and standing up and applauding these women of extraordinary talent and their compelling stories (my own cousin being one of them . . . an original member of The Blossoms, who did every major vocal session in the 50’s and 60’s).  I am deeply moved by these stories.  I am also taken to my couch.  And not in the good way, the hammock and a good book and a mason jar of lemonade kind of way that is exactly what a day off should be.  Nope. I am taken to it in that crippling, fetal position way that fears life passing me by without having left the mark I’ve always felt was my calling to leave.

Likewise, I’ve managed to get nothing going with my book. I have three of them already out there, but the latest is really THE book. The one I feel is my opus. And except for a handful of dear friends and awesome moral supporters, it has gone largely unread and unknown. I keep trying to say that I’m not lazy. Hey, I produce content, baby. Six albums, as many full-length books, a one-woman show. That canon does not get produced by a slacker. I keep trying to say that something else is the reason I’ve never gotten any real shots. But after exhausting all other possibilities, and coming up with no clear answers, I think I may, after all, be lazy. I’m certainly tired. Everything I have to give goes into what I create (which, ironically, never tires me). But after all of that, there’s just nothing left over to give to hustling, and promotion, and marketing, and going out into the world, and meeting and networking, and being witty and quick and charming and all those things that seem to be what is required to get anyone to give you and your work the time of day. I don’t have it in me. It’s not in my nature. And from one day to the next, as I am on this constant road of self-examination, my tune is either that I’m genuinely at peace with my nature, and am happy with the blessed life that this nature has given me, and I clearly see the power and beauty and enlightenment in that . . . to believing . . . No.  Get up.  Do. Make it happen. It’s not too late. Don’t collapse now. Collapsing is giving up, and there’s nothing evolved or enlightened in that. And I am split wide open and right down the middle with trying to determine which principle I actually do align with.

The spiritual work that I have been doing has been truly transformational. But spiritual transformation is not a neat and speedy ascension to that higher place. It is a resolute road of one-step-forward-two-steps-back, filled with amazing moments of insight, daily challenges to our better angels, and THIS!!! . . . this “day off” that has just sicked Ronda Rousey on my ass.  It’s also not (or at least, should never be) a tyrannical slave labor camp.  And that’s where I can sometimes get stymied.  My passionate embrace of radical self-care and self-inquiry is so all-encompassing that it even led me to start this blog to explore the vast landscape of that consciousness. But I think that days like this can sometimes happen because I tend to fill my life with stringent standards that I’ll beat myself up about not reaching. And if not managed with some semblance of balance and breath, the whole self-care thing can actually backfire. And by breath I mean that proverbial, symbolic inhale and exhale of not having to be perfect, not having to be in ballet-dancer-upright stance 24/7.

I think that I have given myself so many tasks towards this spiritual evolution (don’t forget to meditate, don’t forget to bless your food, don’t forget to buy organic or grow your own, don’t forget to be of service to others, ad nauseam) that I can begin to crumble under the weight of them. And with the crumbling comes the self-punishment, the why can’t you get your act together? inner talk, when the crumbling is only because of all the weight I have put on my shoulders. But the answer is not to snap the whip when those tasks are not completed. The answer is to remove, I don’t know, maybe a couple hundred of those cinder blocks that I’ve heaped on my shoulders. Because otherwise, one of two things happen. I either crumble into that fetal position, self-berating and sinking into depression in reaction to the tyrant in me, as I did today, or I implode and rebel against her. So, how do I remove the weight and heft in this journey to be a better me? How do I let go, and let gentleness prevail?

The way to it is through forgiveness.  I’ve been writing about forgiveness a lot lately (read Unexpected Angels : A Perspective On Forgiveness), because it is a crucial key to stepping up a little higher on that ascension, that higher realm, and it has truly been tested in the world lately.  I find it easily the most important principle to explore, to put into practice, and to understand what it truly means.  And I have lately neglected putting those principles into practice on my own self.

If I were someone else talking to Angela, I’d have this wired.  I would passionately grab her by the shoulders and say:

“Forgive your body for daring to evolve from young to old.  Whatever society says about you because of your age is society’s flaw, not yours.  Forgive your efforts for daring to be committed to art, and not marketing.  Everyone can’t be everything.  Forgive your talents for not getting you certain gigs.  They are unique talents, and clearly didn’t belong in those boxes.  Maybe there is no box yet created for your gifts. Maybe there never will be. But you keep renewing your agreement with the universe to make sacred art anyway, you keep cultivating your own unique voice, and you let the rest go.  Forgive your needy, needy need to reach a certain status in order to be acceptable to society, and your human moments of faltering in the mission to elevate yourself in consciousness.  Your life is so beautiful, with friends and family that rival most folks’ friends and family any day of the week.  You have love in your life.  You have food on your table.  You have health and wellness and compassion.  You have a curious brain and a heart eager to evolve in spiritual consciousness.  You have a very special gift as a creator of books and music and art.  You deserve a day off.  To sleep in, to read your juicy book, to watch vapid TV, to walk on the beach, to surf the net, to look into the mirror and love your magnificent vessel that has carried you through fifty-five years on this earth in effortless mastery.  It has even saved someone’s life! Take that, Self-loathing Thomas (lesser known and even more deep-seated brother to Doubting)!  You deserve a day off to do absolutely nothing except swing on that proverbial hammock with that mason jar of lemonade and CHILL.  And to know that you are not less to do so.”

Forgiving ourselves for not being perfect specimens may be the hardest thing we ever do.  We all have a wart or two, or ten, don’t we? We try to buff those warts up, better them, put a little spit shine on them.  Or we try to tuck them away and pretend they aren’t there. We rationalize them, justify them, or we self-berate, as I spent an entire day off doing.  But it really all comes down to this:  We can transform, evolve, improve who we are, learn something new every day, open our hearts, practice compassion, and yet at the end of the day we are not perfect specimens in 24/7 upright ballet-dancer stance.  We aren’t designed to be.  And so all of those rough edges, the warts, the fears and guilt and defenses that still insist on lingering there, even with all the soul work we may do – that’s where forgiveness comes in. That’s where we’re tested to see if we can love and embrace every part of ourselves.  Because every part has a role to play in shaping who we are, and how we walk in the world.

As for my day off, well, it came and went, and my world didn’t crumble.  It just left me a whole lot more exhausted than any day off should.  But I ended it with pouring this onto paper.  That’s something.  A stab, always, at trying to work it out.  Trying to listen to the higher voice.  Trying to be understanding and patient when the lug nuts loosen.  Hey, that just means the tire covered a lot of great road.  And I’m okay as long as I’ve got my tools.

I suspect I make some uncomfortable when I write about my humanness in such a public forum. But please don’t mistake this, ever, for self-immolation.  It is the voice of rigorous honesty, of getting really, really real, and coming out on the other side.  There isn’t a breakthrough in existence that wasn’t accompanied by some aches and pains, but what comes out with us on that other side, always, is freedom.  A freedom worth cultivating and renewing and re-tightening every single day. That’s my healing motif. The voice I’ve cultivated.  I believe it can be of benefit to others too.  That’s why I write.

J.M.W. Turner understood that.  I saw his works at the Getty recently, and was blown away by the naked pain and storm (as symbolic as it was literal) that he portrayed.  And yet, his way with light is startling.  That is the way with light, isn’t it?  What does Leonard Cohen say?  There is a crack in everything.  That’s how the light gets in.

 

 

 

Photo credit: Drea Rewal for Timestamp Photography

 

Angela Carole Brown is the author of three published books, The Assassination of Gabriel Champion, The Kidney Journals: Memoirs of a Desperate Lifesaver, and Trading Fours, is a recipient of the Heritage/Soulword Magazine Award in poetry, and has produced several albums of music and a yoga/mindfulness CD.   Bindi Girl Chronicles is her writing blog. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram & YouTube.

UNEXPECTED ANGELS : A Perspective On Forgiveness

forgiveness

Ahhhh, Facebook.   It’s an odd and fascinating communications platform, when you consider that the very best of it has sometimes generated important grassroots movements, and that the very worst of it, because of the safety of our own home sitting at a computer, and that we aren’t obligated to put a human face to a name and profile avatar, has bred some of the most loathsome social behavior I’ve ever witnessed.  For me personally, the gold in Facebook has been the numerous long-lost friendships that, without social media, may never have been possible. On the other end, of course, is the odd stranger that we wonder why we’re Facebook friends with in the first place, and the crazy rantings that have required the socially devastating “unfriend”ing.  But every once in a great while, believe it or not, an actual life lesson can be found on Facebook.  Something unexpected and valuable lurking amid the sea of cute cat videos and vomit-mouth etiquette.

Here was mine, from a few weeks ago.  A friend posted a most disturbing video of a woman encouraging her child to savagely beat on another child at a playground.  It was shattering to watch.  And of the myriad feelings I had regarding the witness, the primary one was that we lose jobs when we’re terrible at them, and parenthood should fall within those same parameters, and I just prayed Social Services got a hold of that woman.

Many people weighed in on this post, expressing their outrage, as well.  One man was so outraged that he used epithets that clearly betrayed his ignorance of his audience. The N-word was bandied about pretty freely.  Gee, can you guess what race the woman in the video was?  I can genuinely say that what the woman’s racial or social demographic was didn’t even enter my mind for it being so overfilled with the horror of her act (which, by the way, Put-Upon White Man, happens in every race).

Before even weighing in on the contents of the video itself, my response to the post, which included the original poster’s own words “This is so shocking!” was, “Well, it looks like there’s equally shocking right here on this thread.”

I had to wonder, too, what kind of friends my friend had that this kind of blatantly racist response was even possible, until I reminded myself that I have said yes to friend requests countless times of people I don’t personally know, because as a working artist I’m always trying to expand an audience base, and, to be frank, I have “virtually” met some pretty amazing people on Facebook over the years.   And so, the reality is that with such a practice also comes the risk of inviting the periodic troll to infiltrate.

Another friend, Melanie, weighed in immediately after me.  Someone I actually do know personally. Someone I regard as a pretty sage woman.  She’s also African-American, like me, and had clearly also seen Put-Upon White Man’s rant too, because her comment right after mine was, “I know, Angela, right???? Lord have mercy!”

A few others made similar comments.  What fascinates me still, even as I reflect on this thing that happened a few weeks ago, is that most of the comments were reactions to PUWM’s rant, not the video. His own ire at the video (we all shared that!), which just HAD to go to a very nasty place, had completely overshadowed the horror on the video.  Because this nastiness was right in our backyards.  Who is this friend of my friend, who would rather spit in my face than shake my hand? is the shuddering subtext. That two-degrees of separation is too damned close!

I kept tuning in to see how this thread would grow, because frankly I was waiting for my friend (the original poster of the post) to get on here and condemn this man.  She never did, nor ever weighed in again beyond the original posting of the video.  But I’m very glad that I did keep tuning in, because of what unfolded next.

First off, after a fashion I noticed that PUWM’s original rant had been deleted.  And then somewhere down the line of this thread, maybe 10 or 12 comments in, he weighed in a second time.  His comment this time was an apology.  And not one of those defensive apologies we’ve all had to roll our eyes at from time to time.  He owned his racial outburst, iterated that he’d been so blinded by his rage over this video, which had broken his heart, but copping to it being absolutely no excuse, and ended with “Please forgive me, ladies….” addressing the myriad women who had commented on his rant, and lastly, “Lord forgive me.” And before I could even react to it, directly afterwards was my friend Melanie’s response to that:  “Thank you, Mark.  That is appreciated.  We need to pray for that woman and her children.”

Okay, so at this point I’ll stop calling him PUWM.  He has a name.  It’s Mark.  And yes, even Mark deserves to be called out by his Christian name, and not Put-Upon White Man, which, admittedly, has been my way of showing him zero respect, because it’s become such a cliché, and I felt like reducing him to the cliché, because, guess what? . . . I’m goddamned mad too.

I have to admit, I was stunned by Melanie’s ready acceptance of Mark’s apology.  She and I share a very similar spiritual path of compassion & empathy, and consciousness-based cultivation, and we are both huge believers in forgiveness.  I just hadn’t determined whether I was ready yet.  But Melanie didn’t need to decide if she was ready.  Melanie leapt.  Melanie forgave.  Melanie chose the higher road, without question, without needing to be ready.

It really did take me a minute to adjust this thinking, to wonder how she could do this so effortlessly, to have to face that my ball of fury had just had a pin pricked into it, and was deflating rapidly into a flat, self-righteous platitude.  My own initial gut feeling was that Mark was only offering this apology because he got nailed on his abhorrent behavior, and that anyone who is capable of that language, and the intent and belief behind the language, will be absolutely capable of it again.  Just give him another circumstance, a fresh audience, and sumpn’ else for him to be raging about.  But did I know this for certain?  That his apology wasn’t genuine?  That he hadn’t really thought about his irresponsible and hurtful words?

What if Mark had had his heart truly opened by this exchange, had offered his amends, and then been shunned and dismissed?  What, then, would that say about the sacred principle of forgiveness? Something pretty shameful, I’d say.  Melanie wasn’t about to try and second-guess Mark’s intentions; her ONLY option was to put noble principle into healing practice.  If Mark’s apology really wasn’t the real thing, if there was just a whole lotta bullshit goin’ on, that’s for Mark’s soul to wrestle with.

And so, while that was murky at best for me to wade through, it was as clear as a fresh spring to Melanie, my beautiful guru-mama sister-friend.

I carefully decided to say something myself.  My instinctive thought was yeah, whatever, and not to respond at all.  But in the spirit of my dear compassionate friend Melanie, and my own spiritual practice of forgiveness, I also offered a “thank you” to Mark, followed by, “The video broke my heart too.”

In those simple words  –  Melanie’s: “We need to pray for that woman and her children,” and mine: “The video broke my heart too,”  –  we let Mark know that the feelings about this heinous video were shared by us all, Black and White, male and female, Democrat and Republican, Christian and Atheist.  Us, them.  Whatever and Whatever. That there is actually more that connects us than there is that separates us, if we’re willing to see it.  What an opportunity to offer healing, when my own instinct would’ve been to let the opportunity slip right through my fingers, and remain in the huff that someone else’s hate had engendered.  Mark walked away changed too; that was evident in his further comments.  He probably hadn’t ever thought, for a minute, that his apology would be welcomed and accepted.  And if it had just been me alone out there reacting to his rant, it wouldn’t’ve been.  So, thank you, Melanie, for reminding me.  Yep, folks, a true spiritual practice requires rigorous renewal every single day, and unexpected angels and bodhisattvas to show us how.

In illustrating how much more connected we are than separate, a wall was torn down.  It humanized everything. And that could ONLY have happened by a willingness for forgiveness.  Melanie had thrown down the healing gauntlet.  In a landscape of nothing but enraged hearts, how brave to be the one.

Forgiveness is a funny thing.  It shouldn’t be.  It should be startlingly clear.  When Dylann Roof committed one of the most heinous single crimes in our recent history, the people least likely to, the families of the shooting victims, forgave.  I personally was floored.  It restored my lately-waning faith in humanity.  But who on earth would ever think that instead of being absolutely lifted by this example, as I was, that there would be a backlash to it?   Of course, there’s always going to be a militant response to such compassionate practice, people who are natural warriors, who believe morally in an eye for an eye.  And I would even venture to say that most of us who aren’t militant would look at such compassion, and admire it even as we are admitting we’d never be able to do that.  But the overwhelming backlash seems to be coming from the mainstream community, and not just asserting that we can’t do it but that we shouldn’t.  The angle being that it finds these forgivers to be suckers, for lack of a kinder word.  The charge is weakness, gullibility, and allowance of further racist behavior.

One article I found interesting and quite intelligent, in spite of the fact that I disagree with its fundamental creed, is by Stacey Patton for the Washington Post.  The prevailing thought in this article is that Black America is the only culture expected to forgive its racist perpetrators.  No one expects forgiveness toward al-Qaeda or ISIS.  No one expects the Jews to forgive the Nazis.  But Black America is pressured to forgive when the conflict is race.  And when forgiveness is given, all Black America is doing is allowing more and more offenses to be made.

“Black people are not allowed to express unbridled grief or rage, even under the most horrific circumstances.”

Allowed?  At least in this country, we all have the complete free will to choose how we feel, and how we will heal.  And the trap to fall in is to assume that because there is a choice made to forgive, that grief or rage are not present.  Even by framing the phrase “politics of forgiveness”  Ms. Patton politicizes a basic tenet of grace and love.  There is no politics to this.  You either practice it or you don’t.  It advances no agenda other than grace and love itself.

The most poignant thing Ms. Patton says is:

“. . . offering absolution to Roof is about relieving the burden of anger and pain of being victimized.  In this regard, forgiveness functions as a kind of protest, a refusal to be reduced to victims.  It sends the message to the killer that he may have hurt them, but they are the true victors because they have not been destroyed.”

This I passionately agree with.  But she then counters it with the pronouncement that there is a demand by White America for this forgiveness.  Demand?  You can bet that White America was as stunned as anyone when these families chose the higher ground.  Besides, how insulting to the intelligence of these compassionate soldiers Ms. Patton’s insinuation that White America is somehow their puppet-master, pulling strings.

I also challenge Ms. Patton’s claim that when Black America, especially of the Christian ilk, subscribes to the philosophy of forgiveness, it is being done out of some investment in the hereafter, a kind of E-ticket to Glory. Heaven or not, the only true salvation for this fractured present-day culture will be in cultivating that tenet for the life we are living right here, right now.

What seems not to be a part of the argument, at least in this article, is that to refuse to forgive is to keep oneself spiritually enslaved.

It’s important to know what forgiveness is.  It may be even more important to know what it isn’t.

Forgiveness isn’t permission.  Forgiveness isn’t forgetting.  Forgiveness isn’t remotely weak. Forgiveness IS rising above.  Refusing to fuel.  Bringing to the table a different kind of challenge.  And just possibly, changing that landscape.

There are many valid and insightful points that this article makes, and so I do urge you to read it.  But while we are cautioned by Ms. Patton not to give forgiveness quite so quickly, from my own micro-example of that very dynamic, I can personally attest that when my friend Melanie gave it quickly, the entire landscape shifted from people divided to people communicating passionately together about the original problem (that horrendous video of mother and child).  Healing was right in front of us.  A coming together and acknowledgement of what connects us more than what divides us that would NEVER have happened had rage been met with more rage, and heads banged.  Me, I was ready to put up some dukes and be a part of the fray.  But it wouldn’t have been the right choice.  And a golden opportunity would’ve been tragically missed.

 

 

 

 

 

Angela Carole Brown is the author of three published books, The Assassination of Gabriel Champion, The Kidney Journals: Memoirs of a Desperate Lifesaver, and Trading Fours, is a recipient of the Heritage/Soulword Magazine Award in poetry, and has produced several albums of music and a yoga/mindfulness CD.   Bindi Girl Chronicles is her writing blog.  Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram & YouTube.

The Daughter’s Sonnet (A Father’s Day Tribute)

 Old-Man-12

 

if by thy brow a simple sweat doth bleed

a countenance of noble toil hence laboured

then bounty borne god wouldst baptize the seed

to harvest rich the terra to be savoured

 

much have i pondered on the whole of thine

existence, footmen of the earth thou art

thou’st tilled the ground to ripeness, intertwining

labour and love for thy children’s start

 

the waxing of an oak from seed to tit’n

accords the span of seasons thou hast trod

through wars of men. thy battle doth enlight’n

a stalwart vigor ‘neath thy shield and rod

 

wisdom environs thine autumnal year

a gift i quest to conquer in my youth

but make myself a showy sonneteer

whilst thou with simpler words discourse in truth

 

yielding must be my grant, that i might learn

to recognize that wisdom is a page

from thy books i ought read, instead of spurn

the heart of thou who art the truest sage

 

o weary dotards, weak only in frame

thy wizened visage resting on the world

a yore of life abundant thy sole claim

whilst greater words ne’er from a mouth unfurled

 

growth and a shaping yet have i to mold

to learn from thee thy lessons, men of old

 

 

 

 

 
Angela Carole Brown is the author of three published books, The Assassination of Gabriel Champion, The Kidney Journals: Memoirs of a Desperate Lifesaver, and Trading Fours, is a recipient of the Heritage/Soulword Magazine Award in poetry, and has produced several albums of music and a yoga/mindfulness CD.   Bindi Girl Chronicles is her writing blog.

MINDFUL EATING : Letting Go of a Bad Relationship To Forge a New Loving One

Mindfuleating2

 

“To the poet, to the philosopher, to the saint,
all things are friendly and sacred,
all events profitable, all days holy, all men divine.”

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

 
It has lately occurred to me that food, and one’s approach to food, even the enjoyment of it, would be greatly enhanced by looking at the whole affair from a sacred, spiritual standpoint.   It’s hardly a new idea.   Religions the world over have historically had rituals regarding the consumption of food.   From the Holy Communion of Catholicism to the Kosher Laws of Judaism to the spiritual fasting observed by many religions, food and the consumption of food have played a pivotal role in the development of the soul.

I have struggled with food my whole life.  I’ve either seriously dieted and lived in grumpy privation, or I’ve emotionally eaten and found myself in food stupors, blocking out some deep pain body, or I’ve thrown hands up, not cared, and gotten real depraved with it.   Actually “not cared” isn’t exactly accurate.  I’ve always cared, always been preoccupied, always been obsessed, always felt the pressure from society, boyfriends, even colleagues, because I happen to be in a business where what I look like matters greatly, to look a certain way and to maintain that, in no uncertain terms.  I was pretty successful with maintaining a look and a weight for most of my adult life, but not without the help of a lot of compulsive behaviors.  When menopause hit and I gained nearly 50 pounds, and then kept that on for the better part of the last ten years, making the new weight my body’s new set point, efforts to get back to where I’d mainly been my whole life were proving insurmountable, and really only succeeded in enhancing what was already a fairly dysfunctional relationship with food.  I’ve never starved myself, or binged/purged;  my issues surrounding food have been a lot subtler than that, making the whole panorama of eating and body dysmorphic issues much more complex and nuanced than popular media ever gives us to understand.

That’s my eating background, in a brief nutshell.  Nothing devastating, just the nuanced struggles of a middle-class American girl pressured by a quintessentially middle-class American pastime – dieting.   And so now to this recent dawning.   I’ve been on a spiritual road for some time now, some of it documented on this blog, some of it hinted at in the various memoir I’ve put out there, some of it, as well, remaining deeply private, and all in the service of bettering who I am, healing what has ailed me, and coming closer to the divine and to an internal peace in the realm of higher consciousness.   I made a recent decision to start approaching the ritual of eating from a sacred standpoint.   So now, what exactly does that mean?

To begin with, the world is filled with far too many people who are without food, who would give their right arm for a bowl of porridge, and would consider that bowl sacred, because it is so rare.   How can I possibly continue to live in this life where I have never once had to go without, and not value the privilege that I have been given?   And so, a new commitment is beginning for me.  It is my effort to heal what is sore between food and me.

I want to rise above my animal self, the hungers, the desires, that root chakra governance that is primal and is all about brute survival by any means, and instead appeal to a higher state of grace that is beyond the limited senses.  I wonder if that isn’t what’s behind the spiritual practice of fasting.  The idea of denying those base urges in us, in order to push through a veil to experience what’s on the other side.  When we’re stripped of our animal nature, what’s left?  What are we?  What are we capable of?  What are our limitations?  Our possibilities?  Fasting is not an easy thing to do, and this essay isn’t about that, but I think we can make that same journey by deeming the act of feeding ourselves a sacred one, like baptism or the Eucharist.   It’s a wacky thought, perhaps.   This largely social covenant (think of the countless meals portrayed on Sex and the City), reduced to a stodgy sacramental rite.  Yuck, many are surely thinking.  “Taking the joy right out of eating, Angela . . . gee thanks!”   Well, maybe.  Bear with me for a minute.   Because for me, the way things have been for me for awhile now, there are probably far more meals that I consume than the number of them that I actually enjoy and have a wonderfully epicurean experience with.  I am moved by this idea that the experience can be so much more, and at the same time achieve a transcendence in consciousness.  It doesn’t have to be one or the other.  And, for better or for worse, I am moved by it just as compellingly as it is also my belief that this will be incredibly difficult for me to adopt.  But I’m giving it a go.  Have already begun so, in fact.  And I’ll let you know how it works out.  Here’s the basic game plan.

  1. Blessing each meal.  It’s such an old-fashioned notion.  My childhood always involved grace at the dinner table, usually done by my father, or my grandfather if the meal included extended family.  But once adulthood hit, I sort of never really thought about it again except for those occasions of Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner with the family, where it’s a ritual that’s still employed.  My brother Mike is usually the designated grace-giver, because he is the one person who never gave up the practice.  Privately from me was always a reaction of, “isn’t this charming?”  And yes, I admit, there has been a bit of condescension as well as actually being charmed in the thought.  But at a recent family gathering, I found myself reacting very differently for the first time to my brother’s bowed head and earnest mutterings.  The word charming never entered my head.  Powerful, meaningful . . . these were the words that hit me this time, and I couldn’t possibly tell you why, so out of the blue, but it actually re-purposed the experience of eating the meal that was in front of me.  Gratitude is the theme with this one.  Many in the world go without.  So because I have never had to, the need to give thanks for the bountiful straw that I drew in this life suddenly became compelling.   I talked about this very briefly a couple of articles back.  I just need to be truly thankful every day, and putting that practice in a ritual form is the surest way to keep me always in grace (pun most definitely intended).   When every meal becomes meaningful and cherished, it makes just grabbing a handful because you’re passing by the bowl, or grazing mindlessly and finishing the whole bag out of boredom or restlessness, increasingly meaning-LESS, even, dare I say it, disrespectful in the face of those for whom a meal is a rare, momentous and lifesaving gift.
  1. Preparing as many of my meals as possible with my own two hands.  There will be times when I go out with friends, and we commune over lunch or dinner.  That is a ritual to cherish, for certain.  There will be times when I’ve been invited to someone’s house for dinner.   There are certainly times every week when I’m on a job, and I need to eat.   But other than those examples, gone largely now is the choice to grab take-out when there’s only me, when the option to prepare my food at home instead exists.   I’ll almost always choose the cooking.   And I am choosing to cook and prepare my meals from a Zen perspective.   Meaning to notice and appreciate every move, every moment, every flick of the wrist in mixing ingredients, every whisk, every rinse, every dice, every spice.  Even the selection of ingredients, which means I am having to adopt a more mindful approach to grocery shopping.
  1. Shopping local and organic (or growing my own!).  I don’t presently have a living situation where I can grow my own, other than to try my damnedest to keep my windowsill pots of mint and basil alive.  But is there a more perfect way to cultivate a sense of the sacred than nurturing one’s food from seed, or bulb, or stalk, to fruition with one’s own hands?  I know more and more people who are growing or raising their own, and the practice has changed their lives.  For me, for now, the very least I can do is make the commitment to finding stores in my neighborhood that promote and support local farmers, so that what goes in my body is clean, and is no longer supporting the corporate machinery of factory food production, which is dubious at best.   I’ve been nutrition-conscious for many years, actually.  I’ve read every health guru from Andrew Weil to Gary Null, and have largely tried to live by whole food tenets (while, of course, veering recklessly enough whenever the emotional components to my eating would kick in).   But this experiment marks the first time I’ve actually sought to minimize my participation in Food Incorporated, and support local and organic.  This also means that if I have to go into a mainstream grocery market, choosing to shop on the end aisles where all the unprocessed, unrefined foods reside.  Everything in the middle aisles is boxed, canned, packaged, processed, and prefabbed, usually with far more than just the food itself inside, making it a very iffy proposition from a health standpoint.  Our bodies deserve better.
  1. Listening to my body, but also listening to my urges.   Urges and cravings exist to compensate for something that is missing.  It might be a nutritional lack.  More often than not it’s an emotional one.  That’s the time to slow down, examine the urge, not judge it (also a challenge for me), and respond to it in a way that only supports the sacred nature of this experiment.  If the answer I get from my soul is that I need to be addressing something, or letting go of something, then I need to do my best to go about that task, instead of burying it with nullifying food.  Because here’s the thing:  Food can be our greatest enemy OR our greatest ally.  The trick is determining exactly what our relationship with it is going to be.  Abusive or cherishing.
  1. Being done with “diets.”  And punishment.  And needing to answer everyone else’s call about how I’m supposed to look, with none of those pressures any more obnoxious than my own impatient, unforgiving self-demands.   Instead, allow my eating in a mindful and sacred way to do the job of transforming my brain, my heart, maybe even my body, into a precious, godly vessel.
  1. Eating without distraction, but instead putting my focus on the ritual itself.  Appreciating every bite, every swallow; again this very Zen approach.   As opposed to stuffing my mouth mindlessly while watching a movie or checking email, or grabbing food on the hurried go, and juggling a jaw-ful of food and a steering wheel at the same time, and not even paying attention to my eventual fullness, or to the taste experience.   That one is hard for me.   I have such a restless, antsy brain that JUST sitting and eating, and doing nothing else except enjoying the sensory experience of a delicious meal goes completely against my life’s experience.  I’ve always eaten while multi-tasking.  Doing nothing except eating my meal is essentially a meditation.   And while I’ve been an ardent meditator for many years, that idea is easily the most radical of them all for me.  And therefore the one I am most determined to accomplish.

I am a firm believer in food as medicine.   Food can change our brains and our health, because it contains information that talks to our genes.  It’s serious stuff.  So, why have I lived my entire life regarding it sloppily and cavalierly at best?   That’s the question I’m trying to answer even as I write this, and as I venture forward in this experiment with a new appreciation for every meal I’m blessed to partake in.

The first night that I tried shutting off the TV and the computer, and putting my phone away, and just cooking a meal . . . and then setting my table . . . and then putting on some music (actually the music was playing during the cooking . . . very peaceful evening that was), and then sitting down and eating my meal, it was a transplendent experience.  I was truly in the moment.  I blessed the food I was about to cook, and then I blessed it again as I sat down to eat.   I took my time.  I didn’t go back for seconds, because I didn’t need to.   I’m accustomed to going back for seconds.  Usually because I’ve shoveled my food into the trough so fast, while watching some fast-paced movie or something equally agitating online, and so the rhythm of my external stimuli would be matched and mimicked by the fork-to-mouth action, and simply wouldn’t stop.  Plus I’m a musician for my living; having a 15-minute break on a gig that’s designated for the meal they offer you has borne some very gastrically-unfriendly habits among my musician cohorts.  I learned to be a fast eater, and then the habit stuck even beyond being on a gig.  That first night in this new experiment, I ate slowly.  I thoroughly enjoyed the taste sensations.  I relished in the art of food pairing.  And I let the world and the evening go by, as I luxuriated (yes, I can actually claim luxuriating) in the experience of my dinner.   I also realize that not nearly every night, nor every meal, will be that magical.   There will be the occasions when my mood is terse, perhaps my day has been a challenge, and I won’t feel like cooking, or I won’t feel like gracing, and all I’ll want to do is mainline the drug that food can be with the wrong infusion, into the gullet, and numb out.   But I figure, it’s a one-day-at-a-time kind of thing, like AA.  Like any program that attempts to repair something that is out of spiritual alignment.   It’s a mountain.  And I’ll need to be prepared to climb it daily.

During the formulating of this idea, and writing about it, I’ve had to ask myself (if my creed here is truly vigilant honesty, and that’s been my claim) if all of this isn’t just a new scheme, of the gaggle of them that I’ve tried, toward trying to lose weight.  And while I can’t say that isn’t a factor, the truth is I am looking for something deeper.  I’m in this whole thing for a spiritual revolution.  An uprising from my innards, pulling at every thread in my sight lines and my insight lines, that will help to weave me right into the tapestry of interconnected consciousness and the frequency of infinite realms and possibilities.  I know, I know, I’ve gone off the reservation a bit with the flower-child rhetoric.  But I assure you it isn’t without focus or substance.  And it’s already happening, this personal revolution, unfolding layer by layer by layer, a tiny bit each day.

I heard an anecdote recently about some Buddhist monks who, in an effort to protect their sacred Buddha monument from Burmese soldiers, covered their beloved statue in mud, knowing that the soldiers would find no material value in a statue made of clay, when what was hiding beneath its clay cloak was a monument made of gold.  And the story was told in the context of the very fitting metaphor for this idea that our true value can often be hidden beneath layers of mud, or, in our contemporary parlance, baggage.  And what that parable is meant to suggest is that the spiritual journey is really more about subtraction than addition.  We are already complete beneath our wounds and our fears, and through the process of shedding layer after layer to reveal our sovereign splendor we become lighter and lighter, freer and freer.

This new eating thing?   It’s just a layer.

 

“Let food be thy medicine, and medicine thy food.” – Hippocrates

 

 

 

Angela Carole Brown is the author of three published books, The Assassination of Gabriel Champion, The Kidney Journals: Memoirs of a Desperate Lifesaver, and Trading Fours, is a recipient of the Heritage/Soulword Magazine Award in poetry, and has produced several albums of music and a yoga/mindfulness CD.   Bindi Girl Chronicles is her writing blog. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram & YouTube.

Lessons From the Trail

NatureTrail1

 

The last article I published here was  Spiritual Algorithm: A Prescription For What Ails In 8 Steps. I am still practicing the Sacred 8 daily. Still having hugely gratifying results. Still feeling a level of peace and happiness that I have not been accustomed to feeling. This algorithm will be with me for the rest of my journey here.

That said, something interesting started to happen with #8.  Something worthy of spiritual investigation. Number eight was the edict to spend time in nature.  Aliso Canyon, in the northern tip of the San Fernando Valley that straddles Granada Hills and Porter Ranch, is the beautiful park that has become my sacred space, my sanctuary.  If you didn’t read my last post, then let me describe it to you.  Part mountain crest with sky for miles, part enchanted forest with trees creating a canopy overhead.  Sometimes there are horses on the trail, jack rabbits.  There is a symphony of frogs that are never seen but are clearly surrounding you.  And, except for the concert of critters, it is quiet and peaceful and beautiful.  If there is ever any rainfall, then there are brooks.  But those have been dry of late.

The something that happened is actually several somethings, so I’ll just give you a few of the examples.

Every day that I can physically make it happen, I am on the hiking trail.  I have come to love this ritual so much that the first time I saw graffiti on a tree I bristled horribly, wondering who would do such a thing. Could it hurt the tree? I worried.  Or would the offended bark just slough off over time? I started to envision what the perpetrator looked like.  Probably a teenager, my biased self concluded. I continued to walk but remained disgusted, shaking my head visibly, just in case I had an audience with any of the other hikers who might like to join me in a moment of righteous indignation solidarity. “We can’t have anything nice, can we?” was the unspoken but felt question.

On another occasion, the wonderful swing, which was really just a plank suspended by sturdy ropes hanging from one of the masterful trees, like something out of a Steinbeck novel, and which I had discovered my first week on the trail, was suddenly not there anymore.  The first time I discovered it, it had been such a serendipitous moment for me that I grabbed hold, climbed on, took a swing around for a few minutes, and then leapt off and kept going, grinning like the Cheshire cat for this unplanned moment of letting loose my inner child.  It was one of those moments that only adds another sprinkling of fairy dust to a perfect sacred space experience.  So when I saw it broken, just a lone rope hanging with no plank anywhere to be seen, I once again bristled, once again envisioned the culprit, probably some unruly kids without parental supervision.

And then there was the time a brush fire threatened my beautiful canyon.  I was actually on the trail when the smell of forest fire and the increasing brown sky ran everyone out of the park.  I went back home, turned on the TV, and watched the fire burn not far, fearing that it would hit Aliso, and panicking at the notion of my sacred space being charred and ruined.  I wondered where I would go instead if that happened, or if I would just throw hands up and be done with my nature ritual forever, defeated.

And lastly, and perhaps most ashamedly, there was the moment that a friend, of the very special few whom I’ve now taken with me on the hike because I’ve been excited to show this miracle to the people I love, actually dared to fall in love with it as gustily as I had, and started going regularly himself.  My gut reaction to that discovery was a clenched sphincter.  “But this is MY sacred space,” my irrational self pouted privately.

I suppose what I feared was that this friend would always want to do the walk with me, and I was primarily in this for the meditation and the solitude.  OR . . . that we might run into each other on the trail, and then end up socializing and lose the groove altogether.  This trail had become church for me, so I wasn’t all that keen to have a certain plugged-in ritual altered in any way.

What had begun to happen, as exemplified by each of these examples, was that I was trying to possess the trail.  Trying to make it mine, all mine.  The tenets of non-attachment that I have been taught in my Buddhist studies, of letting go of expectations, and of ownership, were not being practiced.  I was hoarding the experience rather than experiencing the experience.

With regards to vandals, what can I do about how anyone else treats the natural wonders of the trail?  Absolutely nothing.  And getting myself worked up over it doesn’t change any outcome except perhaps the state of my blood pressure.

Once I really got that, had that ah hah moment, and recognized the futility (in fact, the defeated purpose!) of huffing and puffing over having to share sacred space with others, I was able to walk past the marked up tree, offer my own apologies to it, “forgive them, for they know not what they do,” and knowing that I was really speaking more to myself than to a tree that needs no pep talk about the nature of people.

And the reality regarding my friend is that this remarkable thing that’s happening to him as a result of his embrace of the trail has been palpable.  It’s clearly changing his life as it’s changed mine.  And that is gold.  To know that this friend who has had some recent health challenges seems lifted by this new ritual has been something I am frankly honored to witness.

Yes, we have, once thus far, run into each other on the trail.  I was on my way out and he was on his way in.  We chatted for a moment, and then agreed to meet up at the nearby Starbucks after each of us was finished.  The encounter was not even remotely interruptive.  On the contrary, I was happy to see him, happy to know that he was getting something wonderful out of this, and tickled to think that I had some hand in that.

The trail belongs to everyone.  It was never mine to hoard.  It belongs to my friend.  It belongs to the man walking his dogs, to the pair of lovers who are taking a romantic stroll, to the jogger who wants to get fit, even to graffiti taggers who have a history I know nothing of.  The trail can take it.  The trail is hearty.  Hearty enough, in fact, to take on brush fires.  Because the things of nature always bounce back and thrive.

There are lessons to be learned on the trail, for sure.  And if I am blessed and humbled, I’ll continue to learn them, and be grateful to be such a willing and imperfect student.

After all, maybe there’s a kid on the trail with a spray paint can in his hand and some mischief in his heart looking at the walking lady with her greedy “mine, mine, mine!” face on, and judging her for all the stuff she has yet to learn about letting go.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Angela Carole Brown is the author of three published books, The Assassination of Gabriel Champion, The Kidney Journals: Memoirs of a Desperate Lifesaver, and Trading Fours, is a recipient of the Heritage/Soulword Magazine Award in poetry, and has produced several albums of music and a yoga/mindfulness CD.   Bindi Girl Chronicles is her writing blog. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram & YouTube.

Spiritual Algorithm: A Prescription For What Ails In 8 Steps

rockypeakblog

 

If algorithm means a procedure or set of operations for solving a problem in a finite number of steps, then consider the following eight to be a kind of spiritual algorithm that I’ve recently devised for myself, and which is changing my life.

Though, even as I’m writing this, I must pause to tell you I am experiencing an emotional tug-of-war over the idea of sharing this “prescription” forward.  Because on the one hand, I am genuinely excited by some new, and some merely renewed, experiences happening in my life recently, and the reality that actual tangible results of their impact are before my very eyes, and that those results are almost touching mastery, and this, mind you, from someone who tends to be gravely self-critical, and has come from a long, long arc of nuanced depression and irascibility and disappointment, built up over years and easily masked by a generally friendly disposition, and I am turning corners left and right, and I wanna wanna wanna share so badly, because I’m feeling extraordinary.  On the other hand, in any piece that serves as a how-to (think MindBodyGreen, which I love and read regularly, and yet . . .), there is an assumed authority on said subject, and the implied self-importance of owning that you have something to show someone else.  I have never fancied myself in the role of teacher to anyone; never been especially in touch with my Inner Deepak.  Plus, as always seems to be my thinking, what if I fall?  Here I’ve made this public pronouncement of some wisdom to impart, and now I’ve dared to go on with my life and be imperfect.  Nothing pleases some people more than to catch you in your failures: “I thought you were giving up sugar?” smugly coming from that friend when you’ve been caught eating your See’s butterscotch square is always fun.  So, I’m usually uncomfortable in this area.  Even this blog, my beloved Bindi Girl Chronicles, is rife with pieces that are really tapestries of discord and imperfection and stumbles and growing pains and learning curves, as I navigate the turbid waters of self-discovery.  Sometimes I have answers.  Most times I’m just posing questions.

But something’s happening, something, as I said, nearly resembling mastery.  There are more and more exquisite little grace notes in my life these days that have me in the perpetual state of wow and wonder than ever before.  And I can only credit eight little rituals that I call my spiritual algorithm, or my prescription for what ails, and that I have only just recently put into daily practice.  Visionary teacher Eckhart Tolle has often said that there are three words that encompass the secret to the art of living:  One. With. Life.   One with life.  He is quite stunning in illustrating the importance of recognizing that we are all interconnected, of being here now, of having experiences for their own sake, and of seeing beauty in everything.  The predicament for me, in truly meditating on this, is always, “of course, but how?”

Well, I have found it. At least for me.  And I am champing at the bit to share. Without making assumptions that we’re all ailing, I simply offer that if you’re anything like me there’s always a spiritual nip and tuck and tweak that can be had in order to be more present and to maximize your experience here, to be truly one with life.  I came up with my eight without even thinking of the eightfold path or the eight limbs (these are Buddhist and yogic references, for those of you not in the dharma know). That was purely a matter of coincidence. And so now, I like to think of this spiritual algorithm, this prescription for the art of living, as sort of my own personal eightfold path.  It’s working for me, which doesn’t necessarily mean it’s meant for you.  I tend to believe that everyone benefits best from a custom-made chariot for that road to enlightenment. But the chances are at least 50-50 that my prescription could indeed resonate with you.  So here it is.
 
 
 
1. Turn away from the anxiety-fueling news programs that litter television and the internet.

Just refuse them.   They are designed for one agenda only: to whip us into a distracted frenzy, and by virtue weaken us and our pocketbooks at the seams, because having an entire culture in panic mode is profitable, and is never about being in the public’s interest.  Find your current events through more legitimate sources.  Do the homework needed to figure out who and what those are.

 

2. Read for pleasure.

As a writer I want to encourage books. I want to encourage good books.  I want to encourage literature.  But hey, read a magazine, just read . . . for pure enjoyment and expansion.   And try as often as possible to do it outside of the digital and electronic universe.  Kindles and iPads are fun and convenient, but don’t let them be your exclusive source for reading.  The brain needs a good chunk of quality time every day to be removed from electromagnetic energy and social media, and to be reminded of the world of imagination and connection that does exist beyond our digital screens.

 

3. Meditate.  OR . . .

. . . at the very least find a way to simply be in silence and stillness for a few minutes every day.  The more minutes a day you can find in that quiet, the better able you will be to heed the inner voice, and the better everything will be.  Guaranteed.   (Yes, I am actually being brazen enough to say guaranteed).   I recently read the memoir of Sara Maitland on her experiment of withdrawing from the world, in pursuit of silence.  There is a whole world of discussion to be had on the topic, and its impact on a society, and which is utterly fascinating.  For now, for this, however, just allow yourself a few minutes each day to power everything down.  And listen.

 

4. Connect with Higher Power.

This term is as wide a berth as the ocean, so even the most ardent atheist can find his or hers. Something that is greater than your pedestrian self, and that has something to teach you, offer you, feed you.  Maybe it’s the collective unconscious.  Maybe it’s art.  Maybe it’s nature.  Maybe it’s the source within.  Maybe it is a source out there.   Maybe it’s simply goodness. It will ring differently and show up differently for every individual on the planet, but it is that unquantifiable something that maneuvers us around the land mines and connects us to each other.  There is no need to affix a label; simply be with it.  Find yours, and plug in regularly.

 

5. Create, even if you’re not an artist.

Artist is only a label.   We all have creativity and imagination in us, and it can show up in the most unexpected cloak, which is usually how it works anyway.   Feed that.  Promote that.   The spiritual benefits are untold.

 

6. Be a child again (closely linked to the above, and which is not the same as being child-ISH).

There is so much obligation and commitment and management and planning and fortune-making that governs our adult lives that we can easily allow it to bog us down and collapse our spirits.  Easy to get so caught up in building the life of our dreams that we kind of forget to actually live the life of our dreams.   So, let it all go once in a while, regularly, and do what children do.   Play fiercely and with joyous abandon.

Or the flip side of that same spirit . . . do nothing.  The Italians have a delicious term for it:  dolce far niente, literally translated as the sweetness of doing nothing.  They have raised it to an art form, but in our ambition-worship culture, we have put the label of shame to it.   THAT is the shame.   We do not need to be in the constant state of planning, producing and consuming.  Smile at nothing.  Sit and gaze.  Daydream.  Decompress.  It is the crucial yin to our workhorse-mountain-conquering yang.

 

7. Create a daily gratitude ritual. 

It can be a prayer, a journal log, a mantra, a meditation.  Even in the various spells of my life of not feeling especially spiritual or connected, I always found such beauty in the tradition of blessing one’s food.  What a lovely idea to express out loud, in a ritual, our thankfulness for the bounty on our plates, and not taking a meal for granted, but cherishing it for what it gives us.  Especially considering how many don’t have that luxury.  Now imagine employing that gratitude practice with everything.  Just imagine.

And finally . . .

 

8. Be in nature.

Now, I honestly don’t think any more expounding on this one is necessary, except that I am compelled to share what’s happened to me with this one, because it seems to be the mother lode.  I never truly got the phrase, “be in nature,” that spiritual directive, as I now view it, until I began the recent ritual for myself.  Out of the blue, it seems, I began hankering for nature.  And I think, at least in part, it’s because I’ve been a meditator for a good many years already, yet have been growing intermittently flustered (as business for me has gotten busier . . . knock on wood!) by the struggle to truly burrow deep, and my belief that it has had to do with the inability to remove myself from the world’s distractions.  One truth about meditation is that doing it is possible even if the sky is falling all around us, but that’s a pretty hardcore level of meditation bad-assery that I have never achieved.  I need an environment that promotes moving out of the world for a few chunks of time each day.  Enter nature.  Fortunately I live in a community that smacks right up against a set of mountain ranges, the ever sprawling Angeles National Forest, and its various canyons and parks.  Although, I don’t believe there exists a community that has zero access to some brand of nature.  We can all find some.

I’ve been hiking Aliso Canyon at the very north end of the San Fernando Valley, and which is nearly in my back yard.  It’s part crest, overlooking wide sweeps of mountain, part enchanted forest, taking one into the bowels of nature with trees bridging overheard and creating a canopy.  What I never saw coming was the way in which this daily ritual would become something I would crave, the way one craves coffee.  Runners talk about the runner’s high.  I even know gym nuts who are antsy if they miss a day of working out.  That has never been me.  But I crave this.  And I have found that not only has it been working as a meditative pursuit, but it has begun to shift my whole health & wellness, it has brought literally more oxygen into my lungs and life, and it has, most profoundly, most surprisingly, opened my heart chakra in ways I couldn’t have predicted.  Communing with creatures beyond our pets and other humans, listening to their concert, moving among the wise old trees (read  Herman Hesse some time on trees….whew!…), or strolling along a shore, recognizing the cruciality of taking care of the earth, and understanding the dire consequences of continuing as we are, in promoting carbon footprinting and the decimation of the ozone.  This daily experience has inadvertently made me live in and practice gratitude for what I have and where I am in life and what is precious. It has brought me to a manageable, even peaceful, mental place when life is challenging me or throwing roadblocks in my way. It has actually shifted my receptor paradigm, meaning that I feel myself being more open to receiving, or perhaps, and more pointedly, feeling worthy of, blessings; as well as nurturing the ability to see that blessings are flying all around us like gnats, and are in everything that happens to us.  Not only in the stuff that feels good, and is about comfort, and is easy to see as a blessing. But even the stuff (or people) we consider bad news, because these are what serve as lessons and opportunities and teachers, and may actually be where the real gold lies. And it’s ours to either choose to recognize, or not. But why wouldn’t we? And this whole shift for me has been a direct result (I could be wrong, but the timing’s too uncanny) of my daily communing with nature.

It takes a great deal of courage to keep our hearts open.  So much easier (maybe even irresistible) to clamp the heart down, to bear the armor of hurt, to be the suffering martyr, and to garner the quiet awe of others, because maybe we have no real clue who we are without our wounds.  But keeping our hearts open is the greatest kind of surgery our bodies can undergo.  And I dare say, for us ALL, that being in nature is quite remarkable at opening up that vessel within, for our daily access.

 

So, there you have it.  My sacred eight.  The prescription for what has been ailing me.  The spiritual algorithm that has shifted me just ever so subtly, yet indelibly.

Navigating the murky waters of life is a job with tenure.  All the enlightenment in this world, and for that matter all the prosperity in this world, won’t reprieve us of the task.  Navigated with the right tools, however (and I offer this eightfold prescription as one tool of many), life becomes not merely a road to endure but an experience of riches beyond measure.  Maybe my eight can offer you something as well.  Or, hey, if you’re way ahead of me, please share your own discoveries back.  I would love to hear of them.  Remember, I get MindBodyGreen in my daily inbox.  I’m THAT gal.

But for any who are searching, or feel lost, or even just looking for a top off, I encourage you to try it.

Costs nothing.

Big Pharma has no equity in this medicine.
 
 
 
 
 

Dedicated to my lovely friend Kelly Phillips,
who illustrates the prescription simply by living her beautiful life,
and allowing me the honor of observing it.

 

Photograph of ACB is by Holli Rae

 

Angela Carole Brown is the author of three published books, The Assassination of Gabriel Champion, The Kidney Journals: Memoirs of a Desperate Lifesaver, and Trading Fours, is a recipient of the Heritage/Soulword Magazine Award in poetry, and has produced several albums of music and a yoga/mindfulness CD.   Bindi Girl Chronicles is her writing blog. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram & YouTube.

Of His Many Legacies

MLK small copy 2

January 19, 2015.   Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

I woke up this morning and hastened to the computer to post my father’s portrait of Martin Luther King Jr. on all of my various social media accounts. It’s a portrait that became sort of famous in the 1970’s.   The only one of my father’s paintings that he ever made reproductions of, so that it could be owned by many. The portrait could be found, in the years that followed its creation, in several city halls throughout the country, other civic buildings, schools, private homes.  I even once opened an Ebony Magazine (I was a teen at the time) to an article about an Atlanta attorney.  I don’t even remember who the attorney was, as what happened next is the only part of the story that was important to me.  There, under the byline, but before the title of the article, was a photograph of the attorney in his Atlanta offices.  And there in the background of the photo, hanging on a wall, was my father’s King.   It counted as the only example of that kind of experience I’ve ever had regarding my father’s work, since he was an artist who never exhibited, never had reproductions made of his work, save the King, and almost never offered his works for sale. He was a peculiar artist in that way.   He’d made his living as a graphic artist for the aerospace industry for his entire life, and so the fine art pieces he did were purely for love and personal reward, or sometimes on commission.  All of his children have his works, and many other family members and friends.  But otherwise, the King remains the only of his work that circulated the country a bit in its day.  Sorry about the tangent.   This post is not about “the King,” as we have always called his painting, but I’m a proud daughter, so there you go.  And here it is, in its entirety.

MLK small

Anyway, I posted my father’s painting on Facebook, Twitter, et al., along with one of my favorite quotations of Dr. King’s, as my contribution to paying tribute to this national holiday of the birth of the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr.

The quotation was: “Let us truly, deeply, authentically occupy the dream, the dream of a world that works for all life, where each and every one of us is a shining star in a constellation of love.  Everybody can be great . . . because anybody can serve.  You don’t have to have a college degree to serve.  You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve.  You only need a heart full of grace.  A soul generated by love.” 

There are so many of his wonderful quotations that it was hard to choose the one that resonated the most with my heart today.  As all great men and women tend to inspire, on any given day a different aspect of Dr. King’s lifework might ring in my heart and the accompanying quotation in my ears.  Because the many avenues of his life’s work extend far beyond civil rights and racial equality, as a friend of mine reminded in an email he sent out this morning to a handful of friends.  Dr. King also fought for unions, supported labor strikes and better economic realities for the poor of all races, and lastly, but hardly least, he was passionately outspoken against the Viet Nam War, and against war period.

I made the post, and then went about the rest of my day, periodically checking back to see if any comments had been made.  Isn’t that what we do?   The rest of my day consisted of meeting up with friends for lunch and a bit of business, then working on some graphic jobs for clients, and then taking the afternoon to go see a movie, as this is the time of year that I and my ilk (a small circle of us) log in the requisite Oscar nominees.  It’s our favorite time of year.  I’ve seen some pretty wonderful movies this season, and today’s was going to be American Sniper.

As I sat through this well-crafted Clint Eastwood film, I found myself physically uncomfortable and fidgety in my seat.   I am a movie buff (I guess there’s a range of buffness; so perhaps I’m just a semi-buff).  I love movies for their honesty, their irony, their in-depth character study, and their unsentimentality.  Just tell a story, and let the story, itself, do its job to move us, or anger us, or teach us, or make our hearts soar, or make us laugh, or confound us, or take us to the couch.

I honestly don’t know what I thought of this movie (I’m sure I’ll have a firmer grasp of my feelings on it a week from now, or a year from now).  It yanked me in many ways.  In the final frame, it was clearly making a statement about what war does to soldiers, and yet it also intended to lionize the protagonist, who is based on a real-life person.  And from what I understand, the real-life person, whose autobiography the movie is based upon, was quite unrepentant about his killing credits.  So, is he a hero?  Or if the movie is not about heroes but about men, do we need for him to be depicted as remorseful?  Or simply as someone indelibly changed by the circumstances of war, even if he is in denial of it?   These are just questions.  I have no answers to them.   But what clearly made me restless in this movie experience was the juxtaposition of having chosen to see this film on a day that has been nationally designated as commemoration of the man who once said, “Wars are poor chisels for carving out peaceful tomorrows.”

I woke up this morning with Dr. King firstly on my mind.  I woke up with his many, many words of great inspiration swimming in my head, because I am on his side in these matters.  I do not believe in war.  I’m sure my politically conservative friends and my military friends will have their issue with me on that.  That’s for us to work out.   But I can appreciate a depiction of war, which is why I was sitting in a movie theater this afternoon, seeing this film.

It’s the juxtaposition of having chosen this day to go, which didn’t even dawn on me until I was in it and committed, and which was most definitely the source of my restlessness, that puzzles me.  What I found most poignant and most troublesome wasn’t even in the film itself (though I did find the film itself gravely problematic), but the audience’s various reactions throughout.   There was hearty laughter when killings happened.  Silly, immature laughter.  There was universal jingoistic applause when a tension-moment in the movie ended in enemy-slaughter at its most brutal.  This was the audience from a Rocky movie or a soccer game.  Did the filmmakers have that kind of whipped up lust as their intention? Because propaganda, after all, was at the heart of this film, and that’s what propaganda is designed to do.  Eastwood’s direct trajectory in the film from 911 to our invasion of Iraq, as though one had anything to do with the other, is why I charge him with propaganda.  And yet, before I go any further down the rabbit hole of political polarities, that is not even the component of the film that left me in turmoil.   That component I simply, disappointingly, chalked up to the Big Lie.

What left me divided, and it’s finally hitting me even as I write this, is that Eastwood, himself, was divided.  I don’t believe he really knew what story he wanted to tell.  Because while he most assuredly directed a very deliberate go-get-’em piece of patriotic frenzy-whipping, Eastwood also depicted a man wrecked by his experience over there, even as that man lived in denial of his distress. And those were the moments that had a human, thoughtful, nuanced, insightful element to it.  Those were the moments that reminded me why I have always championed Eastwood as a director.  But while I didn’t need for Chris Kyle to be a redeemed man, or to have some kind of awakening about his actions, it was extremely important for that to be inherent in the narrative, and it just wasn’t.  It brought to mind, for me, Paul Schrader’s and Martin Scorsese’s powerful and chilling Taxi Driver.  Here is a character so deeply troubled, and unredeemed even to the very end.  But though Travis Bickle is never redeemed, his story, his narrative, IS, through its making a comment about society.  American Sniper had every opportunity to do just that.  And ultimately, because propaganda was allowed to prevail instead, it failed.

As I filed out of the theater with an audience that was more revved up than contemplative, my heart truly broke to see the fruits of a culture and a generation that I believe has largely fallen from grace, and grown numbed and desensitized.  I don’t know if the blame belongs to movies like this, or to social media, or to the blitzkrieg-&-hysteria-style TV programming that calls itself news today, or to technology, which disconnects us far more than it connects us, or to a generation of parents and schools dropping the ball on guidance, or what.  They’re all easy targets, and they’re probably all complicit.  WE are probably all complicit.  But whatever is the source, it’s happening.  The deadening of the collective heart.  Now, I’m not a dark and gloomy doomsayer.  There’s always hope.  I think that’s part and parcel to what this day stands for.  But it requires action.  I’m not always an action person.  I can tend to be very insular in my life, and in my beliefs that being a creative artist, and putting thoughtful content out into the world, is enough.  But maybe it isn’t enough.  And so, this collective deadening of the heart was a pretty sobering bit of business to witness, and to be in the midst of, and to conclude, on this day, the national commemoration of a genuine peacemaker in our history.  A man who said these many words:

“We must learn to live together as brothers, or perish together as fools.”

“Let no man pull you so low as to hate him.”

“I have decided to stick with love.  Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

“Forgiveness is not an occasional act.  It is a constant attitude.”

“Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into friend.”

I don’t know why I chose to see this movie today of all days.  It felt wrong, as soon as I was in it.  Even though I think Mr. Eastwood did a skillful (if dishonest) bit of directing, and Mr. Cooper did a remarkable turn as Kyle.  But I think that if I’d seen the movie on any other day, I might’ve had a very different experience, a different level of sensitivity, a different outlook on humanity.  And so perhaps today was exactly as it should be.  To force me inward.  To contemplate.  Not only King’s legacy, but how we citizens have been shaped (or not) by it.  How I  have been shaped by it.  And what to do about that, if the answer turns out to be a less-than-proud one.  Because, really, that’s what today’s movie experience was about for me –– a mirror.  Which brings me to my favorite of all of Dr. King’s words: “The greatest sign of maturity is self-inquiry.”

I am chasing that maturity every single day.   On rare days, I even catch the little fucker.

Portrait of Martin Luther King Jr. by Ted Brown

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Angela Carole Brown is the author of three published books, The Assassination of Gabriel Champion, The Kidney Journals: Memoirs of a Desperate Lifesaver, and Trading Fours, is a recipient of the Heritage/Soulword Magazine Award in poetry, and has produced several albums of music and a yoga/mindfulness CD.   Bindi Girl Chronicles is her writing blog.   Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram & YouTube.