Skip, Joyfully

When was the last time you did something for the pure joy of it? With no goal in mind? With no other intention? 

This morning in the yoga studio, the teacher asked us to remember how it felt to ride a bike when we were 12 years old. Not for the exercise. Not to get to certain place. But for the pure joy of it. 

I imagined myself pedaling down the city streets, wind in my hair. I remembered the feeling of releasing the handlebars, raising my arms up in the air, riding with no hands! 

I remember the joy of it. Not the exercise. Not the destination. Just the joy. 

I try to do things for the pure joy as often as possible. It’s why, as a grown woman, I started skipping instead of walking my kids to school. It’s why I loved running, and why I love yoga. 

It’s why I always loved dancing. No matter what was happening in my life, I could find joy on the dance floor.  

Back in the day, there were a few local dance clubs that played the music I liked to dance to: punk, new wave, goth, industrial, hardcore. The louder the better. It turned my anger, frustration, confusion, into pure joy. 

There was a group of people that would frequent these clubs. I didn’t know them all by name, but I spent a lot of time sharing space with them. I’d see them in one club on Thursday night, and the other on Saturday. In one the next Wednesday and the other on Sunday. The same faces, the same cliques. 

There were some people who stood out, for the way they dressed, or the way they moved on the floor. There was one guy who stood out because of the joy he exuded. When he walked into the club, there seemed to be a collective hello. Everyone knew him. His name was, appropriately, Skip. Skippy. Hipster Skipster. 

He made his way onto the dark dance floor and he brought a light with him. His energy was contagious. I shifted myself to be in his orbit. I must’ve danced with him to 1000 songs through the years. Slamming into him, pushing him into the pit, raising a fist to shout lyrics. Sharing our love of music, sharing our energy. We were ageless, and timeless. It was epic. Legendary. 

Over the last few years, thanks to social media, and nightclub reunions, I had the opportunity to actually get to know him a bit. I could tell you that the knowing demystified the legend … but it didn’t really. 

He was, in my experience, just as he had always been on the dance floor. Smiling that smile. Laughing the most contagious laugh. Loving life.

His housemate has referred to him as a man-child on more than one occasion. Her word seems to sum it up perfectly. Sure, he was a grown-up with responsibilities, and a regular life, but he wasn’t an old person. He may have been 55 on the outside, but he still rode his bike like a 12 year old! 

He lived life to the fullest, and he died doing what he loved. Yes, he died young, but at any age he would’ve still been young. 

We’ve lost an ageless, joyful spirit. And now there is a gaping hole in the heart of an entire scene. 

The only consolation is the joy that he shared with everyone he danced with, rode with, played with. And as it seems, the joy he shared with anyone he ever met. 

With his untimely passing, the urgency of living a joyful life is reinforced. 

Ride like a 12 year old. Live for the pure joy of life. 

Dance. Jump. Skip.

—-
Photo grabbed from Aldo’s Facebook page  


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Sharing the Darkness

My deep love of music has been saving me since I was a child. It made the good times lighter and brighter, and it carried me through some of my darkest days. 

The artists that I was most drawn to were those who shared their own darkest days in their songs. Taking cues from them, my own darkness began pouring out of me in poetry when I was ten or eleven.

Sadness, anger, confusion, rage, despair. Somehow when these feelings had rhythm and meter and rhyme, they were so much easier to express. And sharing the darkness, even if just on paper, was a great release. 

I couldn’t get enough sad, angry, emotionally charged music. I found my own validation and release through the words of so many artists through the years, too many to list. But I think it started with my dad’s Little Anthony & The Imperials album when I was nine, returning the needle to Tears on My Pillow over and over and over.

By the time Linkin Park came around, I was already a grown-up; close to 30 years old. By some standards, I should’ve been over the angsty-angry lyrics thing. But I wasn’t. I fell in love with Chester Bennington’s voice, and I connected with his words. 

When he began speaking about his history of sexual abuse, I connected with his story. As I sang his songs, I connected with his darkness. Darkness set to rhythm and rhyme, the validation and the release. 

The people we connect with on the deepest level in our lives, are not the people we only share our light with. They are the people who know both the light and the darkness within us. 

Chester Bennington knew my darkness! He felt it! He survived it and he turned it into beautiful music. He had found a way to release it. He was a survivor.

But those of us who were victims as children, who are survivors now, know all too well that these things never leave us. They are woven into the fabric of our being. And sometimes, there’s a snag, a pull, a tear in the fabric. 

No one can know what drove Bennington to the depth of despair. The reports all point to his history because he spoke openly about how those events led him down a path of drugs and alcohol. He spoke openly about the demons that haunted him. 

He also talked about how music saved him time and again. 

For that very reason, his suicide has stirred up a whole stewpot of emotions for me. He was a survivor. A vocal survivor. A beacon of light for other survivors. 

And now, he stopped surviving. I guess it just got too dark. 

His lyrics will still save me. 

Linkin Park, One Step Closer
Still saves me.
….

 

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Growth and Freedom

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”  Viktor Frankl

Life is nothing more than stimulus and response. For every action there is a reaction. We move through our lives performing actions and gauging results, guided by our expectations.  We come to expect specific reactions, from people, from machines, from nature.

If we move through the day and everything goes as expected, it’s a relatively stress free day. But if things don’t meet our expectations, then the stress creeps in.

So much of our stress, anger, frustration and sadness comes from our struggle to reconcile situations, events and other people’s actions, with our own expectations.

I used to be a highly stressed person. Type A.  Always on the move. I was getting things done. Achieving goals. Keeping all of the plates spinning at once. Sure, it was stressful. But I was thriving under pressure. That’s how I got the things done! I was a control freak.

Throughout our lives we are faced with situations that challenge our notion of control, time and time again. But we fight against it. We struggle with each person that we try to train, and each situation we try to manipulate. We get stressed when things don’t bend to our will, people don’t see things our way, life doesn’t perform up to our standards.

If living with another person intensified the challenge for me, then having children set off an explosion right at the center of it.  It became increasingly frustrating when things hardly ever went as I expected. It became even more frustrating when no one around me seemed to be invested in my expectations.

I asked questions like “Why doesn’t anyone else care about this mess?” so many times. Probably thousands of times. No one would even answer me!

Not only do I have my own expectations, but now I am expecting other people to have the same expectations, and I am expecting them to take action. So many expectations. So many opportunities to be frustrated and stressed.

One day I finally answered myself.  No one else cares about this, because no one else cares about this. Because you are the only person that this upsets.  And you can’t control what other people care about. You can’t control other peoples’ expectations. You are not in control. 

In an effort to live a less stressful life,  I set out to put just as much energy into controlling my own reactions, as I had been putting into trying to control the actions of the people and things around me.

When I stopped trying to control external things, and I only worked on my own self, I began to notice how I  reacted to everything. Every single thing. All day long.

As you move through your day notice how you react:
When the phone rings
When someone enters the room
When they leave
When you’re feeling too cold or too hot
When someone says something you disagree with
When someone complains
When the volume is too loud
When it’s not loud enough
When someone cuts you off in traffic
When someone rides the shoulder to get ahead in line
When someone expresses opposing political views
When it rains
When you accomplish something
When you outperform someone else
When you feel pain
When things go your way
When things don’t go your way at all
When you find out you were right
When you find out you were wrong
When someone shares great news
When someone shares bad news.

Notice the timing of your reactions to the people, places, and conditions around you?
Do you react immediately?
Do you pause?
Do you take time to think?
Do you shut down?
Do you avoid reacting?

Is your reaction based on history and habits?
Does your reaction ever take you by surprise?

Observe your reactions to recurring situations, people, places or conditions.
Is it always the same reaction? Is it different?

Do you reflect on your reactions? Do you replay them over and over in your mind? Rehash them? Regret them? Try to rewrite them? Revel in them? Gloat?

Notice your reactions to every thing that happens all day long. Notice them for days. Once you find the patterns, then you can insert the pause.

It takes a lot of practice. It takes self awareness, mindfulness, and hard work. It takes a lot of effort. It’s much harder than the old practice of trying to control outside things and then getting stressed or flying off the handle when it doesn’t work out. It’s much harder than being guided by your own expectations and false sense of control.

But once you are mindfully aware of your reactions, and you learn to insert a pause, perhaps you can change them.  Or perhaps not.

Life is nothing more than stimulus and response.  And space.

That is where the real freedom is. The freedom and the growth are there in that space.

 

Freedom and Growth Can be yours!
How to get started:
Inhale while counting  4
Pause while counting to 4
Exhale while counting to 4
Repeat

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My earworm. Loaded by Primal Scream

 

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Leaning In 

All through my recovery I have relied on deep breathing practices to keep me calm and focused and grounded in the moment.

My breath is like a well. As I inhale deeply, I lower the bucket down to the bottom. Way down deep where things like intention, gratitude, acceptance and contentment are floating around. With a pause I scoop up a tiny bit, and I lift it up on my exhale. I slowly let it spill out of my nose. Then I lower the bucket down again on an inhale. 

As the good stuff from deep down makes its way to the surface, I am reassured: This moment is all right, this moment is okay. Then moment becomes moments, day becomes days, week becomes weeks…

And so it was, nine weeks after my double mastectomy. I was out in the woods with my kids on my first breast-less hike. It was a moderate 3 mile loop, and it challenged both my legs and my lungs. But I leaned in, and when we got back to the car I felt accomplished. I felt recharged. Energized.

A few days later I was on my mat in a park with 50 other yogis flowing,  under a double rainbow. I found myself moving through all of the poses with only minor modifications. I leaned in, and when the class was over I felt uplifted. Inspired. 

Two days later I was standing in front of a studio leading a group of yogis. I was back to teaching. With nervous excitement, I leaned in. They were flowing and breathing and I was soaking up their energy like a sponge. As I guided them through a 40 minute meditation I was mindful of every amazing moment. 

When it was over I felt like I was floating. Buzzing. Electric. 

I had come such a long way on the road to recovery; the challenging loop that would lead me back to the new normal. I was leaning in. 

Two days later I was awoken by a stabbing pain in my gut. I was rushed to the hospital, and had emergency gall bladder surgery. 

I felt like I had been sideswiped. Knocked for a loop. 

I was just feeling recovered, and now I had to start recovering all over. After the surgery when I came home I had referred pain in my shoulders. Horrible, awful, excruciating pain. Worse than the pain that sent me to the hospital.  

I tried to take deep breaths, but deep breathing made the pain worse. Each inhale was like a dagger in the chest. 

What do you do when the thing that usually grounds you becomes painful?  

How do you stay present in the moment when the present moment sucks? 

In order to avoid the pain, I had to take very shallow breaths. Days of shallow breathing can lead me right down the path to old behaviors, anxieties, and panic attacks.

I wanted to crawl out of my skin, run away from my body. There was no escape and no relief. So, I lost my mind a little. I cursed at my kids. I slammed the door. When my mom surprise visited me with homemade cookies, and asked me how I was feeling I yelled ‘I feel like shit!’

As I stormed away in search of solitude in my crowded noisy house,  I realized that I was resisting. I was fighting against the moment. Fighting panic only leads to more panic. Fighting frustration only leads to more frustration. 

I couldn’t dip down into the well. I had to find another way. So I decided to lean in. I leaned in to the shitty moment. 

I let the misery and discomfort wash over me. I sobbed uncontrollably and I felt sorry for myself. I wallowed in it. And there, in the shallows, I found the compassion that I so willingly give to other people. And I gave it to myself. 

I leaned in. And after allowing the moments to simply be what they were, without naming them, without fighting them, without resisting them, I felt relieved. 

Then moments became days.
……..

 

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Phantom Nipples

I have phantom nipples. They get hard when I get chilly. I can feel them from the inside. The feeling registers in my brain.

And I still have boobs. I can feel them from the inside. The tightening sensation of my scar tissue is actually a very tight sports bra, in my brain. It feels as if there are still boobs there. Then I look down, and see that they’re gone. But my brain doesn’t even believe my eyes!  I actually have to press my hands down onto my flat chest to prove the truth to myself.

There is currently a huge disconnect between my body and my brain. There is a disconnect between reality and my brain’s perception of reality. The nerve endings have been severed, but the pathways to and from the brain are still there.

Those pathways are like trails in the woods. They have been traveled and trodden for almost 50 years. They are well worn. It will take some time to cover them over with new growth. It will take some time for new paths to be worn.

After my father died, he was still alive for months. I could still feel him, from the inside, in my brain. When something would break and I wanted to know how to fix it, I reached for the phone to call him.  I had to stop and catch my breath to actually remind myself of what was true.

That path was well worn.

Some of the changes in our lives happen slowly over the course of time: wrinkles, gray hair, wear and tear. The pathways change slowly, and we have time to adjust course. Some changes happen quickly: illnesses, deaths, births, new loves. A giant tree falls on the path, and there is no way to move it. We have to find another way to go. Or we can simply stand still forever.

Take a moment right now to picture yourself. Without looking down, just imagine yourself from the inside:  your face, your body, your whole self. Close your eyes for a breath and see yourself from the inside. What do you see? What does the ‘self’ in your mind look like?

Is that your real self? Do your insides match your outsides? Are you on the right path? Or are you fighting reality, struggling on your old paths, still trying to chop through the new growth?

I find it easiest if I follow the path that my breath carves out for me. Breathing deeply, I establish my presence in this current moment, my presence in the real-actual-reality.

The pathways of our brains, the habits of our lives, the way we feel on the inside, they are not always the reality of the situation. Our minds have the awesome power of tricking us into believing things that just are not true.

I know the magnitude of this power, because my entire nervous system has currently declared mutiny on reality! I look down, and see nothing, but the phantoms are there! In my mind they are there!

I will form a new path with my breath. Each inhale and exhale gently clearing the way. And I might need a machete.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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On Meditation: It Comes in Waves 

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Less of a Woman 

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