Crying for Challah

I make a lot of challah.  The retreat center I live at often engages in a specific process involving challah, and I’m lucky enough to sometimes get to be the chef for the weekend, which means I’m the one responsible for making said challah.

I could probably write a whole book about challah, and maybe someday I will.  It’s a truly magical bread, and the making of it is a potent process.

Sometimes I cook with friends; sometimes they make the challah; sometimes I do…sometimes we create it together.  Sometimes the kitchen is full of chaos and noise while I’m kneading the dough and braiding it.  Sometimes I’m happy; sometimes I’m sad.  Every challah is perfect, even the imperfect ones, and every challah-making experience is a ritual in its own right and comes with its own challenges and lessons.

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Transition: New Home, New Stories, New Life

Wow, note to self – blog about welcoming the void, and the void appears…it’s been almost two months since my last post, and they’ve been months of going inward, certainly, and then moving outward into my life in a new way; a time of transition.

I engaged in a delicious, ordinary, everyday ritual: I moved.  I sorted through all of my possessions – touched everything I owned – and released most of it, passed along with gratitude to someone who will use it.  It was, for me, joyous, even in the difficult moments.  And there were difficult moments as my system processed so much change all at once.  But the bumps were all navigable; I felt so ready to let go of what was no longer needed.  And in the letting go, I could feel the return of all the spanda, or life-force that I had tied up in maintaining a bond of ownership with those things.  I felt energized from it, and it was a good thing, too, because transition takes energy, and I needed every drop I could get.

I’ve moved in to a cozy little bungalow, on-campus at the retreat center where I’ve studied and trained and cooked and led, and above all, healed and grown for the past seven years and change.  I’m here to continue to do all of those things and more, in the form of a six-month internship, a program that has been referred to as “personal-growth boot-camp.”  I’m so excited.

I’ve been here for a couple of weeks now, so I’m settled in, and the work has begun already, by which I mean I’m coming face to face with the stories I tell about myself and the world, and am undergoing the same process I went through while moving, only this time it’s on a different level – instead of sorting through possessions I am sorting through perspectives, and releasing the ones that I no longer need.  This, then, frees up the spanda I had tied up in maintaining the perspective, which I can use to fuel more aliveness in my life, or to fuel a new perspective on something.

This is not always comfortable.  The tricky thing about perspectives is that we tend to identify with them; we internalize them until we believe that they are part of who we are.  I think we each have one true Perspective – one essential Perspective, that is  – the Perspective of our very essence.  I think that one Perspective really does define us; it makes us who we are.  This larger Perspective is unchanging and cannot be released.  The smaller perspectives are the ones that I am talking about.  They are invented as attempts to explain the nature of reality to ourselves when we lose true Perspective.  By nature, they are partial.

Okay, it’s all very abstract, so I’ll concretize it a bit.  Here’s one of the ways this process of perspective-shedding has looked:  I used to tell a story that I hated winter and that I couldn’t stand the cold or the grey.  This was a limited perspective – it was connected to the idea that I am somehow separate from nature and it’s rhythms and cycles and seasons.  I told this story for so long that I had begun to identify with it – to think of it as “just part of being me”, and so I strengthened it by never having the appropriate winter gear and refusing to go out in nature in the wintertime.

Well, a couple of months ago, my Teacher’s Teacher came to town and I had a session with him, and he told me I needed to move my body outside every day for 45 minutes at least.  Now, the thing is, when the Teacher’s Teacher talks, it’s worth listening to.  Not because he’s an enlightened being who knows what’s best for you, but because he’s usually right, and he’s been at it a lot longer than you, and he wants what’s best for you, and you respect him and his wisdom.

So I’m working my way up to it.  I started with getting the right winter gear. Abundance Herself showed up in the form of some beloveds in my life who knew I was trying to befriend the season and were very generous.  Then I decided to start with 5 days a week, because this is a big change from “as little contact with winter as possible” and I want to ease into it.  I also didn’t keep time at the beginning, and let myself start small – 10 or 15 minutes at a time.  Soon enough, I made it to 45 minutes, and am enjoying every one.  It’s such a gift to be able to walk under the trees (almost!) every day, and I’m quickly finding myself falling in love with winter.  My walk is becoming a touchstone for me; a place I find inspiration, or comfort, or grounding.

And I’m not telling the story of “I hate winter” anymore.  I’m walking – literally – into closer connection with the natural world, which is tied to true Perspective, the only Perspective that can see the Oneness of it all and the Manyness of it all at the same time. And I see now I’ve landed back in the esoteric.

Anyway, it’s shaping up to be a transformational 6 months.  Because the program is so intense, it’s unlikely that I’ll have time to blog every week, but will do my best to post at least once a month.  I’m really looking forward to this journey and seeing where it takes me and sharing some of the learnings along the way.

I think it’s pretty awesome that, just about 6 months after saying “Hell Yes” to my life and posting my very first blog, I arrived here, which has felt like my life saying “Hell Yes” back to me.

Well, that’s my 2015 so far.  How’s yours going?  Comment and let me know!

Welcoming the Void

Well, we’ve settled fully into winter, here in the Catskills.  Right this moment, I am blogging from a friend’s guest room.  I came over to (what else?) make a pot of soup, and got caught out by an icy rain that pretty much ruled out the option of driving home tonight.

The transition from late-fall to winter, in my judgment, happened on Monday.  We’d had snow, sure, but it had been the light and fluffy kind, and the sun had been shining, and there wasn’t much ice around, just snow.  And then on Monday, everything was grey.  And wet.  And…bleak.  It suddenly really felt like winter.  Driving home from the bank on Old Route 17, I passed three crows in a triangle – one on either side of the road, and the third on a branch extending out above me.  Crows, in my world, are associated with Dhumavati, who is a crazy-cool Tantric goddess.  She is, among other things, the goddess of the void.  Of nothingness.

Driving past those crows and looking out at all the grey, and the dripping-wet-ice-cold-bleak-and bleary world, reminded me that winter is the time of the void.  The time for going inward.  The time for stillness, and quiet, and letting go of what needs to be let go.

I do not always welcome winter, or its arrival, and I do not always welcome the void when it arrives.  But this year, I am embracing the chance to settle into the void…welcoming it like an old friend.  It’s been a big year, overall, and a big several months in my life, in particular.  I never dreamed, when I finished my memoir early this year, that before the end of the year I would have listed it online for sale, and experienced the wonder of people reading it, and interacting with it, and being impacted by it.  I never dreamed, two weeks ago when I was idly toying with the idea of blogging about Bill Cosby, that I would have something I wanted to say to the world, and work to be heard, and reach over 1200 people with my words.  I never dreamed, a year ago, that I would be getting ready to pack up and move out of the apartment I’ve called home for nearly four years, and move into a six-month intensive community life experiment.

I have risked-in-the-world more this year than any year previous.  I’ve become more embodied – more connected to the whole; I’ve nurtured my connection to the rest of the world and watched it grow.  And it has been, on the whole, a grand experiment.  And it has been a long year, and a lot of hard work, a lot of shedding of old habits of hiding and isolating.

And now the winter is here.  And it’s likely that the pace of my life won’t really slow down much – it might even pick up – but I’m going to make sure I make time for the void.  To let myself meander nostalgically through my memories as I sort through my belongings and pack in preparation for my move.  To gaze at the empty spaces on the walls when I take the artwork down, and feel the empty spaces in me, the places that ache where some things used to be, but are no longer.  To stand in the middle of a snow-covered field and gaze out at the blank expanse, and feel my own sense of spaciousness, the freedom to move; the room for newness to emerge…the excitement of a blank page or a blank canvas.

I am looking forward to being with the nothingness of winter…to mourn the dreams that have passed, and nurture the ones that are growing.  Because the nothingness is what contains all the potential for newness…the ashes of old dreams nurture the seeds of new ones.

Winter always makes me think of grief, and this year I have more reasons than usual to dwell on the topic.  I think there’s something truly beautiful about really giving yourself space to grieve, and grieve fully…whether you are grieving a loved one, a dream, or any other loss…I think something beautiful happens when you let yourself have your grieving process.  Something grows from it.  Something strong-yet-flexible, silver-colored and quiet and wise gathers itself in your soul and manifests something new, something that could only have grown from this particular pain.  It’s the promise of hope, hidden inside the seed of sorrow, just as the entire structure of the oak is hidden within the acorn.  And just like the acorn has to break open for the tree to emerge, so our hearts have to break — we have to fully experience the void — for the hope to reveal its shape.

Sometimes, the void feels like my own deepest abyss, and all that nothingness feels cold and hard and cutting, like an icy wind.  And sometimes, the void feels like a sanctuary…a place of quiet, and rest, and gestation.  In reality, I think the nothingness of the void is like space – like you could stare at an empty spot of sky, seeing nothing, for ten years straight, and never realize that in the space where you couldn’t see anything, millions of galaxies were dancing all along.

As this winter begins, I am embracing this perspective on the void – as the nothingness that contains all the potential for everything there could ever be – and I am smiling at its arrival, ready to listen to the hush of the snowfall, and feel the tiny cracks of the seeds breaking open, deep beneath the soil…ready, even, to let my tears fall, knowing that they are there to water the seeds.

Outside the “Rapist Box”: Bill Cosby, Woody Allen, and my Father

There’s been a lot of hype all over the internet lately about Bill Cosby and his alleged crimes.  This post is not about the question of whether or not he committed them.  If he did, it is tragic.  If he didn’t, the accusations against him are tragic.  Either way, it affects a specific group of people, and none of them are me, which probably makes it none of my business.

What I am interested in is the cultural response to the story.  Over and over I have seen people wondering whether it’s still okay to love The Cosby Show, or to laugh at Cosby’s stand-up jokes.  It seems that, if Cosby is a rapist, it casts a pall over everything he has ever produced, and has every chance of ending his career.  “Did it have to be Cliff Huxtable?” asks one article, while another asserts that “these revelations cast America’s once-favorite sitcom dad in terrible light.”  Netflix, TV Land, and NBC all jumped the sinking Cosby ship within a matter of days, canceling shows or pulling reruns.  Theaters began canceling his upcoming appearances.  “Run away,” says the mainstream media, “we don’t want to be seen to associate with an accused rapist!

It reminds me very much of the reactions early this year when the accusations against Woody Allen took center stage.  People who loved his movies suddenly seemed to be ashamed of that love, or to feel the need to never watch them again.  In fact, a personal appeal from the alleged victim, Dylan Farrow, asked for exactly that: for people to stop celebrating Woody Allen’s films.  It’s as if the overall cultural response is to say, “Well, if someone is a rapist, that means nothing they’ve ever done can be enjoyed or celebrated, because that would be supporting them, and supporting them is the same thing as supporting rape, and we certainly don’t support rape.”

Again, I’m not interested in arguing about whether any of these allegations are true or not.  There are plenty of articles out there arguing both sides of all these stories.  I am interested, primarily, in the cultural response to the phenomenon of rape. 

My interest in this issue stems from my own personal history. Continue reading

Divine Dissatisfaction

I got to see one of my favorite people this week – a friend who is more like a big brother or super-cool uncle than a friend.  One of my favorite things about this dude is the sort of wild and creative deeply mystical conversations we can get into — it’s just all kinds of fun.

This time, we didn’t have spades of time to dive deeply into the conversation, so we did a condensed, preview version instead, of a conversation we’ll have sometime in the next few weeks.  It went something like this:

Me: “So, the big idea I’ve been grooving on lately is that everything is already perfect.”

Him: “Wow.  I’ve been on the opposite side – looking at the universe as inherently failure.”

Me: “I think it’s the same thing.”

Needless to say, I’m greatly looking forward to having the time and the space to really explore this notion.  Here’s what I’ve got so far…

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A Story of Grace

Lately I’ve been writing fiction.  I’m having a great time with it.  It’s liberating, after spending so much time writing Memoir, to delve into a realm of complete creativity — to move from harvesting the patterns from my own experience into using those patterns as a foundation to weave something totally new – a telling of a story that is unprecedented.  And yet, even in its newness, it feels old; it feels connected to archetypes and patterns that are inherent in every aspect of this universe that we are playing in.

This new experiment of writing fiction has me pondering the notion that maybe there is, really, only one story, a story that all of creation is telling, and that every unique story – whether fact or fiction, is simply a thread in the web of this one, ultimate story.  Inside of this notion, the One Story, then, is the Ultimate Reality…is God/Spirit/The Divine/The Soul of the Universe…or whatever language works for you.

Let’s sink deeper into this concept of The Ultimate Reality perceived as Story: Continue reading

A case of the greys

Hello, again.

I missed blogging last week.  Do you know the expression “my eyes were bigger than my plate”?  Well, last week, my eyes were bigger than my schedule.  I just kept adding things in, all the while absolutely sure I’d be able to do all of it.  Turns out, I cannot squeeze more than 24 hours into a day.

It triggers my perfectionism, to miss a week.  And all my voices have to have their say about it — “How could I let my readers down?”  “Let them down?  Seriously? How egotistical is it to think anyone depends on my weekly post?”  “But…I made a commitment to blogging on Tuesdays.”  and on, and on, and on.

It’s a predictable path, culminating, of course, in the arrival of yesterday.  Another Tuesday.  And me, all tangled up in my head, feeling like I have nothing to write about.  Which is just silly.  In this whole wide world, there is always something to ponder, and in my life, if there’s something to think about there is something to write about.  Nevertheless, I spent yesterday hanging out in the greys.

And then I woke up cranky.  Irritable.  Out of sorts.

So I got myself out of bed, and into the shower, and dressed, and brought myself out to the diner.  Because sometimes a case of the greys requires a healthy dose of hot chocolate, and sometimes sitting at the diner with my laptop gets me to write when nothing else will.

Maybe it’s the magic hot chocolate, but I’m sitting here, surrounded by pink-and-teal diner decor, laughing at myself.  Because it’s just so obvious and predictable.  I came home on Sunday from an amazing workshop saying to myself “I need to spend some time writing.”  And then I didn’t write.  And then I got cranky.  And it’s really that simple.

I think that we all have things that we need to do.

I’m not talking about the giant list of things we all carry around that we should be doing – you know the one – eat healthy, exercise more, get enough sleep, lose 5 pounds, volunteer, etc, etc – but the list of things we need to do.  Things that are essential to who we are.

There are the universal needs – breathing, hydrating, some amount of nourishment and sleep…but what I’m interested in right now are the individual needs. We all have them.  The things we’ve found that make us feel alive.  One of my major ones is writing.  It doesn’t just make me feel alive, it helps me stay sane.

So my question this morning is: why do I ever resist it? It’s one thing when, like last week, I am just over-busy.  But this week was a different story.  I could have taken an hour yesterday, or the day before, to write.  And I didn’t.  Instead I hung out in the greys.

I’m wondering if it’s about capacity for aliveness.  See, being fully alive is, well, a lot.  It’s intense.  And I think it’s a muscle that takes time to develop.  So maybe my resistance is just a muscle that isn’t fully developed yet.  Or maybe it’s not about capacity for aliveness, but rather about habitual numbness.  Maybe when my system is on a roll, there’s a message that starts flashing in my head — **warning, warning, this is not what this system is accustomed to. Please return to status quo immediately.**

I’m not sure.  What I do know is that writing (not every day, but a couple of times a week) is a vital part of my fully-alive life.  And that sometimes I resist my aliveness, and choose to live in the grey for a few hours, or a few days, or even a few weeks.

Here’s the thing – I love the color grey.  And there’s something delicious about wallowing in it for a while (as long as it isn’t too long).  The trick here is, I want to go grey on purpose, and not by default.  I want to schedule it, to make it part of my life.

I’m starting to think that my fully-alive life isn’t actually about being fully alive every moment of every day…but rather being in balance between the bright times and the grey times; mixing aliveness and deadness together in an expression of being that is unique to me and feels delicious…that somehow the grey days make the colorful days brighter.

What do you think?  Are there things you need to do that you don’t always do?  Do you find that the times of resistance enhance the times of flow?  I’d love to hear from you!


The Still Center

I’ve been toying with an idea, all week.  Want to play along?

Consider then, with me, the possibility that everything is already perfect.  What happens, in you, when you entertain that notion?  In myself, I immediately experience the voices of resistance.  Overwhelmingly they are voices reason, of logic, the mental chatter that tells me it cannot possibly be so.

“If things are so perfect,” these voices ask, “then why is there still poverty, and hunger, and war?  If things are so perfect, why is there disease, and death?  If things are so perfect, why are we facing the potential death of our species if we don’t make changes?”

The mind is such a powerful tool.  Sometimes more powerful than its wielder.  But if I breathe through these questions, if I stay relaxed, I feel my way back into my own center and this sense…this small thread of peace…this place in me that insists – “Everything is already perfect.”

And if I answer the questions of my mind from my own still center, it sounds something like this:

Of course there is poverty, and hunger, and war.  Of course there is disease, and death.  We are in the midst of evolution – infinitely.  We are in process – permanently.  The messiness of creation is a constant part of our reality, because we are constantly in birth, constantly in conception, constantly in death, constantly in-between…and all of it is messy.  Does this mean that all of these difficult things, all of this suffering, is a given, unto eternity?  No.  We are made new in every moment as we transform and create and transform and create and transform and create.  Who knows what will emerge?

What is certain is that creation and destruction are two sides of the same coin.  That Being and Non-Being exist in symbiosis.  That consciousness and unconsciousness are dancing, together, and removing one side of the dance would end the dance.  What is certain is that duality drives creation.  And creation is our evolution.

“So, if duality is the driving force of our evolution, what does that mean?” the mind wonders.

It means that spending my time and energy trying to eradicate unconsciousness, or end war, is equivalent to spending my time resisting the forces that are here to drive transformation.  Perhaps, if I focus instead on creating, the manifestations of suffering will shift in response.  Perhaps, if I change creation –through my own process of creating– then destruction will change as a result.

It means that everything we perceive as negative – from the personal wounding we each have in our own stories, to the global suffering we see all around us, to the mild annoyance of a miscommunication – it means that all of it is driving transformation.  And that everything we perceive as positive – love, pleasure, joy, ease – is also driving transformation.  It means that it’s all part of the experiment, and that the experiment is transformation.

And if the experiment is transformation, and I look around and see us transforming – individually, yes, but mostly as a collective: from the big bang to now and looking forward to something we can’t even imagine – well, then, everything is already perfect.  Because we are in an experiment of transformation, and we are transforming.  Perfection.

From this place, from the center of a web of perfection, the complex feels simple.  All that remains for me is to first understand that everything is perfect; second, act like everything is perfect, and third, participate in co-creating more perfection with the perfection that already exists.

From this perspective, Creativity – the weaving together of a perfection that is with a perfection that is emergent – is the highest form of Worship.

Thanks for playing with me today, in this idea of Perfection.  I’d love to hear your response to this play — both the voices that emerge in response to the idea, and the wisdom from your own still center.

Returning to Vulnerability

whole heartSurprise! Another blog post – not even one day since this morning’s, and not at all the usual week later.

I have a reason.

See, something was niggling me about this morning’s post.  I wrote it.  I proofread it.  It seemed fine, so I posted it.  And still…something felt a bit off.  All day, something felt a bit off.

It was only in explaining something to someone else that I finally understood what was bothering me.  I was speaking with a woman who was struggling with a decision – whether or not to make herself vulnerable.  I wrote her an email that included the following:

This past year I’ve worked my ass off to learn about true vulnerability.  For a long time, I thought that because I can let people see my emotions easily, it meant I knew how to be vulnerable.

Turns out, vulnerability is so much harder than that.  I’ve come a long way, and I’m still working it.  It’s one thing to ask & receive when there’s no other choice – as I’ve done many times in my life when I’ve been desperate.

It’s when there is a choice…when you can either hang on to pride and tough it out and survive, but not really get your needs met…or open up and put yourself out there and ask and then stay open long enough to receive… that’s when real vulnerability comes into play.  Vulnerability is always a choice; always an act of strength, and it’s always brave…

…I thought, because I’d been broken, that I knew what vulnerability was.  But I only really started to learn about it once I became strong.  Because it takes strength to risk getting vulnerable, and strength to stay open enough to receive.

As I hit “send” on the email, it hit me — suddenly I realized what was bothering me about my blog post:
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Painting has taught me a lot about perspective.

Now, I’m much more of a writer than a painter.  But I have a dear friend who’s a serious painter – truly amazing.  And this last year I’ve gotten to spend some time hanging out with her and some other awesome women, painting (and laughing, and listening to music, and eating good food.  It’s spectacular.)

My painter friend, Georgeanne, has taught me many valuable lessons.  Above all other things I’ve learned from her, I value this play of perspectives the most.  She paints on an easel, so that she can continually move from close in to far away.  Because a change in perspective lets you see things you would be otherwise blind to.  She also takes her time deciding on the orientation of any given painting – sometimes right side up becomes upside down in an instant.  Because changing the way you look at things changes the things you’re looking at. Continue reading