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.

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An Elm & Houston Revelation

Elm & Houston Epiphany copy

 

Last week, for me, saw four intensive days in seminar with the iconic Tony Robbins and his “Unleash the Power Within” doctrine.  If you’re not familiar, look him up on YouTube. There are hundreds of lectures, TED Talks, etc, on the man.  If you ARE familiar, I’ve found, you’re either behind him with a sense of devotion that just about any other motivational speaker out there would be hard pressed to rival, or you’ve concluded that he’s a modern day Jim Jones. I find almost no one who has a tepid reaction to him.

Yes, I did the firewalk.  No, I was not injured.  Yes, it gave me a high like nothing else, for what it was designed to symbolize; the power to accomplish anything, even the seemingly impossible, a subject-matter I am painfully intimate with.  I had a personal stake in doing this.  And it delivered.

And finally, yes, we’re talking about the same UPWDallas2016 that blitzkrieged the news on the firewalk night. “Hundreds burned in failed Tony Robbins Firewalk!” As someone who was there, I can vouch for the real thing being nowhere near as dramatic or perilous as the coverage made it out to be, because, of course, “if it bleeds it leads.”

Dallas is a city I’ve barely been to, in all of my many trips to Texas.  It’s usually been a case of flying in or out of DFW and picking up connections to other destinations.  So in preparing to come to this city for the Robbins conference, on my menu of intentions was to visit Dealey Plaza, the site of the assassination of JFK. I really have a thing for visiting these kinds of historical landmarks, and this one especially has been on my list to visit, because our nation changed radically after (perhaps even as a result of) the assassination that day in 1963.

We only had the last day in town, after the seminar was over, to check it out thoroughly, though we did actually run across it by accident on the first night of the seminar.  The friend I was traveling with, and I, had decided to walk a few blocks away from the Convention Center to get our Uber, since eight thousand other people were all trying to get back to their hotels too. And at a certain point, a few blocks into our midnight walk (the night of the firewalk, so we were already on a kind of high), my friend suddenly stopped in his tracks, looked around, as if he was lost, and then said “I think this is it.” “What?” “Yeah,” he continued, ignoring me. He then proceeded to stroll across a grassy knoll (I’m still not catching on), and pointed to an X in the street. “This is where Kennedy was shot.”

It was a quiet night.  Clear sky.  Bright moon.  I was already open-veined and euphoric, because I’d walked on hot coals tonight, baby!  And I had not burned my feet, because I had applied the fierce focus and intention taught us earlier that evening.  And it was not a parlor trick; the coals were freaking hot.  And so, when everything finally came into dawning for me, and I saw the corner street signs of Houston and Elm, and the picket fence where the fourth bullet had allegedly come from, and the building formerly known as the Texas Book Depository, I stood there, having just experienced something rather larger-than-life, and cried a little, just to myself, at this other larger-than-life historical ground zero.  It was an eerie and haunting thing to stumble upon by accident at midnight.  We spent a bit of time there, as one does, then called for our Uber.  And then proceeded to end every night of the conference with the same agenda.

So, by the time we got to our last day in town, and had the seminar firmly behind us, and had a cousin of mine who lives in town escorting us for the day, to go experience this thing in the daylight, do the museum, and be official tourists, we had already experienced it the way everyone should, I’ve now concluded.  The midnight visit had been a sacred, internal moment that had allowed me to feel that bit of history in an intimate and private way, and to have an emotional reaction to it.  In the light of day, it was an entirely different experience.  All the opportunists were out in droves, selling their bogus copies of “the actual newspaper headline from The Dallas Morning News!” and their angle on what really happened that day.  Every wild theory was flying out of the mouths of the carnival barkers, creating a cacophony of chatter that was almost musical.

And then a most interesting thing happened.  One such barker that I was standing near, and trying to listen to, as he explained to a huddle of tourists about the fatal shot, couldn’t’ve been more than 50 years old, and yet was saying things like, “and that’s when we all hit the deck, and then ran across here behind the picket fence…”  He then pointed to a blurred figure, in a crowd of other blurred figures, in an old, dog-eared photograph he was holding, with the doomed presidential motorcade in the foreground, and said, “that’s me.”  Even though blurred, the figure he was pointing to was clearly an adult, someone who was not an infant, which, at a stretch, is the only way this guy could’ve potentially been present at this 53-year-old moment in history.  So yeah, we were dealing with crazy, I concluded, and he officially lost my interest in listening any longer.

From a distance, however, I continued to stare at him do his thing.  I sort of couldn’t take my eyes away, because I was suddenly reminded of the most profound thing that I had learned from Tony Robbins during his game-changing seminar intensive.  That all of our problems, struggles, dysfunctions, etc., exist and linger because they serve a need.  And as long as they continue to provide a benefit, they will not be repaired.  There is something that they fulfill.  I remembered that one stopping me dead in my tracks on, I want to say, Day 2 of this thing.  And so, as I stared at this man, who was more likely mentally ill than a simple con man, I was suddenly softened from the earlier eye-rolling, head-shaking, dismissive stance I’d taken against him, and wondered what need his story was fulfilling for him.  A sense of significance in a world that had rendered him insignificant?  Combating a crippling loneliness by surrounding himself with people who could potentially find awe in his story, and him?  Whatever the benefit was, it certainly wasn’t a financial one, since everyone around him had him nailed, and no one was buying his story, or his wares.  Yet they were continuing to hang on his every word, because crazy is entertaining.  And it was at that moment that I realized I would probably never look at any other situation again, neither another’s nor my own, without asking that question:  What need does this serve?

That changes the whole playing field, doesn’t it?

There is a plethora, a right worthy grocery list, to be honest, of struggles and hiccups that my own personal growth seems to be bombarded with these days.  Much of which I’ve chalked up to a case of what I do, or don’t, deserve.  Or I chalk up a certain behavior, which is nonetheless frustrating for me, to being a hardwiring.

For example, one sentence I’ve claimed for years as part of my story: I’ve spent my life not being picked.  Or at least believing, always, in that outcome (which pretty much means it’s guaranteed).  Case in point:  My boyfriend in 8th grade literally moved on from me to someone else without a word my way.  How I found out was when his “new thing” and I were racing against each other in a track meet.  The girl had actually been my friend, and the boyfriend and I had not had a single conflict, so while I get kids just moving on from each other thoughtlessly, I never understood the venal nature of the moment.  He stood at the starting line where she and I were poised to run the 50-yard dash, and he muttered, but for everyone to hear, “Beat her, Albertine!  Beat her good!” Albertine didn’t win that race that day.  I did.  But it gave me no pleasure in the victory, because I was also the one beaten.  I didn’t understand my breed, and I didn’t get what I had done so heinous to have deserved such malevolence.  Today I can see clearly how that one incident has been so indelibly stamped on me that I have always tended to enter into an agreement with isolation and outsidership.

I’ve just thought of it as a hardwiring, a simple case of, “This is who I am. I don’t fit into circles and clubs.” But here’s the danger in that; chalking anything up to a hardwiring presupposes that there’s nothing that can be done about it.  It takes the power (if it’s a plight we’re actually interested in fixing) right out of our hands.

And if I have taken nothing else away from this seminar, I have taken with me a new understanding that any emotional baggage we have only sticks around, and is given momentum, because there is a need it serves.  That one just blew my head right open.  Done.  Brains on the dashboard.  Blood and guts everywhere.  Absolutely nothing I’ve ever learned in my years’ long pursuit of self-examination has made more sense than that.

And so, rather than tossing off my penchants for outsidership, for example, as a hardwiring I can do nothing about, I need to figure out what the role of outsider in my life has been serving all this time.

One thing I know for sure is that it’s been a bit of a badge of honor.  I do love my solitude, and marching to my own drummer, and I have a natural penchant toward inward-turning and contemplation.  So, what it’s feeding is pretty obvious.  But it’s also a dubious badge, as there is always an overtone of loneliness and missed opportunity that is a part of the outsider landscape.  So, maybe it also feeds a kind of “poor me” comfort?  I’m not sure yet, but there is so much to play with here.  So much to discover, to answer for myself, so many lids to pry open, so that maybe I actually stand a chance of delivering myself from some of these frustrations, and finally give myself the permission to pursue just exactly what I want in this life.

As for Crazy Grassy Knoll Man, he will likely remain who he is, though we never know who or what comes along to change our state, and our stake.  But my attitude toward him (once I got past the stun of him cursing me out for not buying any of his wares) became more compassionate and empathetic to the battles that must be his, the battles we all experience to varying degrees of crazy.  And to know that there is an answer, somewhere, somehow, for every one of us.  I just want to be that little sprite whispering into Crazy Grassy Knoll Man’s ear, “I see you.  You are seen.”

This was merely one of fifty hours worth of ideas that were drilled into our heads by Tony Robbins during his four days of exhaustive saturation.  I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface on what this seminar did for me.  And honestly, I’m not sure I’m meant to share any more of the experience than this one example, because it was such a deeply intimate odyssey for me, one of identifying belief systems, and transforming them.  It was so intimate, in fact, that when my friend and I couldn’t get a seat together on Day One, we ended up not doing any part of the seminar together, as it was nice not having to be self-conscious around each other.  And that was easy enough to accomplish, in a sea of eight thousand people.  We just met up on dinner breaks and when it was over each day.  We didn’t even witness each others’ firewalk.  Instead, upon completion of the walk, I cheered for my triumph with the people around me, who were all doing the same, a communal pep rally.  New bonds got formed.  In fact, my firewalk partner and I decided to remain friends.  The experience was intimate and expansive at the same time.

I’ve been changed by this four-day event, that’s for sure. To what degree will be discovered in the days to come, as I venture forth to apply these tools and get out of my own way.  But I don’t think I truly got hit with that feeling of difference until my revelatory moment on the corner of Elm Street and Houston, the same corner that was John F. Kennedy’s last.  A setting ripe with ghosts and guile.  And maybe even a little grace.

 

 

Dedicated to my dear friend Ross Wright,
who gave me the gift of this experience,
went through it with me,
and who roots for me always.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 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! So, 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 still 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, all that really means is that the tire covered a whole lot of great road.  And I truly am 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.

One more quick story, but it’ll tell you everything about my penchant for this kind of writing. When I was an early teen, I saw a movie where a band of ski-masked looters burst into a fancy gala, and held the entire party up with rifles, and had everyone strip down to their delicates, so that their jewels, furs, and wallets could be raided. It was a scene that mortified me, and has remained as a lodged nugget of anxiety in the back of my brain ever since. This idea of being exposed, of having all of one’s bodily flaws and secrets stripped down for everyone else in the room to judge, laugh at, and shame. Here’s the light bulb though. Everyone else in the room is in the exact same vulnerable circumstance, even if, in that instant for you, there is only you. I’ve revisited that scene so often that it’s beyond counting, and yet I can’t even recall the film itself. Telling our stories is a bit like that. If we’re honest, we expose more than what advances the agenda of being totally together. And while that idea can be terrifying, it is also brave to do so in this present culture of spin and image consciousness. And a remarkable unburdening has the chance to occur, because the world of public opinion will instantly assure us that we are not alone. And by that process, we are not only unburdened, but connected. For me, there is no greater purpose in telling our stories.

There isn’t a breakthrough in existence that isn’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 storms (as symbolic as they were 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’s song Anthem 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.

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

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“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.

 

lotus_flower_lineart

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.

Refractions of Light: My Quandary with Memoir

picasso-girl-before-a-mirror2

Look in the mirror.   And tell the story.

To write or not to write the memoir is a topic often bandied about; and usually what’s discussed or debated are the ethics of such an endeavor.  James Frey’s  A Million Little Pieces  is probably the best-known controversy in recent publishing history.  He created a national scandal, even involving Oprah, by pushing the envelope on the ethics of telling the truth.  Lauren Slater purposely challenges our notions of truth versus embellishment versus downright deception, in her book  Lying: A Metaphorical Memoir,  by questioning whether fact equals truth, or is just one by-product of many that delivers a truth.   Charles Mingus’  Beneath the Underdog  doesn’t read like memoir at all, but like the most artful turn of poetry, at once urbane and plebeian, which has begged the question:  Just how “creative” is his memoir?   Yes, loads have been written and discussed on the subject.

I confess to being baffled at all the uproar Frey’s book created.  I once wrote a novel, a piece of fiction, that was told in first person from a child’s standpoint.   And at one juncture in its development I had toyed with the playful enough conceit of calling it a biography “as told to Angela Carole Brown.”   And with, frankly, never the intent to genuinely deceive a public, as it would all, by design, come out in the wash, and just be this piece of fiction turned on fiction’s ear.   But at the time I was considering it, the idea seemed harmless enough while achieving that sense of urgency that a true story intrinsically has on the psyche.   It never even occurred to me that such a conceit could be somehow profoundly damaging to culture, as I am someone who believes that truth does not always equal fact.  A universal truth can be unveiled in the very best of fiction.   So, yes, I was a bit puzzled over the degree of James Frey’s “crime.”   Yes, he exaggerated his story.   What exactly did that take away from us?

One of the rumors I’d heard throughout this scandal was that Frey had originally submitted his manuscript to the publisher as fiction, because though it had come from his own experience he admitted to greatly embellishing, and therefore thought it was best to submit it that way, and that it was his editor who suggested it would be more marketable as a memoir.  Whether or not that rumor is true, I think the greater point here is just how easy it is for a “true story” to be rendered true, false, real, deception, whatever, merely by the way in which it is framed.   And that perhaps Truth isn’t subject to perception and window dressing, but is the oak beneath it.

I have my own quandary with the memoir, but it looks nothing like the above.  Because though, as I’ve said, I never really saw the injury in James Frey’s “true” story, this article is not about to be some confession that I , too, have written a lie and called it memoir.  No, I have not done so.  And I’m not saying, by my take on the Frey scandal, that I’m a proponent of deception.  He exaggerated some details.  A memoir is supposed to be the truth.   I get that.  Only that perhaps Frey’s deception really didn’t merit the public slaughter it received.   He wasn’t writing a history book.  He was sharing his own personal experience for the greater purpose of the message it had to offer.

I only even bother to mention this particular avenue of the dialogue on memoir, and my take on it, because to write a piece on the memoir and not to acknowledge its most road-tread of avenues would be to plant an elephant right in this room.   And no, I never did publish the “biography as told to Angela Carole Brown,” nor in its pre-published state have I remained with the idea of that conceit.  To be honest, the reason I abandoned the idea (which was only a momentary entertaining anyway) is because such a gimmick would only distract from a story I believe is compelling on its own merits.   Its day will come.

Here, finally, is my quandary.  As a writer, I am primarily a novelist.   It’s only been in recent years that I have even begun to entertain the notion of the memoir.  And what I know about myself is that my issues with self-value have often created a twisted knot of identity assertion and confusion whenever I have entertained that notion.

Simply put, I’ve lived in the belief, for my entire writing life, that memoir was reserved for people in the public eye.  After all, why would anyone’s story be interesting to a total stranger unless it was that total strangers already know who you are, and this is, after all, a culture of fame-worship?  The irony here is that most of the memoirs I’ve read were written by writers who had not been especially well-known prior to a publisher finding something powerful in their story and taking it on.   And yet, the belief in me seems to be gravely deep-seated, and likely more a reflection of my own self-worth than anything.

I’ve generally tended to journal.  But I’ve never been that person who opens the notebook ritualistically at the end of every day lived, dates the log entries, and into the golden years can boast volumes upon volumes of my life on paper. No.  It’s been erratic and sporadic at best.  Something just hits me as worthy of documenting.  And I may not be hit again for several years.

The first of those incidents in my life that I felt strongly enough about documenting, in a way that I could easily envision as a book, was the death of my mother.  It was, however, almost a decade after her passing before I felt clear enough to unfold it in the written form.  It’s a book that I’ve more or less finished, though I’m not quite ready to put it into the world yet, and the reasons are more personal than they are about marketing and pacing strategies.

What continues to fascinate me is that the entire time I was writing it, a balls-to-the-wall battle was going on between my two selves: the Left Self, we’ll call her, who argued that everyone has a story, and every story has value not only for the one living it, but in the written form to be shared with others; that every story has a lesson, a light bulb, a dawning, to offer, if written with authenticity and purity of goal.  Every story has universality.

Right Self argued that no one cares about your story if you haven’t already made a name for yourself; that our present culture just doesn’t operate any other way.  And who do you think you are, anyway, to think anyone should care about your story?  That it’s only delusions of grandeur and self-importance that would make any writer think that her unknown life holds any interest for the average reader of books.  So stop being so narcissistic and wallowing up your own ass, and write a great piece of fiction, instead, that will be universal enough to resonate with an audience.

Well, fiction IS what I’ve generally tended to write.  And while I’ve always been a proponent of the idea that (though fictional) a great novel carries truth within it, just as I said above, I also believe that memoir is a very different animal indeed, and has a place.  The question for me became, does it have a place documenting Joe Blow’s ordinary life?

While these two Selves warred, I trudged forward, anyway, with my first stab at memoir.  Because something in me believed that my story had a message for the world.  One about the layered complexity of the mother/daughter dynamic.  One that examines grief in all its nuances and bumps.

Right Self, of course, just kept whispering, “self-indulgent.  Who cares!  You aren’t the first to write about grief.  And only the grief of Joan Didion or Frank McCourt or Edwidge Danticat is going to fetch an audience.  Go work yours out in therapy.”

Right Self had a point.  But I kept on writing, kept on trying to defend Left Self’s creed.

Since the writing of my grief memoir, which still sits on the proverbial shelf, I’ve written one other, not counting all those journal entries over the years of isolated mini-stories and experiences, which has been published.  I felt a little more qualified to write that one, though that idea discombobulates my brain because the fact is I am qualified to write about any part of my life.  It’s my life.  Who knows it better?  Yet clearly I am still being influenced by Right Self in determining whether I have a worthy story, and by extension a worthy life.  Isn’t that really what’s going on, Angela?  So I guess what I mean to say is that I was finally writing about something that might count as sensational and unique in the eyes of a society that craves sensational and unique, whereas death and loss and grief is not especially.

I’m truly bothered that I allow myself to reduce my merits to that graph; but, well, there it is.  The point of all this (all this being a good chunk of why I write) is to work that out.  I’ve already been writing, already producing content.  Now I’m just bobbing around in the waters of trying to get read, and trying to figure out the puzzle of how to get that done when I am not Joan Didion.

In any case, my unique story (the second stab at memoir) is that I donated a kidney to someone who might’ve died without it.  I saved a life.  This wasn’t done for sensationalism, but it was sensational, in every sense of the word, and in anyone’s book.  Yet what I wrote about was not the “hair-raising” or “breathtaking” aspect of such a deed.  All the adjectives any good sell-line MUST have these days.  The real story is about how the deed managed to save my life too, as I had been living in a profound spiritual malaise at the time this need presented itself.  And so it is the story of an ordinary and flawed human being struggling through the landmines of life.  Not about heroism.

And that’s when I realized that I was writing a book, yet again, that had Right Self’s eyes rolling.

“Who cares about your self-exploration!”

Right Self is mean.  But then so is the world.

I also now really understand my relatively new penchant for writing about myself, after years of writing fiction.  Because when I look back on the grief memoir that sits on the shelf, waiting for polishing  –  and courage  –  I realize that my flaws as a human being are not only on parade in that one too, just like with the kidney book, but truly are the nucleus of all my stories, it seems.  And it is suddenly clear to me that the gravity of my need to tell MY stories exists as a way of granting permission for my life to be made valid, and my flaws to be expunged if not transformed.

The act of storytelling, and my own stories specifically, may well be of no interest to anyone who doesn’t personally know me, but it is first and foremost, for me, an act of healing.

Now here’s where I will chest-spread.  I also believe that such an act of storytelling requires a special kind of bravery.  And I think what separates the women from the girls is the ability to resist self-aggrandizement in the writing, to look in the mirror, and to tell the story.

Of course, there are those who would say that the very instinct to write a memoir, in and of itself, is pretty self-aggrandizing.   Well, that’ll have to be.    It still requires walking a road many would shudder away from.

I read quite a bit of memoir when I was preparing for writing my first one, especially those dealing with grief.  There were the ones I was floored by, like Dave Eggers’ A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, and the Lauren Slater book.   These were examples of startling perspicacity, the very seed of the brave and gnarly self-reveal.

And then there were the ones that were so much “Isn’t my life blessed?  Even with all its precious dilemmas?  Don’t you wish it was yours?” that I could barely get through them without choking on the propaganda.  I won’t name them; I’m not interested in being cruel.  But they were such obvious cases of fear and inability to see the pearl in authentic confrontation with the shadow that I felt deeply for the writers, if not the writing.

William Giraldi speaks in a recent Poets & Writers issue, an article on Louise Gluck, of knowing oneself en route to becoming oneself.  That “the facts of any life are impotent and ineffectual until literature intercedes, until it takes hold of those facts and twists them into the light, casting a refraction that allows us to glimpse them anew.”1

From the same article comes a quotation from Stanley Kunitz: “The empty ones are those who do not suffer their selfhood.” 2

I see both of these sentiments as revering the act of vigilant self-inquiry and the level of courage it takes to face Self, and to mean that only through that kind of bravery can any writing truly arrive at an important place.

So, my question is, could bravery possibly count as a worthy enough star in the memoirs of the unknown?  Might that be my sole hope for believing that I could tell my stories to an audience that would bother with me?

Or is the better question:  Should I care?

Maybe I should just be writing.  And healing.  And sharing the experience.  Because the experience of leaping out from a prison of the internal through words is like nothing else I can describe.   For all the criticism that both of these writers have received in their writing careers, I imagine that James Frey and Lauren Slater, both, understand that sense of liberation.  And I suspect there are resonant ears and eyes out there, just waiting for me and others like me, hungry for a tale that could very well be their own, for what it might dare to examine.   We just need to find each other.

And then, to be able to let go of all else.

Alas, my running theme in life.

 

 

*             *             *

 

 

Notes / Works Cited

1. 2. Poets & Writers, Sept/Oct 2014 Issue; Internal Tapestries by William Giraldi.

 

 

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, 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.

I Discover Treasures

CrosswalkBox

 

Newborn pups suckling from their mother
who is wary of the stranger stopping to take it all in.
As well she should be for her protection of her young is a wonderful thing to behold.

A lone bloom in a garden full of yet-grown flowers.

A couple on a street corner holding hands and kissing.
Perhaps a little too intimate for public view.
So deliciously meretricious.

A crosswalk box so layered in endless encounters with midnight taggers and their spray paint cans
that it has transcended its civic role and become art.

A fledgling on the pavement before me
whose little life has been lost from falling out of the nest too soon.
The scurrying ants upon it.

The windshield glass in the street shattered into snow and the splats of red upon it.
The ubiquitous yellow tape.
Remnants of a city tragedy that are merely an inevitable part in the tapestry.

A sky that radiates a marbled canvas of unspeakable magnificence.
Or the rolling dark angry eyes of a tempest creeping.

The tiniest thing is mine.

All mine.

To love.

To cherish.

To covet.

To reflect upon.

To mourn.

Perhaps a moment of silence and a bowed head.

Just another day on my morning walk.   A meditation.

Until it is someone else’s turn for a captivating discovery.

And then to be able to let it go.

To appreciate its impermanence.

To move on to the next wonder.

The next brush.

The next audacious interception with life in all of its astonishment.

I once opened a fortune cookie to a fortune that was meant for me:
You discover treasures where others see nothing unusual.

 

I DO discover treasures where others see nothing unusual.

It is my proudest trick.

I also brazenly plagiarize fortune cookies.

 

 

 

 

 

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, 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.