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

Wholeness

What does it mean to be whole, complete, and fulfilled in our lives? Is wholeness a pipe dream or actually possible?

We all have our weaknesses. We all have one or a few very real issues that we allow to handicap us in one way or another. It has taken tons of practice for me to even begin to entertain that despite my setbacks, despite my hot spots, I am still (or even more) whole than I ever could have imagined.

Seriously, when you think about it, it is precisely our quirks, our vulnerabilities, our imperfections that not only distinguish but also adorn who we wholly are. They may feel tired, heavy, or ugly even. Yet still, they add to the depth of our unique worlds.

Not convinced? I know! This is a tough one to swallow.

I have struggled for the past 6 years with having annoying and troublesome food sensitivities and an equally reactive belly and skin. My sensitivities have not only made me cry, but they have also made me feel deeply ashamed, and victimized at times.

Recently however, the more I’ve courageously faced the reality of my allergic tendencies and embraced that they are part and parcel of ALL of me, the more I have been able to lighten up. I have indeed begun to see differently the “compromised” thing and have turned my way of thinking on its head. I am a lot freer for it.

What’s your weakness, the self-diagnosis that you’ve turned into a handicap? What would it take for you to see it as an attribute instead?

I remember Robin Williams as the therapist in Good Will Hunting describing to Matt Damon’s character how it was the imperfections of his deceased wife that were the juiciest, the most lovable, and intimately sweet parts that he missed. I love this.

What I am proposing is that you consider giving you and your “flaw” this same kind of adoration, this same kind of open acceptance, and not after it’s too late, or when you’ve been handed something much bigger to grapple with.

Today is as good a day as any to begin to honor the whole of you, in your blazing, faulty, and gorgeous entirety. Try it, let me know, and remember your wholeness is already right here, already established. It’s really just a matter of giving yourself the go-ahead to appreciate it, and ALL of you.

In sweet wholeness,

Maggie

Clarity and Acceptance

Sometimes the reality of our lives is painful. Sometimes there’s not a lot we can do to fix it or make it go away. Sometimes standing up, facing, and being with that painful reality is the only option. And this is gutsy; it takes courage, it takes ferocity, it is HARD.

When life is a struggle and the things that get me are up in my face, when I can only sit with and behold what is the most difficult, I often support myself by looking to a teacher—a wise owl as I might call him or her. One of my go-to guys for this is Shunryu Suzuki Roshi.

Below are some of his words that will hopefully encourage you to more deeply accept whatever is going on, if you are indeed feeling burdened, buried, or strangled by your stuff.

These short teachings have certainly helped me:

“If you have nothing to cope with, your life feels empty.”

“You will find that your problems are valuable treasures that are indispensable for you.”

“Before you accept the problems that you have, you cannot accept yourself as you are.”

“You have plenty of problems, just enough. This is a mysterious thing, the mystery of life. We have just enough problems, not too many and not too few.”

“You are receiving just what you need.”

“Just accept things as it is.”

“We should be very grateful to have a limited body like yours or mine. If you had a limitless life, it would be a great problem for you.”

“The only way to enjoy our life is to enjoy the limitation that is given to us.”

Do any of these quotes resonate for you? Which one?

Here’s my take: To be clear about and accept our struggles fully, that’s really it. Then we can be free.

Thank you Suzuki Roshi.

In clear and sweet acceptance,

Maggie

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

 

Letting Go of Ego

My ego is feeling rather bruised at the moment. In other words, the part of me that is proud and prone to endless rounds of self-inflation and deflation is feeling a little beaten up. Let’s just say I’ve convinced myself I’m not as beautiful as I would like to look today, scratch that, this week. But hey, despite this surface egocentricity, I am far more committed to vibrancy and health of the heart, than to that of  the overly important head. Besides, this is nothing compared to what I’ve been through with the tyranny of ego before.

My most extreme experiences of ego to date were in the various pockets of anorexia that peppered my late teens and early 20′s, and in the one episode that even crept in at 30. In these intensely obsessive times, my egoistic head has swelled with the sense of triumph at the thinness of my body, the ability to rock any piece of clothing, and the convoluted sense of power that comes with it. The realities however of anorectic episodes, filled with deprivation, self-obsession, and constant anxiety, are the farthest thing from powerful or deep.

Fortunately for my truer self, and unfortunately for ego, I also started practicing meditation in my late teens and sit everyday. I’ve come to understand that, when not super aware, we experience the reign of ego most all the time, and hence most all our thoughts and beliefs are fueled by it. Reminding myself of this, like right now, reveals the aim of sneaky ego, to simply keep on perpetuating its little (or big) self.

The good news is that we can legitimately work toward letting go of ego. Just as Rodney Yee, yoga teacher extraordinaire, has likened yoga practice to a steady chipping away, so too, is the exposition and subtle dethroning of  ego. The anatomy of ego in fact, when you really shine the light on it, just sort of scampers away, like a startled cockroach into a crack. Ego is indeed afraid of the light, or rather truth, and I love how Cheri Huber puts it, the truth in “the realization that there is nothing separate-from All That Is, from God, from Essence.”

Can you, if only for this split second, bask in the freedom of this realization, that there is no separation between you and me and the wonder of it all? Can you be lifted by that sense of unity—minus ego’s pseudo-largesse, judgment, strain, and delusional groping—as if we were all connected across the landscape of the sky, like a wonderfully clear and crystalline rainbow?

I can, at least in this instant, and all I can say is: What peace.

In sweetness,

ML

The Holy and The Plain

Have you ever exalted in something so simple as a slice of fruit, the branch of a tree, the sleeve of a shirt, an old worn sneaker, or the dripping umbrella leaning by the door? Do you believe that the magic, celebration, and depth of the world can be found in any one of these everyday things?

What I’m writing about today is cultivating our appreciation for spirit, the sublime energy within us all, through the appreciation of this same spirit in the most ordinary of objects. The reason? We are so often cut off, bewildered by, and stranded from spirit in our suffering-prone, rampant minds, that coming to experience spirit out in the world is at first more accessible than experiencing it inside.

I can’t help but think of William Carlos Williams here and his famous poem about a red wheelbarrow in the rain. Much like a still life painter, WCW manages to infuse and amplify that wheelbarrow with the ethereal.

Same with our toddler Stella and the small apple she lines up for after her yoga class every Wednesday. There is nothing special about this apple, just one of a great many in the basket awaiting the children when class is over. Yet, the apple palpates with such remarkable spirit, its power obvious in how she asks for it, how she holds it in her sticky little fingers. While she takes maybe three or four bites tops, the eating of the apple is not what makes it so much more meaningful than itself. It is rather how she is able to blow up and saturate the thing with such glowing energy, how she is able to give it a pulse, as if it were alive.

The elevation of and exaltation in everyday stuff is wonderful training, our attention made crisper, our gratitude deepened. Might you practice feasting your eyes and lifting your hearts with the sight of a mere avocado, or lemon, or apple on the counter waiting to be tasted? When your understanding of ordinary shifts from basic, drab, less than excellent to containing the divine, you will know it. From here, from this feeling of rock-turned-to-gold, you can then move your gaze back to your very human and wonderfully ordinary life—where so much of the work is—and behold spirit within you.

Suzuki Roshi said, “Ordinary mind is not something apart from what is holy.” In even our little dramas, our bigger heartaches, our most banal and boring moments, there is spirit. The ordinariness of all these things makes us human. The sacred in all of these things is also what makes us human. It is our job, in toil, distraction, frustration, and play, to kindle and rekindle this relationship between the holy and the plain.

Start by discovering the vital energy in any old piece of fruit. That’s good enough. Then slowly, with practice, you can jibe your attention and discover that vital energy in your own existence, where spirit lies embedded, gleaming and unperturbed, at all times.

In ordinary sweetness,

ML

Sweetness In Pain

What do you do when it feels like your life is coming undone? How do you handle pain?

Crises happen. When life gets messy, and it most reliably does, it is sometimes harder than hard to keep ourselves upright and unified in the middle of the craziness. Our bodies do weird things. Our brains do even weirder things in response. We get swallowed up by traumas from the past, engulfed by something that has happened, is happening, or that we’re terrified won’t ever stop happening.

Furthermore, the daily mix of worldly and personal woes is endless: kids struggling, marriages exploding, businesses collapsing, people dying, friends hurting, countries starving, contingencies battling, and bodies ailing.

Culturally we are indeed fascinated by suffering, not only because it moves us, but also because it reminds us that we are not alone in our struggles. Though we often skulk away from poignant feelings, we are also drawn to them, as they make us experience deeply our humanity. Still, dealing with the feelings is at times unbearable. We believe they will crush us and that we won’t be able to move through their heaviness, their viscosity.

Life has uncannily provided some serious opportunities for me to re-investigate the wounds from my chaotic childhood. Knowing however that I have a tool kit when stuff starts brewing is huge. The question becomes not how to keep from ever feeling this way—pain is inevitable—but rather how I am in the middle of the pain.

When everything seems to be unhinging, here are the five things I like to do, and that you can, in your own way, do too:

1. LET GO: I drop my resistance and realize that I just don’t have control.

2. ACCEPT: I stop wishing that things were different.

3. EXPRESS: I let everything pour out in my journal, in lists, diagrams, or whatever.

4. SIT: I sit, breathe, and sometimes cry on my meditation cushion, and watch the feelings come.

5. MOVE: I walk, do yoga, dance, or anything to decompress after the thrashing waves break.

As I work through these steps, the intensity of the giant cloud bomb overhead changes. I no longer feel like I am breaking apart. Instead, the bomb itself—of overwhelming feelings that make me want to freeze, hide, wail, give up, escape, die, you name it—is what begins to break up. The emotional threads reveal themselves. Then I can see where I am terrified, mortified, angry, anxious, nervous, or sad. I can even find little slivers of space between the tough stuff.

Rather than falling apart in these moments, we instead crack open, in a wonderfully vulnerable and true way. Please hear this: The cracking is not a terrible thing. From it, we become privy to an indescribable sweetness, yes the sweetness in pain that rises up from our bravery. To taste it though, we must paradoxically look into our suffering, and let the pain play itself out.

Right here is where we meet sweetness and behold the remarkable human spirit. Right here is where our words fail us and the jaw drops in wonder.

In sweetness,

ML

Sweet and Empty

How about we reflect on our relationship to fear? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to reform our vision and understanding of it, by contemplating this very moment how it frightens us?

The ultimate bully, fear is a hotbed for suffering. Chronic or acute, always sneaky, and masterful at hitching rides on as many instances and thoughts as it can, this feeling really gets around. Ironically, in its frenzied travels, fear brings our innate capacity for movement and growth to a heaving halt. It is too, so powerful at times, that it can flash forth from the dead, like an enormous flame teeming out of a seemingly burnt out heap. This is how sensitive and refined fear can be, how self-resuscitating.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve had my fill of fear. For close to four years, I thought of fear as a malady in its own right, debilitating as it was in conjunction with the dysentery that had stricken me down late in 2006. So unable was I to digest anything, I heartbreakingly developed an enveloping terror of food, for fear of getting infected from it all over again, and of sparking more equally frightening neurological abnormality and dramatic widespread rash response. Obviously, because we must eat every day, I was forced to face this fear without recess.

Though I was given everything from medicines to homeopathics to flower essences to help abate it, the most palpable epiphanies with fear happened in diligent sessions of seated meditation. Some days I was braver than others, more victorious, and would perch on my meditation cushion and literally talk back to the fear that haunted me. On other days I felt utterly beaten by it. Still daily, I would sit, courageous enough to be there and to slug it out with fear. Slowly, quite astonishingly, I began to understand in my bones that distinct from the original food that had sickened me, fear was simply fear, and unable to do me any harm.

When we really take the time to examine it, and to isolate fear from its cause, we realize fear isn’t made of any substance at all, but is merely an illusion, a mirage. Like the finest flimsiest cotton candy, fear is simultaneously nothing and bursting. Just like that tacky spun sugar, fear will glue its wispy self to our fingers and try not to let us go. Remember, despite all its cloying high-jinx, fear is just one more strong feeling in the vast human repertoire, one with lots of volume and undulating pizzazz. We will always be exposed to the possibility of it.

Best to let gravity do its thing and get anchored in our limbs when intensely afraid. Counter-culturally, we can embrace and inhabit our weight, our earthliness. Instead of leaving our bodies, we sink into them and really tether down, like roots casting themselves into the center of the earth. From this deep, grounded place, we can forget about sounding or looking insane, and literally begin to speak out loud to the fear that has assaulted us. We can address it like a person, saying or shouting, I’m onto you fear! Fear demands that kind of auditory strength. Right then, instead of choosing to live in it, we choose to live beyond it, to fully live.

I receive this lesson daily from our 9-month-old who is teaching herself to balance on her two little legs. Inside the unclouded globes of her eyes, shines the treasure of fearlessness. She embraces life over and over again, with a willingness to dare, to taste, to meet every single moment, without the faintest interest in erecting anything at all that could bar her from her glorious freedom. If she does get afraid for the split second when she falls, she pulls right back up again, banging joyfully on the hinge of the door or tugging delightedly on the skirt of the bed before letting go with both hands and clapping for herself, solid and connected into the earth beneath her.

I of course, still have a great deal of steadfast work to do on fear. The work however is not to break through it, but instead to see through it. At least now I know that fear is by no means a malady, nor very scary at all. It is just sweet and empty, a wonderfully clever trick mirror, giving onto beauty and limitlessness.