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.

 

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.

Why Lent Came Calling (Day 1)

Fasting and Prayer

I recently watched a documentary called Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead, about a man who documented his 60-day juice fast.  He’d felt at the end of his rope health-wise, and was subsisting, at the age of 42, on an artillery of pills for a myriad of ailments.  On his journey, where he traveled across the United States telling his story while drinking his green juice, he came across a few most unlikely candidates, who latched onto his journey and made it their own.   These were people who, like him, simply felt as though they’d somehow, somewhere along the line, lost self, lost purpose, and rather than living were merely surviving.   I remember as I began watching it, thinking, “well, this isn’t new information for me, but it’s always good to get a reminder.”   But then there came a moment that truly got my attention, and made me obsessed enough to watch this movie two more times before sticking it back in the mailbox.  Not only did these participants’ health turn around (how could it not, when you’re talking about concentrated, mega doses of micro-nutrients a day?), but something in their entire psychological and spiritual paradigm shifted.   A serious reboot of mind, body, and spirit seemed to have occurred.  And lately that is something I’ve been feeling an almost desperate need for in my own life.

Something’s been wrong.  I’ve felt overwhelmed by finances and survival, and though I am an artist to my bones, I’ve been creating very little.  The novel that released almost a year ago now has barely received  much marketing nurturing from me.   I would tell myself that I believed in a universe that would take my deserving labors into it, and would not let those labors just flounder in the sea, no matter how unmotivated I may have been.  I was clearly ignoring whatever the universe might’ve had to say about effort.  Even this blog hadn’t been given any love since my last post three months ago.  My own health, fitness, and wellness is okay, but I want more than okay.   And I’ve begun to isolate socially and emotionally from those I love, or even just like.  And I realized as I watched this movie that I, too, felt I was merely surviving, and no longer living.

I’m a big believer in synchronicity.   I encounter it constantly, and always experience moments of absolute bliss when it occurs.   So, right as I was obsessing over this movie, I also happened to read a quote on Facebook, credited to Homeboy Industries, an interpretation of Lent that spoke directly to my own practices of meditation and turning inward.

“The giving up of something you enjoy is to quiet the mind and recognize how caught up we are in what we think we need.  Lent is a time of reflection and centering and to remind ourselves that what we need is inside of us.”

Amen.

I’m not Catholic, and have never observed Lent before (born and raised Baptist, now living largely with the tenets of the Buddha Dharma).  But my own spiritual approach has always been completely inclusive of any rituals that resonate with my heart and soul from all the traditions.   So, what the hell, let’s participate in Lent this year.  Of course, I came to this resolution ten days into Lent, but I also realized that for me it wasn’t about the number of days, but simply about participating in something for however long I could, somewhere during this stretch of time called Lent.  It was a symbol.

From the moment I decided to participate, I knew that a juice fast was going to be the chosen sacrifice.  Lent and this documentary couldn’t’ve both been roiling in my head at the same time for any other reason.  And for me, it seemed too easy just to give up wine, or coffee, or chocolate, or whatever (the typical choices I always hear about).   I wanted it to be something truly challenging, because if the ante wasn’t high enough then I just didn’t see any kind of genuine transformation being a part of the deal.  So, I decided to do 10 days of a juice fast, inspired by Joe Cross’ adventure, coupled with an intensive meditation.   To quiet my mind, and invite the truth to show itself to me.  To actively seek to forgive myself whatever realities I’ve clearly felt needed punishing.   To feed my body with only what it needs, and not what I think it needs (in this environment that I’ve created of learning to self-medicate and to numb).   To get really, seriously, ridiculously focused, which the ritual of juicing pounds of vegetables every day, and cleaning the multi-parts juicer everyday, and getting in lotus position everyday, and saying “no” to every waft of food that comes your way everyday, will give you.  There’s no meditating in the movie, but I decided to include meditation because suddenly the age-old tradition of “prayer and fasting” was very attractive to me.

I am open to the possibility that if I’m feeling the need for further, come Day 10, I’ll extend the fast beyond that (I can tell you now, it won’t be the 60 days that Joe Cross accomplished).   And am resolved that if I do make it to Day 10, and don’t crumble at Day 5, it will be a triumph beyond words.  No other options exist.

I chose a day to start, and even got a friend on board to do it with me, so that a sense of community, of a support system, of checking in every day and keeping each other honest, would be set firmly in place.   And today is that day.   Leading up to today, I experienced the weirdest and widest berth of emotions about it.   Dread – that I would not succeed, that I would bail after Day 2 because my caffeine and sugar addiction would get the better of me and have me climbing the walls.   Hope – that I might actually come out of this 10 days changed, transformed, bettered.   Anxiety – that a social commitment would challenge my ability to stick with this; because, what are we if not social animals who congregate over food and libations?  And honor – to be entering into this ritual that I see as sacred space.

My first instinct was to share this journey publicly.   Facebook here I come!    Then I thought, no, not this one.   This one requires quiet.   Then a third thought came to me.  That if I blogged about the journey (no, it’s not a travelogue to the Himalayas, or across an ocean, merely an internal one), then I would be made to stay honest, to commit, to see this all the way through.   Otherwise there’s just public humiliation, and we all know how fun that can be.   But there was something deeper to the thought, as well.   A connection.  Sharing my journey means opening my heart.  Maybe even inspiring someone else who may be feeling lost.   Just as a Netflix DVD changed my world one night.

So, here I am.   Day 1.

I awoke with excitement, and immediately went from my bed to my meditation altar, lit my candles, drew my mantra for the day, and then closed my eyes and did what I do.  Sometimes meditation can completely cocoon me in the comfort and warmth of meaning.  Other times I can be quite antsy and distracted.  It happens.  Every day is different.  Today I was cocooned.  When I was done, I walked right over to my kitchen and juiced up the pile of vegetables and fruit I’d bought the night before.   I was stunned at how little juice that huge pile of veggies actually made, and instantly realized I’d need a lot more vegetables every day to make this work, and to keep me from feeling starved.   But the juice was tasty (I made enough for all of my meals today), so the first effort has been a triumph.   Today’s combination is spinach, kale, celery, apples, a whole lemon, and copious amounts of ginger.   I made sure, as I prepared for this day, to collect as many juicing recipes as I could find, so that the creature of habit in me wouldn’t end up making the same thing every day, and growing bored, and quitting.

So far, so good.   No panic seems to have hit.   I’ll call my friend who’s doing this with me a little later on to see how he’s doing.   But I’ll check in at the end of every one of these ten days, document where I am, and promise to be honest about how I’m feeling.   There are sure to be some cranky moments, but if I keep clear and present about what I’m trying to accomplish, I think the crankiness will be kept to a minimum.   Or it’ll be the steepest mountain I’ve ever had to climb.  Either one works for me, because I’m ready to take this on.

Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat Pray Love, offers a thought that does my heart good as I go forth into Prayer-&-Fasting Land.

“If you’re brave enough to leave behind everything familiar and comforting, anything from your house to bitter old resentments, and set out on a truth-seeking journey, either externally or internally, and if you are truly willing to regard everything that happens to you on that journey as a clue, and if you accept everyone you meet along the way as a teacher, and if you are prepared, most of all, to face and forgive some very difficult realities about yourself, then the truth will not be withheld from you.”

That’s good enough for me.   See you all tomorrow.

 

 

P.S.  Speaking of synchronicity, the very next day after reading the Homeboy Industries quote on Lent, I was driving to Union Station in Downtown LA, and drove right by a large building with “Homeboy Industries” in big, bold letters on top of it.   I just had to stop in to find out about them.   Wow!  Check them out, if you’re so inclined.  Homeboy Industries

And while we’re at it, check out:
Reboot With Joe

 

 

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.

So, This Bindi Thing…

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For years I’ve worn the jeweled ones. Colorful ornamental drops that nestle between the eyebrows. The first time I even thought to do so was after seeing a White woman wearing one at a party. This was years ago. Though the bindi is of Hindu derivation, and comes from ancient tradition, and I’ve obviously seen Indian women wearing them since I can remember, I was struck by this non-Indian woman daring to be brazen enough to do this tradition that was not of her own culture (the truth is, I have no clue what this woman’s background or experience was). The point is that it opened up something in me. I realized that most people, at least that I’ve ever observed in life, attach themselves to rituals, causes, and agendas based upon very compartmentalized associations.

How many people march in Gay Pride parades that aren’t gay? How many African-Americans associate themselves with Jewish causes? How many Caucasians walk around sporting African kufis on their heads as a simple matter of fashion and personal taste? Of course the answer is never none. There are always those treasured jewels who believe in a world beyond their own personal demographic, who embrace that above all else this is a human culture, and not just a racial one, or a gender one, or a sexual preference one, or whatever. The movie Cloud Atlas dared to challenge that notion by its very casting (an Asian woman portraying a Mexican. A Black woman portraying a White woman. A woman portraying a man. A White man portraying a Chinese man). But the bottom line is that in most cases, because we belong to a certain culture, race, gender, etc., we must know our place.

I’ve always been someone who’s done ODD.  It’s been an inadvertent skill, not one I particularly chose, but one I’ve been sort of stuck with, as a kind of dubious blessing.

One example that is a complete tangent from this discussion of the bindi, but will set the tone for you of my proclivities toward being otherly, and is just one, among the many things, that branded me for life and set the mold for quirky. Quirky has been with me since childhood, for better or for worse, much of which ended up being for worse, as adolescence defiantly insists on an adherence to conformity. And the example that rings loudest is the time as an early teen that I picked up a dead bird and brought it home. I found it lying in my path as I walked the grounds of my junior high school on my way to class. It was beautiful. A perfect blue jay. So beautiful in fact, and unmarred even in its death, that I was drawn to pick it up. It had a warmth to it, and I placed it in my purse. I carried it there for the rest of the day, precariously aware that if I moved this way or that, I could accidentally squish it and squirt guts all over my wallet and tampons. When I got it home, I placed it in one of my mother’s Tupperware bowls and put it in her freezer. When my parents asked me why I would keep such a thing, I told them I planned on having it taxidermied some day. I truly wish I could go back in time and notice their faces at this out-to-lunch pronouncement, and have to give it to them; they were always great sports for my idiosyncrasies. And there my bird stayed for years, nestled between the rib-eyes and the popsicles. It eventually saw its fate when Mom and Dad separated, and as my dad was preparing to move out of our house he unplugged the garage freezer (the extra one in which we would store pounds of meat), forgetting that my frozen bird was in there, and Birdy was maggot food before anyone discovered it. I’ll let you sit with that one for a minute.

Here’s one more. I promise we’ll get back to the bindi thing, but I just can’t seem to resist a circuitous route. While in college, I decided to start writing my first novel, and I actually spent the next eight years writing its first draft. I’m a Black girl from Compton. Yet my story was not what you might expect from that demographic. Mine was not an urban tale of encounters with Crips, or what have you. I decided to write a book about England in the 1930’s. I’d never been to England, or any other place beyond my sheltered Southern California upbringing. But something in me was compelled to do that which would never have been expected of me. I had a very specific agenda to be the opposite of predictable.

I think it’s probably fairly deep-seated. Perhaps steeped in a childhood of being severely outcast. When ostracization is your childhood, you tend to simultaneously and paradoxically try to blend in AND steel yourself by going the exact other way. And today I realize that this has been my engine my entire life. Associating myself with rituals, agendas, causes, even fashion that are beyond my own cultural background.

After seeing that White woman sport her between-the-eyebrows jewel, and being enchanted by that, I started sporting them myself, as much for the statement of otherly as for the beauty mark that they give any woman. What’s a Black girl doing wearing a Hindu ceremonial dot? I actually got annoyed, during the era of Madonna’s album Ray of Light, when she was suddenly shown sporting them along with her henna body art, during one of her endless reincarnations, and thought (the entire Hindu population aside): “Hey, she totally stole my thing!”   My thing, of course, only being a thing if the most famous pop star in the world is actually stalking my life in order to steal things from me.  Yes, I do live inside my own special world.

My line, whenever asked about my bindi, and which is meant to diffuse any real discussions of my reasons for wearing it, because that can sometimes be exhausting, is usually, dryly, “It’s to cover up the bullet hole.” It tends to get a laugh, and perhaps even has the person walking away with yet more intrigue about the mysteries of Angela. Or not. But this is who I am. I store dead birds, and I write books about Fascist Europe as a teen, instead of hanging out with my girlfriends and listening to Heatwave.

What’s silly about my Madonna annoyance, of course, is that I’ve hardly been the only non-Hindu out there sporting these. The bindi became instantly popular once the Material Girl and Gwen Stefani and Shania Twain made them fashion statements. But like any popular trend, which always has a “use by” date, other than the heritage and culture from which it comes, the bindi long ago got replaced as the trend du jour.

So, why am I still sporting mine? Because I have never adhered to the fashion of the day. But that’s the easy answer. More profoundly is that what I never foresaw when I first started wearing them was that I would, years later, come to pursue a spiritual life that is largely Eastern (Buddhist, Taoist, and Yogic practices, and meditation), and the idea of the symbolic third eye, of inner vision and enlightenment, which is the very place from which one meditates, as well as being the sixth-chakra spot of sight and insight, and which has resonated with my deepest heart. To think that a fashion whim, as well as the instincts to be otherly, has turned into a spiritual lifeline.

And so here I stand, present day, and after years of wearing the jeweled ones, or even just applying simple dots by the various means of make-up pencils, ink pens, or fingernail polish, I finally got my bindi made permanent in 2011, thanks to the wonders of the tattoo gun. It’s a part of me now.  Me, the Black chick from Compton.

I’ve always tended to think of myself as Hippie Girl (braided hair, tattoos, nose-piercing, and a weirdly fetishistic fondness for Birkenstocks, tie-dye, and Nag Champa). I collect crystals. I light candles when it comes time to commemorate the memory of someone. I burn sage when I feel the need to purify my surroundings. I rearrange furniture whenever my gut tells me that my home is in a state of discord, which means that I’ve been employing the practices of Feng Shui long before I’d ever even heard of it, and certainly before it became the new thing several years ago. I’ve even begun lately dabbling with the Tarot and palm reading, which, in spite of its popular mis-press, isn’t about predicting someone’s future, but is about locating and identifying archetypal energy and behavior, but that’s another tangent for another day. The point is, I do fully embrace the practices of healing and wellness, both the literal and the symbolic.

I don’t have a clue where any of that comes from, other than the fact that I am the Perpetual Seeker. I search for enlightenment in every hemp-strewn cubbyhole and New Age. But I cannot deny that it’s also a matter of my own brand of defiance against being pigeon-holed.

There is a price to pay for choosing to be otherly (still debating whether it’s actually a choice). It can be lonely. It can create a life of few inner circles. It can foster isolation. But those of us who align ourselves with its principles know that in spite of the possible challenges, we are staking our place in the world by the very practice of discombobulating people’s minds about who we are, and their instincts to compartmentalize us, and ultimately their inability to do so. It may have originated from a deep-seated place, but I have discovered that I quite like it.

More than anything, at this point in my life, my permanent bindi symbolizes the virtues of honor, integrity, grace, and peace of spirit. It is a reminder, every time I look in the mirror, of my pursuits of wellness and wholeness.  The actual work to attain these things is, of course, all on me.

I still like to say that it’s there to cover up the bullet hole. I make myself laugh, even if I don’t make anyone else. I still love it, nestled between my rapidly thinning eyebrows. I’d better.  Because it’s not going anywhere now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.