From the ALEATORY ON THE RADIO collection.
Navigating the murky waters of life is a job with tenure. All the money and station in the world won’t reprieve us from the task. Below are 9 simple practices that can mean the difference between the grind of life (or even the blunt interruption of that grind) and truly living. Costs nothing. Big Pharma has no equity in THIS medicine.
- 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 news through more legitimate sources. Do the homework needed to figure out who and what those are. Information is valuable and crucial; hysteria never is.
- 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 the digital and electronic universe. Kindle and iBooks are both 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.
- 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! Consider a wonderful memoir by 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, simply allow yourself a few minutes each day to power everything down. And listen.
- Connect with Higher Power.
This term has 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 has something to teach you, offer you, feed you. Maybe it’s the Collective Unconscious. Maybe it’s your own higher consciousness, which exists in every human, usually buried beneath all the traumas and dysfunctions, but there, just ripe and ready to guide us, if we’re keen to do some unearthing. Maybe it’s nature. Maybe it’s the source within. Or a source out there. Maybe it’s simply goodness. It will show up differently for every individual on the planet yet 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.
- Create, even if you’re not an artist.
“Artist” is merely a label. We all have creativity and imagination within us, and it can show up in the most unexpected cloak, which is usually how it works anyway. Feed it. Allow it to feed you. Have fun with it. The benefits to soul are untold. In this time of quarantine, and out.
- Be a child again (closely linked to the above, and which is not the same as being child-ISH).
There has been so much obligation, commitment, management, planning, and fortune-making that has governed our adult lives that we can easily allow it to collapse our spirits. Easy to get so caught up in building the life of our dreams that we forget to actually live the life of our dreams. These mandated lockdowns and Stay at Home orders have forced us to slow down, whether we’ve wanted to or not. As a result, some truly profound epiphanies have been had from the many about the lives they’d been living before this pandemic. So, every once in a while let it all go, and do what children do. Precisely because we are presently in the state of severance, throw Zoom parties. Live-stream living room performances for friends. Stage social distancing drive-by parades. Play dress-up to come to the dinner table. The ideas are endless. The point, to play fiercely and with release and abandon.
The flipside 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, but in our ambition-worship culture we have stamped the label of shame onto it. We do not need to be in the constant state of planning, producing, and consuming. Precisely because of this pandemic, we are in trauma. We are in grief. You are okay to not be okay. So, take the pressure off. Smile at nothing. Sit and gaze. Daydream. Decompress. It is the crucial yin to our Everest-conquering yang.
- Be in nature.
Communing with creatures beyond our pets and other humans, moving among the wise old trees, strolling along a shore, recognizing the cruciality of taking care of the earth, this is what it means to be in nature. For the time being, but not forever, our access to beaches and nature trails has been limited by the necessity for flattening the curve of this virus. Even so, it is possible to snag ourselves a little bit of nature every day. Put on your protective mask, walk outside your door, and you are in it. Even in the city. Just walk, and marvel at the sky (cleaner these days than ever before with fewer cars on the roads). Equal parts meditation and exercise, being in the nature right outside our door can open the heart chakra and shift our receptor paradigm to receiving or, perhaps and more pointedly, feeling worthy of blessings. It increases our ability to see that blessings are flying all around us like gnats. And it’s not only the stuff that feels like blessings. It’s even the stuff (or people) we consider the opposite, because every encounter serves as a teacher —— and may actually be where the real gold lies. Wait, what? All this from observing flowers and trees? Oh, yes. Until our beautiful beaches and glorious canyon trails can safely reopen, even the smallest patch of garden or that duck pond in the neighborhood can be that salve and conduit. Nature is quite remarkable at showing up anywhere and opening the vessel within for our daily access.
- Create a daily gratitude ritual . . .
…particularly during this coronaspell of death, sickness, fear, and the loss of “normal,” when it’s harder to see blessings. It can be a prayer, a journal log, a mantra, a meditation. Even in the various periods of my life of not feeling especially grateful, I, for example, always found such beauty in the tradition of blessing one’s food. What a lovely idea to express out loud our thankfulness for the bounty on our plates, and for not taking a meal for granted but cherishing it for what it gives us, especially considering how many don’t have this luxury. Now, imagine employing that gratitude practice with everything. Just imagine.
And finally . . .
- Be of service.
From sewing and dispensing face masks, to surprise drop-offs of groceries at someone’s door, to making food for the homeless, to outreach calls, this Age of Pandemic has shown what people are made of, and that it isn’t only the front-liners who are able to be of service to the community. We all have the ability to be there for others, whether an individual or our community at large. Service is the most restorative unguent there is for self-absorption or for trying to find meaning in a world that often seems senseless and cruel, especially in these strange days. Maybe you aren’t struggling with that. Many are. Pandemic or no, this might just be the single most potent go-to for establishing or recovering ourselves as persons of value on the planet…
Angela Carole Brown is the author of Bones, Aleatory on the Radio, Viscera, The Assassination of Gabriel Champion, The Kidney Journals: Memoirs of a Desperate Lifesaver, and the 2018 North Street Book Prize-winner for Literary Fiction, Trading Fours. She has also produced several albums of music and meditation. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Goodreads, Amazon Author, & Bandcamp.
As we are all finding our footing in 2020 — a numerological symmetry and auspiciousness that makes me insist on calling this the new decade, in spite of the many, many, MANY Facebook posts admonishing that “the new decade actually begins next year, dammit!” — I have been looking back on 2019, and trying to decide what I have to say about it, as are our New Year penchants and reflective natures. And as it’s been awhile since I’ve fed and watered this blog, I’ve been especially searching for a worthy reminiscence to wax forth about. 2019 was actually a pretty opportune year for me, releasing three new published works and planning a game-changing relocation, to name a couple, so there are actually a number of things that could be reminisced. Here’s the one I’ve chosen to reflect on.
On the afternoon that I learned I’d won a book award (I received the news exactly a year ago today, January 18, but wasn’t allowed to say anything publicly until announcement day, a whole month later), I had just left a meeting, and had hunkered down at an Indian food restaurant that had become my weekly lunch ritual. I sat alone as I always did, in a kind of comfort I found in very few other places. A meal alone. Unengaged in a conversation the way everyone else in the cafe was most definitely engaged, and feeling just a little bit haughty about that. Like I was really especially cool for entertaining a good book instead. The only thing that marred that chest-risen thought was the fact that I was actually on my phone doing the deed of most modern-day people with any amount of time to themselves, scrolling the Facebook newsfeed for the good-fortune posts of my friends and the inevitably disarming jealousy that wracks the soul of a good old-fashioned self-loather like myself. Or browsing Twitter to see who’s saying what about You Know Who. Or placing about the 20th item in my Amazon cart. One of these days I’m gonna get an email that says “either press buy or f*ck off!” The good book I was presently inside of was sitting to the side of me on the booth seat, abandoned for more transient pleasures and curiosities, so just how haughty could I really be?
I opened up my email, and saw only the first words in the subject heading from Winning Writers, an online writer’s resource for independent authors and book award host, which had informed me earlier in the week that I was a finalist for their 2018 book award for my novel Trading Fours, which had actually come out several years before, but this was a unique book award that did not care how old a book was that they felt deserved awarding. The words I saw, before opening the email full stop were, “Congratulations. You’re a first prize winner….”
I don’t know that I can do that moment justice. Let’s start from much earlier. In the day? No. In my incredibly blessed but consistently frustrated life. I am not a person who wins things. I had managed to get myself safely to the age of almost-60, and had known a very decent life as a working musician. But in my 30-something years at the task I had barely gotten my foot in the door (bruised and bloodied from the many tries) that most of my colleagues who came up in the business with me had. Neither had I ever managed a book deal, though I went through two agents in the years past, unsuccessfully trying to sell this manuscript or that. Momentary sidebar: I recently sent an apology letter to a friend, who had asked for my writer’s advice, as she is writing her first book. I was unhelpful, and I needed to acknowledge that to her. I explained that part of the problem was my own (at times) inability to value my own gifts. What I know for sure is that there is an army of little devils that routinely shows up to battle me. And the members of that army look like: the absence of a book deal; my inability to get pieces placed in the multitude of journals I submit to; rejection after rejection after rejection. This army doesn’t always win the battles against me, but it does often enough.
I can get into poor-me mode pretty easily, and I see it wanting to move in that direction even as I type this, so let me redirect. The truth is, I’ve always chosen (or created) material, directions, inspiration, and content that would never pass the commercial muster. In that way, I’ve been stunningly stubborn, and even a little arrogantly self-assured that my time and my voice, unique at its worst and perhaps something else altogether at its best, will have its day. So, I’ve been fully aware of the sacrifices that come with not playing a game by its rules. Still….it has always been tempting to regret my choices when I see the world stages that my friends are on with this mega star or another. Or the TV gigs, and appearances on the Oscars or the Tonys. It’s awfully tempting. And then I have to remember to breathe, to keep doing my spiritual work, and to get still.
I swear to you, getting still is the only way into divine channels. The only way to answers. (BTW, it’s me I’m swearing to. Me I keep needing to remind and remind daily).
I continued to eat my delicious Indian food, while texting my sister and my roommate the amazing news. My sister called me instantly, and I took the call even though I was in a restaurant that’s quiet like a library. I cried. She cried. I wasn’t loud. I’m way too concerned about proper public behavior for that. But burying my head in the table and nearly in my plate, my sister and I had a whispered conversation of “oh my god!”s. My roommate, who has also been my dearest friend for 45 years, had just defended her dissertation the day before, and was officially a doctoral recipient. She texted me in response to my news, “I guess that makes us the power couple!” followed by the laughing emoji. Once I finished alerting my inner circle, I just sat, trying to finish my meal in between tears and giggles, each of which just kept popping up.
When I left the cafe, I drove over to the neighborhood bookstore to buy a Mary Oliver book. It had already been my plan even before discovering that this day was about to be literary-themed, and triumphant. I’d learned about this magnificent poet only a month before, on Christmas Day when I was at my dear friend Barbara’s house for Christmas Dinner and her annual reading. Guests are encouraged to bring something to read. Anything. Something of your own, if you’re a writer. Or from the works of established writers, if you’re not. It’s just a rare literary salon old-fashioned-ness in my life that I annually cherish. And a man at the gathering whom I knew only peripherally had read a most enchanting Mary Oliver verse that evening. Everyone in the room seemed to know who she was but me. I was instantly mesmerized, couldn’t believe I’d missed this beauty all these years, and then Mary Oliver died less than a month later.
I tend to do this to writers. On the day I bought my first-ever copy of Catcher In the Rye, the news of JD Salinger’s death came the very next day. No kidding. These weird literary, death-centered synchronicities just seem to be a part of me, and I’m tempted to consider myself an awful witch with powers I wield so carelessly in my enthusiasm for words that I scare the poor composers of those words right out of this life.
As I think about my unintended curses on America’s preeminent wordsmiths, and my irresistible euphoria over being essentially told, by the news of this book prize, that I am indeed a wordsmith too, and should be lucky to be so heralded away to Heaven by some overzealous fan’s love of me and careless curse, I find myself laughing out loud in the parking lot of Barnes & Noble at my insane brain’s delicious follies about how it all works.
I felt a connection with Ms. Oliver on that day, an intimacy that broke me into tears of joy repeatedly before the sun set on January 18, 2019. Somehow I didn’t want the day to end. Because I just don’t tend to have those kinds of days. News of accolade and acknowledgment. And then communing with poets I hope to soak into my own writer’s veins, telling me that I don’t even have to be good; I only need to let the soft animal of my body love what it loves. Thank you Mary. That may just be the clearest lesson I needed to learn that day, and apparently still, as I navigate this life just trying to be heard. Thank you Mary Oliver. Thank you Winning Writers. Thank you world. For your unintended curses and gifts.
It was a good day.
photo by Hannah Wei
Angela Carole Brown is the author of Bones, Aleatory on the Radio, Viscera, The Assassination of Gabriel Champion, The Kidney Journals: Memoirs of a Desperate Lifesaver, and the 2018 North Street Book Prize-winner Trading Fours, and has produced several albums of music and meditation. Bindi Girl Chronicles is her writing blog. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram & YouTube.
I love my friends who are fierce kings and queens.
I love my friends who struggle with their self-worth.
I love my friends who are artistic lions.
I love my friends who are proud tech-heads and science gurus.
I love my friends who are still searching for their mantle,
or are wrestling with creative malaise.
I love my friends who are kicking ass and taking names.
I love my friends who choose a quieter, unassuming, humbled life,
or whose lives have chosen that for them.
I love my friends who are deeply spiritual vessels of love and light and warriorship in the name of peace, and are meditative badasses.
I love my friends who claim no spiritual path but believe in self-will, intellectual reason, and empirical evidence.
I love my friends who are as keen as whips.
I love my friends who haven’t been exposed to much in the world, and have innocence.
I love my friends who can rock some serious fashion.
I love my friends who could give two shits about fashion.
I love my friends who are blissful in their romantic relationships.
I love my friends who are struggling in theirs.
I love my friends who are happy in their solitude, singlehood, and autonomy.
I love my friends who are lonely and desirous of finding love.
I love my friends who see and seek only light and positivity.
I love my friends who see value in the caves and the darker recesses.
I love my friends who find life in traveling the world.
I love my friends who find life in digging deep in the earth and taking root.
I love my friends to whom I have insights to impart.
I love my friends who have a thing or two to teach me.
I love my friends who don’t even know the brilliant power of their youth.
I love my friends who brilliantly embrace their wrinkles and their road.
I love my friends who have taken robes.
I love my friends who have cast robes aside.
Making way for revolution.
Making room for new growth.
Making mountains from molehills, and molehills from mist.
Making magic from mystery, and manna from the myriad miracles of mankind.
I love my friends, my myriad miracles of mankind.
Photo by Tyler Nix
The swarm of Painted Ladies
showered me unexpectedly.
Carrying with them, in their spiritual lightness and artful wings,
the flutter of renewal, restoration and redemption.
Some have said their early migration is global-warming-induced.
It’s a thought that lends a sadness to this unexpected christening
I received upon their arrival.
Though, for me,
a girl with campaigns launched left and right these days toward
wellness and soul tending,
a girl awfully in love with finding angels and symbols
in every nook and under every rock,
too early couldn’t’ve been more
right on time.
May I call you this? We’ll soon both be
members of a cherished club,
and as such I feel, already, a kinship.
As I write this, the mouths of the
purple morning-glories beyond my window
are achingly gaped,
singing your praises I like to think,
knowing you are coming,
and the sun is brilliant, almost white,
on this late-winter morning
after a week of sunless rain.
You are coming. This I know.
And I feel hope, which scares me some.
I am grateful and sad. I think we both know why,
and there is enough disappointment in myself
without continuing to reinvigorate it
with words. I ask only this:
Walk deliberately toward it.
Trip and fall, if it comes to it, but take no prisoners, least of all him.
Expose panties. Jump back up. Make a joke out of the spill,
scrappy like I know you must be.
Then keep on stepping high.
Keep him in gentle accord.
Keep yourself there too.
Above all, breathe. The dark nights for both of you
will soften their edges, and the morning-glory
will yawn again each dawn to remind you that you are as glorious.
Send me a postcard from beyond the moon.
I hung out there myself once.
We’ll regale together this love supreme that
keeps us all rallying for one another.
PLEASE visit http://kidneyforhans.com/ and do a girl a solid.
Here we are in autumn. A new season is upon us, bringing with it all of the festivities that surround this time of year. It is a time of harvest (after the summer fruits) where we are guided to be grateful for the seeds that have been sewn. Spiritually speaking, it is a time to acknowledge abundance as our natural state of being. And as you do, I would like to suggest the idea of abundance not as a concept of the acquisition of things and of currency, but as a committed spiritual state of already and always having all we need, and BEING right where we are meant to be.
This is also the time of year when the days grow shorter, the nights grow longer, and the dark, as a conceptual and symbolic idea, reigns. From Hallow’s Eve, to Dia de los Muertos, to Celtic Samhain ceremonies, this is the season when tradition after tradition pulls the veil down between life and death so that we can convene with and honor those who’ve left this realm.
Contrary to mainstream and pop culture belief, and also just as a gentle reminder, the dark is not a negative spiritual energy. The dark is the time of inner reflections, of going within and taking inventory of our lives. A time of examining our own inner darkness hiding within us, the shadows. The shadows are there for us to explore and to learn from, so that we can honor every aspect of our journey, and then from it… to reflect, rebalance and recalibrate. Listen to your shadows. Never shoo them away or try to bury them. They have a thing or two to teach us … always.
The good news is that dark is always followed by light. And because of the truth and beauty of impermanence, light will be followed by dark again, and on, and on, as we consciously link our awareness to nature’s cycles, and as the understanding of our own cycles begins to deepen.
The truth of autumn is here. And with it, the strength and resolve in each of us to manifest a powerful, lights off, inward-turning self-excavation, a nurturing of soul, a reaping of the bountiful harvest, and a relaxation into our spiritual state of abundance.
And as autumn moves into winter, and the dark begins to stretch even longer, let us linger for a moment on a beautiful quote by the writer and philosopher Albert Camus: “In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.”
“Pain, instead of being something to avoid,
can actually bring us closer to the truth.”
― Pema Chodron
Courting the caves. I first coined that term, and reference it repeatedly now in my life, when I was writing my grief memoir about the days surrounding my mother’s death. The first of my referring to the term is in Chapter One of this book that I have yet to publish:
I write and chronicle and document and work out knots, and have done this for as long as I can remember, tapping the unconscious well, going to that place where cave spiders dwell, taking darkness on. Even as a child I was the one who befriended monsters and made them my allies. In adulthood it’s been a little trickier to spot the shadowy demons, but once spotted I am never afraid of foraging through the tangled, weedy backwoods, of courting the caves, of sticking a finger in their horrific faces and starting a fight. I’m afraid of everything else in the world, but not that. I’m a true believer that the way out of the hole and into a peace of spirit is with a good, bloody brawl.
It seems I’ve spent my life soul-searching and self-examining. I’m an overly-analytical person anyway. I’ve been told that before, and I do know it to be true. Just the other day I ran across a note I’d written to myself (rather than the traditional journal volumes many keep and amass over years’ time, I just amass little post-its all over the place with thoughts I don’t want to lose). This one read:
“You don’t need to know why. Stop needing to define this feeling. Stop talking it to death. Stop thinking it to death. Stop decoding. Just have the feeling, without needing to intellectualize it, or understand it. It doesn’t need to be shushed away. Allow it. You don’t need to be talked down from it. Go through it. It exists for a reason. Listen. Your body is a pristine barometer for what’s happening in your world. Honor that knot in the gut. That racing heart of foreboding. It has something to tell you. Don’t quarantine it is some kind of bubble that can’t allow you to feel unless that feeling is a happy one. That is a dangerous aspect of the Positive Principle movement, a movement that is an inherently good concept while having its kinks, such as the practice of a denial of feelings that are actually valid and whole, in order to wear an inauthentic mask of IT’S ALL GOOD. Sometimes it’s not all good. That’s OK.”
Okay, so maybe it wasn’t a post-it. But do you see what I did here? I was trying to talk myself out of overthinking something, only to evolve the thought into something quite overthinking. I can’t help my brain. And the truth is, while that trait can sometimes burden me and others, it has also been a gift, and I couldn’t be more grateful for the person I am because of that self-understanding seeker’s road.
I’ve read all the books. Everyone from Deepak Chopra to Elizabeth Gilbert. I’ve jumped on that bandwagon of trying to be a more evolved version of myself, of trying to reach some kind of higher consciousness, of trying to heal old “pain bodies, ” as my good friend Eckhart says. Yeah, no, Eckhart Tolle isn’t actually my friend. But you had to know that he would be one of the many I’ve read on this trek, and he feels like an old friend. I have a dear sister-girl who shares this path with me, more or less, and we’re both constantly asking each other, “what would Eckhart do?” We say it with tongue in cheek, and are usually following it up with laughter over some crazy thing one or the other of us has done. But it actually does help ground us. Just to be able to step back for a minute and re-frame. It always manages to bring us back from the crazy brink.
I wrote a little credo years ago, and it has been my email sign-off ever since:
- Create ― even if you’re not an artist
- Support artists ― especially the independents
- Live well ― doesn’t take money to do it
- And be whole
This is my most heart-centered request of mankind, beyond the obvious one of do no harm, and it has everything to do with self-nurture, which means it’s really a request of myself. Lately, I’ve had to really think about what #3 means. What does it mean to live well? I don’t mean to live affluently. Pretend money and status don’t exist. Then ask yourself if you are living well.
Without giving it too much thought (yeah, nice try Angela), my instinctive answer to what living well means is the ability to be as whole, centered, and conscious as we have the potential for. Living a life in that higher agreement state. If we can make ourselves whole, we can (and do) minister more authentically and more willingly to the global family and to the planet. And that ministers to us. It all rounds back in often inexplicable ways. Likewise, if we take the steps toward ministering, it can’t help but foster wholeness. But what does wholeness mean? Everyone has a story, a history. Some call it baggage. It shapes us. And it is most beneficial to us (yes, baggage can be beneficial) when we are able to face it, identify it, HEAR what it has to tell us, and then take the steps toward transcending it. Then we stand a chance of getting whole, and getting happy. That’s what it means to live well.
The “hear what it has to tell us” part is where I do my best to live when it comes to my spiritual journey. And one of my self-discovery practices (of the many I have) is one I find too scrumptious not to share here. It’s called SoulCollage®, and it’s the brainchild of the late artist and psychologist Seena B. Frost, who developed this incredible practice as a way for the artistic and therapeutic layman to participate hands-on in his/her own self-discovery, and to create beautiful works of art in the process.
SoulCollage is, quite simply, the making of collage art. Beyond that basic modality of creating something artful, however, is a therapeutic process that taps into the subconscious with its vivid mood and collision of imagery, and cultivates the powers of the intuitive. Through the seemingly unrelated images of a collage work, much can be revealed about the deepest parts of who we authentically are. You need not be an artist of any experience. You need only be hungry for an extraordinary journey of self-excavation and growth.
I became a student of SoulCollage through one of its facilitators in Los Angeles, folk artist and radiant spirit MARGO GRAVELLE. For many years now I have met with a group of like-minded seekers to make collages toward the purpose of the ongoing creation of a “deck” that might be likened to a Tarot deck, the result of which reflects and represents the varied and many aspects of each person’s emotional and psychological pantheon of characters (called “the committee”), as well as a discovery and identification of archetypes, which dips a bit into the work of Joseph Campbell, Carl Jung, Carolyn Myss, etc.
My own experience with SoulCollage has been a deeply sacred and life-changing one for me. I have sought many healing modalities, including cognitive therapy and grief counseling, and have never felt more clear about who I am (the good, the bad, the ugly, the brilliant) through any means more potent than through this extraordinary, and completely non-judgmental practice. And often, it is the shadow images in the collages that give us our greatest dawning and light.
“It is by going down into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life.
Where you stumble, there lies your treasure.”
― Joseph Campbell
This post isn’t about selling SoulCollage on you (I’ve got no investment other than the personal healing in it), but if you’re interested in finding out more, please visit Seena’s site: SOUL COLLAGE. If nothing more, it’s absolutely fascinating exploration, and may even help you to find a class in your area, which I recommend for anyone on a self-seeking path for transformation.
Why I adore this particular practice so much is because it seems to me that the self-examination movement has taken an odd and, I feel, uncourageous turn. I have spoken of this in past blog posts, but here is where I’ll try to elaborate. There is a trend, a force, a movement, within the self-help world that abhors conflict, that does everything in its power to manifest a rosier view of life, without the planting of the groundwork first, without a visit to the caves, and to encourage the practice of denial in its followers. Conflict is an interesting word to me, because I want nothing more in my life than to live with some measure of peace of spirit, and it’s what I strive for every day, yet as a writer what I know for sure is that conflict is everything. There is no story without conflict. A story without conflict is just an ad. Exploration of the human condition, and that means conflict, is what any story should be. Sometimes that conflict is resolved in the story, but the more interesting ones really just pose questions that make us think, that give us varying perspectives, and that expand the palate of our understanding of the human race. That’s what the best writers do.
So, here’s the thing. Because I am a writer, and have a pretty specific opinion of what a writer should do, I tend to approach my own personal journey in the same way as I do my writing. By courting conflict. Not as a way to wallow, which brings to mind the Native American parable:
A grandfather says, “I feel as if I have two wolves fighting in my heart. One wolf is the vengeful, angry one. The other wolf is the loving, compassionate one.” When asked which wolf will win the fight in his heart, the old man replies, “The one I feed.”
It’s a wise parable. There is a danger to the spirit that wallows, because it is kept broken, and then we find ourselves just perpetually running with stuff, and letting it be the loop we’re in.
What I’m referring to is the wisdom in courting conflict as a means of transcending it, not denying it, but of being willing to face it, challenge it, figure out what it’s feeding to make it stick around. That one lodged in my head, like a mighty slap, from the Tony Robbins retreat I attended a couple of years ago.
Carl Jung from The Philosophical Tree says: “Filling the conscious mind with ideal conceptions is a characteristic of Western theosophy, but not the confrontation with the shadow and the world of darkness. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.”
And so I go back to the idea of our baggage being beneficial. It will always teach us something we need to learn. But only if we are willing to identify and face it. That’s where we stand the chance of transcending it. There isn’t a breakthrough in existence that wasn’t accompanied by some pain, but what comes out on the other side, always, is freedom. A freedom worth cultivating and renewing and re-strengthening every single day (I just quoted myself, again, this time from an earlier blog post).
Lately, I see a lot of seminars and courses on “healing yourself with….” fill in the blank with your preferred motif. And I’ll always look into them, because I’m always on a path. What I find in far too many, however, is a process of uncovering all the ills in your past that anyone else has ever inflicted on you, so that the blame can begin. The last part of that phrase is mine, and IS being judgmental, admittedly, because I do believe that’s what the bottom line of these modalities tends to be. Looking under everyone else’s hood except your own to find the culprit of your suffering and damage.
I’m not saying it’s illegitimate to identify an external source of harm to you. It’s important to do so. But it is only a part of the process. The pretty crucial other part is the courage it takes to identify our own complicity in our internal disrepair. Not to mention the harm we cause others. And we have all caused someone harm.
I have a friend, Frank Ferrante, who was recently the subject of a documentary called May I Be Frank. And there is a moment in the film, during his own battles with self, and ultimate transformation, when he recalls punching his younger brother badly in the ribs as a young boy. And he never even put it together that a constant and chronic pain in his own rib area, that he had been living with for years, might’ve actually been a manifestation of his guilt over that act. I do believe we carry our transgressions against others in our bodies as pain, sometimes even literal and physical. So when that moment of revelation happens for Frank in the movie, the first time I saw it I almost crumbled, myself, because I fundamentally understand and believe in the power of that kind of purgation. Going through the process is so ultimately purifying, even if painful, that it can’t help but begin to lift burdens, lighten our existence, and allow the door to be opened to a genuine peace of spirit and to happiness.
Frank was so brave to have walked the path illustrated in the documentary. And because of his bravery, he has experienced a jaw-dropping transformation of body and soul. It ain’t for sissies, this self-exploration stuff. But I believe in its absolute cruciality, toward the purpose of delivering oneself out of suffering and into a place of compassion, empathy, and peace.
In 2017, I…
Lost my father.
Lost my brother, too, in a manner of speaking.
Found my voice as a poet.
Found my brother.
Endured whiplash, of both the physical and the emotional brand.
Found a spiritual home for myself, for the first time ever.
Got spooked by the nature trail that had given me life.
Thought about my father.
Read some of the most amazing books of fiction, memoir, and poetry that I’ve ever read.
Lost my feline girl (though technically it was at the end of 2016, but it was THE moment that launched this longest year).
Blocked out the White Noise of the White House.
Watched my city burn, and a few others nearly drown, while feeling the haunting wail of a planet in trouble.
Witnessed the unfettered power of #metoo, and the spiritual vacuum cleaner that got unleashed.
Lost my brother again.
Bonded with family in an unprecedented and crucial way.
Found baby bro yet again.
Learned to love and let go in equal measure.
Re-learned it every single day.
Experienced pain and beauty in fairly even amounts.
Thought about my father.
Wrote about my father.
Conquered my fear of the nature trail (had to do with a bobcat sighting), and drew her into my bosom again, after nearly a year without her.
Lost more and more people, in too heartbreaking a number.
Had a talk with Death. It was a come-to-Jesus moment, with a few side-eyes between us.
Got back to yoga (how I missed you, old friend).
Did Goat yoga! (seriously, Google it)
Wrote my 1st short story.
Wrote my 118th short story…and 30 poems.
Deemed myself officially (if it’s not obvious by now) addicted, fixated, obsessed with words; an addiction from which I hope to never recover.
Submitted pieces like a mo-fo.
Never wavered. I am a poet. A wordsmith. Begone now, before someone drops a house on you!
Had/did/received loads of healing, of both the spiritual and the biological kind.
Grew more thankful, and more in love with the random nature of life (that helps in the forgiveness department).
Felt my age.
Killed a plant.
Made a movie with my orchestra (a very sick day, but too much irreverent fun).
Had the exhilarating honor to interview some amazing wellness-seeking human beings for a tiny documentary I made.
Had the exhilarating honor to be interviewed by a couple of amazing young women for a grand and extraordinary documentary that they made, with 2017 being the launching year for screenings all over the world. #thegoddessproject
Lived up to my hype.
Didn’t live up to my hype.
Failed my hype miserably.
Decided that hype was not a word worthy of my time.
Talked to my father, my mother, my stepfather, the ancestors, all those who have left this earth but are never far, and who give me living tips daily (sorry, Daddy, that you had to join the League of Gentle Council. Really thought you’d be the one to make it to 100).
Wrote these thoughts to usher out an old, and to usher in a new. To ritualize the idea of rebirth, renewal, and restoration, because I am a New Year’s baby, and so it is in my DNA to ritualize, to chant, to pray, to dance, to give auspiciousness to the concept of new beginnings and rites of passage, to participate in burning bowl rituals, to summon the rains and the gods, to burn sage, to close my eyes, shut off the valve and listen. Listen to the wind in the trees tell me what I need to know next, what I need to do next, how I need to sing next. And then I sing.
The very last thing I did in 2017 was sing. As it has been, since forever ago and auld lang syne. I sang, and sang.
And baby brother is home. Nestled in all the love his family has to give. We get to remember my father together.
All of us. Together.
Welcome 2018. Be nice now.
Happy Birthday Phone Message 1/1/92. Hilarious chaos ensues. But best of all, my father’s voice.
Dropping into my heart space today. And with that, the affirmation that I live in gratitude.
Every day that I awaken and breathe, I am thankful.
Every day that I think a thought, and feel my heart’s stirring, I am thankful.
Every day that I am upright and whole, I am thankful.
Every day that a creative and productive idea becomes solid matter, I am thankful.
Every day that I face that thing of which I am most afraid, I am thankful.
Every day that I am given awareness of the smallest of beauties, the most unsung of treasures, I am thankful.
Every day that I am enlightened, given insight, have an epiphany, I am thankful.
Every day that I exercise compassion, understanding, patience, empathy, I am thankful.
Every day that I encounter another living creature and engage, I am thankful.
Every day that I can have some time to myself, for quiet and reflection, I am thankful.
Every day that I am hugged, kissed, loved, I am thankful.
Every day that I laugh, or make someone else laugh, I am thankful.
Every day that the people I love are healthy and happy, I am thankful.
Every day that my friends do well in the world, I am thankful.
Every day that I change someone’s life, or someone changes mine, I am thankful.
Every day that love is evident in my life, I am thankful.
Every day that I act out of anger, impatience, frustration, a broken heart, I am thankful. For each affliction offers an opportunity to learn about myself, and my fellow seeker.
Every day that brings me a challenge that tests my spirit, I am thankful.
Every day that I am humbled by a mistake of my own doing, I am thankful. Why else do our mistakes exist?
Every day that I am faced with seemingly unbearable odds, unrelenting trials, I am thankful. For the lessons learned, and the spirit strengthened by them, are more valuable to me than if I were living an effortless life.
Every day that I try, I am thankful.
Every day that I try again, I am thankful.
And when they ask me what’s new? I will answer, every single day. Because every single day that arrives brings a sun, a moon, a breath, a surprise, a blessing, a song, whether sung or heard, and the spiritual ear to hear it, a world of love at my fingertips, a capacity for hope, a reason to smile, an opportunity to repair, restore, renew, and a heart full of gratitude.
And may my most powerful prayer from this day forward be … NOT … “Dear God, please give me …” But two words, and two words only: THANK YOU.