What Is Freedom To You?

rainEvery summer, in the days leading up to and immediately following the Fourth of July, it is striking how so many of us become consumed with thoughts and hopes for freedom, both internal and external, as if Independence Day on cue each year opens us up to the possibility of living less inhibited, more free lives.

It is also funny, strange, and lovely that my birthday falls a couple days after the Fourth and that each year I gift myself with what I call quite intentionally a “day of freedom” or of fully letting go, wherein I grant myself permission to do whatever feels organically and in the moment the thing to do, without hang up, worry, fear, or judgment.

In other words, I allow myself to simply live, liberated from my garbage, a full-on full-out free creature. Imagine that!

(Side Note: I actually wrote about this as a quandary a couple years ago in another blog post on Freedom, where I questioned why I couldn’t just do this every day, why in fact I needed the excuse of my specific birthday–or why we collectively need Independence Day–to let freedom reign and stream through us. I basically asked why is it so darn hard to emancipate ourselves moment by moment from the bindings of our wild minds, thoughts, habits, karmas, and constantly fluctuating sensations?)

This particular year, freedom has taken central stage in a curiously softened and much more poignant way. Indeed, my usual allowance for freedom didn’t only manifest as me eating yummy, decadent, gluten-filled, buttery cake and drinking loads of fantastic red wine on my birthday night with my husband and sister, sans kids. Though this was really fun too!

The vision, presence, and eminence of holy freedom actually rang out in the form of a deep heart vow, in both words and profound feeling during the very quiet meditation portion of my day. It is as if nestled in my sweet body an authentic freedom vow sprang up and articulated itself like this: To continuously and repeatedly commit to letting go and living freely.

What is so special or different about this message, you ask? Because it became clear to me that I have been “understanding” freedom sort of falsely, as something out there.

What I came to see this go round is that freedom is not a thing to impose or grant upon our selves at all. Nor is it a ridding of or escaping from self-imposed rules, but rather a glorious practice, a daily, meaty, both earthy and celestial practice that can happen at any and every moment, and that is essentially already always happening.

Sound too far out?

What I mean is that the feeling of freedom, the light, buoyant-hearted, swinging, skipping, grooving, joyful, easy, celebratory feeling of freedom is always on the menu, always available, always in stock for us all. It is essentially a choice, an attitude or stance of body, mind, and spirit and is so utterly NOT about disconnecting, shunning, or floating high up and away from anything that ails or imprisons or limits us.

Freedom it seems to me is actually about being so honestly rooted, aware, and secure in ourselves that no matter what the problem or obstacle or issue is, we can live and feel totally free right there in the thick of it. In other words, a whole lot of freedom is about the let down, the relaxation, the grace and glow that comes from allowing and accepting the things we try so intensely to dodge.

Humor me and close your precious eyes:

1. Fill yourself with all the feelings that you personally correlate with freedom.

2. Let them swirl and sway and dance inside you.

3. Do this as often as you can.

4. Whenever you are crabby or sad or ashamed or bored to death or enraged by, or plain old sick and tired of all your stuff, PRACTICE THIS.

5. And let everything else be exactly as it is.

That’s all my musing for now, folks.

Do tell, what is freedom to you?

Feeling free,

Maggie

Impregnated with Love

motherchildA couple of weeks ago in Paris my husband and I saw a swoon-inducing Marc Chagall exhibition at the Musee du Luxembourg. On the wall in one of the rooms there was a stunning quote of his that read something to the affect that nothing makes much sense in our lives unless everything we do, feel, and think in body, mind, and spirit is impregnated with love.

How’s that for summing up the thrust and meaning of life? Pretty darn complete if you ask me!

But how did Chagall arrive at knowing this laser-sharp truth so deeply in himself, so thoroughly in his bones, that at the end of his life he chose to communicate this eloquent teaching and plea for impregnation in words, when his medium for decade upon decade had been his paintbrush?

First of all, we must acknowledge as with so many other great sages, how opposite of easy his life was. And how from his suffering, how from the proverbial abyss of agonizing mud sprang his amazing art, the most magical of lotuses.

His secret ingredient the whole way through: LOVE. As he grew and transformed as a painter, he offered up to our gazing grateful eyes his respect for and belief in love. Eventually, once he’d surpassed 80, he actually spoke out about this love, having by then so clearly mastered the maintenance of his beautifully sensitive, flung-wide heart.

What about you and me? We don’t have to wait until we’re 80-years-old, do we?

Shouldn’t we just dive in NOW, take Chagall’s lead, and fling open for good the doors of our yearning hearts, in the name of this unparalleled almighty love?

Let’s start here, this very minute, this very breath.

It is really this simple, utterly this available:

Step 1. Inhale. Invite in universal love, slowly, emphatically, and without edit.

Step 2. Let love swirl and percolate inside. Let it fill you without end. Bathe in it.

Step 3. Exhale. Release any cobwebs, rust, or residue that have kept your heart shut.

Step 4. Do it again.

On and on we go, breath by affectionate breath.

Love, and love, and more impregnating love!

(P.S. Here’s a hint: The beauty of this kind of sweet expansive pregnancy is that it never ever ends!)

Thank you Marc Chagall, for making everything in this world make a whole lot more sense.

With Love,

Maggie

Versions of Happy

“Are you happy?” This is our toddler’s favorite question these days, and what a vital one it is. That I am three and a half months post-partum, and just getting back into the saddle, with body projects, work projects, family and life projects all splayed and projected out in front of me, it’s sort of uncanny how great the timing of her query is.

Why? Because each time she asks my foggy nursing mama self, I am sucked directly back into the present moment, into the most immediate and direct experience of life at hand, as is, unadorned by fantasy or airbrushing. The most shocking thing about all this is that no matter how tired or crabby or overwhelmed I might be feeling, my answer is always yes.

Seriously, when I really absorb her three little words, when she’s found me daydreaming on the breast pump, or nursing Liam on one side while I write the shopping list or scroll through emails or jam a rice cake into my mouth with my free hand, it’s like I collide head, heart, and spirit with the jewel of the present, and inside this glowing jewel exists nothing other than love and glory and bliss at just being alive.

Given how much time I spend wandering around consumed by how stellar life will be once I lose the last 5 pregnancy pounds, get my book written, get the baby to sleep through the night, that to realize quite suddenly that I am happy right now is miraculous. It stops me in my tracks and completely dissolves the whole happiness with a capital H as being far off, over there somewhere.

Sound familiar?

I urge YOU now, in this precious moment, to stop for a sec and really look around. Receive what is deeply, intricately happening inside and outside of you. And do this multiple times throughout the day—if you want to use my daughter’s cue as a spark, go for it! Ask “Am I happy?” and pause, let it reverberate and guide you.

There are so many gems of happiness right underneath your, my, all our noses.

If you’re into journaling and I haven’t quite convinced you, make a list each day for a week of all the opportunities you come across to seize the inherent wonder and delight of NOW. I call this exercise Today’s Versions of Happy.

Here’s an example of one of my lists:

*Baby on belly, me bleary-eyed, legs unshaven, sun not yet up

*Kids drumming on bongos, Sesame Street on, TIRED, mug of coffee and hot rice milk

*Crazy workout, sweat dripping down and soaking through my clothes

*Falling into restorative yogic trance, blessed sliver of peace

*Huge salad and plate of garlicky greens on table just before digging in, THANK YOU

*Connecting with hubby about life and everything in middle of night, only pocket of time

Get the picture? For all you other happiness seekers out there, if we begin to document, to accumulate and pay attention to our little moments of bliss, we begin to see that 1. We are a whole lot happier a whole lot more of the time than we think, and that 2. We need not spend so much time imagining and pushing for something better down the road.

Letting go of all this searching for greener grass and replacing it with simply being is huge. It is a profound breakthrough into grace and enables us to commune with our deepest selves and with the divine, so big, so encompassing; and infusing of every single thing around and within us with a cosmic version of happy in the ever present.

TRUTH!

Ok people, this is it. I am getting down to the last couple of blog posts before I take my blessed and profound maternity leave, and wow is this pending break stirring up all kinds of feelings in me.

Some nights I traipse around pregnant, breathless, and eating grapes at 1 am, overwhelmingly nervous and afraid of what will happen in my silence. Will I still be able to get a book deal? Will I lose a ton of traction? Am I messing up all my hard work?

Some evenings however I sit quietly on my meditation cushion in a state of sweet acquiescence as to what this vast and mystifying experience called giving birth (for the third time) is all about. My moods are countless. So, too, are my hopes and fears around my looming 3-month leave.

My deepest, most knowing sense however is that this utter break taking is exactly what I must do.

Here’s why: I cannot in my own good conscience merely write to you about truth, awakening, supreme peace, or presence. I must live in alignment with my very noble notions. I must personally live out and percuss with my pleas for a more enlightened way of being.

In other words, I must walk my talk.

For me, right now, at 36 weeks pregnant and counting, walking my talk translates as devoting myself wholly to giving birth and only giving birth. It means surrendering myself completely to the emergence of this new life and then gracefully rolling with the raucous experience of it all. And believe me, a ton of crying and laughing and being at a total loss are most assuredly involved!

Yes, this is my truth of the moment and I am writing it, speaking it, and sharing it directly with you.

Now, I have to ask, what is yours? Are you willing to seriously commit to your truth? Can you not only touch it, feel it, and know it, but also actually go out there and embody it, breathe it, speak it, birth it?

Taking truth to the nth degree is like moving from pecking someone on the lips at age 10 to fully and passionately making out at age 16. Can you take this leap today? Do you dare?

Come on. Try it. What happens when you commit to birthing your truth?

From this end, I promise to keep on letting you know just how wild and transformative walking my talk goes…

In sweet truth,

Maggie

Harnessing Your Power

I don’t know about you but I have always been uncomfortable with the word power, especially when applying the word ‘powerful’ to describe myself.

Call it a mix of having been raised by a mentally ill woman who misused hers with the woes of gender and being born a girl, but sadly harnessing my own innate power, the internal blazing ferocity that is part and parcel of our deepest core intelligence, has been work and something that, up until a few years ago, I’ve skated tentatively around.

In Tibetan Buddhism there is much talk and fantastic teaching of finding one’s warrior or rather becoming a warrior. This has nothing to do with violence or fighting, but rather seizing upon and igniting one’s own brave heart, as means to courageously and unabashedly face life and our selves in full. Not a task for the meek, don’t you agree?

Some years ago, I was given a visualization exercise by one of my spiritual guides. She asked me to tap into and animate the energy of the free-spirited fiery girl in me. This seemed non-threatening enough, and I only realized after the fact what she was encouraging in me: After weeks and months of sitting with this project to connect with the head-strong stubborn hippie child that I was, I began to see myself turning into a solid and fearless woman, riding on the back of a lion nonetheless!

I not only imagined, but also felt myself as this powerful girl-turned-woman, coming out of childhood revelry into the intense light of adulthood where I could and would face the world head on. In my weaker moments, I still conjure this vision today, of me gripping that lion’s mane and charging out into the light, fierce and strong, and so able to stay upright and ride into whatever lies ahead.

This makes me think of one of Florence Welch’s songs, where she virtually screams out “I am a lion-hearted girl!” and how this song resonated for me when I first heard it and how it is filling me now with that same warrior cry. Not to be combative and make trouble, but rather to go out there and be UNSTOPPABLE, and if there is any butt to kick at all, it is that of fear.

This post is in fact my own version of just such a warrior cry, calling you into bravery, authenticity, and powerful action.

I beg you. I urge you. Take up, put on, and initiate your lion heart. Harness all the power that is bursting to come out in you. Don’t be shy about showing the world your stuff. C’mon, let’s see what you’ve got. From one fierce and brave soul to another, I’ll meet you out there.

In sweetness and strength,

Maggie

Declaring Your Independence

When I turned 21 on July 6, 1996 it was an especially meaningful year for me. Given that my birthday is so close to the Fourth of July, there is always a sense of celebration and independence in the air when my day arrives two days later. However, this particular year was markedly significant, and not at all because of my obvious age and suddenly being a legal drinker or deemed an official adult. It was significant because it was when my beloved grandmother Sylvia and I formally and ceremoniously declared my independence from the agony of my childhood and teenage years.

I was still living in Northern California at the time, still too close to where I had grown up, and with a lot of psychic, emotional, and college work yet to do. But I remember flying out to see her in Boston for that first week in July, and how deliberately we had planned my trip. We celebrated the Fourth on the garage roof of the Museum of Science, and nodded to each other in complicity as the fireworks burst out, knowing just how spectacular a declaration we were about to make together when the 6th arrived.

Yes, that birthday kicked off my entry into the conscious, necessary, and healing transformation that occurs when any one of us becomes ready to excavate and ultimately release the pain and garbage from our past. My personal declaration of independence was indeed a momentous event. Especially now, when I look back the 16 years from when it all began, I see that what Sylvia and I did was a REALLY great thing.

This 2012, in honor of the Fourth, I entreat you to go inside, ask yourself honestly, and receive openly what you have yet to release from your history. I implore you to find out just what it is that still holds you back.

What do you seriously and intimately need to declare your independence from?

It doesn’t necessarily have to be anything so huge or explosive. It may just be about severing the last threads of some deep strand of your story that you’ve been working on seceding from for years. Only you know the answer, and only you have the power and the raw grit to go in there, and not only declare, but equally and actively awaken your independence.

Truth be told, I am still working on the independence project that I began so many years ago, though my understanding of ultimate freedom and independence has certainly evolved just as I have. The main thing is, especially if this is your first declaration, to commit fully to and live in alignment with your intention for a freer existence.

After all, the present—not the past—is really all we’ve got. In light of this, there’s no time like now, this very Fourth of July, to go out there and fire off your own declarative display!

The joy of profound independence is so totally right here. I can feel it. Can’t you?

In sweet freedom,

Maggie

Giving Attention

I’ve been thinking a lot about giving recently. In other words, I’ve been experiencing how the simple giving of our attention—not of gifts or any other highly coveted thing, but of our own undivided open-eared presence—is perhaps THE ultimate act of generosity. Our attention is indeed a powerful show of selflessness, whether we’ve given it wholly to a pet, a loved one, a colleague, or someone we barely know.

My husband and I have just returned from a holiday together without the kids. I realized while we were away that one of the most special and important things in any relationship is in providing one’s complete attention to whatever another is going through or needing to articulate. I seriously think that most of us are starved of this very basic, very poignant experience from day to day: the experience of giving (and receiving) full and supportive attention.

How about you? Do you feel you give conscious, affectionate attention to yourself and others on a regular basis?

We have all heard the adage that giving is the greatest gift of all. I would like to expand on this by saying that the giving of our true, bright, and open attention is the greatest gift.

Close your eyes for a minute and breathe life into the feeling of allowing all your crazy-making, inane, and endless loops of thought to fall away. Yes, that’s right. Clear away the debris that is keeping you from giving yourself over to the intensity and wonder of the moment at hand. This alone is oh so sweet!

Now imagine giving this same attention to your partner in love or work, to your super-needy friend, your kids, or whomever else you brush up against. What happens to us when we fall into these states of generous spirit is enormously profound. And, it doesn’t cost a thing.

I entreat you: Next time you’re feeling like a selfish me-obsessed slouch, instead of thinking the only way to give or undo your egotism is by reaching for your checkbook, or going to a charitable event, or starting a foundation, think first of your own way of being right here, right now. Think of you in the very moment, by the very minute, in the smallest of daily exchanges. Please by all means go do the other stuff too! But also deeply commit to giving your attention, to offering yourself in a willing, welcoming, open-armed stance, instant by instant by instant.

I guess in truth we might simply call this magnanimous and beaming flow of attention love. When we get right down to it, isn’t that what full-on giving is essentially made of?

In sweetness, selflessness, and love,

Maggie

Photo Credit: Gregory Colbert

Feeling of Compassion

I’ve suffered a lot in my life. From a young age, I was so busy figuring out how to survive, that looking compassionately—with love, warmth, and kindness—upon myself was simply too hard to come by. When I was introduced to Buddhism at 16, I began in my brain to grapple with healing from within, and started to believe, intellectually at least, in the power of compassion to soothe life’s hurts.

Oh how I loved this idea of compassion! Finally a way of living and understanding the world that spoke to the truth of my existence! It was like a huge light bulb flashing on in my brain! Still, no matter how hard I tried, I could only narrowly find the feeling of compassion for others, and even less so for myself. As I continued to sit in meditation over the years, it became glaringly clear that knowing, adoring, and believing in compassion in our heads is totally distinct from feeling and experiencing it in our hearts.

I wasn’t hard-hearted, but sad-hearted, and closed off as a protective measure from all the hurt and difficulty I’d seen. Not only had I shielded myself from reliving the agony of my pain, but I had also shielded myself from the possibility of awakening deep joy and kindness within. Precisely because of this, precisely because I couldn’t point the arrows of compassion inwards, my ability to fully point them outwards was also thwarted.

It took almost 15 years from my first exposure to Zen to actually feel compassion. I credit this exclusively to having my first child at that time. Giving birth to my now 7-year-old son Gavin was indeed the moment when I actually understood what compassion was all about, namely letting our hearts crack open enough to feel the pain of others while simultaneously committing to loving and doing everything in your power to save them, no matter what. When I stared down into that sweet, needy, born small, and a little early face, wow did the compassion-blocking chains on my heart burst apart.

There really is something magical about one’s own child, or anyone else for that matter incredibly reliant on our tenderness and care, to elicit compassion in our hearts, especially when we haven’t had the greatest track record of feeling it for ourselves.

There is also no right way, no one-way ticket to experiencing compassion. Some feel it for themselves first, then for others after, or the feeling for another opens the floodgates inwards and then pours it back out. It honestly doesn’t matter, so long as over the course of our lives, we soften to compassion, and observe this sweet negotiation between its loving flow in and its loving flow out.

The essential point is that we drop out of our heads, and awaken compassion down below, or in other words, that we experience in wonder how compassion ultimately flowers open and sets free our hearts.

In sweet compassion,

ML

 

Welcoming Love

I don’t know about you, but I am cursed with an incredible inner critic. This voice has been around for as long as I can remember. It feels tenured in fact, and is always lurking, ready to pounce into action the more imperfect things get, which is, um, like all the time. The bummer here is that when held hostage to my critic’s pounding reign, love for myself appears lost.

The love I’m talking about here is pure and contingency-free. I like to imagine this love as an ever-flowing fountain, bursting with warmth, kindness, and compassion from each one of our hearts. If you can’t go with me on the fountain in the heart picture just yet, can you visualize at least muting your critic, and replacing it instead with a little loving cupid on your shoulder?

Last week, after a sitting practice and in honor of Bob Marley’s birthday, I played his albums for hours. Everything felt so bright, so light and buoyant. The room glowed. It suddenly dawned on me that I was in a state of majorly resonant love, and that all my favorite Bob songs were in fact his love songs.

Just then I looked up into the sky and there was the glorious near-full moon. My heart sprang to life, and there were tears and laughter and everything in between. I was deeply grateful. The wonder of feeling such love without relying on my kids or husband for it was powerful. I also realized that love, self love, is a practice, something to be touched every single day.

Here’s a little sequence that you might consider if your inner critic has got you down:

1. Sit quietly, close your eyes, and get in touch with the critic that is setting up all those rigid conditions. This voice shouldn’t be hard to conjure. It is usually the one most available and pronounced.

2. Turn down that voice. Better yet, turn it off. In answer, breathe life into and turn up the affectionate cupid in you. Feel the love of cupid’s arrows pour into the fountain of your heart.

3. Fortified by this, really allow yourself the experience of the pulsing of love through the tributaries of your body. Revel in it. Say thank you for it.

4. Last, do the thing that enables the full expression of this love. For me it was dancing and singing to Bob by the light of the moon. For you, well, that’s up to you…

This is just one way of welcoming love more consistently and routinely. Best to let it, as Bob says, “come tumbling in.” See how at first it drips, then leaks, then downright pours into your life. Love is that brilliant, and that self-multiplying. Why not give it a try?

There is, so far as I can tell, not a thing to lose.

In sweet love,

ML

Making Room for Spiritual Practice

What is spiritual practice? Furthermore, do you have one?

Simply put, I define spiritual practice as something you do every single day that draws you deeper into who you really are, by connecting you with your divine self.

Please don’t be put off by the word spiritual here! Spiritual doesn’t have to entail–though it often does–meditation cushions, prayer beads, chant books, yoga mats, or any other such paraphernalia. A spiritual practice might be baking, gardening, running, knitting, playing piano, painting, hiking, meditating, golfing, doing yoga, tai chi, or calligraphy. It is not so much about the form but about the profound and connective quality of the time spent within it.

The practice part means just that: you do it daily, over and over, not in a gross way, but rather in a this-is-what-makes-me-who-I-am way. Without the aim of ever stopping with it, you practice as contribution to your ever-unfolding life on this earth. It can feel beautiful and compelling, harrowing and agonizing, annoying, vexing, boring as hell, or as ordinary and routine as brushing your teeth. Above all it is your rock, the ultimate placating pillar, steady and reliable as they come.

There have been times when, driven by such desperation, my yoga, pranayama, meditation, and journaling practices served as literal life preservers, day by grueling day. In these pockets, practice translates directly as necessity. In the coasting phases of our lives however, or during the highly celebratory ones, spiritual practice feels as joyous as the spread of a bright authentic smile, or as easy to fall into as a hammock under the stars, in the perfect climate, and between the two most exquisite trees.

This is all great you say, but how do I actually do it? First you have to admit that practice is essential, and something you must do. Next, you must designate, carve out, and stick to the time for it, often letting go of something else in order to keep it alive. Many people find it easiest to maintain practice first thing in the morning. But what does that mean you give up? Sleep? Or is it the extra hour on the computer before bed the night before so that you don’t lose the time in bed? There are choices here. It is up to you.

In short, and for you to take as inspiration or affirmation, here are my top ten benefits of spiritual practice:

  1. It provides clarity in the midst of our overflowing and demanding days.
  2. It cultivates the attention required to complete our tasks.
  3. It lifts our mood.
  4. It creates a sense of steadiness and grounding in change.
  5. It keeps us afloat and even-keeled in even the most riotous emotional storms.
  6. It helps us see our lives on a macro level.
  7. It helps us understand our lives on a micro level.
  8. It draws us into the simplicity of the moment.
  9. It touches us so deeply that without it we would feel lost or downright not right.
  10. It connects us to and reveals true spirit.

Ultimately, we must summon the courage to make room for spiritual practice, and the experiment that it is, as instigator at any given time of peace, elation, chill out, aha, tears, or evocative reflection. We must be willing to face whatever arises within this uncanny vehicle and to touch the sacred in ourselves every precious day.

How do you feel about that?

In sweet practice,

ML