I feel ill-qualified to write a blogpost about depression this morning; there are hundreds of millions of articles on the internet about it, many of which are written by medical doctors who've been studying psychology for several years. Having depression doesn't necessarily qualify a person to write about it for two reasons.
I've been rocking a deep side part lately. It's to cover up a cow lick, and I've been kind of like, "damn, how low can this go?" and lamenting that I'm not like the girls who can have a middle part. Last week, I was looking for music videos when I saw the girl from Walk Off the Earth rocking one as well. Her part seems to be getting lower and lower too with the years, and I thought, well if she's cool with hers, then I'm cool with mine. This last week, I've been super proud of it.
I noticed when I go to my new gym, they take my key chain and swipe the barcode off the GoodLife Fitness tag, and simultaneously look at a screen very intently. It's probably to check that I'm not borrowing my friend's gym pass, so I'm assuming there's a description of me. I hope it says,
Beautiful curvy caucasian woman
Deep Side Part
Not that a deep side part is anything to really be emabarassed about, it was just something about me that I hadn't "owned" yet. At school, a couple grade 8 girls were bemoaning how high the standards are that they now have to meet in fashion, being adolescents. "I hate it", said one girl, "when the boys complain about panty lines." Whoa, I had to give my head a shake and try to imagine how 13-year old boys have a milligram of prerogative taking offence to girls' pantylines, and I was all mother bearish and was like, "If you have a pantyline, you OWN it."
I mean, first of all, you do want to make sure you don't have a pantyline before you leave the house, but if you're in grade 8 and you're still figuring out the whole thong thing- that takes time to get used to, and there is no rush and people can just BACK OFF. I mean, in your thirties, you don't give a fuck anymore and you're like, "Hey look! I have a pantyline! Where should I go out to dinner with this thing?" But if you're in grade 8 and you find yourself in public in some skinny tight pants with a panty line, and this is an emergency, here are the steps to owning it.
1. Notice that people are noticing/pointing/talking
2. Be all embarassed. Feel the heat in your face, your hands, notice you're breaking out in a sweat, notice all the physiological reactions. Feel them. Breathe. Keep breathing.
3. Make sure you're still breathing. Send the breath all the way down to your toes. Relax the arches of your feet. Relax your scalp and everything in between; your breath scanning your body for tenseness.
4. Check your posture- make sure there is still space between each disc. If not, send some breath to make some space between each disc. This is basically you standing tall, but you can't force it- it has to come from awareness of and "being with" your inner shrinking.
5. Say "Damn right I have a pantyline" or just keep walking tall/doing whatever you were doing. Now that your breathing is getting back to normal, your face won't be as red, or if it is, you'll "be with" the redness and you won't look as awkward. You don't want to fake owning it, because that can come off as brash (although in the heat of the moment, if that's what you got, go with that). The best thing you can do is to be with your body in all its embarassment and have compassion on yourself. When you come home to yourself when the physiological alarm bells are going off, you stand a much better chance of staying in flow (ie, staying cool) than reacting to the teasing and looking even more awkward.
Yesterday I wrote about having a "container" for your child's psychic energy. Or whomever's. Your dad's, your employees', your own. The leader in the room is the one with the biggest container. Actually, let's back up a bit. As Russ Hudson brilliantly said Oct. 2014, "The leader is just the first person to become present." Another quote that has changed my life in a big way. How do you develop leadership skills? Develop your practice of presence.
Which should provide a clue as to how exactly a person would go about "creating a container" for others. Create it for yourself first with your practice of presence and it will be there for others.
Basically, what I mean is developping a self-observation practice. By turning the flashlight of your mind back in on itself and observing your breathing (is it shallow or deep, quick or slow), your thoughts (how they float -- or zoom-- by like clouds), the muscle tension in your body (can you feel tension in your neck? Your jaw? your buttocks?), you deepen your quality of presence, thereby creating a container for others.
How long do you do this for? One second? One second is good- it's a long time by meditative standards, but I prefer to use the metronome of my breathing because my attention is on my body anyway, might as well keep it there instead of going back and forth between my body and my watch. A deep, mindful breath can feel like a very long time. It's difficult to stay with the awareness of your body for an entire breath, but it's a good goal to aim for when you're in the throes of your job and you want to create a little island of mindfulness in the hecticness of the pace of business. If you can't stay with yourself for an entire breath, that's fine, a half a breath, or even a quarter breath has been known to change the course of events. Two breaths is audacious. The people around you will wonder what you're doing. Three, you're off your rocker according to non-practitioners. Three mindful breaths creates not only an island, but a retreat centre on the island and a rent-a-car establishment so you can drive to the retreat centre.
But let me go back to high-energy kids, because that's what prompted me to write about this in the first place. When high -energy kids become annoying or draining, the best thing to do when you feel reactive is to take a mindful breath and "land" in your body. When you spend some time sensing into your body, noticing how the annoyance feels (do you feel annoyance in your throat? Your stomach? Your face? Your feet? I notice it in my nose quite a bit) you've landed in that moment, and you've essentially created a little container for your child's energy. The next time you practice this, you might notice a little bit more tension, like maybe you didn't notice before, but you've got tension in your hands. That second time, your container grew a bit.
The third time you practice this, you might notice tension in your jaw as well as your hands, and maybe if you stay with the mindfulness a bit longer, you notice the arches of your feet are tensed up. "Wow", you say, and you let go of the tension and relax. Your container has grown a little bit.
And then you forget for a couple months and when you remember again, you're back to only being able to do mindful half breaths, and the tendency is to beat yourself up and say, "Gah! Why didn't I sustain my practice??!" But then you notice the tension in your body as self-condemnation arises, and you take a deep, mindful breath and notice how tight your neck is, or how you're clenching a body part. Eventually you're back on the horse, back to being audacious again. And after getting on and off the horse more times that you would like, you decide to have a sitting practice, and set an alarm that rings gently after 20 minutes. You love it that much. Over the years, the love grows. You get on and off the horse, don't worry, it happens to everyone, but the smart mindfulness practitioner uses prompts to turn the flashlight of their mind back in on itself, like it used to be turning on the bathroom taps for me. But you could just as easily use the tension that comes with self-condemnation as your first prompt to start the journey back onto the horse.
America's got some pretty entrenched and bitter divides going on. Whites and blacks, rich and poor, creationists and evolutionists, gun-control activists and gun-owners, immigration-lovers and immigrant-haters, LGTB supporters and conservative Christians. So it was a pretty powerful week in terms of the Supreme Court decision to make gay marriage legal in every state, the Confederate flag coming down, the Affordable Health Care act being spared a blow in the courts, and Obama giving such a moving tribute at Clementa Pinckney's funeral. Those crisscrossing divides were in the spotlight all week highlighting the complex layers of loyalties in politics, religion, and race in America.
Last week for Father's day, I went to church and learned my own lesson about religious divides. Going to church was the last thing I wanted to do that morning, but my dad had requested it as his Father's day gift, and then the Saturday night before, I had a dream that he was waiting for me to come to church. When I dream about stuff, I figure it must mean something, (and I also have an abiding fear of regretting things on my death bed), so off I went. As I was getting dressed that morning, I was cynically thinking I could use the morning as breathing practice. For example, I get provoked by closed-mindedness, and it's my practice to sense into my body and connect with my breathing when provoked so I don't get lost in mental fantasies of strangling this person.
The speaker that morning was a counsellor at a religious pregnancy centre. She stood up there and told the story of her life, basically, how she was given up for adoption by a man who denied being the father and didn't want her. She had great adoptive parents, but then, after getting their permission, sought out her birth dad later in life. When she found him, he was open to meeting her, but was dying of cancer, and just didn't have much vocabulary to talk about any of his pain with her. He had been an alcoholic all his life, married to an older woman with 7 kids, and never had any kids of his own apart from her. She was able to be with him when he died, but she still felt incredibly bitter and angry that her time with him slipped through her fingers. She did get one bonding experience at the very end, but it wasn't enough. Then after that, her son-in-law (father to her grandkids) died in a motorcycle accident. She talked about how dads are super important in a kids' life, and I didn't agree with all the religious interpretations of everything she went through, but I found I couldn't be cynical anymore with this woman's sad story. It's like when you hear of pain like that, you just can't get caught up with religion at that point- you just see a really vulnerable person trying to make sense of the shit that got thrown on them.
At some point, I forgot my plan to work on my breathing- I just wans't compelled to strangle anyone despite the religious overtones of the message. I thought about that later- pain has to speak louder than religion if you're going to be a decent person. You can believe in God, or you can believe in evolution, but a story of abandonment and love lost has got to touch you.
This past week, Obama proved he's a great person for bridging America's divides. A half-black, half-white man, a Democrat and a Christian, a powerful politician who himself has been the victim of racism (and someone whose own dad also abandoned him at an early age), brought several groups together just by virtue of giving the eulogy for Clementa Pinckney, the pastor at Emanuel African Methodist in South Carolina last week.
This past year has seen incident after incident of ridiculously violent actions directed at African Americans going about their daily business, which has been met with wave after wave of anger at the police force. A lot of that anger obviously comes from the Black community, which has a high proportion of Christians to athiests, but which is mostly made up of Democrats. White Democrats have also been vehemently angry against the police force. I think this is statistically valid, (but I'm also writing this at 2:09 AM) but I believe White Democrats tend toward agnositicism. So when nine black Charleston residents were violently murdered last week while studying the Bible, it brought a lot of agnostic Democrats to the table to stand up for people they're usually separated from by an idological divide.
Even as an agnostic, it wasn't too hard to want to join in with Obama when he started singing Amazing Grace during Pinckney's eulogy. As one youtube commentor summed it up, "I'm a strident athiest, but I approve of this message." Maybe someday it won't take a tragedy for us all to see people on the "other side" as a vulnerable human too, trying to make sense of their world with the best they've got.
I saw this post from Adweek in Facebook this morning, which totally got me all twisted up. "Lane Bryant Bashes Victoria Secret with 'I'm No Angel' Campaign". I love Victoria Secret angels- I do their workouts so I know how hard those girls work. I also know how well they take care of their bodies by what they eat, what they put on their skin, how well-informed they are about nutrition.
So I wondered, when I saw this, if someone was trying to pass a moral judgement on people who want beautifully toned bodies, who go to the gym and eat well in order to get them. But then I realized, no, Lane Bryant is trying to sell underwear.
These girls have great aesthetics going on, so whatever, but oh my god, are we missing the point here. This is 2015 and the body-image conversation is still for the most part in the dark ages.
Craving a VC Angel body isn't healthy, but neither is cynicism towards one, a form of aversion. In Buddhism, the two greatest causes of human suffering are craving and aversion, so let's move past the useless "love your body" rhetoric to something more useful. Does anyone know what "loving your body" means anyway? Are you supposed to have warm feelings toward it? Conjure up affection for it? Pet it? Give it treats when it's good?
Pop body image rhetoric gets one thing right- that being at home in our bodies is true freedom- Maya Angelou said, "I long, as does every human being, to be at home wherever I find myself." Gurdjieff told his students repeatedly to "Stay with yourself, stay with yourself." Absent-minded or emotional eating, or lazy meal prep is a manifestation of having left oneself- having dissappeared into the worries, fantasies, memories, and other thinking, emotional, and instinctual patterns ever arising from the ego structure. When you're tuned into your body's needs- honoring it by listening when it's full and feeding it nutrutious balanced meals when it's hungry, you're "really seeing it", and in mindfulness, to see yourself with the inner eye and stay with the discomfort that arises when something difficult comes up is to love. See, stay, notice. Love and sexiness is what is revealed when our defenses have been "noticed away."
This is a lifelong journey, not a quick fix. But the result is we get to come home to ourselves and radiate from within. That's sexy.
Flow is the thing. All humans beings on this earth crave and have ever craved is flow. Creative flow, brand flow, user experience flow, financial flow, physical flow, sexual flow, conversational flow. When we're shovelling the driveway and we're walking along shovelling all this snow, and all of a sudden the shovel hits an edge in the sidewalk and the shovel jabs us in the stomach, we get mad. We hate it when the flow stops.
I was surprised to see this the other day- trainer to Victoria Secret models, Justin Gelband, talking about how models do certain exericses because they want their bodies to flow. Remarkably insightful.
I remember Sandra Maitri going on and on about flow in her Enneagram Intro talk in LA a couple years ago, and I was like OK next topic, got it. But since then, I've seen the search for flow in many, many incarnations.
Babies have flow; their bodies are incredibly flexible and flowy. They enter into every new experience completely unguarded and vulnerable without underlying preconceptions, memories, psychic structures or moral codes set up by previous influences. They flow from one emotional expression to the next without trying to suppress, project, or impress anyone. They cry one moment and laugh the next.
Good sex has flow- hardly worth explaining, but due to the vulnerable nature of it, it makes sense that we're going to react to our core fears here at some point or other, and reactions will stifle or stop the flow, depending on the amount of "armour" someone needs to get through the stress of let's say an unpleasant memory, picture, or emotion that arises from the unconscious during the act.
Accomplished artists and athletes have flow- look at this woman balancing sticks and then a feather on top- she is incredibly aware of her body and breath during this performance; her simple yet mindful actions take her audience away to another place.
Other examples: we get computer rage when the wifi isn't flowing and road rage when the traffic isn't flowing; the wealthy (and smart) know how to set up regular streams of cash flow; in tech, UX (user experience) is all about good flow through the conversions (from the first click to the purchase and confirmation page), the best homes and buildings are where the layout of the rooms and windows is in flow with the rising and setting of the sun, we feel good after a yoga session where we were in flow with our breath. After we come back from a retreat or conference and have a mountaintop spiritual experience or get into a new network of people, we try to elevate the rest of our lives to that level of flow.
Rivers are universal metaphors for flow, and definitely paddling and sailing helps some people get in flow, but the most under-employed resource for getting in flow is our own breath (the river within, if you will). Look at all the books that are published every year about weight loss, stopping bad habits or making changes in your life. They're everywhere, in the hundreds of thousands. My guess is very slowly we'll start to see a movement towards understanding the subtle movements in the unconscious and their relationship to the breath as the calalyst for transformation. When we're aware of that connection, we can get the bodies we want, stop abusing alcohol, or feel more comfortable in anxiety-provoking situations. In other words, awareness of the breath and its relationship to the myriad of unconscious images, memories and emotions that pass through our thoughtstream every day helps get us unstuck and back in flow.