Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Blossoming ...

Turn your Face to the Sun
Originally uploaded by Ben Heine

Tonight I had the pleasure and privilege of hearing one of my sponsees tell her story of experience, strength and hope. She will have 8 months of sobriety tomorrow.

This is a woman who is determined to be sober. She brings a journal to every meeting and furiously takes notes, hanging on every word of every share of every member.

I met her at a Sunday night meeting, almost exactly 8 months ago, when she had 3 days of sobriety. She could barely look anyone in the eye, let alone hold her head up, and she shook like a leaf. Her self-esteem was on the sole of her sneaker.

She asked me to sponsor her when she was approaching 5 months of sobriety. I respected her discernment of waiting to sort out just the right person for the job. By this time, she had more of herself and it was apparent that she had grabbed onto this program by the horns and wasn't letting go. She asked for homework. She said she needed structure. She wanted to understand the Big Book because it didn't make sense to her reading it on her own. She wanted to work the Steps.

She and I meet faithfully, every Wednesday morning at 7:30am, over coffee. I have witnessed first hand a woman who was getting pricked regularly by the thorns of her past begin to weed her own garden, asking for her soil to be nourished and fed in our meetings and by her therapist and a support circle she created. Tonight, I saw a tall, strong, flower blossoming -- wide open.

Her story is less about the way she drank and more about what was fueling it. With great dignity and grace and unwavering integrity, she shared her experience of being an awkward, overweight, spectacled girl, who never felt like she belonged and then a young teen who was repeatedly sexually molested by her brother and how the culmination of all of these factors was the catalyst for her soothing and self-medicating with alcohol and food. The room, comprised mostly of men, fell silent and in awe of this brave sharing.
The statement that was the most impactful for everyone tonight was when she said the following: "In AA, I have learned that I don't have to keep living my history, that I can simply live my life."

Members of our group were struck by her honesty. The door was now held open for some people to speak openly about their own abuse as children and how grateful they were that this subject was given a voice.

This is a woman who strengthens my program on a regular basis. I just shared with a loved one tonight about how much I am getting out of being a sponsor. When I left our regular Wed morning coffee meeting today, I felt like whistling as I walked to my car. This is the joy of living that is spoken about in the Big Book. Recovery is where we go from being slumped over, nearly dead at our roots to rising up, turning our faces to the sun, and blossoming.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

On Becoming a Warrior ...

Yvaine: Audtion 8
Originally uploaded by Elven*Nicky

In between teaching 2 classes today, I had about 45 minutes of downtime. I began to read a book by Carlos Castaneda, "Tales of Power", which is an assignment for the advanced study group of my non-dual healing school.

The first chapter is titled: "An Appointment with Knowledge". I was so taken by the following lines, given the territory of my personal work and what I have been writing about as of late:
"In the final analysis, sensitivity matters little ... what matters is that a warrior be impeccable ... what matters to a warrior is arriving at the totality of oneself."


Stopped me right in my tracks.

Here's my 1st take upon reading this. Substitute "sensitivity" with "people pleasing" . What had historically mattered 1st and foremost, top priority,  was that I be sensitive to the needs of others. In fact, their needs were always put before mine. My needs were not deemed important. At least not at the time I was busy attending to others. Enough pushing of my needs to the back burner,  however,  fueled some heavy duty resentments over time. I grew bitter and downright pissed off.
I understand today that I am responsible for creating these situations. So, as Castaneda's character, the sage don juan, suggests above -- a warrior is to be impeccable. I associate this with any one of these: Being in integrity. Rigorously honest. Trusting one's interior. Anchored and seated on one's base. If I am engaging in the world, with others, from a place of being impeccable, then sensitivity indeed matters little. Being in my Truth, trusting and listening to my interior and to God and having my actions be informed by these places, there will be a kindness that is "built in" so to speak. It does not mean I will be received well by another (hence, the sensitivity matters little) but it will mean that I have not abandoned myself, squashed myself or dismissed what is the Reality or the Truth of that moment. That, to me, is what don juan is referring to in becoming a warrior.

The last part of the statements, "arriving at the totality of oneself", is one of the most significant aspects of the healing work of our non-dual school. To become more of who we are, to come into wholeness of being. I am learning, with each healing session and with each new peeling away of my exterior, that the work to arrive at the totality of oneself is absolutely courageous, not for the faint-of-heart -- the stuff that warriors are made of.

I used to associate the word "warrior" with a person who fought in battle, usually with a weapon, and whose intent was to conquer and to dominate and to destroy when necessary. In reading both Castaneda and the Buddhist monk, Pema Chodron, the concept of warrior has dramatically shifted for me. It is much more brave and noble to show up in the world, consistently, in one's Truth than to put on some form of "armour" as a protective front -- which essentially keeps people at a distance and keeps me from connecting and relating and experiencing intimacy with others.

Becoming a warrior, to me, means stripping off the protective gear and getting buck-naked ! A proclamation of "Here I am!", free of shame and out in the open, not hidden in any way.

It's time to lay those old weapons down, raise my hands high in the air, and show up as the warrior I am becoming ...

Monday, September 27, 2010

Cultivating my Inner Fox

Fennec fox
Originally uploaded by floridapfe

Stealthy messenger of the gods,
Cunning and wise, reliable friend,
Guide my steps through this maze of deception
And see this problem to its end.

~ Anonymous quote on Fox Totem website

Yesterday afternoon, I had the pleasure of being read all about the Fox totem by a beloved woman in my life. I took in every word deeply.
Ever since my dream last week, I can't stop thinking about foxes. Particularly the one who is being birthed in me. Or perhaps has always lived here, dormant and patient, awaiting its landlord to wake up so she could actively engage in the fox hunt.

Of all the aspects of the fox totem that I heard, the ones that got my greatest attention were about camoflauge, shape-shifting and creation.

I am very aware that I have entered into a cycle of my life in which I no longer need to camoflauge and shape-shift, as I did for so many years, in order to survive what I deemed "unsafe" circumstances. I have been gearing up for the mother of all shape-shifts ... to remove every mask and false facade and deceitful trait so that I can become who I really am. My truest self. The one, as this beautiful soul reminded me yesterday, whose healthy shape-shifting can be an asset and a strength -- like adapting quickly in the classroom when the tone of the room has changed and requires a different approach.

I am aware in this moment that healthy shape-shifting also includes being able to more smoothly transition and adjust to the shifting shapes of others, of situations -- the very source of tremendous anxiety and fearfulness of my not-so-distant past. And that I can do this with the understanding that the changing shapes of others and of situations is not personal and does not necessarily mean I have to flee to the woods for safety. The only shifting I may need to do is subtle and deeply interior, rather than the overt and hypervigilant adjustments I've been accustomed to engaging in. Cultivating my inner fox will allow these adjustments to be unseen -- this perhaps is the healthier version of camoflauge !

Lastly, the aspect of creation. To birth something into the world is to offer new life. This fox energy, or "medicine" as it is referred to , is allowing me to be the one giving birth and the one being birthed simultaneously. This returns me to the Great Bear Mother piece. There is a line that goes: "The mother who watches out for her cubs, who essentially IS her cubs ... same fur, same blood ..." I am the mother and the cub. The lore is that foxes can take on human form. The cultivating of this inner fox is perhaps the canal for the true human me to come forth into the illumination of my life.

So I shall request outloud and deep inside, the profound statement from the above Fox totem quote: "Guide my steps through this maze of deception". This, for me, is a plea for Truth. Up to this point, the maze of deception was the smokescreen I constructed over the course of 4 plus decades and called it "my life". I hear the call of the fox and am ready to give birth and to be birthed into my True Self.

Friday, September 24, 2010


Nature . Sea . Sad . Solitude (La Tentation du Pire)
Originally uploaded by Tiquetonne2067

Fred G is not a member of AA, but is the mystery man I learned about from an incredible speaker tonight, in the form of an acronym, that will help keep me sober.

The speaker uses Fred G every night before she goes to bed as part of her 10th Step inventory.



I love this tool. It's specific and the phrase is catchy, like a secret password that you say when you knock on the door in some
dark alleyway.

Knock. Knock.
"Who sent you?"
"Fred G"
Door opens.

Doing this each night really will open the door to sober living. I really love the idea of specifically focusing on each of those areas, which are plastered all over the Big Book and the Steps. And the bonus being the inclusion of the gratitude list. Something I have great intentions to do and then it quickly slips my mind.

I'm gonna do my 1st Fred G right here on this page, before going to bed:

Fears: I was fearful about the workshop I was to give today, as this particular agency can be challenging in terms of their attitudes toward training. Later in the day, I was fearful about a staff meeting I would be doing involving a therapy client of mine and a plan we'd be implementing that involved a behavioral contract. I expected resistance. Both situations went completely smooth and my fears were unfounded. I realize that the source of my fear in both situations was my past experiences and anticipating those same behaviors.

Resentments: I have a current resentment with someone in the rooms of AA. I am going to pray about this situation in order to be guided in my next right action. I will also pray for this person.

Ego: This morning's fearfulness kicked up my ego's need to overcompensate in the form of impatient driving and raging at rush hour traffic that I believed should move faster for ME. I have to laugh at my self-centered, bordering on delusional thinking.

Dishonesty: I went to a speaker meeting tonight closer to my home and made an excuse for why I couldn't go to the Step meeting I often attend which starts later and is further away. I didn't want to lead the Tradition meeting tonight at the Step meeting because I wasn't into it, yet I was not fully honest with the group's chair when we texted back and forth about me not attending. I contacted him after the speaker meeting to apologize and make my amends. He was very loving and accepted my apology.

I am grateful for all of the following today:
- My relationship with God
- Being alive and in good health
- The abundance of work that I have, esp in this economy
- Being able to pay all of my bills and have money leftover
- The connections I had today with loved ones
- Having good meals
- My dog
- The ability to teach and connect with my students
- Getting to a meeting tonight
- The willingness to sponsor a young woman in the program and being available when she needed to talk this evening after the meeting
- Receiving the shimmering light of the glorious moon as I stood in my backyard and appreciating it for just what it is, no longer needing to anchor to it to locate myself in the world

Thanks Fred G for helping me stay sober another day.


Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Fox that I am ...

Red Fox Portrait
Originally uploaded by naturenev

Another "beast" dream last night.

My healer shared just this week that these Ox-herding pictures and Great Bear Mother stuff will be working me, rather than me working them. It couldn't be more true.

In my dream, I am in a large spacious field, surrounded by woods. In the distance, I get a glimpse of a large fox with striking features. I am enthralled and petrified. It sees me and begins moving toward me with lightning speed. There is a metal cage, much like the one that people are in when they go deep into the ocean to view sharks, and I quickly crawl in, shaking furiously as I try to bolt it shut, with this feeble latch. As soon as I hook the latch, the fox is above me in the pine tree and then is suddenly right at the opening of the cage, snout to nose with me, looking right into my eyes. My heart is beating rapidly and I blink and it has vanished.

When I wake up from the dream and make notes to myself, the following phrases appear on the journal page, as if they had been channeled, as I certainly was not aware of thinking them up.

"You cannot out-fox the fox."
"I can no longer hide from my true nature."

I can barely go back to sleep after this. I have now experienced the 3rd picture of the series: "Seeing the Ox." As I lay there, restless and exhausted simultaneously, I am flooded with thoughts, images.

The "sly" fox. Part of my true nature is that I am clever and quick-witted. I do things by the seat of my pants, I can improvise. I adjust to some situations very easily and readily. I am charming.

Foxes are cunning. Equally accurate about my true nature is that I have mastered every form of dishonesty and deceit. From exaggeration and manipulation to cheating and stealing and everything in between. In my drinking period, I wielded this tool belt of deception in order to get what I wanted, when I wanted it, all in the name of my addiction. After that, my cunning inner fox had me believe that I was doing "just fine" -- the guise for denial and self-delusion.

I went as far as to go onto the internet early this morning to google search the nature of foxes. On a reputable animal behavior website, this statement was particularly compelling:
"They [foxes] find an escape once there is a scent of danger."
I laughed out loud. My healer has been making this statement about me for years, almost verbatim (substitute the word "whiff" for "scent")    I also read that foxes are not just aggressive by nature but they are also gentle. And can even be domesticated.    I know that both of these qualities exist in me vividly. 

One of the first milestones in my lifetime of allowing my true nature to be revealed to myself and then to others was when I came out as a lesbian. I knew by age 6 that the way I felt about girls was the way girls felt about boys. And then, I wouldn't let myself know much more. My inner fox went into hiding, into stealth mode. Peering out from time to time, like when I would let myself experience brief moments of having a crush on a girl. This was swiftly stuffed back down into the foxhole. To come out of the woods and into the open field and frolic and proclaim: "I dig chicks!" or "I get turned on by breasts and pussy!" was a victory. The claiming of my true nature. Not to mention the freedom I felt to no longer be trapped.

In the dream, I wanted to see the fox and I didn't want to see the fox. That's how it's been about having my own true nature revealed to me. I'm curious and I'm scared. The cage in my dream was flimsy at best, with a latchhook that could have easily been broken. For me, that symbolizes a movement from resistance to readiness. My self-imposed prison is loosening its bars and locks. I don't really want to be protected from knowing who I am any longer. After all, I looked at my true nature face-to-face in the dream. I want to see the beast intimately, so that I can also see her beauty. And that she was.

I want to know the fox that I am ...

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

In the Eyes of Poverty ...

24 hours with Rakesh (Work in progress) **6:39 am.**
Originally uploaded by --Liza--

In my social work class this evening, we studied the impact of poverty on people who make up the "lower 1/5th" of the population in terms of income. The current poverty line is: $22,000 for a family of four.

I posed a question to my students tonight which rattled their sheltered, for the most part, worlds. "What changes would you have to make in your life in order to live on $2 a day?" The gasps and bulging eyes spread like wildfire around the room. Some began to protest: "Are you kidding? That's impossible!" I shared with them that folks living below the poverty line survive on $2 a day, sometimes less. And then I told them to get creative and resourceful and see what they came up with.

Some students thought about how they would have to ride a bike to work or school if they had to, while others were aware of some "free" perks offered to students who fell below a certain income.  Some spoke about the "treats" they'd give up,  the ways in which they would have to be frugal.   Some students flat out said "There's no way I can do this." To which I responded: "What if you had no choice?"

Dead Silence.

For the duration of the class, however, I noticed a shift in the attitudes of the students. They had softened, they offered more thoughtful responses to other questions about poverty. They grew more enthusiastic about wanting to develop strategies to educate and support people who are homeless or malnourished or just plain poor.

None of us in that room really "get" , fortunately, what it would be like to experience life on $2 a day. The closest I came was a time period during my alcoholism when I perhaps had, after rent and a few select bills, approximately $30-40 extra each pay period. Much of this went to booze. A minimal amount of this went to food which consisted of : rice cakes, tuna, peanut butter. An occasional package of Ho-Ho's. I had no furnishings outside of a borrowed futon and milkcrates and a boom box. I had a few forks and knives and spoons which were all mismatched and likely stolen from restaurants. This is where addiction took me. I was lucky to have been able to keep a job and to have a roof over my head and to not have landed in a shelter or on the streets. One drink away perhaps ...

What would life look like for me on $2 a day ? I shudder to think about this in any serious way. No car. No cell phone. No internet. No health insurance. I couldn't afford to live where I do. I would have to get a room in a house close to where I teach. I do have a bike, so I could ride as long as the weather cooperated. My grocery items would be sparse -- I would likely become a really resourceful "dumpster diver" -- especially outside of good restaurants. No luxuries of any kind, including a cup of coffee at a cafe. No classes at the non dual heaing school I attend, unless I'd get a scholarship. No favorite meals out with friends, unless they were treating out of pity. Second-hand clothes. Washing things by hand because of laundromat costs. Could I even afford my dog ?

1/3 of the entire world's population is starving. Another 1/3 is underfed. Makes me much more mindful about waste and how I consider my food and the deep gratitude for the opportunity to have a meal.

I showed a youtube video tonight to highlight the "faces of poverty", which included people in both urban and rural settings, of all ages and ethnicities and family compositions. I saw the tears streaming down some of the faces of my students. I told them that the reason I chose such a video (and will likely do more in the future) was because it was important for them, as future social workers, to see reality for what it is. To know if they can bear to take in the suffering of the world in which social workers interface with others' hardships.
I did not show this for some dramatic effect; I showed this because it's real.

Part of my nondual practice is about seeing the suffering of the world from our heart. I just shared with my healer in a session today about how I had been avoiding this because sometimes it was too intimate, too painful, too difficult. After tonight's class, I want my eyes open to the struggle of being human in the physical world. To have a large enough container to take it in, to find compassion, to soften toward the cruelty of it. To look lovingly in the eyes of poverty and find the life that is there too.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Loved Back To Recovery ...

You plucked my love, but it grew back.
Originally uploaded by Leah Johnston

In my prayers this morning, I asked God for guidance to find the right topic for the AA meeting I would be chairing in a couple of hours.
I was pulled strongly toward reading the Daily Reflections for today. It was absolutely the perfect choice.

The passage is titled: Loved Back To Recovery:
"Our whole treasured philosophy of self-sufficiency had to be cast aside. This had not been done with old-fashioned willpower; it was instead a matter of developing the willingness to accept these new facts of living. We neither ran nor fought. But accept we did. And then we were free.
~ Best of the Grapevine, Vol. 1, p. 198

As I shared this passage with the meeting members, I spoke briefly about its meaning for me. How just last evening in a meeting I was so moved by the speaker's capturing of "the moment of grace" when he had no other choice but to surrender to his powerlessness over alcohol. And how, if we're lucky enough, we answer the call and allow ourselves, as the passage is titled, to be loved back to recovery. This message, on the heels of my blog entry last night about recognizing our separation from God, blew me away.

The members' comments on this topic were so heart-felt that I was on the verge of tears with every share, goosebumps appearing and then re-appearing from the vibration of connectedness in the room. Each person spoke about their moments of grace -- at the time they put down the drink as well as situations during sobriety. These grace-filled scenarios ran the gamut: sitting with the possibility of having cancer and then finding out their test results were negative; the despair of knowing that one more day of drinking could very well kill them; the threat of a prison sentence; courageously riding the emotional rollercoaster of having one's best friend murdered and not picking up a drink; a new diagnosis of M.S. and being willing to seek alternative treatment; going through a painful divorce; accepting one's own mortality.

I love the last lines of the Daily Reflections passage: But accept we did. And then we were free.

This is our return to Steps 1-3, over and over and over again. There is a tremendous weight lifted when I have been able to acknowledge my powerlessness over any situation in my life and having the grace to both accept it AND to ask God to hold it or remove my attachment to it. When I am able to do these Steps, I am absolutely free.

My re-entry back into the rooms of AA over a year and a half ago allowed me to let go of my past associations and old stories and to let myself be loved back to recovery. I have an intimate relationship with God, as I understand God. And with myself. I completely trust God. And within this, I totally trust myself and my internal wisdom.

It is an embrace that keeps holding me, growing me, loving me -- a day at a time.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Face To Face with God

I Rise
Originally uploaded by Tomasito.! (Sorry, Soo Busy // No Need to Comment)

In my teacher Jason's passage today, he speaks about the fact that we were created in order to come to God, that he is not separate from us in any way. Each of us is God coming to God.

He ends the passage as follows: You search for God because God is your origin and your destination. That's what life and death are about: remembering this.

That's some deep shit.

Even just a few years ago, I would've never been able to wrap one brain cell around an idea like that.

Jason also uses a concept called: "Our original face" . I am understanding in this moment that this is "the look" I have seen in others, in my own self in the mirror, in the speaker at my AA meeting tonight ... when there is no mistake that the one who is looking back at us is God. It is a moment when the ego fades into the shadows, there is no transference or judgment or bias; there is just pureness and realness and wholeness. Even blemishes and wrinkles and crooked teeth become holy.

So, I pose this question to myself in reflection: have my fears of abandonment all these years ( with the narrative that it was because I was "rejected" by my biological mother when I was given up for adoption) really been about my separation from my true home ? That perhaps I needed to find a tangible "thing" to attach these feelings of terror in order for them to make sense on the physical plane ?

Over the past couple of years, I have brought myself into full relationship with what I have labeled "aloneness". I would re-phrase that today as "my separation from God". My return to AA and 12 Step recovery coupled with my non-dual healing work has enabled me to look intimately and deeply at and within myself. Which translates to being face to face with God. The 12 Steps are about developing a relationship with a Higher Power, with a God of my understanding. Non dual healing work is about coming home to ourselves, becoming more of who we are, whole. Both of these paths converge: the God of my understanding is my origin and my destination; if I am coming home to myself, then I am returning to God.

Sitting deeply in prayer, engaged in non-dual practice, listening intently to others share at an AA meeting, communing with the trees and birds and sky, fully embracing an interaction with someone I love ... I am home. I am face to face with God. All of these things remind me that the God I have yearned for, have missed, have been longing to see ... is right here -- in me, in others, in nature. Has never left, ever. It is when I am sleepy and forget that I believe God is somewhere far, far away.

In the Baptist religion, a funeral is not a time of sorrow. They, in fact, call it a "Coming Home Day". Jason speaks of life AND death being about remembering that God is our origin AND our destination.
Holding onto this would actually make the prospect of death that much more inviting and celebratory and not the terrifying event that we are conditioned to think it is. The fear, I realize, is when the idea of separating enters the picture. Coming home to God in this way brings up the pain of leaving those who we love on the earth plane behind. But are we really separating ? It feels like we are merely changing form, rather than disconnecting.

My exhausted brain needs a break. I could ponder this subject to infinity and back. This God bids THE God and all other Gods in human form a sweet goodnight.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Li Tov

~ Just dew it ~
Originally uploaded by ViaMoi

Li Tov.
Hebrew for: In me, there is good.

This was the title of my Kabalah Yoga session that I chose this morning. Each position formed the Hebrew Letters that spelled Li Tov.

Prior to doing yoga, I arose early to meet my AA sponsee. We spoke today about compassion and, most importantly, her compassion toward herself. She has had a view of compassion that was only about what she extended to others. She is a care-taker by nature, a nurturer and, on the extreme end, co-dependent as any upstanding alcoholic often is ! She is her worst enemy and her inner critic is brutal. Others, including me, see the good that is in her. I think part of that is because we are folks that finally have been able to see the good that is in us. Li Tov.

After we met, I returned home to take my dog for a long walk and to do a non-dual practice at the field that I've been gravitating to these past couple of weeks. About 5 minutes into the practice, a woman with 2 unruly pitbulls entered the field. I needed to stop, as my dog was likely to be their breakfast ! I was initially irritated, but this dissipated quickly. I recognized that I could do the practice back home when I returned (or not) and that my intention to do it, to begin it and to even stop it when I did in order to look out for my dog's safety was all included. It was the right thing to do. At another point in time, I may have been selfish and continued on, only concerned with getting my practice in and disregarding my dog. Or, being totally resentful of the woman who disrupted what I was doing. These were not my choices today. Li Tov.

When I got home, I decided to do yoga. This was my introduction to Li Tov. My heart began to spread open like the petals of the flower depicted here. Wanting to receive and be received. Feeling the goodness that is in me. Touching and tasting it. Right after the yoga, I transitioned into the practice I had begun out in the field. It was meant to be done right in that moment, in that space. There was something very intimate about being in my meditation room and not outdoors. My senses were heightened now. My petals still extended, feeling each miniscule thread move the most intricate parts of me ever so slightly. My entire body tingling from even being shifted an inch. It was the kind of sensations that I have experienced in the moments leading up to an orgasm, whether it was through self-love or being made love to, when it was completely possible to come without even having direct vaginal contact. Finger touching finger, tongue tickling ear lobe, nipple to nipple. AND yet, in the context of my practice, it was not sexual at all. It was a deeply personal, bodily experience and it was the impersonal contact with every flower petal-finger of the world touching one another.

It was exquiste and alive.

And then, toward the latter part of the practice when dropping into a phase of "seeing the world through the heart", the statement -- or what would deemed a vasana -- came through clearly:
"Nothing matters." And then again, with different syllable emphasis: "No Thing Matters".

It didn't feel sad or apathetic or uncaring. It just was a statement of fact. It was for that moment. No. Thing. Matters. And in that statement, what I also felt as equally compelling was: Every. Thing. Matters. If one is true, then the other is true as well.

As I ended the practice, I got on my knees and raised my hands in prayer to every being that made it possible to have this practice today.
Including myself. Li Tov.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Tracks of the Beast

Innumerable footprints has he seen in the forest
and along the water's edge.
          Over yonder does he see the trampled grass?
Even the deepest gorges of the topmost mountains
can't hide this Ox's nose which reaches right to heaven.

Through the sutras and teachings he discerns the tracks of the Ox. (He has been informed that just as different-shaped golden vessels are all basically of the same gold, so each and every thing is a manifestation of the Self. But he is unable to distinguish good from evil, truth from falsity. He has not actually entered the gate, but he sees in a tentative way the tracks of the Ox.
Translation by Philip Kapleau.

Last night,  I had a dream.   It was in bright color and 3-dimensional detail.   First,  I was taking a photo of waves cresting and I could see the white froth on the tips as well as the tunnel-like hollow that was underneath.   It was an aquamarine-teal hue I've never seen before.   There was an opening,  an invitation in the midst of this wave's fury to go where it might be dangerous,  where there may be a strong undertow  and yet its beauty was such that I wouldn't have thought twice about entering.     In the next segment of the dream,   I see a "beast" ...  more like a giant shrew,  with a pointed snout,  white glistening fur,  on top of a large boulder that is in the middle of the ocean where I have just photographed the waves.  It is peering around in a sneaky fashion,  almost predatorial,  and I can't take my eyes off of it.  It takes a giant leap off of the rock and over a huge portion of the sea and right onto the sand.   People run.   It moves in a calculated way,  a few steps at a time,  eyes darting.   It comes within inches of me and I stare at it,  both of our eyes trying not to blink.   The beast's one eye is so deep brown and tender that I am softened in its presence and am no longer afraid.   And suddenly,  it disappears out of view.   At this moment,  I am joined by a woman I vaguely remember from my past and we are looking at the sky and there are 3 enormous,  colorful hot air balloons that have been launched from some contraption and are above us.   There are the sounds of people laughing and cheering up in the heavens.   While 2 of the balloons stay floating among the clouds,  one balloon turns completely upside down and plummets directly to the ground.   Small children exit the balloon,  unharmed by appearance,  and walk in another direction,  not responding to our inquiries about them needing help.   I wake up.

And then I read this interpretation above when I rise this morning and my jaw drops open,  silently stunned,  because of what I experienced in the dream.    If everything is a manifestation of the Self,   there is much material to work with right here:

- The waves.   In non-dual speak,  this could refer to Chesed -- flow,  loving-kindness.   There is great beauty I see and I want to photograph it yet I cannot fully claim it.   There is an invitation to claim my beauty and it feels unreal -- perhaps why I can only capture it in a picture.   Do I trust my ability to be loving and kind fully?  Or does it feel like it cannot be sustained and will crash like the wave -- which reveals the other part of me --  my wild, raging anger.  Which can swallow and pull me and others under with its force.  And it is all part of the continuum of what flows through me.   The calm in a wave is what is underneath the crest,  the tunnel I saw that was so inviting ... can I bear my fury so I can also appreciate my quiet beauty ?

- The unsightly shrew-Beast.  It is hard to look at and yet,  I cannot NOT take it in.  I feel my own shadow-Self,  my ugly, messy Self in this shrew.  Sometimes unpredictable and sometimes purposeful.  I didn't want to know this part of me for a very long time.  Hidden in a dark cave of my being.  Never to be exposed for fear that I would be left alone.  I am willing to own this part of me from the dream,  the beast's deep brown eye was my own looking at me and my heart softened.   I can be tender toward this shrew-Beast,  that is me.

-The hot air balloons.   Colorful.  Imaginative.  Eye-catching.  Wanting to be up above everything and everyone and be admired and awed.  The sounds of laughing and cheering fuel my flight.  This feels symbolic of my ego, my pride.  It is also the facade and appearance I wanted you to see -- the one in me who wants to be pleasing.   Someone is there from my past watching this over-the-top me who people saw back then.   One balloon takes a nose-dive.  Is this a wake up call for humility ?   The small children exit the balloon without injury.  The little ones in me CAN survive my small Self,   the one who craves attention and doesn't want you to leave her,  being brought down to earth,  to be grounded,  to perhaps even be shattered.   This scene feels like a healing. 

Seeing all these tracks of the beast that is me are not unsettling.   I want to follow them.  


Monday, September 13, 2010

Searching for the Beast

The beast has never gone astray, and what is the use of searching for him? The reason why the oxherd is not on intimate terms with him is because the oxherd himself has violated his own inmost nature. The beast is lost, for the oxherd has himself been led out of the way through his deluding senses. His home is receding farther away from him, and byways and crossways are ever confused. Desire for gain and fear of loss burn like fire; ideas of right and wrong shoot up like a phalanx.    ~  Steven Goodheart

I will enter the advanced study group of my non-dual healing school in January.  One of our assignments prior to beginning this study group is to examine the infamous  Ten Ox Herding pictures that are part of Zen Buddhism.  In conjunction with looking at these pictures, we are reading a complex piece by our teacher Jason entitled:  "Great Bear Mother".   Above is picture #1,  Looking for the Ox.  Below the picture is an interpretation by an author who has been studying these pictorial symbols.  

It is funny because in a conversation just last night,  a beloved woman and non-dual classmate in my life spoke about how the Great Bear Mother is right under her fucking nose!    And this,  it appears,  is what the first Ox Herding interpretation is referencing.  We are searching for the beast that we believe is elusive and it is,  literally,  right here under our fucking nose.   I relate to this from the standpoint of having spent most of my life searching outside of myself for both happiness and suffering.  That someone "out there"  could complete me and I would be happy ever after  AND,  that when I was in a dark place of pain,   that too was caused by some force outside of me.   

I am the beast that creates the happiness and the suffering. 

The "lost beast"  referred to above,  that I would and could not let myself get a glimpse of,  that was somewhere in the shadows,  lurking,  huffing and drooling had been my anger.    It was something,  up until recently,  that I did have to lead myself astray from,  not let myself know that it existed.   Rage was the beast to be quickly tamed and transformed into anything other than what it was.    There is a certain kind of freedom I am coming to know in the wildness of my lost beast of anger. 

Desire for gain and fear of loss burn like fire.   I know this all too well.   My greed and my hunger and my longing are all desires for gain.   More, more, more.    Fear of loss has been my terror of abandonment, rejection and any threat of being left.   What about me?  What will happen to me when you leave ?     When something burns like fire,  it is blazing out of control,  eating anything in sight that is flammable.  Anything of substance is destroyed.
When the beast in me is out of control,   for purposes of gain or fear of loss,   then anything or anyone in my path has the potential to be swallowed by my fire. 
And what is left are the ashes of what was in my fiery fury.

Ideas of right and wrong shoot up like a phalanx.
My all-or-nothing,  black and white thinking has produced rigid ideas of right and wrong.  My hypervigilance is that phalanx -- the finger that points away from me to the outside. 
If something is not right,  then it must be wrong. 
If it doesn't feel good,  then it must be bad.
My warning system as a child of an alcoholic, I have learned, is wired this way.

I am the beast.   I am the one who feeds the beast with my unconscious actions.   
And I am the one who can soothe the beast.  
There is no need to go out searching for this creature to be feared.   She is right here.
As my dear friend said, "Under my fucking nose". 

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Saturday Night's Alright for Cookin'

Don't give me none of your aggravation
Try to coax me out so I can fit in
 Saturday night's alright for cookin
Get a little stirrin in ...

Saturday night has been one of the most overrated evenings in existence.  In my young adulthood,  there was so much pressure to go out on a Saturday night.   You were a "big loser"  if you didn't have exciting plans.   In my drinking days,  Saturday night was the one that got built up all week long as THE party night (over time,  any night of the week would do just fine !)    Even after I put down the booze,  I still responded to this social conditioning of needing to have great plans for a Saturday night.   Over the past couple of years,  I have actually come to treasure staying in on this night and doing something I enjoy or would not normally have the time to savor during the week.   One such thing is cooking.   And listening to good music.   I spent 2 hours this evening making homemade marinara sauce and meatballs (the actual concotion is depicted above) while jamming to tunes from the '60's on AOL radio.   It was absolutely delightful.  And relaxing.   This is what being sober enables me to enjoy on a Saturday night.   I'd like to debunk the myth about this being a legendary evening of the week -- it's simply another moment in time.   If it is not authentically pleasurable,  then it's a night dressed up in a pretty package without the goods inside.    
I am not against having fabulous Saturday night plans AND I am also equally thrilled when the plan is "no plans".   There is something delicious and sacred about that too.

And here's the best part for me:   when I wake up Sunday morning,  I don't feel like shit from a hangover.   Or can't get out of bed because I stayed out too late.   And I don't have to wonder who I offended because I drank at them in a hazy stupor.  

The meatballs will now get to bathe in the sauce overnight and be scrumptious for my dinner guests tomorrow.  My apartment is squeaky clean.   I am showered and in PJ's.  I can't wait to get under the covers on this extraordinarily ordinary Saturday night.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Spiritual health doesn't always feel good ...

Originally uploaded by seyed mostafa zamani

At my women's meeting this evening, a reading from the Grapevine highlighted the fact that one can be in good spiritual health and this does not necessarily correspond to "feeling good". That, in fact, we could be sitting in the middle of something deeply painful and yet experience incredible spirituality.

This makes so much sense to me, especially given what I have been learning in my non-dual healing school. Being spiritually healthy to me is about feeling the Truth of my interior (i.e. pain, anger, grief) and having willingness to sit with it and not try to extinguish or squelch or minimize it in some way. What I understand from tonight's reading is that, if I am not "acting out" or projecting or blaming others for what I am feeling inside, then I am actually taking steps toward spiritual growth.

Some members of our group tonight had some difficulty in wrapping their brains around the idea that feeling good does not equal good spiritual health and that feeling bad does not equal bad spiritual health. I am very aware of the ways in which I have put on a spiritual facade which was a ruse for not being in relationship to my feelings. So if I pretended that everything was "just fine" , wore a happy mask, did things like yoga and mindfulness meditation, then surely I was spiritually sound. I convinced myself (and others) of this for years, particularly during the time period of my ex-partner's substance abuse. If it looks Buddha-like and acts Buddha-like, then it must be a Buddha, right ?

Thanks to an amazing healer and school and AA community, I know now that my spiritual fitness has been shaped by wrestling with life's challenges, jogging into the unknown, surfing waves of transference, and hiking across a rocky terrain of emotions. Sometimes I am downright sore and feel like my ass has been whipped and I have also seen the benefits of my workout in the form of serenity, honest communication, improved relationships, a stronger connection to God.

Prayer , non-dual practices, healings, and going to meetings allow me to invite my feelings to be seen and heard and to have a place to exist. Even the ugly ones and the crappy painful ones and the potentially shameful ones. When I do this, I feel closer to God and to myself. This feels like true spiritual health.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Nature's Late Summer Shout-outs

This morning I went to my favorite field to do some non-dual practices.   With my dog in tow.   She runs and sniffs other dog's pee spots and rolls in geese droppings while I move in seemingly unnatural ways and make strange sounds.   I don't know who the odder one of the two of us really is !

During my practice,  there was a turkey vulture overhead.   I couldn't help but be enthralled with its graceful circling above me.   It simply became part of my practice.

On our walk back,  there were these glorious flowers that couldn't help but shout out their beauty,  pleading to be admired.    Here are a few ...

 Bursting petals of sensuality

  Heart-widening ripples of love

Grace bowing to the earth

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Joker's Wild

Calling Your Bluff
Originally uploaded by Splooge-tastic Gooner-Licious

In a healing session with a classmate this morning, I explored my journey with Truth, from pathological dishonesty to fierce integrity.

A highlight of this discussion was the telling of a story when I was 11 years old. On one of the first days back to school, entering the 6th grade, we were asked to take turns sharing what we did on our summer vacation. I felt myself wanting to disappear from sheer embarassment as my classmates told tales of great trips and adventures, while I knew that the "truth" of my summer was that I did absolutely nothing noteworthy by comparison. When it was my turn to share, my creative imagination went into full gear. I told an over-the-top story, outright lie, of going to California with my family because I was on the game show, Joker's Wild, for children's week. And how I won $500 ! The class went crazy with excitement and were full of questions at recess and I made up every last answer. This would come to bite me right in the ass when, several weeks later at a PTA meeting, my teacher would congratulate my mother for my game show feat. I got the verbal whiplashing of my life when she returned home ! I can remember crying my eyes out and speaking the "truth" of the shame I felt because all the other kids did interesting things and went on fun trips and our family didn't do anything. And to name that truth with my mother was downright dangerous. Like when I would hit my breaking point about my father's alcohol consumption and would eventually lash out and say things like: "I don't want to be around him drunk". And my mother would look at me, shaking her finger, defending against this with all her might: "Don't you ever say those things again, young lady !"

The "Joker's Wild" , as my classmate pointed out today, was a metaphor for the holograph I was acting out in my tall tale. In card-speak, the term "Joker's wild" (which was true for the strategy on the game show so you could double or triple your earnings) means that you decide how you're going to use a Joker card when it comes up in your hand. Strategically, how you play it determines if you come out a winner or a loser. In broader terms, it describes one's relationship to the cards they are dealt. My exaggerating and my imagination were actually my "Joker's wild" in the hand I was playing, aka: "the codependent, dysfunctional alcoholic family".

I've had a tumultuous relationship with Lady Luck. Some of my early pretending and stretching of the truth saved me from what was too hard to bear as such a young person. In my early adulthood and drinking years, my dishonesty was costly: legal fines, a re-possessed car, damaged credit, countless broken friendships, my dignity. When dishonesty was dressed up in denial clothing, I played a 13.5 year hand until all the chips were gone. I would, however, have the occasional jackpot-level hands in which big prizes were awarded, like having a successful business, buying a home, getting my Master's degree.

It hasn't been until the past couple of years that I have been on a true winning streak. And with much higher stakes and much more to lose. My relationship with the hand I am being dealt is one in which I am relying less on luck and more on faith. Trusting that as I play each card, even when the Joker's wild, that I am listening deep within before making my move. And that I am not being too impulsive or too greedy. And that whatever the cards are before me, I work with what I've got and not try to manipulate or bluff the other "players".   This is how I want to be in the game of Life.

Monday, September 6, 2010


Singing Bells
Originally uploaded by Ben Heine

I spent the morning today on a long walk on the trails of the neighboring woods, followed by some non-dual healing practices in a field on the way back home.

I spent a lot of time listening and taking in all the forms of nature surrounding me. It really struck me that no matter what anyone or anything does in nature, be it biking or hiking or running or strolling or sitting ... nature just IS.

Nature is filled with constantly changing forms as well as forms whose changes are so microscopic that it appears they are un-changing to the naked eye. The rushing water of the creek along the trails pounded over the rocks, while birds and butterflies and falling leaves twirled around in the atmosphere above and the grass on the side of the trail upon which I was walking appeared to be perfectly still, static, unaffected and unchanged. Blades basking in their grass-ness.

I posed the question to myself : "What would it be like to be in the world fully in your is-ness and not in reaction to what is happening outside of you?" This is what led me to the open field to do Work of Return and Impersonal Movement.

I let the question live vividly in me. I began the practice and I felt the breeze and some bees, a mosquito or two, couple of dragon flies above. A mom and her two kids along with a large golden retriever entered the field from the woods across from me. I caught a "wrinkle" of irritation rise up about "not having this all to myself". I returned to my question and my practice, moving the knotted muscles in my neck into the curvilinear space in front of me. The image of the blades of grass popped up and I landed with a resounding thud back into my own being-ness. After a minute or two, I barely perceived that others were in the field or what they were doing. Each of us became part of the tapestry of the landscape, equally an integral part of the picture, no one thing or person more prominent than the other.

At this point, I had dropped deeply into a segment of the practice in which I am seated in the Heart -- which includes movement into my own chest and into the consciousness of the world. At this point, the IS-ness of everything was what I felt and viewed and touched and heard and tasted. I had an awareness that all of this was me too and not me at all. I did not want this moment to cease.

When I arrived back to my place, I re-read a passage that I have been stuck on for an entire week in my teacher Jason's book. The words resonated with me in a way that I had not been able to take them in previously:
"The Heart holds All to itself, making no distinction between manifest and unmanifest, good or evil ... It is not entranced because the origin of the Heart is not personal but transcendent ... The Heart is not a product of history but of Emptiness ... When the Heart is Empty, every way is the Way."

This experience of being seated in the Heart in Nature in my Is-ness brought these words to life for me. I had a tangible feeling of being without history, a transcending of the personal. And a new understanding of "Emptiness" : an unlimited vessel for holding ALL. That is perhaps why I did not want this experience to end. I had a glimpse of what it was like to be fully in my Is-ness and in the world.

As Jason notes at the bottom of his passage in the smallest of fonts (which feels purposeful to emphasize the statement's preciousness): "The Heart is smart".



Sunday, September 5, 2010

God and Me and You ...

Friends silhouetted
Originally uploaded by Mojo...

I have been steeping in honesty like a bouquet of tea leaves in hot water. In non-dual terms, it is the deep relationship between my interior (Tiferet) and my connection to another (Yesod).

This boils down to a simple equation: God and Me and You.

A product of the sum of this trinity is Truth. And if we're really lucky ... Love.

Yesterday marked 20 years of sobriety for me. Only 1 year and 8 months of that time has involved truly working a program to live soberly, with the remaining time clocked spent in healthy fear of alcohol and turning into my father. On the coin you receive for each abstinent milestone is the phrase: "To thine own self be true." I can claim that as being a valid motto that I am living by today; anytime before this period had only sporadic hints of honesty.

On this anniversary, I engaged in conversations with 2 different women I love about subjects which required just being in the Truth. The result was more openness and freedom and an abundance of love to enter in that spaciousness. I am learning that to be engaged in the world and in relationship from this place offers nothing but serenity. It is clean and clear and direct.  It is compassionately kind.  There is no second-guessing, post-conversation anxiety or scrambling to smooth over. Any feelings of wanting to avoid or isolate simply evaporate. I want to be MORE in relationship and an active participant in life. I am able to discern the next right action because it is arising from listening to my wise sage within and not moving too quickly to react to what I believe the outside wants from me. Unlike my drinking days, this way of living leaves no wreckage in the past.

God and Me and You. I'm in good company.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Saying NO to Bullies !

Lets Go... I'm ready!
Originally uploaded by DBCoop77

One of the more gratifying aspects of my work with individuals who have developmental disabilities is facilitating a Relationships Group every other week. The topics vary and sometimes are suggested by the members themselves or, in a case like today, the subject matter presents itself.

At the start of group, there were 2 new members who were asked to introduce themselves. As one member shared her name, "Dorothy", an outspoken male in the group yelled out: "Go back to the Wizard of Oz, Dorothy!" Some individuals laughed out of wanting to align with this intimidating member, while others expressed their dislike for his actions by making faces or mumbling to themselves. I made a snap decision in this teachable moment that our group topic would be about teasing -- how it affects us and how we can hurt people when we do it. What I never could have imagined was the depth of discussion that would follow.

As members, one by one, gave their answers to my opening question: "What have you been teased about in your life that has bothered you?" , the responses were specific, honest, and heart-wrenching :

Being called retarded behind my back.
Having kids getting off the school bus throw things at me.
People who stare at my crippled hand.
Kids in my neighborhood try to tickle me and poke at me.
Being called fat.
My father gets in my face and tells me I'm dumb.
Kids in high school always called me a faggot.
Boys tried to push me out of my wheelchair.
My brothers threw food at my head at the dinner table.
Kids would try to take my shirt off.
Being followed around and having my name shouted in my ear.

After their sharing, I suggested that we do some role plays and use their actual scenarios so that I could model ways to respond to the people doing the teasing.

As I posed each scenario, the hands quickly flew up to volunteer for the role play. Some people were anxious to be the "teaser" while others were much more content in being the one who would respond. One young lady during her role play took a firm stance and pointed her finger at the male member doing the teasing and shouted: "I say NO to bullies!" The entire room cheered and rolled around in fits of giddiness in their chairs. This role play was so popular, that I told them we'd have to now call this class the "Saying NO to bullies" class if it was ever repeated in the future.

One of the most poignant role plays, however, was the young man in our group who had been called a faggot. He announced to all of us that he was gay and that being called this is a "mean thing to do to gay people". This was the first time I would explore the subject of sexual orientation with this group. I was blown away at their openness -- far greater than the general public. Several members told this young man that they would stick up for him and he could love who he wants to love, it doesn't matter. Me thinks the entire Christian Right movement would benefit from less Bible-thumping and instead could learn a great deal from this supposedely "impaired" group of individuals.

A woman with Down's Syndrome who has great difficulty in being understood, as she has challenges with her speech, was surprisingly clearer than I had heard her in over a year. She had much to say to everyone. It had to do with her physical features and how she doesn't like it when people at the grocery store stare at her and move their children away from her. She was filled with conviction as she spoke, raising her fist like the other member before her and saying "NO !" in the loudest voice she could muster.
More applause erupted from the room.

It is a day like this where I bow humbly to each of those men and women in the circle around me and recognize that I am but a student sitting amongst many brilliant teachers. They seized the opportunity to empower one another and to claim their personal victories over the acts of cruelty bestowed upon them by ignorant others. They can say YES to the beauty of who they are and expect to be treated with dignity and respect while being able to say NO to anyone who tries to tell them otherwise.