This My Shit

My yoga teacher shared her experience attending a new (to her) class.  The unfamiliar instructor opened by sharing a vulnerability – then labeled it her “s.h.i.t.”  Throughout the session she invited everyone to observe if their practice was bringing up their own “bleep.”

My teacher was struck by her resistance to this perspective.  Why label a vulnerability as our bleep?  Certainly we have “sticky spots” – limitations.  Being vulnerable isn’t necessarily bad – isn’t bleep.  It just is.  We were encouraged throughout class to simply be with our vulnerability – see it; rest with it on the mat.  Let it be; hold it – allow it to teach us.

All the stories we tell about ourselves are what Pema Chodron calls a “fixed identity” in her book Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change.  We hold onto this identity as a safety net.  It allows us to accept how uncomfortable it is not knowing what’s around the corner in our lives.  We cling to what we know “for sure” – even when we don’t know jack.  Pema says this identity is:

“— a fixed view we have of ourselves as good or bad, worthy or unworthy, this or that.  With a fixed identity, we have to busy ourselves with tying to rearrange reality, because reality doesn’t always conform to our view.” 

We label ourselves – meeting the world armed with stories and identities.  Pema says:

“In Buddhism we call the notion of a fixed identity ‘ego clinging.’  It’s how we try to put solid ground under our feet in an ever-shifting world.  Meditation practice starts to erode that fixed identity.”

Meditation – sitting with my vulnerability on the yoga mat; allowing this discomfort; physical, mental, emotional, be my teacher.

“The purpose of the spiritual path is to unmask, to take off our armor.  When that happens, it feels like a crisis because it is a crisis—a fixed identity crisis.  The Buddha taught that the fixed identity is the cause of our suffering.”

Being in crisis is unsettling.  No wonder we cling to who we think we are – repeating those stories, cementing old habits.  Pema said that according to the brain scientist Jill Bolte Taylor:  “the physiological mechanism behind emotion … lasts about ninety seconds from the moment it’s triggered until it runs its course.”  If we let it run longer it’s because we choose to keep up the dialog.  To stop that chatter Pema suggests we:

     “Acknowledge the feeling, give it your full, compassionate, even welcoming attention, and even if it’s only for a few seconds, drop the story line about the feeling.  This allows you to have a direct experience of it, free of interpretation.  Don’t fuel it with concepts or opinions about whether it’s good or bad.  Just be present with the sensation.  Where is it located in your body?  Does it remain the same for very long?  Does it shift and change?”

Pema and my yoga teacher tell me to let these feelings be guides; my “gateway to liberation.”  Easier said than done.  But when I try . . . I do feel better.


“Living is a form of not being sure, not knowing what next or how.  The moment you know how, you begin to die a little.  The artist never entirely knows.  We guess.  We may be wrong, but we take leap after leap in the dark.” – Agnes de Mille


Thoughts – Hold on Loosely

Are my thoughts a habit of mind that I acquired as I grew up?  Were they planted by my family . . . cultivated and nurtured by my peers, experience and education?  Or are they “closer to being instincts” as Robert Wright proposes in his book Why Buddhism Is True?  A classic conundrum – nature vs. nurture.

Wherever they’re born, it’s easy to fall into the trap of believing I am my thoughts.  I am not.

“A thought is harmless unless we believe it.  It’s not our thoughts, but our attachment to our thoughts that cause suffering.  Attaching to a thought means believing that it’s true, without inquiring.  A belief is a thought that we’ve been attaching to.” – Byron Katie

All those stories I tell myself and others about who I am, what I know, are just that – stories.  Believing my own stories, that drama; the spectacle – creates suffering.  Letting go, releasing my expectation that a certain something must happen, brings a relaxed sense of calm.

Holding tight to the story – attaching to it as Byron Katie says; brings resistance – and ultimately suffering.

I have a choice.  Calm, relaxed awareness – or resistance and suffering.  What will I choose today?


“To me the ego is the habitual and compulsive thought processes that go through everybody’s mind continuously.  External things like possessions or memories or failures or successes or achievements.  Your personal history.” – Eckhart Tolle


The Queen of Me

In his book “Why Buddhism Is True; The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment,” Robert Wright discusses the Buddhist concept of not-self.  The view of “not-self” is hard for westerners to appreciate.   We think we’re in charge – we’re our very own CEO.  In control our mind, the beliefs we hold; the world we see from our very own eyes.

The Buddha asks . . . where is the “Self” found?  He walks us through the five “aggregates” which in Buddhism comprise the human experience.  Can you find it here?

  1. The physical body – including the sense organs like the eyes and ears
  2. Basic feelings
  3. Perceptions – identifiable sights and sounds
  4. Mental formations – emotions, thoughts, inclinations, habits, decisions
  5. Consciousness – awareness; especially of the other four aggregates

Who’s in “control?”

If I’m Queen of “Me” … wouldn’t these aggregates obey my wishes?

If I were Queen of Me … my body would behave as instructed, I’d feel happy, joyous and free ALWAYS!  My Queen would ensure my perceptions are noble and true; my emotions steady and pleasing.  There would be no radical committee in my head hi-jacking my thoughts, inclinations and habits.  No!  My Queen would be consciously aware in all things.

If I were Queen of “Me.”

So why does my body fail me?  Why are my feelings untidy and complicated?  How is it that my habitual thinking creates warped perceptions?  That insurgent committee in my head? – has far too much power over my thoughts.  Would love to say I’m always conscious … except when I find myself home after a long day, and really don’t remember much of the ride.

Wright quotes Buddhist monk Walpola Rahula:

“… the idea of self is an imaginary, false belief which has no corresponding reality, and it produces harmful thoughts of ‘me’ and ‘mine,’ selfish desire, craving, attachment, hatred, ill-will, conceit, pride, egoism, and other defilements, impurities, and problems.  It is the source of all the troubles in the world from personal conflicts to wars between nations.  In short, to this false view can be traced all the evil in the world.”

Who the hell’s in charge then?

According to Wright, there is no boss; “if there is something that qualifies as a constant amid the flux, something that really does endure, essentially unchanged, through time, that something is an illusion: the illusion that there is a CEO, a king, and that “I”—the conscious I—am it.”

“… it’s a jungle in there, and you’re not the king of the jungle.  The good news is that, paradoxically, realizing you’re not king can be the first step toward getting some real power.”

Using a “field of evolutionary psychology” that asserts “the mind is ‘modular’,” Wright proposes we look at how our brains evolved for the source of thoughts, feelings and beliefs.  This psychological approach says people primarily behave in ways that ensure our genes get passed on to the next generation.  The choices we make, the theory goes, are all a factor of evolution.

The primary mental modules are:

  • “attracting mates
  • keeping them
  • enhancing your status (which can mean derogating rivals)
  • taking care of kin
  • tending to your friendships (which includes making sure they are reciprocal and that you’re not getting exploited)
  • And oddly … looking forward to a reward” (aka beer, sugar, tobacco)

“When your mind is wandering it may feel … like it’s strolling along the landscape of modules and sampling them, indulging one module for a while, then eventually moving on to another one.”  Or consider that “the different modules are competing for your attention, and when the mind “wanders” from one module to another, what’s actually happening is that the second module has acquired enough strength to wrestle control of your consciousness from the first module.”

 “… your mind isn’t wandering within its own terrain so much as being hijacked by intruders.”

These thought modules become habit and “it takes practice to try to break this conditioning, to be mindful of the thought rather than be lost in it.”  We all love a good story; and the story we tell ourselves is what we tend to believe.

What are my stories?  I’d love for the “I can’t resist sweets” story module to be wrestled to the ground by the “I eat healthy foods” story module.  Evolutionarily-wise … eating healthy should have lots of muscle!  But NOOOOO … I allowed the sweets reward module to become The Hulk!  How can I tame this monster?

Wright provides what he calls “A New Approach” to turn around what could be considered a self-discipline issue.

“… suppose you think of the problem as instead being this particular module that has formed a particular strong habit.  How would you try to overcome the problem then?  You might try something like mindfulness meditation.

“Judson Brewer, who did a study at Yale Medical School . . . said the basic idea is to not fight the urge. . .

That doesn’t mean you succumb . . . it just means you don’t try to push the urge out of your mind.  Rather you follow the same mindfulness technique that you’d apply to other bothersome feelings—anxiety, resentment, melancholy, hatred.  You just calmly (or as calmly as possible) … examine the feeling.  What part of your body is the urge felt in?  What is the texture of the urge?  Is it sharp?  Dull and heavy?

“The more you do that, the less the urge seems a part of you; you’ve exploited the basis irony of mindfulness meditation: getting close enough to feelings to take a good look at them winds up giving you a kind of critical distance from them.  Their grip on you loosens; if it loosens enough, they’re no longer a part of you.” 

Wright provides an acronym to describe the technique:  “RAIN”

R:  Recognize the feeling

 A:  Accept the feeling

 I:  Investigate the feeling

 N:  Non-identification; and eventually Non-attachment

Naturally I experimented with my “sweets” addiction story!  DAMN if it didn’t help!  This reward module being The Hulk will probably require reinforcement – but I don’t doubt a healthier module will rise up with sustained mindfulness.

It’s impressive the way Robert Wright brought together the disciplines of Buddhist meditation, psychology and the science of habit.  I do love a good mash-up!

This practical application of mindfulness meditation is a different kind of sweet – one that has the potential to improve my life in many quarters.  Let the paradox of releasing the Queen – relinquishing control – give power to my something other.


“Let go or be dragged.” ― Zen Proverb


Woulda, Shoulda, Coulda – Once Again

Woulda, shoulda, coulda – Who doesn’t have a regret or a missed opportunity these words imply?

If I would have . . .  Maybe I should have . . . If only I could have . . .  So many ways to live in the past instead of now.  Sometimes I don’t even realize I’m going there.

Being motivated, driven even; I freely acknowledge being a “Type A” personality – for decades!  I owned the labels: competitive, organized; ambitious.  While I didn’t necessarily like being tagged impatient and aggressive, if I’m honest they applied from time to time.

A year-and-a-half ago, I stepped off the corporate treadmill.  Now what?  Naturally I had plans.  Then life happened, and I’m 18 months down a road I didn’t expect.  Stepping away from being tightly scheduled, determined and industrious is enlightening.  And uncomfortable.

If I woulda stayed on plan; I coulda already written a book.  Shoulda kept to a schedule … woulda had more to show for all these months.  What a load of horse manure.  Still uncomfortable.

How easy it is to get sucked into this thinking.  I’m incredibly grateful for my driven race to achieve goals … they brought me to a place where I can practice “Type B” behaviors.  Re-train the brain.  When I move past my discomfort, this new laid back lifestyle feels right and true.  I’m learning that Type B’s aren’t slackers. They enjoy achievement; just don’t get all stressed out about it.  And apparently have fewer heart attacks!

Allowing life to unfold – “living my way into the answer” as my friend Renee says, is an approach worth taking.  Accepting that what I thought to be true may not be … opens my life to new possibilities.  Some folks don’t get the opportunity to make this shift voluntarily.  Re-imagining life, reinventing myself is a gift.  Just maybe not the gift I expected.

Onward; slowly – like a snail or a leisurely summer Sunday.  Achievement will happen; or not, one step – one day at a time.


“Try not to resist the changes that come your way.  Instead let life live through you.  And do not worry that your life is turning upside down.  How do you know that the side you are used to is better than the one to come?” – Rumi


You Look Marvelous!

The fresh, young millennial in last week’s yoga class had beautiful legs – with a light brown downy pelt of hair; soft and silky smooth.  It was dazzling, amazing – lovely.  She probably never put a razor to her legs once.  Trying to remember why I spend any time at all on that activity.  As a kid, I WANTED to shave my legs; made me feel all grown up – glamorous.  Decades later that upkeep is frankly a pain in the ass.

The reasons behind shaving, plucking and adorning women’s bodies has changed and morphed throughout history.  Why do women keep on shaving today?  Why do I?  It can’t simply be aesthetics when natural can be so pretty.  Is it because I was brought up to think I must?  To believe in this activity as a condition for beauty?

Going natural – in bits and pieces is my new experiment.  Fingernails, toenails – makeup . . . the non-permanent stuff . . . whose scale of difficulty to go au naturale varies.  That one really ugly toe (ugh) . . . slides the scale toward uncomfortable – but bearable.

Of course there’s THE BIG ONE . . . Hair!  When I left the corporate world I gave myself permission to quit the tedious and expensive ritual of dying my hair.  Chasing the auburn was wearing my ass out – and I suspected I’d be 100% white/gray. Boy-oh-boy was I scared!  What would people think?  Would I look old? – Ugly?  What would they say at Hip-Hop class?  I was extremely nervous, but determined.  Luckily I found a private support group on Facebook that helped me re-frame the questions.  Instead of wondering what other’s thought – I was encouraged to ask “What do I think?”  Instead of worrying about looking old – they wanted to know “How did I like my new look?”

Of course when the movie ticket guy asked my husband “is that one adult and one senior?” – Me being “THE SENIOR” – I was just a tiny bit thrown.  Then I laughed – have to wait a bit longer for that discount.

Society has very clear standards for female appearance – and behavior.  We’re expected to look a certain way, with the right make-up, hair, nails – and yes silky naked legs.  Too often we’re supposed to be quiet, calm and lady-like – all “sugar and spice and everything nice.”

Just not buying that right now.  We – men and women – are messy, complicated and peculiar.  When I’m authentic, I contribute something unique to the world.  It’s easier for me to make physical changes than behavioral adjustments.  This experiment is moving my comfort zone . . . providing the impetus to brave the source of my beliefs behind appearances.

Will there be a silky pelt on my lower appendages in the future?  – Hmmm, jury still out on that one.


“You look marvelous!” – catchphrase of Fernando Lamas. That is who Billy Crystal modeled his character “Fernando” after.