Inventory

Inventory Banner

I recently took inventory of all my spiritual “stuff.”  The list is quite impressive.

Mantra flash cards (I’ve collected lots of melodic, mineral rich Sanskrit chants from my time with a Kirtan ensemble and other spiritual pursuits).
Beautifully upholstered zafu & matching zabuton sets.
Mala prayer beads (including a set given to me by the Dalai Lama).
Incense.
Candles.
Crystals, healing stones, and heart rocks.
Essential oils.
Mandalas.
Tibetan singing bowls.
Trickling Zen fountains.
Bundles of roped sage for smudging and cleansing.
Mesmerizing music and recorded “om”s.
Stone works and wood carvings and figurines of the Buddha, Ganesha, Kwan Yin,
St. Francis, and my beloved om (I even have an om tattoo).
And finally, dog-eared stacks of all the most penetrating writings of Thich Nhat Hanh, and Pema Chodron, and Eckhardt Tolle, et al.

It all serves something for me.  Much of it helps me open a door that might’ve been otherwise stuck.  My visceral reaction to a certain symbol or image can powerfully operate as just the conduit needed.  What all of it legitimately does is generate an energy and environment of serenity, and a constant reminder of my path. And I’m grateful enough for that.

However, if I’m not careful, these props (the only word I can think of to call them) can also act as a crutch.  And this is where I find it’s time to take serious stock and inventory.

I have been a meditator for years now. And most recently a Kirtan chanter with a lovely group.  There is nothing more meaningful to me than participating in meditational rituals, such as the winter solstice labyrinth I walked this past winter with a group of like-minded seekers at the spiritual center I call home.   And the props can often be an integral part of ritual (chanting 108 repetitions of a mantra with the use of mala beads, or clanging 3 dings of the singing bowls in order to sign in and out of a practice.)

But I look at all the stuff, and I wonder if they aren’t merely being collected to cocoon me from the world, the harsh elements, the stings of life.

My stone Buddha that I bought at a statuary in Glendale two decades ago is so pretty.  So is the one I keep beneath my father’s easel. And the laughing one that sits on my bookshelf surrounded by Jack Kornfield books.  And the one I painted a flower on at Color Me Mine.  And the one that’s holding his hands in gyan mudra.  A couple of them were gifts from people who know my penchant, and I treasure them.  They exist in such quantity all around my modest apartment that they’ve sort of formed a club: Angela’s Guards at the Gate.

And my collection of mala prayer beads is quite something.  But how many of them do I actually use to meditate with?  My meditations are usually silent ones, so my beads really just lie around my apartment, beautifully draped on this or that, in order to create the funky, Zen, hippie-girl-flower-child ambience that is the reputation I most embrace.

And the heart rocks.  I’m always looking for them whenever I walk my nature trail.  I’ve amassed a little bit of a collection, along with every different shape and kind of crystal, and the garnet nugget (my birthstone) that I found encased but subtly peering out from sediment.  These beauties give me comfort.  And the illusion of safety.

I wear my brass Ganesha figurine in a medicine pouch (a beautiful velvet beaded one, of course) around my neck or in a pocket, because Ganesha is the remover of obstacles according to the Hindu religion.  He has never directly removed any of my obstacles, nor do I actually think there is wisdom in believing that all obstacles can be removed.  There is a divine design in obstacles.  Some are meant for us to clear, some not.  All are meant to provide a lesson, if we’re willing and open.  Nevertheless, I keep my sweet Ganesha close to my heart because he comforts.  The illusion of safety.

I imbue meaning on every prop, every trinket, because managing and navigating my life without that armor is maybe just a little too much to consider.

If I were to truly strip down my spiritual journey to its most basic element, I would have to say it’s about management. The buzz word in my spiritual community these days is mindfulness.  But mindfulness isn’t, as is often misunderstood, a state of perfect reaction. We’ll never be perfect reactors.  We’ll have our moments of groundedness interspersed with those other moments of knee-jerk responses, defensiveness, anger, even deceit. And we’ll consider the time when those start to be outweighed by Right Speech and Right Behavior as success! We’re practicing mindfulness!  When the truth is, we’ll always experience both, in probably fairly equal amounts, all throughout our lives. Mindfulness isn’t a banishment of those unskillful moments. Mindfulness is paying attention to all of it. Learning to identify the source of the less benevolent traits, and to offer them as much of our understanding, patience and goodwill as when we get it right.

I recently said to a friend, a fellow meditator, that I had all but abandoned my meditation practice because of some family stresses that were rather consuming, and that I hadn’t been able to get in gear with it. And I was saying it to him as a kind of self-indictment confession. His response to me was, “well, sure, cuz shit comes up. And when life is already feeling very full of it, sometimes the idea of more is too much.  That’s okay.”

And that’s the thing. Meditation isn’t meant to be a cushion (though it sometimes serves exactly that).  It is meant to strip down, to uncover, and to lay bare.  And all it takes is an agenda of NOTHING, and some silence.  That can be hard to do, but is just that simple.  So, all the trinkets, the doo-dads, the Buddhas, the beads, the oils, the crystals, ad infinitum …. perhaps as a way to that place of commitment?

Just be mindful of when practices of cocooning are present. No judgments. Just notice. Carry on.  

That’s the voice that speaks to me every time I feel the need to bring something new and shiny and pretty into my home “for meditation.”

Because truth time?   All the stuff is perfectly fine.  I love collecting beautiful and meaning things.  But naked.  Empty room.  Hard floor.  Stink from the nearby sewer system.  Noise from the neighbors.   No serene music.  No mesmerizing candlelight.  No cloak of protection.  Nothing.  Just breath.  And meditation is still possible.  Being present is still possible.  Living by spiritual principles is still possible.

Sit.

Be still.

Close my eyes.

Breathe in.

Breathe out.

Notice everything.

Accept every notice without judgment.

When judgment comes – and it will – notice that too.

Repeat.

 

 

 

 

Angela Carole Brown is a published author, a recipient of the Heritage Magazine Award in poetry, and has produced several albums as a singer/songwriter, and a yoga/mindfulness CD. Bindi Girl Chronicles is her writing blog.   Follow her on INSTAGRAM & YOUTUBE.

The Sanctuary Project

“Every little thing is gonna be alright.” – Bob Marley

 

I recently spent several months with my iPhone camera amassing footage of my posing a simple question to people I encountered.  Some friends, some strangers.  I wasn’t exactly sure what I would find on this little journey, but I knew it could only be inspiring.  The desire to do this came upon me long before situations in my personal life became unexpectedly dire, and suddenly the project went from being fun to urgent.  Add to that a concerning world landscape presently in our midst, and there blossomed this resonant anchor to the question of where we go for our sense of sanctuary.

Take a look at some of the answers I was blessed to witness, and then take a moment, or several, to think about your own.  Never has there been a more crucial time to turn inward and build practices or rituals that help to assuage suffering.

Featuring a beautiful musical underscoring by my dear friend & composer Chris Hardin, and a diverse group of individuals (from a prison inmate to a Buddhist monk) bravely willing to open their hearts and share.  I invite you to enjoy The Sanctuary Project.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Angela Carole Brown is a published author, a recipient of the Heritage Magazine Award in poetry, and has produced several albums as a singer/songwriter, and a yoga/mindfulness CD. Bindi Girl Chronicles is her writing blog.   Follow her on INSTAGRAM & YOUTUBE.

 

Belligerent Romance : song. heart. bravery.

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“…the only answer is to recklessly discard more armor.”
― Eric Maisel

 

I re-post this every year.  An anniversary of sorts.  So, if you’ve been down this road, please bear with me.  If not, enjoy.

On this morning 8 years ago, I was awakened rudely by construction in the neighborhood. I fought it for a time, but eventually gave in and hastened my exercise gear on. I got myself outside for a good walking meditation, and couldn’t get Hans’ song out of my head.

Angela.

There are actually lots of songs with my name in the title. The music from the television show Taxi is actually called Angela’s Theme. There’s Helen Reddy’s Angie Baby. Of course, the Stones’ iconic Angie. The Bee Gees have a song. Even Motley Crue, stealing lines from Hendrix’s The Wind Cries Mary with their own “when the winds cry Angela” lyric.

It can be heady, this idea of your name inspiring song after song, but then again none of them were written for me. So, how heady can I really get?

Until Hans. I was to be giving him a kidney in just two more days. This anticipated event had dragged out for nine excruciating bureaucratic months. My best friend pointed out the symbolic time frame as indicative of a kind of birth. But now it was finally arriving, and both of us (Hans and I) were bouncing off the walls in our own way. Me, I’d been doing these walking meditations every day for a month solid in preparation. It was equal parts exercise (I really hoofed it) and opportunity to live with my own thoughts before my day officially began with and in the world; to level myself and clear out my brain for the big day. I chanted, I did mantras, I worked out problems, I talked myself down from ledges, I rationalized behavior, I asked for forgiveness, I defended myself in imaginary arguments, and I thanked the Forces That Be for everything.

But on the walk 8 years ago today, all that activity got shoved to the various corners and crannies of my obsessive brain to make room for memories of the night before, going to see Hans play his guitar in a coffee house, and open his set with Angela . . . written for me.

Interestingly enough, almost all of the romantic relationships I’ve ever had have been with musicians and composers, and yet none of them has ever written a song for me. It is either a great poetic juxtaposition, or a really unsettling indication of the impact I have on the people I’m involved with. Of course, I’m also a songwriter, and I’ve never written a song for any one of them either. So, okay, maybe all it indicates is that every one of us is jaded and crusty and we’ve lost all sense of romance and inspiration.

Picasso painted every woman he ever fell for. What has happened to that kind of belligerent romance? The terrible compulsion to celebrate another human being?

So, hearing this song, sung by teenager Hans and his girlfriend and the drummer in his band, was a moment that had left me speechless and tearful. A moment that had made me realize that inspiration and romance do still exist…. they’re just hiding among the young. And if we still want to be touched by it, then the young are who we need to surround ourselves with.

So there I was, walking my regular route in the neighborhood, and trying to chant my daily mantra, which usually began with “Love, reign over me…” (I have tended to find much more prayerful intention in rock songs than I’ve ever found from anything biblical.) “ . . . make me mindful . . . give me grace . . . deliver me from need . . . fill me with wonder . . . ” etc. Sometimes I chanted for winning the lottery, but I do get that that’s not really how it works, and so those requests always came with tongue firmly planted in cheek. But on that morning I didn’t care about money or enlightenment.

On that morning, I was intoxicated by having had a song written for me, for the first time in my life. I felt like Marie-Thérèse, or Anaïs Nin, or Beethoven’s “immortal beloved”; women who have been painted, written about, composed for, dedicated symphonies. I highly recommend it. Being someone’s muse. It’s a high like no other.

As I walked, I completely tuned out the music that was blasting through the iPod buds wedged in my ear. Explanation: It’s easier for me to do my mantras against music; it’s a deliberate sensory overload; somehow things just stick themselves deeper in the subconscious when they’re too overloaded to have surface impact. It didn’t matter that day anyway; I had abandoned my Pete Townsend-inspired mantra and my downloaded pop tunes, to be flooded with Hans’ song. Or rather, the idea of Hans’ song.

A complete stranger who was walking my way held her palm up, and shouted “high five” as we passed each other. I obliged. First time I’d ever been accosted in that way. And I thought of this woman’s completely loopy bravery. Just to infiltrate a perfect stranger’s sphere, for a split second, and engage. What if I had refused her? Treated her the way we treat the bag ladies who pass us by? I wouldn’t be brave enough to throw my loopiness out there in that way; too afraid of rejection, of having someone look at me like I was nuts. And then I thought of the oddly shaped angle that I was practically on the eve of having surgeons cut me open and pull a kidney out of my body, yet here I was assured that I would’ve been too afraid to be silly on the street with a passing stranger. Which one really takes more bravery?

It takes a special kind of bravery to write a song for somebody. It takes letting down one’s cool guard and daring to show a little vulnerability. Letting the world peek into your opened and exposed heart. And most especially, letting the person for whom the song is written peek into your heart, daring to let them know that you feel, and that they have impacted your life enough to inspire public song.

I once had a boyfriend, a brilliant composer, who, with me, was one day listening to a song written by a friend of ours with a woman’s name in the title. He said, “I don’t think I could write a song with some woman’s name in the title.” He said this with a kind of pride in the claim. I felt sad for him. And sad for myself, as well, because I think that claim was my truth too. We’re all just too cool. Vulnerability is not attractive.

Leonard Bernstein’s Maria, from “Westside Story”, a song of truly loopy and delirious love.

Tom Waits’ Martha, an invocation of sweet, melancholy reminiscence.

The Beatles’ Michelle.

Elton John’s Daniel.

Brian’s Song.

Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair.

The list goes on, and on, and encouragingly on. Who knows which of these is based on an actual person, or is merely the playground of fiction? And who cares? Either one still requires a level of unadulterated celebration, and a willingness to abandon cool, which makes someone ultra-cool in my book.

Hans is brave. He is brave to be a musician, going out there in the world for the scrutiny of the jaded. He is brave to have withstood years of debilitating dialysis, countless surgeries, stem cell experiments, catheters and fistulas implanted beneath his skin, and finally a transplant. But perhaps the bravest act of all was his daring to expose his great heart in so many ways, only one tiny example of which was the writing of a song entitled Angela.

 

(Two days later, on July 22, 2008, I successfully donated my kidney to Hans San Juan, at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, in Los Angeles, and Hans has been healthy ever since.)

 

 

 

 

 

Angela Carole Brown is a published author, a recipient of the Heritage Magazine Award in poetry, and has produced several albums as a singer/songwriter, and a yoga/mindfulness CD. Bindi Girl Chronicles is her writing blog.   Follow her on INSTAGRAM & YOUTUBE.

A Mountaintop Moment


She was not allowed to hurt anymore today.

 

 

 

 
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.

 

Yes, Said She

Yes, said she

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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 at 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 that higher seventh chakra 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, you may be 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 awhile now is that there are far more meals 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 consistently so, 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 apartment windowsill pots of mint and basil alive.  But if the means exists, I can’t think of a more perfect way to cultivate a sense of the sacred than nurturing one’s food from seed, 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, I choose to shop on the end aisles where all the unprocessed, unrefined, LIVE 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 in 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, and the rest of my body into a precious, godly vessel.
  1. Eating without distraction. And instead, putting my focus on the ritual itself.  Appreciating every bite, every swallow; once again, the 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 full 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, if I’m eating alone. Doing nothing except eating my meal is essentially a meditation. And while I’ve been an ardent meditator for many years, this 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 this 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-abusing habits among my musician cohorts.  I learned to be a fast eater, and then the habit stuck even beyond being on a gig.  This 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.

Spiritual Algorithm: A Prescription For What Ails In 8 Steps

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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?”

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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. Whether deity or principle, it will show up for every individual on the planet, and 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 overhead 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.

 

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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.