Dancing in the Dark

the danceOh, has it been over a year since I posted on this blog? Well, crap. That’s a long time!

So where have I been? Well, sometime last year, I wrote about my decision to put down my spiritual and self-help books and start LIVING the truths I’d found in their pages. Doing that looks different than I expected—much messier.

I am not a graceful ballerina, moving gently through life lessons with a pirouette and plié. More like a spastic buffalo ramming into everything around me at full force, knocking stuff over and having to decide what’s worth cleaning up, and what should just stay broken.

I’ve spent a lot of time this last year journaling, meditating and sleeping, as well as focusing on creativity and a select few friendships that are deeply loving. Day to day, I’ve turned my attention toward experiencing emotions, people and life just as they are. Just being with them, without judgment or analysis or attempts to change.

Life has given me much material for practice. A few highlights: changing jobs and finding myself in my dream position; going through a deep, four-month depression; meeting and falling head-over-heels for someone, then having the relationship fall apart for no discernible reason; bulging discs in my neck and a botched medical procedure that left me with migraine-level headaches for a month; and a fallout with a family member that left us not speaking from Thanksgiving until last week.

So. That’s a lot.

My decision to stay present with myself through all of this, no matter what, was probably more about throwing up my hands in surrender than any sort of high spiritual commitment, to be honest. In the past, I’ve attempted almost every method of “escape” under the sun and nothing has ever brought true, lasting peace. Why not something new?

Turns out this “something new” is absolute magic. There are days, particularly over the past two or three months, when I actually shock myself. For example, my lifelong, compulsive need to make resolutions to “get good” has disappeared. I have spent immeasurable psychic energy trying to force myself to be better / different / kinder / calmer / braver / worthier…with few results from the effort. I just ended up exhausted and frustrated.

I’ve come to learn that for me, change begins with accepting things exactly as they are right now and looking my fears straight in the eye. I quit trying to change, move closer to myself and poof! I CHANGE (though often in ways I didn’t even expect). Who knew?

Another fruit of this “something new” is that there’s more “padding” between me and everything sharp in the world. I am more open to whatever happens: Happy, sad, good, bad. I can relax because I am less afraid of somehow being undone or collapsing into an experience. There is confidence in my fundamental “OK-ness.”

Finally, the “something new” has revealed to me even more the utter ENORMITY of Spirit / the Universe / God / Higher Power / Whatever You Want to Call It. There’s nothing intellectual about this—it’s completely of my heart and shows itself in these astounding moments of compassion and love toward myself and others. It’s a hugeness inside of me that is not of me, connecting me to all beings in a gorgeous way.

I don’t really know what’s next in the grand scheme; I can only take a stab at doing the next right thing for me. Tonight, that’s spending time with friends, picking up my paintbrush for some creative work and going to bed with my sweet pup. And that is just perfect.

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Paris is Always a Good Idea

Next Wednesday afternoon, I’ll be hopping a flight from Dallas to Paris, the first time I’ve been abroad since May 2006. It feels like a triumph, making this voyage. I’m ready for the adventure!

I worked for about two years as a travel writer, so I’ve had the opportunity to flit all around the place in North America and a few places in Europe. So it was a bit of a surprise to discover that, in fact, travel makes me anxious. I overplan and get expectations and demand too much from myself when I travel, so I end up coming back more tired than I left. And several of my trips during the past four years have included anxiety attacks and tears.

But despite that, I’ve continued to travel in limited doses, listening to that discomfort and letting it tell me what I need to do. A lot of time that is slow down.

As it turns out, hitting the brakes is one of the things that makes it possible to appreciate the very things that make travel so enjoyable. It’s all about all those delicious details that are different than home, from street signs to smells to the sounds of a different language being spoken all around me.

Through all those differences, though, there’s something that always jumps out at me: we’re more alike than we think we are. After I get past the different way a person ties her scarf or slurps his soup, the separation begins to lessen. I see the ways we are alike, the things we share as humans. The very best thing: sharing a laugh with someone from another culture. In that moment, there’s so much connection.

The other thing that happens when I slow down is that I remember to have fun. Be in the moment. Smile. Paris is an absolute delight, and I’m staying with a dear friend I’ve known since my high school days. We’ll have a long weekend to spend in the city, and to rent a car and drive to Bruges, Belgium. There’s not checklist, there’s no museum itinerary to follow, there are no rules.

So that’s the plan for Paris, insomuch as there is a plan. Relax. Stay present. And make much laughter. Throw in some croissants, and I think it sounds perfect.

Commit to the Present

My friend Jessica has this tattoo emblazoned on her wrist and it’s brilliant. What a high spiritual commitment, to park one’s presence firmly in the moment.

But damn, it’s hard to do. My brain is well-trained in rumination and future-tripping and getting to right now feels like taming a spastic monkey. But with practice, it becomes more natural.

I first encountered this notion of present moment awareness when a friend was bitching about how much he loathed Eckhart Tolle’s book, The Power of Now. His couple’s therapist forced him to listen to it on CD and, then single, he was tossing them out. His descriptive complain-a-thon piqued my interest and I took the CDs off his hands, popped them in my car’s stereo, and became completely entranced by that little German guru who calmly opened with, “I have little use for the past and rarely think about it.”

“No use for the past?! But how can I properly punish those people and events that have wronged me if I’m not busy hating them for it?” That was my mindset. But I listened on because something about Eckhart’s words resonated on a level below my incredulity. My inner knower wanted to hear more.

Those who have not found their true wealth, which is the radiant joy of Being and the deep, unshakable peace that comes with it, are beggars, even if they have great material wealth. They are looking outside for scraps of pleasure or fulfillment, for validation, security, or love, while they have a treasure within that not only includes all those things but is infinitely greater than anything the world can offer.

The notion that the present moment, the “radiant joy of Being,” has everything I need, every resource and happiness, was and is a magnificent realization. To me, Being is the only place I can connect with divine presence within me and around me, the only place where I find that “inner OK-ness” I’ve sought so many other ways in vain (men, money, shopping, alcohol, friendships, work, approval-seeking, family…). It’s my true treasure, available to me any time I pause, redirect my monkey brain, and commit to the present.