Comfort for the Disturbed & Disturbance for the Comfortable

A note from Erin:

This morning, the first roses opened on the bush in front of our home. This week it’s also been the white irises, and the cones of vibrant flowers gracing the horse chestnut trees in our neighborhood. Last week, the redbuds and lilacs had me swooning. The week before, it was the deep pink of the hawthorn trees in bloom, and the tulips – those amazing cups of color on a stem. It’s also the songbirds, the butterflies dancing around me when I walk in the canyons, the late sunlight, the spring breezes. This world is so rich in beauty and mystery.  So worthy of praise and so worth saving. 

I keep thinking of a point made by the late great teacher, Stephen Levine, about the role of a teacher being to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.

Are you disturbed? Are you needing comfort?
Have you noticed the flowers? Softened yourself so you can feel their beauty with your whole body? Have you felt the gift of your weight right on this spot, right in this moment, supported by an infinitely generous earth? Have you made a complete exhale and let the next breath come as a gift? Have you read a poem? Have you touched your own hand, your own face, with kindness? Take comfort. 

On the other hand, are you fairly comfortable? 
Have you noticed the blatancy of structural racism all around us? Seems there’s a horrifying new video every day. Have you been alarmed by the way it lives in you too? Have you delved into the work of learning the hidden histories, the ones painful as hell yet so important to examine? Have you noticed the dismantling of environmental regulations, one by one?  Have you heard the rumblings of the drums of war? Do you need to go back one paragraph and be comforted?

This is my dance these days.
Doing my practices – embodiment, meditation, movement, reading poetry, relishing beauty and authentic human connection – so that I’ve got enough ballast that I can be discomfited – so that I can look the monster of our Industrial Growth Society right in the face and grieve, and then imagine other possibilities.  If and when I’m overly disturbed, I return to the practices that offer reliable refuge and comfort, so I can do it again.

It used to be for me that my practices were aimed at my own realization, my own well-being. Nowadays, my practices are aimed at supporting me so I can be of benefit to life, in my own humble, stumbling attempts to do so.

Stephen Jenkinson said so astutely, that to awaken during these times is to awaken with a sob.

One kind of sob for me comes like this: As Mary Oliver says, “It’s morning, and again I am that lucky person who is in it.” I am in it!!!! The finches at the feeder, the squirrels running on the power lines, the light streaming through new aspen leaves, the potent herbal smell of plants rising from bare dirt in the Wasatch foothills, the symphony of sounds from a mountain stream. I look at my gorgeous kid and his mop of wild curls and bright eyes and how he just keeps growing! I feel so lucky to simply watch him eat a piece of toast, blow bubbles, play on his new skateboard. When Carl and I pause to dance in the kitchen and I love him so much and I know one of us will die first and who knows when? And it’s so precious and I feel so rich, and it’s all so impermanent and beautiful – I sob. 

Another kind of sob comes, when facing the other direction. My heart heaves with a “No, it can’t go this way!” No to war. No to the neighbors spraying poisons in their yards. No to racism and all the ways it manifests. No to abuses of power. No to revoking protections for sacred wildlands.  No to the ravenous consumption of resources with no consideration for future generations. No to another species on the verge of extinction because of human greed. No to a wall on the border. No to fracking. I think of the human population growing and our consumption not slowing, and how it all could be so different, and I sob.

There’s a line that makes me laugh out loud every time I hear it in one of the Harry Potter movies. Mr. Weasley is encouraging a gaggle of kids to follow him in the early morning to a destination. As they tromp through the forest, Ron asks, “Dad, where are we going?” He says, “I haven’t the foggiest. Keep up!” Sometimes I feel like that’s what’s happening. Where are we going? No idea, but hurry up, keep up! While I love that line en route to the Triwizard Tournament, it makes no sense as a general principle of living.

What a dance.

I keep picturing Joanna Macy’s bright and undespairing face as she says something like this:Do comfort and ease elicit our greatest creativity and gifts? No. Times like these do. Right here on the knife-edge of uncertainty can come our greatest creative responses. Can come the great turning toward a new and life-sustaining way of being on earth.

May it be so.

Waking in a tent with our little birthday boy.

But it won’t be so if we keep aiming primarily toward our own comfort, and putting the blinders on to the rest of it.

Sometimes we really do need comfort.
I have beloved ones in my life who are suffering through devastating circumstances. Right now, they need comfort. And then more comfort. And then more.

I have many other dear ones, including myself, currently enjoying relative ease. Sure, not quite enough money or time. But perhaps we could stand to lean into our resources and our willingness to be a little less comfortable as we look the monsters of our time right in the face. We won’t turn to stone. We will come alive.

Here’s a short piece by Seth Godin that I found potent and helpful:

The right effort of generosity

Don’t expect much from a drowning man. He’s not going to offer you a candy bar or ask how your day was.

He’s too busy not drowning.

Generosity takes effort.

It requires the space to take your mind off your own problems long enough to see someone else’s.

It requires the confidence to share when a big part of you wants to hoard.

And it requires the emotional labor of empathy.

Generosity begins by trusting ourselves enough to know that we’re not actually drowning.

Sometimes I’m under the illusion that I’m drowning… in the to-do lists, the laundry, the piles of papers, the unreturned emails, the dozens of incomplete projects all around. Seth Godin reminds me that I’m not actually drowning and that I can afford to be generous. I can be generous with how I listen to someone, even when some part of me feels I don’t have time. Generous with how I’m willing to do the uncomfortable work of learning about racist underpinnings of my country’s history and which are on full and ugly display every day. I can be generous with the resources I do have. Heart. Mind. Attention.
I can lean toward comfort when I need it. And discomfort when I’m resourced. As Francis Weller recently said, “I think it’s our broken hearts that offer the only chance of saving our butts.” May it be so. 

With love,
and comfort, and discomfort,
and grateful there’s vast room for it all,

1. The Month-long Poetry retreat is AWESOME so far! If you want to have me read you a soulful poem every day in the month of May, you can still sign up. (description and registration below. And it’s just $50! You’re welcome to jump in anytime.)

2. Tai Chi In The Park 2018 is open for registration! There is a reason tai chi practitioners are called “players,” rather than serious, disciplined practitioners. You play!  I love this class so much. It offers an essential toolkit for being embodied in the world, and includes a great group of people moving, learning and playing together in the park on Monday evenings…(details and registration below)

3. The next Tending the River of Grief Ritual will happen early on Sunday, May 27th, of Memorial Day weekend. Mark your calendar if you’d like to join Erin. More details coming soon.

4. We’ll have a big update next week, including summer offerings, new podcasts, meditation gatherings, retreats, grief rituals, an opportunity to work with us privately, online courses and more. Stay tuned!

 Don’t miss Russell this weekend! As Sunday is Mother’s Day, Russell is offering an option to attend the workshop on Saturday only. And don’t miss his free talk at the downtown library on Friday night!

Our dear friend and mentor, Russell Delman, is returning to SLC! He’ll be offering a free talk at the downtown library on Friday, May 11th at 7 pm, sponsored by the Jung Society of Utah.  He’ll then be offering a workshop, Embodying Gratitude and Perseverance in Challenging Times, Saturday and Sunday, May 12-13th at Vitalize Studio. Generously, Russell is offering members of the Jung Society 1/2 price tuition! You can read more about it and register here. He’s a kind, grounded, clear presence, and such a gift, especially during these challenging times.

Ever since I learned of neurologist Rick Hanson’s simple and potent description that our brains are wired to accept positive experiences like Teflon (nonstick!) and negative ones like velcro (so damn sticky!) – I’ve had a deeper realization of the absolute importance to intentionally and regularly take in nourishing and heartening experiences to help me stay sane.

Poetry offers such a concentrated dose of truth and beauty.

I’ve been challenging myself to read as much poetry as I read news in recent weeks, and I can’t even begin to tell you the difference it’s made in my experience of the world. Even when I tune in to the crazy headlines, I know in my bones that another way is possible.

Would you like to join me and a wonderful online community in savoring poetry every day and see what it does toyour world? You’re most welcome to join. The online class is just $50!  You can sign up right here! And just fyi – you don’t need to be anywhere at any particular time. It’s a very easy and user-friendly course format. All you need is an internet connection. Easy peasy!

Thanks so much for reading. We’re grateful to be connected.  


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By training and profession, I am a somatic educator. Over the past 25+ years I have trained in and taught modern dance, tai chi, Indian and Tibetan yoga, yoga therapy (specializing in back pain). I completed a 4-year professional Feldenkrais training in 2007 and a 3-year Embodied Life training in 2014. I also study and work with somatic meditation and the profound practice of embodied inner listening known as Focusing.