An Experiment with Being Present

Of course I want to be more conscious and more present. Who doesn’t? Being able to sustain longer periods of presence is an on-going goal of mine. Yet I spend most of my time lost in my thoughts. For simplicity sake, let’s say there are 3 major energy centers where your attention can land – your head, your heart space and your pelvis. In general, your head includes thoughts and also spiritual connection to source. Your heart space can be about connection, expansion and sense of self. The pelvis includes the whole pelvic bowl and is about creativity and power. It is interesting to consider what percentage of time you spend in each of these energy centers during an average day.

img_2810I decided to do an experiment. I set an intention to spend the whole day being present with what is in this moment. I not only wanted to be present with “this,” but attempt to take it one step further to be One with it.

I started the day sitting at the computer and became aware of a nagging pain in my sacroiliac joint. This is not new. Usually I try to ignore it and hope it will go away. Today I gently nudged right into it and heard something make a slight popping sound. I didn’t think much of it until I stood up and realized it had adjusted itself.

Okay. Good start.

Then I was in line at the gas station and saw a young man drive by in a truck. I thought about my adult son who is having some troubles and, long story short, lost his truck. I was immediately triggered and started to feel really sad as my mind sunk into that whole story. There is a bottomless pit of heartache around that, and, for a moment, I was concerned that going there and being One with that would swallow me up for the whole day. I stayed with it though and road the wave of emotion and sensation. I included my pelvis for grounding, and it was truly intense. I won’t sugarcoat it.

Okay. Not good.

I was beginning to understand why it is tempting to simply ignore this present moment. It’s intense! I had a momentary distraction doing some shopping and was starving by the time I got home. I gobbled down my salad so fast I got food stuck in my throat.

Okay. Not mindful.

I slowed down, but what was that about? I became present and got in touch with the little kid inside that was starving and wanted food now. That greedy, hungry, little animal that wants what she wants and wants it now! Do I really

fullsizeoutput_5dwant to be One with that part of myself now? Do I have a choice? Not today. So I sat down to meditate and let that part express herself fully. She goes something like this, “I want, I want, I
want. I need, I need, I need, etc…” After a while I remembered a compassion exercise in which you enlist your witness consciousness self to say “I’m sorry that you have unfulfilled wants, needs and desires.” And you keep going with specifics about your feelings at the time until you have exhausted all possible avenues. That felt deeply satisfying, and then, when I opened my eyes, this beautiful, compassionate lady (Kuan Yin) was looking straight at me from the mantel.

Okay. Not perfect, but it’s a start.

Karma vs. Causality

We are entering the dimension where we have control – the inside.                                              ~Byron Katie

When bad things happen to you, how you explain it to yourself and make sense of it can make all the difference in the world. Many people use the concept of Karma. Karma is the idea that what goes around comes around, and it is satisfying to use when you are singing the ‘someone done me wrong’ song. But it feels a little like blame when you apply it to yourself. Another way to explain things is that it’s God’s Will. There’s not much that is more irritating than hearing that when tragedy strikes.

In my book, Chasing Serenity, (buy here) Jasmine, Maya’s unseen guide, explains the Law of Causality to her one day when Maya is in a pit of despair.

“This is the Law of Causality. You will inevitably attract the opposite reality of what you IMG_0079_2desire until you come fully into resonance with it and learn the lesson. You are always given ample opportunity to heal the aching illusion of lack and to heal the separation wherever it manifests in your life or body. Life circumstances cause us to wake up if we dare. Do you dare to be aware?”

Then Maya says, “So that is always the point – when life happens, and we feel unloved or unlovable or have fallen into a pit of despair, it is urging us to look past the mundane, childhood programming, and ego-mind chastising.”

Jasmine continues, “Yes, but of course, my darling. You are basically love and light, plain and simple. That’s all you need to know ever.”

Harsh realities are not designed to induce guilt, shame, blame, hopelessness and self-reproach in us humans. They are realities plain and simple. They are not intended to cause us to brace ourselves against life and hold on tighter to the past.

No matter how bad the outside circumstances look, the key is to make the switch and img_2814begin to notice how you feel inside. Just notice. Maybe your boyfriend did cheat on you, maybe your boss is never going to give you that raise, or maybe a family member is always going to treat you abusively. It is still not about what’s happening outside of you. You probably don’t have much control over that anyway. It’s what’s happening inside you that counts.

People struggle with the Serenity Prayer notion of accepting the things they cannot change. Acceptance starts with accepting yourself for how you are feeling first – whatever that might be. No need for spiritual by-pass. Get real with yourself and what’s inside right now. Let what is be as it is right now. From there, it is just a short hop, skip and a jump to start to question how much longer can you stay angry, depressed, jealous, resentful, feeling disrespected and rejected? That is the question.

As Byron Katie is fond of saying:                                                                                                     We are entering the dimension where we have control – the inside.

Yoga Teacher Goes Crazy

I started teaching a yoga class called Yoga Nidra. Yoga Nidra is a deeply relaxing guided meditation. It’s similar to Corpse Pose or Shavasana that you may be familiar with at the end of many yoga classes. Yoga Nidra means “yogic sleep” and takes you to the place between waking and sleep where you can experience such profound stillness and silence that you can awaken to your essential nature as pure awareness.

I consider it a privilege to have the honor to be a guide for people in this way. The only problem is that I find myself having reactions to people’s reactions. People love to IMG_1004give you feedback which is their prerogative, but what they might not realize is that just because they like it a certain way that doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone is going to like it that way. One person likes this; the other likes that. I was starting to go crazy managing all the needs and responses of my students when I decided I needed to take my own advice and use my reactions to dive deeper into my own defensiveness and resistance.

Yoga by its very nature is a contradiction in terms. On the one hand, you are there to reach that blissful state of union with the All, and, on the other, there are forces conspiring against your ability to get there. It could be an external distraction like traffic noise that just gets stuck in your craw. Or (more likely) it could be an internal disturbance like “I can’t do this yoga pose perfectly, so the teacher shouldn’t ask me to do it. I’m going to talk with her after class about the scientific research that shows IMG_0688that pose is bad for your body.” It is these internal conflicts that disguise themselves so well that we don’t recognize that they coming from our own conflicts between our ego minds and reality.

Yoga teachers, myself included, make sure to provide the precaution to “Listen to your body,” and give you adaptive poses for the more difficult ones. But still our comparing minds persist and insist.

So why was I getting so upset by the feedback?

Then I remembered a phrase that my yoga teacher, Yogi Amrit Desai, often uses. “Let go of the need to do it perfectly.” Ah ha! I was putting pressure on myself to do it perfectly not only so that everyone had a great experience, but also so I wouldn’t get in trouble for not doing it perfectly. This deep belief goes back to childhood when we would get punished or lose love and attention if we spilled our milk or pooped our pants. Many of us learned that it is essential to try to control our impulses to avoid the shame and embarrassment, and, when that failed, try to control the environment. A lot of us also learned that adults often blame outside circumstances for their mistakes, and we adopted that approach by default.

So where do I go from here? What if I could let go of the shame and blame just long enough to be with the impossible imperfection of the All?

Mixing Business With Pleasure

I don’t know about you, but working together with other people can be exhausting!

I am attempting to put my work out there more these days, and that requires coordination with agencies, websites, publicity, payroll and people! I was getting discouraged because I was running into roadblocks at every turn.

“What’s the universe trying to tell you,” says my well-meaning friend.

“That I should crawl back in a hole and never come back out again?” This option is actually very appealing to me. I am an introverted Cancerian, so sitting at home making art sounds perfectly delectable. I don’t think, however, that is what the universe is telling me.

I recently attended a workshop on the neuroscience of creating, relating and resilience, that was quite eye opening. The workshop leader, Joanna Clyde Findlay, is doing research on trauma, and how to help people get beyond the feelings of victimization without getting re-triggered. Anytime you go back into the distressing material, there is the likely possibility that the brain will go back into that state of fight, flight or freeze and re-experience the trauma all over again. Her research is on art therapy, so she has designed a protocol to address trauma. It’s quite simple really. The short version is that first you make a representation of the distressing situation or incident. Then, you change it.

I made a paper sculpture of an obstacle course with myself as a kind of board game figureimg_3040 that has to figure out how to go over, under, and through all the obstacles. It felt hard, unrewarding and downright depressing. It put me back into those feelings of alternately  being over-reactive and angry or else defeated and resigned. When she said to change it, I wanted to throw it out and start all over again. Then in the next breath, she clarified… to change it without throwing it out.

I started cutting out the figure to make her more streamlined which felt good. After working for a while, I started drawing pictures of people on the obstacles. They turned out to be the exact people who I have been working with to start new programs and classes. (The unconscious is uncanny.) Then it dawned on me that the reason my resistance was so great was because of my longstanding difficulty dealing with people. Navigating my needs with theirs img_3041always puts me into that little kid place of being powerless over my parents’ moods and whims. Things like – asking for what you want/need, negotiating, following up, persevering, checking in, clarifying and mixing business with pleasure are all way beyond my skill set.

Anyway, I felt completely different after I changed the piece. It became more like a playground or amusement park where you get to play with different challenges and have fun. (I even put my dog on one. I have a good relationship with him. :))

Over the next couple of days, many of the previous obstacles had started to resolve themselves. I found out about the other people’s circumstances, many of whom were dealing with difficulties of their own. I experimented with new ways of communicating without feeling anxious about whether my needs were going to be met, or not. I let others know that I value the relationship and that made all the difference in the world.

Today I have felt what can almost be described as high. I can deal with other people. They are only people after all. I can care about others in my community and, at the same time, feel cared for too! That can-do feeling is called resilience.

Shedding Your Skin

You may have heard that 2016 is a 9 year. In numerology you add the digits together to come up with the number like this 2+0+1+6 = 9. 9 is a number of completion and endings because next year will be a 1 which is when we get to start again fresh. Also December 12th or 12-12 is considered to be a gateway to higher consciousness so this is an ideal time to shed the old skin and release any energies and emotions that are not yours.

I had a revelation the other night while I was lying quietly in bed in the stillness of the fullsizerender_2night thinking about shedding my skin. The old skin is a metaphor for a habitual energy body that is based on old fears, fallacies and misconceptions from childhood. It is made up of portals, hooks, receptor sites and open invitations for old stuff like limiting self concepts, ancestral patterns, and toxic family members; energies we have been carrying with us for perhaps life times.

Some might be for those people in our lives who can rob us of our power. You know who that is. If you remember Red Dog from the Lynn Andrews stories, he took her marriage basket, which was a symbol for the balance of masculine and feminine energies.

Is there someone in your life who can do that to you?

As I lay there, I could feel that the tensions in my body were alien energies. They were not mine! They are hanging around from ancient maybe ancestral times and may have been IMG_0800the result of trauma and abuse from the past and lingering defensive structures that really don’t serve any longer. Often when I attempt to open up my heart, I can feel a compression that doesn’t allow my heart space to expand. Whatever that is, it is not mine!

Old stories also live in our energy bodies. They have hooks and hangers to latch onto and can get going really quickly. We are powerless to stop the worthlessness, comparisons, and disaster stories unless we remove the sites for them to hang on to. Do you really want to keep that old junker lying around?

That’s where Snake energy can be helpful. We can simply shed the whole energy body coat, pockets and all and be free

When you get this radical idea of shedding your old energetic skin, there is a sense of possibility to really be able to be open to the present. It’s not – “It is what it is.” It’s –“It is what is NOW!”

Peaceful Solstice to you, my brothers and sisters.

Picking Up the Poop

My daily horoscope suggested that I needed to take a self care day for myself today. “Who me? I’m fine,” I thought until I sat down to meditate. My mind bounced from thought to thought like a ping pong ball flooding me with unpleasant memories and associations.

“This is an undisciplined mind,” I observed helpless to gain control. When there is so much rimg_2897esistance to dropping in, walking meditation is always an option. So I meandered over to the small serpentine labyrinth I built in the back yard. Since the stones had gotten rearranged over months of neglect, I replaced enough of them to manage to go around.

Standing at the gateway, I asked my question. “How can I encourage my body to stay calm and relaxed even where there is always pain and suffering?” And then I proceeded to take my first step into a heaping pile of squishy dog poop! It was disguised under leafy debris and still soft and gooshy thanks to the recent rains. As I stopped to wipe off my shoe (thankfully I was not barefooted!), I recalled the time when my psychic friend had stayed over. She noticed the dog poop intermingled in the labyrinth and had a psychic conversation with our dogs asking them to please find another spot. Apparently they did not listen because this is still their favorite, albeit sacred pooping zone.

Anyway, it added to my experience because so much of human life involves cleaning up, reworking and repairing stuff. This obviously includes our emotional fallout and psychic debris from every day existence.

That’s the message I got when I reached the center of the labyrinth. As much as I would love to think I can just keep pushing forward following my dreams, sometimes the wise thing to do is just deal with what’s right in front of us – even if that’s just picking up the dog poop.

Use It For Fuel

If you run in healing circles, you are very familiar with the concept of letting it go. Letting go of what no longer serves is a cliché that has good intention, however, it is vague. How do you let something go? And then it has the unintended implication that you can actually get rid of something as if you can put it in the trash, and it will get hauled away.  Just because it is out of sight does not mean that it doesn’t exist any longer. There it still sits in some landfill somewhere.img_2850

There is a law in physics about how nothing can be created or destroyed. It simply changes form. The molecules just come apart and reform into some other substance.

When I was preparing for a bonfire on the night of the super full moon, I collected an odd-looking seedpod bundle from my palmetto tree. Having flowered in the spring, it was already dead, but, with all its tumbleweed-like branches, it looked like it would make quite a dramatic pyrotechnic display.

On the way to the ceremony, I thought – what if you could use the unwanted thoughts, feelings, beliefs, energy patterns, tension, or body blockages for fuel?

img_2380At the bonfire, the other participants were leery of setting fire to the seedpod. They were concerned that it was going to be too much, that the neighbors would object. Visions of encounters with fire department filled our heads. Sure enough, it did not disappoint. It spewed sparks and flames into the ethers for a brief period of time and then stayed lit long enough for us to release our fears and doubts we had written on paper into the flames.

Lying in bed the next morning a sense of fear came over me. I was rehashing an interaction I had with a client the day before that didn’t go well. I was trying to control the situation, and she was resisting. In retrospect, I could have brought that to conscious awareness, but I didn’t. My ego-mind spun into reaction. “Well, you are just not a good therapist,” and thus begun the internal dialogue. My ego jumped in and started defending itself because it can’t tolerate being exposed as imperfect.

My body got tense and my breath shallow. You know the routine.

Then I remembered – use it for fuel.

Once I got clear, I was able to release it into my body, and, oh boy, the fireworks got started. There was a flood of energy into all the molecules and cells, and I felt a surge of aliveness rush through my body. I maintained the feeling for as long as I could and felt grateful for my newfound ability and understanding of how to transform and transmute energy.

Is Making Art Selfish?

At the end of this last intuitive painting workshop, one participant shared that someone said to her that making art was selfish, and she should focus on her other work in which she is giving to others. Is making art and giving your heart and soul the nourishment and attention it needs selfish?

Not everybody instantly understands what intuitive painting is all about. I can point in the direction of how to make art from your inner landscape, but ultimately it is up to you to img_2814find your way through the wreckage. Yes, wreckage. We bring to the blank paper so much emotional baggage from our pasts, our families and loved ones, and our cultural conditioning that it can be intimidating to dive into the creative process.

What’s going on inside must be acknowledged first and foremost. If not, the shadow aspects will intervene and cause lots of confusion. Once you let yourself know that you are going to listen to the Inner Voice, only then do you get cooperation from your creative spirit. It is safe to show up.

That is why we start each workshop with meditation so that people can get lined up with their true selves.  This is a very important step and helps participants to put their toes in the water first to test the temperature. Your intuition is your ally on the journey, and it is accessed through the depth of your being and knowing.

During the meditation we are gathering our scattered energies and bringing our emotional img_2810lives to the forefront. People think art is about how well you can represent something, but creativity is about giving your emotional life permission to express itself unconditionally. There is no need to suppress and repress our truth. Showing up as artists involves being vulnerable, telling our truth and exposing our emotional selves.

After I finish guiding the meditation, people are free to create. Even with the intention to use our intuition, doubt and hesitation still creep in. During this last workshop, I read this quote from Deepak Chopra as participants were starting to find their way with the materials.

Today I will factor in uncertainty as an essential ingredient of my experience. 
In my willingness to accept uncertainty, solutions will spontaneously emerge out of the problem, 
out of the confusion, disorder and chaos.

img_2822Being able to embrace uncertainty, an important skill when making art, is an invaluable life skill. It involves trusting whatever shows up and how it shows up. It teaches us how to trust ourselves.

Paying attention to our emotional well-being and taking the time to risk expressing our true selves is not indulgence. It is essential to our vitality

As you can see, participants dove right in and explored, experimented and allowed the art to happen. Making art is not selfish. Art is a exquisite interplay of making it happen and letting it happen, and, in the process, nurturing yourself and healing the world!

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Needing a Play Date with your Artistic Soul?

Calling all Artists and Co-creators,

Are you in need of a play date with your artistic soul? There is still time to register for the last painting workshop in the Fall “Mix It Up!” series Sat. Nov. 5th.

Fall is a good time for shedding of the outer layers and letting our inner life shine. What better way than using art materials to let your soul self speak with images to be revealed. Come play with color, shape, line, and symbols, and explore what is wanting to be expressed.

Hope to see you there!

Amy

Mix It Up!

Ongoing acrylic painting workshops taught by Amy Sullivan. Last one for the Fall series. More classes beginning in Jan. 2017.

11 am – 2 pm. Saturday, Nov. 5, 2016

$75/class plus $5 materials fee.

To register:

Find out more and register at Eventbrite.com,

or download registration form from www.SanchezArtCenter.org/Classes.

This ongoing workshop introduces a variety of mixed media effects and techniques to satisfy your artistic soul. Texture, layering, paint dripping, stencils, and monoIMG_0811-printing allow you to experiment and play. Experience new levels of possibility as you loosen up your artistic style and bypass creative blocks with ease. As you get more comfortable taking risks with the paint, you will find it easier to express yourself spontaneously through the creative process. No previous art experience necessary!  Ages 15 and up.

What to bring:

  • A bag lunch and snacks to share
  • A smock, apron, or old clothes
  • A journal for writing

Where:  Sanchez Art Center, 1220 Linda Mar Blvd, Pacifica

Questions? Call 650.355.1894