So quiet outside; so loud inside: My retreat recap

It’s been a while since I’ve written, so I’ll catch up on everything soon—our trip to Baja, family camp, my inner life and more—but first, the meditation retreat…

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Paramahansa Yogananda’s hermitage in Encinitas, Calif. This is the window near which he wrote “Autobiography of a Yogi,” the most formative book I’ve read. My guru’s hermitage holds a definitive magic for me.

Two months ago, I went on a three-day silent retreat at the Self-Realization Fellowship ashram in Encinitas, Calif. Ever since, I’ve been telling friends who ask about it: “It was great. Intense, but awesome. I’ll share more about it later.”

I keep waiting for fascinating words of inspiring profundity, but they haven’t come. This business of leading a spiritual life can be so personal, so gritty, so impossible to explain.

As such, instead of my typical long-form essay, here’s a stream-of-consciousness re-cap on what it was like to keep silence, meditate way more than is normal for me and be alone with God for three days, in chronological order, with several parts missing:

  • Excitement
  • Aw, I look super cute today. This is just the perfect outfit for meditation.
  • I’m kinda nervous. What might come up when I get quiet?
  • Silence now? I thought the retreat didn’t officially start until tomorrow?
  • It’s weird not talking at the dinner table
  • Substitute smiles and eye contact for words. Hmm. I kinda like this.
  • Nature Gardens Wildlife Waves Hummingbirds Euphoria
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View from my favorite meditation bench in the gardens. Sitting there, I was surrounded by jasmine, hummingbirds, jackrabbits, giant jade bushes, koi ponds, palms, birds of paradise and the massive Pacific.

  • Breathing
  • Quiet
  • Soundest sleep I’ve had in months
  • Wake up. I choose to shower instead of meditate. Again, I find the perfect outfit and lip gloss for the occasion.
  • Meet up for energization exercises and group meditation
  • Darkened chapel, sit down, straight spine, woo! Here we go!
  • Peace, quiet, gratitude for the time to do this
  • Here comes the back pain
  • Break. Sneak off during the break to get a massage in Encinitas. The back pain is unbearable.
  • Return for more meditation.
  • This chapel is so peaceful.
  • I would like to feel as peaceful as that woman sitting over there smiling.
  • I talk too much in real life.
  • So quiet outside; so loud inside
  • Get distracted while meditating, draw myself back (repeat times a billion)
  • Feel an inner storm rising, shudder at the thought, tell myself that’s why I’m here, and try to trust that I’ll be ok no matter what comes up for me.
  • Feel ridiculous for even thinking about clothes and lipgloss
  • Breakfast is delicious
  • Loooong period of meditation (2.5 hours)
  • Stabbing upper back pain
  • Inner storm hits
  • Frustration
  • Gurus, could you take away this back pain so I can concentrate better?
  • Cool. Thanks!
  • Dang. It’s back again. Mother effer! This is so hard.
  • Despair
  • Tears
  • Please, God, make this easier, I want to hear You.
  • #$%&!!!
  • Resignation to the fact I’m going to be here a while.
  • Keep dragging my mind back to the techniques.
  • Relief! It’s finally over. And now we chant.
  • Can I go home now? I’m sure Marina will let me stay with her the next couple nights…
meditation bench

I passed a few hours in meditation and general reverie on this bench overlooking the Pacific. This spot was like salve for the stings that came up during my chapel meditations. Being outside is always what soothes me.

  • Another meditation
  • I can’t effing believe I’m going back for more. Not fun. I should’ve booked a beach vacation with girlfriends…
  • Straight spine, open heart, aching back
  • Praying, praying, praying for help
  • Kriya-o-rama
  • Light across the Christ Center (third eye)
  • Joy

Sister Yogamahi—my fave nun—pulls me aside because she feels like I could use a counseling session. OMG! She’s like a rockstar nun! And she’s going to talk with ME about MY problems! Squee! I break silence to chat with Sister Yogamahi

Me: blah blah blah, bunch of majorly un-spiritual admissions I can’t believe I tell a nun. Vent, vent, vent. What would Master say about this? Cry, cry, cry. Do you have any advice?

Sister Yogamahi: Warm smile, gleaming eyes, doles out real-deal wisdom, offers perspective, cracks some jokes, makes me laugh, gives me support with zero judgment, promises to pray for me and it feels like I’ve just hooked up with God Himself, tells me stuff that comforts me, puts me back in touch with my own ability to feel God’s presence, makes me wonder if she’s not actually on the line with Jesus and Paramahansa Yogananda as she’s talking with me.

Me: “Wow. Thanks. Can I hug you? Wait, do nuns hug?” (It occurs to me she might prefer to connect with the heart than with the body, or her vibration might be so high from meditating like a boss all these years that touching a mere mortal might send my nervous system reeling.)

Sister Yogamahi: Only when no one is looking. And I think we’re being watched. She laughs.

Me: Etheric hug, then! (I clasp my hands at my heart and bow my head in gratitude to her.)

Sister Yogamahi: Smiles with a bazillion watts of God’s love, then swishes away in her ochre robes.

Me: 80 pounds lighter and heaps clearer than moments before.

meditation gardens

Amazing how so much soul gunk can find its way up in a place bursting with this much beauty.

  • Another long period of meditation. I approach sans dread.
  • Breathing
  • No more back pain
  • No more caring about what I’m wearing, or how cute I look for this
  • Kriya-o-rama
  • Depth
  • Clarity
  • Peace
  • Happiness
  • Melancholy about leaving, about returning to the noisy world
  • Missing my family, but loving the peace that’s finally settled. It’s a bittersweet farewell
  • Fly back home

That’s that. Someday maybe stories of substance will emerge, but this was my experience. If any of you have ever gone within for several days, I’d love to hear of your experience. What went down for you when you went inward?

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I’ve been told Jesus loves me.

Note: Below I’ve written about God, Jesus and Mary because that’s what I experienced. That said, I well know the Divine extends far beyond the Christianity of my Bible Belt beginnings, so please feel free to replace my vernacular with words that resonate with you…the Universe, Nature, Mother Earth, Gaia, the Greater Order, Goddess, your guru, Divine Mother, Buddha, Krishna or any deity that resonates with your heart. After all, we’re all one.

Most days, after I drop off the boys at school, I duck into the nearby church sanctuary for five to 10 minutes. Once inside, I pause to gaze at the statue of Mary as I take a seat beneath cathedral ceilings smudged with stained-glass-filtered light.

Sometimes I admire Mary’s likeness. You’ve got it all locked up, Mother of God. How do you do it?

Sometimes I feel awe. Wow, you are pure grace. Amazing.

Sometimes I want to cry. When you were living in the body, did you ever feel the stuff I’m feeling now? You were a woman in the world before you were divine, right? So how did you handle it? What did you do when you struggled?

Sometimes I feel gratitude. OMG, you are really actually here for me, Mary. I can feel it. Thanks for being so expansive.

Sometimes I ask her for help. I wish I could be more like you. Could you help me do that? Work through me. I am so, so lost right now. Please take over because I am just not nailing life at the present.

For reference only, this is me nailing life. It happens sometimes.

For reference only, this is me actually nailing life (with holes in my socks).

After a minute or so of reflecting on Mary, who I experience as an expression of the Divine Mother, I sit up straighter and close my eyes to meditate. Looking toward the center of my forehead, I repeat a silent “hong” on the in breath, and sau (pronounced “saw”) on the out breath. In repetition, this mantra slows the heart rate and paves the way for greater concentration. (Pow! That’s meditation. ‘All there is to it.)

Sometimes I float into bliss for a while. Sometimes my mind races the entire time. Eventually, I end with a prayer of protection and thanks to Heavenly Father, Divine Mother, Christ and all the great ones. And then I walk out the big double doors and into my day.

Today a woman wearing a long, hooded powder blue coat waited for me at the door. I gave her a friendly smile and she followed me out.

“I see you in here praying a lot,” she said, squaring her body in front of me on the steps. She had a low, melodic voice and was tall—a little taller than me. She looked to be halfway between my mom and my grandma’s age. Her face was smooth and soft, and even the skin around her eye area was youthfully taut. She wore no makeup, and her light brown eyes were twinkly. If I had to read her energy, I’d say it was loving, strong, protector-y and practical, in that order.

“I want to let you know about a special chapel I think you’d like,” she said. “It’s not far from here and if you enjoy praying in this sanctuary, I think you’d really enjoy this other chapel.”

She proceeded to tell me about the tiny 24-hour chapel of a huge Catholic church a couple miles away. I’ve seen the church before, and it’s beautiful from the outside. She told me of the chapel’s beauty, of the special feel it has, of how the laity meticulously maintains it, of the beautiful statue of Mary and of how adorers are welcome at all hours of the day.

“Adorers?” I asked. I’ve not heard this term before. Is that like what I did with Mark Wahlberg this summer?

“Yes, adorers,” she said matter of factly. “Of Mary, of Jesus.”

“Oh, ok,” I said, feeling silly. “That’s beautiful. I’m not Catholic, so ‘adorer’ is not a word I’m familiar with.”

“Oh, it doesn’t matter. You don’t have to be Catholic. I invite Muslim people there, too. You’ll feel Jesus, and it doesn’t matter, he’s for everyone,” she said, pausing for a few beats and looking deep into my eyes with a gaze so steady and warm I felt myself melting into it.

“Jesus wants to love you,” she said. “That is a grace you are blessed to have. You know.”

Instantaneously, I began to cry.

The last time I experienced mystical insta-tears was after a chat with nun at my guru's hermitage in Encinitas. This photo was snapped moments after.

The last time I experienced mystical insta-tears was after a little chit chat with a Self-Realization Fellowship nun at my guru’s hermitage in Encinitas. This photo was snapped moments after.

Something in her countenance when she said “Jesus wants to love you” reached into my being and ripped down a hard-fought wall, releasing a swell of emotion. She stood solidly before me, gazing at my face with serenity and compassion from Lord knows where. Or how. I swear she glowed. What was this phenomenon? I felt wrapped in love beyond love, unaware of space, people and things around me. Unable to stop the tears from coming, I smiled bashfully and threw my hands in the air as if to apologize for my show of emotion. The corners of her mouth turned up slightly and she nodded her head once like she’d seen this a hundred times. She stood close, simply regarding me.

“Thank you,” I said, smiling and shrugging my shoulders, mystified. “Thanks so much.”

Her mouth turned up further into a sweet smile and she excused herself. I rushed off to the car. Once alone, the tears continued, and in the same moment, they became laced with laughter. Joy in abundance. “What was that?” I heard myself say aloud. “Who was that?”

I don’t know why I was incredulous. This morning before leaving the house, I read that today, Feb. 19, is a good day to ask for guidance from your higher self. So I did. Instead of just asking to receive the guidance, I asked to feel it, to experience it and to have the courage to take action on it. Additionally, as I do every morning, I asked to be a channel for God’s love to all I meet.

I figured I’d receive some sort of mandate from my higher self, like, “Yes, we know you’re having a hard time right now but be spiritual about it and rise above it all, will you? You want superconsciousness? You better straighten up and fly right. Get over all this dumb human stuff already.”

It’s like I was expecting my guidance to come with a healthy serving of shame. But that is just not how God works. I always forget.

When I asked for it this morning, I never suspected I’d receive divine encouragement to let myself be loved. And by Jesus, no less. It’s too simplistic, too nice, too outrageous. But it was unmistakably divine. “Jesus wants to love you,” said the woman in blue. To me, implicit in her words was, “Open your heart and receive the love of all loves. You are worthy. Jesus wants to love you.” Suddenly it was so obvious: I can share God’s love with others only if I allow my own self to revel in that great love first.

I don’t know why this woman chose today of all days to speak to me. I’m sure there’s a good explanation for why she was bundled in a full-length, light blue down coat on the warmest day of the winter, and why she had her hood covering her head. But despite all logic, standing in the morning sun of those church steps, she looked every bit like Mary to me. What’s more, she felt like Mary. As sometimes happens with phenomena, I may see her again and experience her in a completely different way, but what matters to me is that today, on the day I asked for an experience of divine guidance, I was overcome with wonderment on feeling Mary’s love flowing through this very person.

So, my wish for you today is that you open yourself to an experience of divine guidance.  Just ask for it, aloud or in your heart. Then, when you have the experience, I hope that you know it, and that it moves you in some wonderful way. Finally, may you allow yourself to revel in the love of all loves. Just like I was told this morning, Jesus wants to love you.

A bedtime meditation for sensory kids

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For those who don’t already know, I have two sons, one of whom is an official sensory kid, the other unofficial. While heightened intuition, innate wisdom and emotional sensitivity are grand gifts in today’s world, parenting sensory kids like my little guys can be a nail-biting ride.

Throughout the course of a day, these kids absorb a lot. By “a lot,” I mean they take in all surrounding sounds, smells, sights, touch, tastes, energies and even other people’s emotional frequencies. In other words, their level of perception can get a bit like that of Robert Downey, Jr., as Sherlock Holmes. At the end of the day, if I’m lucky, their little nervous systems may have processed all this input effectively. However, after a long day of school and/or the stimulation of daily life as a city kid, it’s more likely they’re amped to high heaven.

So, before they go to sleep, we clear it all out. That way, they can start the next day fresh.

When they get older, they’ll figure out their own tricks for hitting the re-set button, but because my kids are so little, I’ve found they need help releasing all the gunk they’ve absorbed throughout the day. After years of experimenting with different approaches and gleaning knowledge from friends and experts like Alicia Isaacs Howes, an intuitive coach and friend who’s used visualization with her own sons, and Nancy Floy, whose powerful Mindfulness of the Body exercise prepares her patients to receive miraculous healing through her acupuncture practice at The Heartwood Center for Body, Mind, Spirit, I’ve come up with an evening meditation that works well for my boys. If anyone’s wondering, it works for grown-ups, too.

After we’ve bathed, brushed teeth, read stories, snuggled a bit and the lights are low, I help them draw attention to the soles of their feet by taking their feet in my hands and gently yet firmly squeezing the bottom of each foot, using my thumbs to give them a little massage. The idea is to treat the soles of the feet as exit doors for releasing built-up energy. If your child is super ticklish, just press the bottom of the foot firmly with your fist or open palm, using the heel of your hand to press into the heel, instep and ball of their feet, to the extent that it’s peaceful for them. If it’s not, just skip the touch and go straight into the guided meditation.

Guided bedtime meditation for Sensory Kids

The following is just a guide; it’s what works for our family. If a bedtime meditation resonates with you and your kids, play with your “script.” Tailor it to your kids, make it your own.

You’re walking through the forest* and you notice the ground feels soft beneath your feet. Right there, amid the tall, tall trees, you take your shoes off and let your bare feet sink into the cool, squishy mud.**

You feel the mud squishing between your toes, and it covers the tops of your feet, just up to your ankles. As you stand there feeling the squishiness of the soft earth, you notice the bottoms of your feet opening up, releasing all the stuff that you don’t need anymore. Any thoughts, feelings, experiences, beliefs, energies, ideas and other things that no longer serve your highest and greatest good come flushing out of your body through the bottoms of your feet and into the earth, where these things are cleaned and transformed. Anything from this life or past lifetimes that no longer serves your highest and greatest good flows gently and easily out of your feet like a faucet and you feel light and free.

At the same time, you notice a cord extending from the base of your spine*** into the ground. It extends down through all the layers of the earth—grass, mud, dirt, water, rock—all the way to the earth’s core, where you are always connected for as long as you want to be.

You now notice the crown of your head tingling gently as shimmering white light enters your body through the top of your head, filling it, your brain, your eyes and your throat with the brightest, most beautiful, most peaceful white light. This sparkling white light fills your chest, your heart, your lungs, your spine, your nervous system, your blood vessels and all your glands, purifying everything it touches and recharging every cell in your body. The glistening white light fills all of your organs, cleansing and restoring your liver, your gall bladder, your kidneys, your pancreas, your spleen, your stomach, your intestines, your bladder and your reproductive system. The shimmering white light then moves down into your arms, hands and fingers, and your legs, feet and toes. All of the bones and tissues in your body are filled with this brilliant white light. Soon, your whole body is shimmering light, and you feel totally free, totally peaceful and totally rejuvenated. You are ready for a wonderful night’s sleep.

Let’s pray:

God, give these children all the protection they need tonight while they sleep. As they journey through dreams, bless them that they may be bathed in Your protective light, accompanied by angels and filled with the peace, joy, love and belonging that comes from knowing Your constant presence. May they sleep beautifully and awaken in the morning feeling peaceful, restored, joyful, excited about the day and filled with the knowledge that they are loved, wanted and supported as Your divine child and as my child on Earth. Thank you, God. Bless these children. Amen.

NOTES: I use the term, sensory kid, to describe a child who has sensory integration issues or has been diagnosed with sensory processing disorder (SPD). If you’re not familiar with SPD, see the SPD Foundation website. Regardless of how your child’s sensory issues present, I’ve observed that all sensory kids have at least a few things in common: They are highly intuitive, sensitive, quirky kids who often seem to have an otherworldly wisdom about them. (Not that it presents all the time but, when it does, wow.) These kids have great imaginations, which makes them especially open to visualization and guided meditation. I came up with the below script one night while putting them to bed and it stuck. Now, it’s part of our nighttime ritual. 

*Pick the element of nature that resonates most with your child. Nature is the ultimate cleansing agent for all of us, which is why many guided meditations begin by setting the stage in some beautiful outdoor place. As I desire to bring a sense of grounding before my boys enter the superconscious sleep state, I choose to paint a picture of earth and trees. However, we’ve tried it with sand and sea before as well. If your kid loves mountains, describe a mountain setting. If your kid loves the lake, describe the lake. If your kid loves rocks, describe a field of boulders. And so on.

**If your child is sensory averting, you may wish to describe something that feels less messy and offensive than mud or wet sand. For example, you guide them in removing their socks to feel a warm or cool stone beneath their feet.

***You may wish to touch the base of the spine to help your child with the visual. In fact, feel free to have your child lie on his or her stomach so you can give a gentle full-body massage as you walk him or her through the meditation.

Enoughness Project Series #11: One art exhibit shifts my worldview: perfection rejection

This post is part of a series about my experiences in uncovering my own innate enough-ness. For three months, I am abstaining from frivolous material purchases, accepting all blessings that come my way and focusing on gratitude for all that I have. The idea came to me in a meditation-induced haze and it has nothing to do with politics or morality. I’m just a girl who’s hoping to: separate the association between looking good and being good; get comfy with receiving; become a glowingly grateful human being; get acquainted with my own motives for material consumption; grow my understanding of when/why I buy things; and establish new habits that are more aligned with my values. We’ll see how this goes…

I love art. I have no fancy credentials to prove how much I love it—all I have is a cool garage door and a messy house. I don’t spend every weekend at ballets and shows, go out of my way to catch exhibits and I’m not tight with any important gallery owners or artists (unless you count my sister-in-law, who’s working on an incredible project on the Hudson River right now). Nonetheless, art is the thing that sparks me more reliably than almost anything.

Last spring, I had 36 hours alone in my city. It was the most indulgent of luxuries. I strolled Michigan Ave.; emerged with what is now my favorite pair of jeans; sipped champagne with some dashing Viennese businessmen; declined their generous invitation to dinner in favor of room service, a bath and an uninterrupted night of sleep; and, the next morning, walked straight to the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) for some time alone with art I’d never met.

I walked through a torn paper archway reminiscent of a Texas high school football run-through sign, which is, in effect, what it was, but constructed of heavy golden paper ripped in artful swaths by Saburo Murakami, one of the leaders of the Japanese Gutai art movement following World War II. My inner zing was going off.

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“Entrance,” by Saburo Murakami

The exhibit was called “Destroy the Picture: Painting the Void, 1949-1962” and I felt the swell of liberation immediately on walking through Murakami’s Entrance. The swell turned rogue wave when I saw the calculated slashes and stabs with which Lucio Fontana gutted his paintings. And when I saw the film of Gutai artists blaspheming Japanese culture by painting with their bare feet, I was profoundly engaged.

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“Spatial Concept,” by Lucio Fontana

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Lucio Fontana

As I saw it, many of these artists either created their work in a fashion that was not at all acceptable in the art world at the time, or they first created a perfectly good painting on a regular canvas and then proceeded to beat the hell out of it.

One of the artists wrote that he sat back and watched the painting until the energy rose inside of him and he flung his body at the canvas. The result was total physical destruction of his canvas.

As I sat contemplating the work and listening to a music student figure out Chopin’s Nocturne in something or other, I realized what it was about the exhibit that struck such a chord:  a.) It reminded me of what meditation does to a person, of how it torches old sides of yourself you no longer need and slices through what seems to be just fine, making it something more authentic, something that may be dissonant with others’ expectations, and yet more unique and more powerful than before. Also, b.) I want the courage to approach my life like these artists so boldly approached their canvases.

Who’s with me?

They were deemed madmen at the time, taking the sanctity of a proper painting and precisely burning, splashing, shooting and gashing it. And, yet, the work didn’t feel violent and angry to me; it felt liberating, even playful. Staring at this art, I recognized within me the desire to transform the canvas of my life, to take a traditional form and turn it into something totally my own, something that may make me look like a heretic, but who the fuck cares? It’s the real me, and I’m enough, and it feels freaking unreal and, by the way, you should try it because, trust me, you want to feel as free and electric as this…

Granted, the art in this exhibit was in response to the horrors of WWII, so it’s misguided to compare my charmed American Gen-X/Y life to that of these artists in 1940s and 1950s Europe and Japan, but just as these artists were reacting against the ways of the world that spawned a global war at the time, perhaps my desire to de- and re-construct my life canvas is in response to the perfectionism that’s expected of all of us in this Facebook-i-cized American culture right now. Look perfect, shop perfect, cook perfect, parent perfect, decorate perfect, be married perfect, clean perfect, work perfect, impress perfect, be perfect. It’s not piles of burning books in Nazi Germany, or worse, but this beckoning to live perfectly, and publicly so, can be decidedly oppressive.

Have you checked Pinterest lately, or scoured Facebook till you uncovered enough images to confirm your own lacking? Or made haste to upload a pic of yourself looking fab and doing something awesome to show everyone–including yourself–that you’re really totally supercool and your life is amazing? Oppressive.

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I’m shamefully guilty of feeding the perfection machine. I was all, “I kinda like this pic of myself flanked by two super handsome, well-dressed friends, so I’m totally posting this.” And, yes, I did post this pic to FB a few weeks ago. My caption: “Pretty delighted to have gotten to hang out with these cats last night.” All nonchalant, like, this is what I do all the time. This is how I always dress. And I attend fabulous events every Saturday night. You don’t? Aw, sorry to hear that.

By all appearances, I have created a lovely canvas—a beautiful family, a warm home, wild little boys, a vibrant spiritual life, part-time work that nourishes me, relationships that enrich me, and this blog—and, yes, I’m very grateful for that. Yet I reject the compulsion to make the world think that it’s all easy and precious and perfect. I feel this desire to go beyond what appears to be a perfectly good creation. I want to resist the pull to seem perfect, to “destroy” (my synonyms: transform, personalize, authenticate) the picture and to make it breathtaking from the inside—rather than curating an outwardly appealing portrait. What if my picture could be bombastically evocative of the reality of and the stunning beauty of imperfection?

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In reality, this is what most of my Saturday nights look like: Striving for some semblance of a grown-up night out with my husband, so we hit up a neighborhood dive restaurant, where we try with all our might to make the three-year-old sit quietly in his chair like a gentleman while my five-year-old seizes the window of my distraction to grab my olive wand and create tidal waves of ice in my martini, all while I stifle a grimace. Real life takes place at unflattering angles. And, know what? I didn’t post this to FB, but there’s undeniable beauty in these angles, too.

What if everyone destroyed their picture and made it what they wanted it to be rather than what society expected it to be? What if we were all honest about who we are and what we’re feeling?

Instead of using media like blowtorches, bullets and razor blades, as the artists in the MCA exhibit, I could use my budding indifference to society’s expectations, a bright inner knowing and unfailing trust in God’s way of providing for me as my tools. What would be your tools, or your artistic media?

Will you join me in destroying your picture? Because I could use a community in this adventure. Will you join me in approaching your life with the same fearlessness, expressiveness and willingness to test your own boundaries that these artists explored with their work?

The final product won’t end up in a museum touted as important art—or even on Pinterest—but living with abandon will darn well enrich my life and, because I will be more my authentic, empowered, liberated self, my loved ones will benefit as well.

I’m in. You?

Trying to find the sun amid the storms

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To see the sun on these days of gray, I must make my own light brighter.

I woke up scared last Thursday night to a tremendous storm. Lightning flashed through the skylight and thunder shook my window. Two frightened dogs nuzzled my body, trapping my legs in a cage of down and my husband slept beside me. Rain pelted the roof. Wind howled. Water rushed in our gutters. For the first time in years, I was scared of a storm. If my boys had woken up crying, I’d have told them, “Come here. I got ya. It’s just a storm. Snuggle in beneath our covers and just fall asleep. I got ya. Everything is ok.”

But they didn’t wake up and I didn’t get to say those words. Instead I tossed about in pillows and sheets and dogs feeling a sense of ominousness. Is everything ok? I fell back to sleep. Eventually, around 5 a.m. with the storm still raging, Brian rose for the day and went downstairs, leaving me deeply asleep in bed. Is everything ok?

Bombs explode, Congress ignores me, the cold continues, grayness pervades, the marriage challenges, blogs go unposted, work remains unaddressed, the night seems so angry, the dreams are nightmares, the basement floods.

Is everything ok?

I want to bake brownies with mint chips for comfort. I want to buy myself a massage, or a pedicure, to make myself feel better. I want to flip on the TV and submerge my brain in someone else’s story. I want to eat chips fried fresh and the entire can of Herdez salsa casera. I want to escape from this moment, this sogginess. I want to see the sun.

I call my mom, because she loves the sun, too, and she has tricks for finding it when I don’t. She tells me to go to the store and buy something bright and springy, so that every time I look at it, I’ll be cheered. And so I get two cans of silly string, which the boys spray all over the patio with gusto, and I pour a glass of wine while I make Texas chili.

For a few hours, I feel better. And then night again falls.

Kids are in bed, I brush my teeth, I wash my face and I dawdle in the bathroom trying to avoid the room across the hall, the room where I meditate. The ickiness is back and I swear my hands still feel waterlogged from the morning of bailing debris out of our drain. In this moment, at the end of this damp, water-flooded day when everything seems drenched in hopelessness, I know I have one tool to make everything be ok.

I can meditate. I’ve been avoiding it lately. A few weeks ago I felt something indiscernible that scared me. I started feeling like certain prayers were being answered, and that scared me. And so I pulled the plug. No more asking God to use me. No more asking the Universe to make me more aware of God working in my life and through me. I’m not ready, I said. I’m not ready. I’m afraid. No more. I need a break.

I took a break, if you could call it that. A meditation moratorium, a spiritual time out. “I’m not ready,” I told God. “You understand, don’t you?” During this break I’ve dreamed of whales. Whales bringing me trash from the deep, whales inviting me to sojourn with them in the depths, whales stealing children from the seashore, whales accompanying me through shark-infested waters like bodyguards, whales telling me it’s ok, whales swimming with me, whales surrounding my kayak and escorting me to safety…

Nonetheless, I have avoided my meditation practice like the plague, for fear I’d have to continue on the path I was on, the path toward higher consciousness. I haven’t sat in my usual space for longer than two minutes. I haven’t followed the full extent of my practice in weeks. I haven’t made time for the exercise that makes my body feel vital. I’ve had very little mindfulness of what I’m eating. Everything does not seem ok.

The funny thing about spiritual living is that it’s a lot like falling in love. Once you’ve fallen in love, you cannot un-fall, despite your best efforts to take it slow, or even to stop it from happening. Once you hop on a spiritual path, you’re on it and you become like a surfer on a longboard, riding forever. If you bail, the board follows you, because it’s tied to your ankle. Forever.

And so, recognizing there’s no escaping from my sincere search for God and love and oneness with all things, I sit down to meditate. I do so begrudgingly, but it’s my last resort, so as I sit down, I close my eyes and stare hard at the place between my eyebrows. I’m ravenous for a solution. A few moments in, I know. At least for right now, I know.

Making my own light brighter is my best hope of seeing the sun.

It’s everyone’s best hope.

If I take care of my body, if I fill up my spirit, if I honor my heart, if I do what I know I need to do to make my light brighter, then maybe I’ll have enough light and love not just for myself, but for others as well. What if my sun is bright enough that someone who hasn’t seen the sun in forever suddenly catches a glimpse of it? What might that do for a person? If I genuinely feel that everything is ok, maybe someone else will sense it and believe everything is–or will be–ok, too, no matter how cold and gray it seems.

Wracked with the dis-ease of our nation, I’ve been praying for an answer to the question, “What can I do to help?” Apart from making donations, how can I help?

At least for today, it’s clear that I am to do the simplest yet hardest of things:  Make my own light brighter.

If we all commit to giving ourselves the very best in self care, thus making our own lights brighter, maybe everything really will be ok. You never know who you may touch, how God may use you today, tomorrow, every day. You can help. Each of us is the world’s greatest hope.

A prayer

Dear God,

We pray for Your revitalizing light to shine upon all people of the world, particularly on those wounded in any way in Boston and in Texas, and on those caring for them in any capacity.

Place in our hearts the knowing of exactly what it is we can do as individuals to create peace. Inspire us that we may be courageous enough to ask the question, “What can I do?” and to act on Your answer.

Reveal to us the part that’s ours to play in bringing heaven to Earth, no matter how small or grand the scale. And show us where and how we can heal ourselves, our neighbors, our nation, our world.

Bless all humankind in Your transformative love.

Amen

Miraculous healing follows my shoulder-shaking maiden snowboarding shred

I hurt myself superbadly about a week and a half ago. I went snowboarding with Brian and, admittedly, I fell down my fair share—onto my hands despite a seasoned rider’s advice to fall differently—and my joints in both arms ached, but it didn’t seem like a big deal at the time. In fact, riding that board down the bunny hill was the most challenging, gleeful thing I’d done in a while. I loved it. Next morning, I woke up with debilitating pain in my rotator cuff, the likes of which I’d never known in 15 years of swimming, and I struggled to lift my right arm as pain coursed through the muscles of my collarbone over my shoulder bone, around my back and into my armpit.

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This I was just after I unknowingly injured myself doing a McTwist* in Shaun White’s half pipe* over the weekend. I hurt my shoulder fist pumping too hard.(*By “Shaun White’s half pipe,” I’m of course referring to what was probably a snow-covered landfill in Algonquin, Ill. And by McTwist*, I mean “snowboarding lesson.” Brian, a former professional ski bum, and I were seeking a level playing field so we could finally enjoy a snowy hill together without testing our marriage.)

I’d never been injured like this, physically, before. Snowboarding was my first attempt at overt athletic adventure since I became a mom four years ago, and I was a little bit furious and embarrassed I hurt myself doing it. The pain was terrific. It woke me at night and kept me up. I couldn’t move without grimacing. I couldn’t spread peanut butter on bread, slice a pear, lift my boys, play with them in the fresh snow, pet the dogs or do anything but throw all my focus into containing the pain. It reminded me of childbirth, that continuous, all-consuming pain that doesn’t go away until you hold your baby.

When the pain didn’t go away after two days, I knew I needed help. On the third day, an occupational therapist friend, who specializes in shoulders and arms, told me that, based on my impaired range of motion, I needed therapy probably for four to six weeks.

That same day, I booked it to the office of Dr. Dan Mossell at Mossell Holistic and cried on his table as he dug into the tenderest parts of my distressed rotator cuff—and my memory. Indeed, it appeared I’d been holding onto some issues in my tissues and, while the physical trauma was real, the injury of repetitive falls brought psychological issues to the forefront as well. As is a common experience for anyone attempting to lead a spiritual life, the physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual often end up being connected. (Natch, everything is connected.) Specifically, an old belief surfaced: that my worth in the world hinged on whether I was successful. When I was a swimmer, especially in my teens, I defined myself almost entirely by how I performed in the pool, or by how I failed to perform, and that definition carried me into adulthood. How hard could I work to win enough recognition to prove I was as good as everyone else, maybe even better?

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Ah, highlights from my swimming grab bag. My parents recently returned to me a duffle containing all my old swimming photos, trophies, ribbons and medals, which date back roughly to when the KC Royals won the World Series (middle pic, circa age 8) and tell the story of a kid’s swimming life. It’s fun to revisit those times, memorabilia of which I hadn’t seen in a decade, but there’s more to the story. If I win this race, if I get this time, if I advance to the finals, if I help my team win, if all this hard work pays off and I happen to succeed, that makes me enough, right? That makes me good, right? That makes me better, right? And if I don’t win or advance, then…what does that make me? (Cue the catastrophe of self worth based on ego-bred ideals.) These beliefs are hard to unseat, but miracles are happening all the time.

That night after downing some arnica and icing my shoulder, as I sat in a near-scalding bath, skin glistening with Epsom salts packed around my rotator cuff, I discovered I was still hanging onto the tired old idea that an Emily who did great things was the best, most-enough Emily. And so, with some trepidation, I went into that feeling. I looked around in there, asked for help, thanked my muscles for everything they do, told my tissues it was safe to release the pain and confirmed with my highest self that I was ready to receive the opportunity to live bigger.

I prayed for the pain to be released, and I went to bed.

I woke the next morning to find my shoulder still hurt, so I went to see our family doctor, a former pro athlete who’d once suffered this same injury. He empathetically prescribed lots of ice, rest and Vicotin for nighttime. “It’s going to be at least two weeks before the pain subsides, before you can get comfortable enough to even sleep at night,” he warned. “And then you’re probably going to need four to six weeks of physical therapy. So just don’t expect to be your usual self and take it really easy.”

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It had been a while (15 years?) since the last time I packed a bag of ice directly onto my shoulder for 30 minutes. My rotator cuff was killing me, but the dog-and-kid snuggles were magically healing.

I slogged through the rest of the day with my arm plastered to my side, iced my shoulder in front of the TV with the boys, took the Vicotin gratefully that night, meditated and took another bath. There in the tub, by the light of one candle, I envisioned myself as radiantly healthy. I directed my consciousness toward appreciation of everything that I am. I tried to picture myself swinging Kip through the air, doing downward dog, feeling powerful in my body, being glowingly grateful for everything, but especially for the four amazing muscles that comprise my rotator cuff and enable some of life’s most wonderful movements—stretching, hugging, dancing, twirling children, reaching for the sky…

It wasn’t easy, and it took some deep breathing, some deep prayer and some deep faith, but I released the old beliefs about my worth in the world, replacing them with the truth that I am a child of God, therefore I am wondrous despite anything I do. There’s no decision to be made about me; I just am.

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Trophies, real or imagined, no longer define me, not even when an old one surfaces from my parents’ basement and makes its way into the hands of my boys, who think it’s the coolest sword with which they’ve ever played.

I woke the next morning tired, but no longer in pain. For good measure, I returned to Dan Mossell’s table for a second treatment one week after the snowboarding adventure. This time, there were no tears or cold sweats as he went to work on my shoulder. My range of motion was almost back, and he sent me away with the advice to take it easy, but gave me permission to stretch. “If it feels good, do it,” he said. “If it doesn’t, don’t.”

Ten days after our snowboarding adventure, which I will totally try again, despite Dan’s advice to try skis next time (“You know how you take down a steer, don’t you, Emily?” he quipped. “You tie its legs together.” ), I have no pain and my range of motion is almost completely back to normal. I’d be fibbing if I said I wasn’t surprised, considering how excruciating the pain was a week ago but, then again, I believe in miracles.

This is no accident. This is no misdiagnosis. This is no freak recovery. This is no coincidence. This feels like a miracle to me. And the amazing thing is that we’re all capable of receiving our own miracles, if we ask for them. This experience hurting and healing my shoulder is a timely reminder of the power of heart-centered prayer, meditation and good old-fashioned openness.

What is holding you back right now? Is it physical pain, emotional pain, beliefs you hold about yourself or the world in general? Whatever it is, take a moment to visit your own dark, quiet, healing space, be it your bathtub, your meditation room or your bedroom just before you fall asleep, and ask for help. Look right at whatever it is and give it permission to leave, if that’s what you want. See yourself living in the way you want to live. Believe that the vision is really you. Hold that vision and trust it will be so. And, if you’re so inspired, message me about your vision and I’ll hold it, charging it with prayer, for you as well. May a miracle so unimaginably wonderful take place in your life and bring you joy upon joy.

You want to change? Ok. You asked for it…

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This might be the precise moment in which I conjured the inner storm, which hit approximately four days later.

What in the universe is going on here? One moment I’m asking to be more loving during a mini-meditation on the beach in San Francisco, then I’m back at home feeling a good kind of wobbly after a dharma yoga class, and the next thing I know, I’m in my kitchen discovering the unsettling truth about a mean-spirited side of myself who berates me from within. Suddenly, and without clear reason, I whiplash my way into a blur of anxiety, insomnia, fear and self-doubt.

About 48 hours into a vortex of major inner ickiness, it was clear as day.

I asked for this.

I’ve got to remember that, when making a sincere request of the Universe so cavalierly, it may involve the routing of my soul. Like the collected debris that slows the shower drain demands a call to our trusty plumber so the water may drain freely again, an earnest request of God, of the Universe, can mean the not-so-pleasant cleansing of old gunk that no longer serves us so that the intention we set while we were feeling strong may newly flow freely through us.

My simple request—make me a channel for divine love—was like placing a work order with the Universe. But, paradoxically, I’m the one socked with the work. And, sometimes, that work is tremendously uncomfortable. I’m not saying it has to be uncomfy—in fact I believe if you ascribe to the laws of the spiritual realm rather than the material realm, life unfolds way more fluidly and pleasantly—but I often find that my darkest times come just after I’ve set an intention for a better me, and just before a massive inner shift.

In my experience, change or, in this case, spiritual evolution, can be a bumpy ride, at least when you’re working through the really tough clogs. Take this, my most recent request, for example: I asked something that seemed so simple (to be more loving) and I received an answer that is particularly challenging to my makeup—To love others divinely, first love yourself divinely. This challenge sent me through a gauntlet of a to-do list:

  1. See yourself as loving, and treat yourself with love.
  2. Observe where you are showing yourself unconditional love, and where you are not. Notice the difference between the two attitudes and how, respectively, they impact you and your loved ones when you’re in each space. (i.e., My kids are radiantly happy when I am feeling good about myself and they unfailingly turn into assholes when I’m in the space of being hard on myself. They’re barometers for my emotions—as most little kids are—and often reflect my beliefs about myself at any given moment.)
  3. Study yourself without attachment. Without judging yourself, anyone else, or anything, Emily, see if you can figure out why you’re showing yourself love and why you’re not. Observe, reflect, accept, release. Take your time.
  4. If you feel badly, it doesn’t mean you ARE bad. If you feel good, it doesn’t mean you ARE good. Feeling badly can mean wonderful shifting is in progress. Habits are hard to change, and the process can smart a bit. This is important to remember in our shame-happy society.
  5. Step boldly into your new, divinely loving self and feel gratitude that your request was answered.

Oh, how I long for step 5 right now. For me, this is process is painful up until the moment I realize I’m on the other side of it. And that’s ok. Really looking at my “stuff” and going against habit to choose another way is incredibly challenging. That said, while I’ve yet to come through on the other side of this one, I’ve emerged glowing from other similarly turbulent periods of transformation, so I know the process works. In fact, going through the process of routing the stuff that’s no longer serving my highest and greatest good is the only way I know how to be, how to grow and, in this case, how to learn to love. And, through it all, I must trust that all the opportunities I’m receiving to confront my ugliest, most un-loving ways are actually the blessings that will usher me toward the divine love to which I aspire.

How my search for a more loving me applies to your search for a more (insert desired quality) you:

This process can be applied to almost any intention you set for yourself. You may have your own trusted way of evolving, but here’s how the process of spiritual evolution might look for you:

  1. To set an intention for X (insert desired quality here), first cultivate thoughts of X about yourself.
  2. Observe where/when you are able to do this, and where/when you are not. Allow yourself the permission to really explore your feelings, and notice how different deep-seated “stuff” affects the way you approach the world and those around you.
  3. Study yourself without judgment or attachment. Without judging yourself, anyone else or anything, see if you can uncover the “why” behind your roadblocks to becoming the quality you desire. Observe, reflect, accept, release. Take your time.
  4. As different emotions or even physical sensations arise, remember that if you feel badly, it doesn’t mean you ARE bad. You are processing, releasing and changing, and that can cause any number of inner storms. If you need some love and support when you’re in this—and I know I do—reach out to friends, counselors, pastors, partners, whoever.
  5. Congratulations, you’ve done it! Step confidently and with gratitude into your newly shifted self.