A note from Erin:
I’m sitting on my red couch, sipping English Breakfast tea as snow falls outside the window. It’s quiet. We’ve just driven home from a family gathering which has been wonderful and wonderfully not quiet. Our boy is thrilled to be romping around with 3 younger cousins; we’ve enjoyed our traditional holiday meal of sushi-making; so much opening of gifts, talking, laughing, a little bit of crying, and just now it feels so sweet to sit in a quiet, empty house for a few hours before we return to my parents’ ranch for more fun and fondue for dinner.
I find I want to write so many things today.
I want to send a shower of blessings. Whether you are celebrating, struggling, grieving, delighting, or some combination of all of those, I’m sending an ocean of blessings your way.
I also want to write a warning, mostly to myself, especially during this season of shiny-new self-improvement plans and grand resolutions, that, as Zen teacher Cheri Huber said so succinctly, “Self-hatred uses self-improvement as self-maintenance.” Perhaps loving and relaxing into our imperfect selves as we are is a true act of courage and kindness and one that’s dearly needed. If any “improvements” are to come, may they emerge from a deep well of compassion and respect rather than aggression toward what is.
One of my beloved mentors, Francis Weller, speaks often about our “culture of ascension,” in which we’re always encouraged to improve! and rise above! and cheer up! and get over it! and earn more! and go bigger! and pull yourself up by your bootstraps!! I notice I feel both a little magnetized and a lot exhausted by reading all!! those!!! invitations!!! What’s left behind when we’re busy ascending and transcending? Those who are struggling, in our inner and outer lives. Our less-than-shiny aspects. Our humanness. Grief. The dark. The very ground. I don’t want to leave any of those behind. I recall one class where Francis shared that the intention is to become an ordinary human being. Upon hearing it, one guy freaked out, confessing he’s been trying to be anything but ordinary all his life. But what a beautiful aspiration! To be a fully ordinary human being. May it be so.
I’m reminded of the difference between a tree, rooted deeply to support its rising over a lifetime, and a balloon, floating off into the ethers, bound to come down at last. I’m all for deep roots. May we have them, may we recognize them, may we honor them, may we inhabit them. May our rising be supported by them.
And I also want to offer (me, you, and anyone who needs them) some supportive reminders:
1. Right in this very moment, can you feel the earth supporting you? Right under your butt, your feet, is the living body of our vibrant planet, supporting you. This is true whatever kind of mood you’re in, how many ever years you’ve ignored her… there she is. Feel her? Can you feel your weight as a gift – one you can give to the ground, and one you can receive as a confirmation of your embodied presence? Right here, right now. It’s true.
2. Who buoys your heart? Hafiz, Rumi, Mary Oliver, and so many more poets are such reliable friends. Why not spend a little time with them? Today, every day?
3. How’s your breathing, right in this moment? As my friend, poet Brooke McNamara writes, “Do you recognize breath as an always holy door?” Let’s open that holy door right now. How about a soft belly in-breath? How about a very complete exhale? How about a little rest in the stillness between the breaths? How about repeating that a few times, maybe with your eyes closed? This being alive and embodied is a temporary gig. Let’s not miss the simple and profound pleasure in a fully inhabited breath.
4. Look up at the sky and remember that there’s room for it all. All. All of it. Room for you to hold 17 different conflicting thoughts and feelings at the same time. Room for beauty and suffering, for appreciation and heartache. Room for inspiration and exhaustion, past and future. There’s room. And in fact, we are not other than that spacious room. Your heart is big enough to welcome it all. Let’s not forget.
5. If you were asked to write 5 love letters today – to people, pets, blue morpho butterflies, your favorite body of water, the growers of your favorite coffee beans, a beloved book, a favorite song – what and who would you write to? Why are you waiting? And how about more love letters in 2019??? Can I get an Amen?
I was searching for a poem I wanted to share with you. I didn’t find the poem, but I did find this piece I wrote a year and a half ago, and wow – it did my heart such good to read it. I feel inspired to share it again with you.
I call it “The Only Heart Worth Having.” I’m including it below. For me, it’s everything. Truly.
The Only Heart Worth Having
I was recently listening to a favorite podcast, Living Myth with Michael Meade, and he quoted this proverb:
The only heart worth having is a broken heart.
Ain’t it the truth? (Dammit. It’s true. If only it were about feeling good.)
a quote from Scott Morrison
But alas, it’s not. Not anymore. Orienting primarily toward our own wellbeing while actively ignoring powerful truths that hurt to consider? Well – if you’ve ever tried that in your personal life (haven’t we all?) you know it doesn’t work.
We are being called to courage, compassion and clarity every day by the news of climate change, of political divisiveness, of seeing the painful truths of racism, misogyny, and homophobia and more, on display so clearly.
I don’t want an I feel good and I don’t want to acknowledge the hard stuff because it makes me feel bad-heart.
I want a heart broken open. Yet not one that wallows in dysfunctional despair.
I want a heart broken open enough to be grateful for the gift of a simple morning with a cup of coffee, sipped in a relatively safe place, with the knowledge that people I love are alive today. A broken open heart is tenderized by the knowledge that it won’t always be this way and knows that enjoying a cup of coffee in a safe place makes me one of the richest people in the world.
A broken open heart becomes fertile soil for gratitude. We know how easily a life is ended, so often way too soon. The broken open heart knows refugees are arriving cold and wet and desperate on a rocky shore in a foreign land and wishes to help, even as it delights in the luminous little goldfinches coming to the feeder. A broken open heart knows that someone we love is losing their memory and letting their hair get weird and their neck which was once cheerful and strong and upright is now bent at an angle beyond belief. A broken open heart knows that impermanence keeps casting its spell, like it or not. The broken open heart knows that a brown-skinned person wonders if they will survive a simple traffic stop by a cop, and knows that a frightened police officer wonders if they’ll survive their next interaction, and that heart is determined to love this life like crazy while also doing whatever it can to help end the violence. The broken open heart is fiercely concerned about her friends raising brown-skinned children in this culture. The broken open heart knows this morning’s sunrise was a miracle, each peachy cloud a grand gesture never to happen again in just the same way. A broken open heart knows there may soon be no more polar bears, it knows the coral reefs are dying, it is terrified for the future of the young ones; it is so painfully tenderized by all this even as it raises a glass to celebrate a wedding. A broken open heart is touched. A broken open heart cares. A broken open heart is permeable to the beauty and the ache. A broken open heart is the only heart worth having.
Friends, I think it’s time to de-center the goal of personal improvement and personal enlightenment, and certainly our personal pleasure. I think we’re being called to re-center LIFE, and to keep ourselves in intimate, broken-hearted, and life-giving connection with it. I think the future depends on it. I’m not saying do away with our own personal journey or enjoyment – but to place it in an appropriate relationship with the circumstances in which we are living.
Though Chogyam Trungpa died 30 years ago, his words are as fresh as a splash of cool water:
“The way of cowardice is to embed ourselves in a cocoon in which we perpetuate our habitual patterns. When we are constantly recreating our basic patterns of habits and thought, we never have to leap into fresh air or onto fresh ground.
The challenge of warriorship is to step out of the cocoon, to step out into space, by being brave and at the same time gentle.
To be a spiritual warrior, one must have a broken heart; without a broken heart and the sense of tenderness and vulnerability, your warriorship is untrustworthy.”
Personally, I feel called to trustworthy warriorship. I feel called to dedicate the embodiment and awareness work I do to the greater cause of supporting the healing that is called for in these critical times. And I do think this work has an important role to play.
We need to sober up. It’s not like it used to be. I find I can’t stomach the spiritual bypassing that happens around these issues in many communities. One of my friends and mentors, Russell Delman recently wrote a beautiful piece exploring privilege. He shared that some Buddhist friends replied to him, “Oh, I thought you were more awakened than that. I thought you understood emptiness.” It’s so disappointing (maddening, actually) to find that others imagine spiritual maturity is sitting on a cushion resting in spacious awareness and following the breath while ignoring the suffering of the world. I don’t think so.
Rob McNamara writes “Regardless of our cultural orientations, liberal, conservative, postmodern, modern, or otherwise, let’s come together to train rigorously. We need each other. Let’s engage our differences with a more adaptive mutuality, and use our diversity to develop ourselves into more worthy instruments able to serve what we most value.”
I want to be a more worthy instrument to serve what I most value. Don’t you?
Allow me to jump subjects for a moment: I love when I work with clients doing hands-on Feldenkrais and Embodied Life work and after a time, they often share something like this: “I can’t believe I’m saying this but I am so grateful for my back injury! It’s helped me to change my life in ways I never could have imagined.”
In my deep heart, I’m imagining something similar could happen with these critical issues of our time. I love to imagine a near-future where we could say, “I’m so grateful for the climate crisis because it helped us to transform our lives and culture and very way of being so profoundly in ways we never could have imagined before.” I like to imagine something similar for issues around social justice, the refugee crisis, and more.
But here’s the thing: We must not turn away. I know how much it hurts to look. But we must, friends. We must have the courage to let our hearts break, and then go on.
“The task of a mature human being is to hold grief in one hand and gratitude in the other and let yourself be stretched large by them.” We are called to do what Francis Weller invites in this quote. To become mature human beings.
A fierce determination to remain grateful is necessary ballast to let our hearts break.
For me, embodiment practices, like Feldenkrais, Embodied Life, Focusing, embodied meditation and more are intimately related with this whole topic. It’s astonishing how disembodied we are as a culture. We’re very “headist,” and we’re often disconnected from the intimate wisdom that lives in our embodied selves – in our guts, our hearts, our bones. It’s often true even of yogis and athletes who “work” their bodies, without so much listening. (I discovered disembodiment was true for me years ago even when I was a full-time yoga teacher, much to my dismay.) One reason we avoid really centering ourselves below the head is because all the feelings we avoid are right there. They can be messy and frightening. To be in your body is not only to feel your own personal grief, but the grief for the world. It’s also where we feel our most intimate joy and love and presence. In my heart, along with gratitude for this gorgeous summer day, is painful grief for Philando Castille’s tragic and unnecessary death and the court ruling that followed. I’m grieving for a punitive judicial system that pits people against one another, where what might actually be most helpful is for the officer to sit with the family and the community, to apologize, and for all of us to weep together. Grieving together might restorerelationship, not just establish whether a tragic death was legal or not. I think we need to let our hearts break together. You know the soft tenderness and humble groundedness you feel after a good cry? I know in my bones that good things will sprout from that soil in the hearts of those of us courageous enough to become permeable to life.
A big emphasis in our embodiment work is to help people reliably find a sense of grounded, centered, embodied presence, with a courageous kindness toward what is. This stable, living foundation allows us to do the necessary work in our lives during these critical times without being overwhelmed. We discover there’s room for it all. And we can show up, however imperfectly. And then do it again, with courage and humor and even joy.
Here’s an excerpt from Great Tide Rising, a powerfully sobering, heartbreaking, beautiful, devastating and encouraging book which I can’t recommend highly enough:
“Thich Nhat Hanh said, of the Buddha, “The real power…was that he had so much love. He saw people trapped in their notions of a small separate self, feeling guilty or proud of that self, and he offered revolutionary teachings that resounded like a lion’s roar, like a great rising tide, helping people to wake up and break free from the prison of ignorance.” That’s what the world must do now– summon from every voice the lion’s roar, gather from the seven seas the great rising tide, to stop the final plunder and wreck of the world.”
We must break free from the prison of ignorance. We must wake up. And let’s dare to do it with humor, and pleasure, and as much joy as we can muster, shan’t we? I don’t think we can do it without being embodied, present, and with courageous kindness.
Friends, we are the ones we’ve been waiting for.
One more quote from Great Tide Rising: “I believe that everything awaits redemption at every moment. Redemption: when the pieces, which are scattered, are brought together again into the vibrant harmony of living systems, when the whole that they create is beautiful and imbedded in even greater miracles of relation. We yearn to be called back in. Everything yearns to be called back into a right relationship, the frogs into their chorus, the cicadas into their pulsing choir, the people into Earth’s harmonies, the dancing insects into their light.” I’d like to add that the same is true of our bodies, hearts, and minds. We are called back to embodiment, to our innate wholeness, to full presence right here in this beautiful, suffering world.
I feel compelled to add this note: The imperative to wake up is not an invitation to freak out, guilt ourselves, and start making frantic to-do lists or “figure out what to do.” I believe we’re being called to a different kind of consciousness altogether. I believe we’re being invited into profound connection. All the very best “thinking” and “to-do listing” and disconnected “improving” of the past centuries have led us to the very brink of human survival on earth. We can’t use that consciousness to heal the situation. We must each discover our own emergent, creative, embodied, aware, compassionate way into a livable future.
Here’s a heartening perspective from Michael Meade:
The idea of a genius self already All kinds of ingenious solutions are needed; all types of inspiration, invention, and originality are now required.“The world is churning all around us, overheating with climate change and intensifying conflicts, but also awash with profound problems and rising seas. We live in critical times, amidst a worldwide shaking up and breaking down, surrounded by radical changes that severely affect both nature and culture. Given the size, scope, and complexity of the problems that currently threaten the world, there can be no single idea, specific political movement, or patented belief system that can save us. The question becomes not whether or not you are a genius, but in what way does genius appear in you and how might it contribute to your own wellbeing and benefit the world around you.”present and trying to awaken within each of us may serve us better than more common notions of a heroic solution.
And as Kathleen Dean Moore says, “It doesn’t matter what it is. If it is generous to life, imagine it into existence.”
And as Dogen said, “It’s too late to be ready.”
To your lion’s roar and your native genius….
Thank you for being here, for leaning toward being present, being kind, being visionary, being human and humane. What a gift.
With such gratitude that we’re in it together,