life of m

Sustaining the Self and Beyond


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Change has its own timeline

I studied yoga in a 200-hour teacher train from March through September 2015. Along with the nine other women in my kula (community), I was asked to come up with my goals and intentions for the course. My main desire was to stop taking medication for my anxiety. When I started taking them, I had always thought that it would be a temporary solution. Medication would help create enough of a grounding to give me a nudge to find more natural methods to replace a temporary chemical solution.

 

However, the couple of times I attempted to go off the chemicals cold turkey had not gone particularly well. Each time, I had difficulty breathing, pain in my chest, and panic that came rushing in like a full force flood.

 

I knew from experience that breath work, meditation, and yoga could help me to feel more calm and grounded, so it seemed reasonable to set my aforementioned goal at the start of my teacher training. However, September arrived and I still had not weaned myself from my chemical balancing act. I felt like a failure, and I was frustrated.

 

I don’t like being dependent on medication, I told my husband. What if there is a nuclear holocaust and I can’t get my prescription filled? What then?

 

Of course, I imagine that if a nuclear holocaust were to occur, I would be so focused on survival that I might not have time to be anxiety-riddled, but still. I hated having to see a doctor to get my prescription filled every year. I had even had one doctor refuse to take me as a new patient because of my medication. I felt like there was something wrong with me that I could not find a way to create balance on my own.

 

What if you try going off of your medication gradually? my husband suggested.

 

I decided to follow his suggestion and began cutting my pills in half. I tried the each reduction for a few weeks to a month before cutting the half of a pill in half once more.

 

This gradual process met with far more approval from my body’s internal compass, and I realized a couple of weeks ago that the tiny morsels of pills had grown too small to cut in half without turning into powder.

 

And so here I sit, western medicine no longer courses through my veins. I am able to breath, I feel grounded and calm (except while driving…Prescott drivers make me crazy, but one step at a time, right?). I still feel some panic arise, mainly as I am getting under the covers for sleep, but this may be residual familiarity from a lifetime of worrying about having trouble falling asleep. It takes practice to create new behavior patterns around the ones that have become engrained over time.

 

I hadn’t really thought too much about this new place of spaciousness until I mentioned it to a few of my yogi friends while we were out practicing in a local downtown park.

 

They reflected back to me love, amazement, and support, and I realized that it really was a big deal. Sometimes, I find, it is easy to focus on the things that are not happening for me rather than to recognize the remarkable feats I accomplish each day, however small. It can take having a behavior reflected back to me from a friend or loved one. It can also take my own intention of sifting through memories to see where I was at this time in my life a year ago, two years ago, and beyond.

 

As they like to say, You have come a long way, baby!

 

And I have!

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My fingernails preferred France

IMG_7431My hair did not like France. The water was very hard, and my thick curls were in a constant tangle. I finally figured out that I could rip through it with my comb while it was dry just before taking a shower, which minimized the frustration. Prior to that, however, I would basically threaten to cut it all off several times each day, much to the chagrin of my husband.

 

Don’t worry, I would tell him. I will make you a wig with my hair, and YOU can wear it if you love it so much!

 

He would just roll his eyes at me. Apparently, my threats were not as intimidating as I would have liked.

 

My fingernails adored France! In the united states, I have spent many years with my hands close to my face. Any slight anxiety or fear, a need for control in an otherwise unpredictable existence, it never took much to keep the habit going. I have always wanted to stop and periodically have had temporary success in doing so. I tried bad tasting nail police, gloves, brightly colored nail polish, the list goes on and on.

 

My greatest triumphs over the obsession were during my travels in Africa and Russia. There is nothing like traveling to a foreign land to create new behavior patterns. I have long since given up attempting new habits with New Year’s resolutions, but I have had much success in ceasing from biting my nails and picking at my cuticles when traveling. It just takes one cold to realize I probably should not be putting my hands anywhere near my mouth. Plus, with the colder weather in France while traveling in December and January, my hands spent most of their time in pockets staying warm.

 

My husband has attempted to correct this behavior in two languages, often blended into one.

 

Ne pick pas, he will say, and Ne mange pas, when he sees me going at it.

 

I have appreciated his efforts, though I am afraid it hasn’t done much good. It is such an engrained habit that I often don’t even realize I am doing it.

 

Somehow, I was able to cease and desist with regard to my fingernails. Even with my cuticle clipper disappearing with my shoulder bag when our car was broken into in a remote location in Provence, I kept quite vigilant in keeping my hands far from my face. Just one look at them, and it would take all of my control not to want to try to fix them, even though time and experience has told me that there is no fixing when it comes to nails and cuticles. Any attention beyond that of a professional manicurist typically tends to make them worse.

 

IMG_7381But France was good for my fingernails! It was the return home that has been the real challenge. Without the distraction of foreign architecture, croissants, birds, and all the pleasures of travel in my beloved France, I find it incredibly difficult to avoid my hands. They are always around, and if I take even one look at the state of my cuticles, it is next to impossible to keep myself from trying to fix them.

 

Just one little nibble and that’s it, I can hear a voice coax from within.

 

No! That’s how it starts, I plea.

 

Oh, come on. You have done so well. Why not reward yourself with a bite?

 

I tell my husband how much easier it was in France to outwit this habit.

 

Hm, he responds. I think it’s easy in Paris to have your attention focused outward, on all the exciting things around you. We were also constantly doing things. It’s that old phrase about it being easier to be human doings than human beings (I really don’t know if that is a phrase, but I’ve heard something like it before). However, back at home there is downtime. The external distractions are lessened and we find ourselves back with our selves. Without distractions, habits (like nail biting) are easy to slip into. We can use this as a flag in our meditation…whenever we fall into some habit that we wish to stop, we can use that as a flag to stop and be…and be okay with just being.

 

I know he is right. He is a wise one and has been my guide and guru for some time. Yet for just once, it would be nice to have it easy in this realm, but I will take all of the beauty and love that does seem to come so easily in exchange for the concerted effort and work in others.

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Give me an F

Yoga in the park III

Today felt like one of those days where nothing goes right. After a few things were off, I just started feeling like the day had its own destiny. This evening, in the land of hindsight, I wonder if things went wrong because I expected them to.

I have felt off this past week. I know that even though the initial mercury in retrograde settled, we are in for about five years of mercury doing its thing.

About a week ago, I began a gentle attempt to ease my body from anti-depressants. It seemed to start all right. I broke my white, oval pill in half each morning. I loved seeing the other half with its jagged edge still sitting in my pill case. I felt empowered and excited for the freedom I imagined I would experience, hopefully sooner rather than later.

Easing off of anti-depressants is something I have tried in the past. In fact, I stopped taking them completely a few years ago, during winter in Alaska while going through a divorce. Again with hindsight, I wonder what I was thinking?

This time, I was hoping that my yoga practice—on and off the mat—would help me to stay grounded and calm. Apparently, my yoga practice may not yet be quite disciplined enough to be up for this task.

A few days went by, and then came the sleepless night—mind buzzing, heart racing. One night was enough, but I did not yet equate my insomnia with the chemical change I had brought on. I have a strong inner squirrel, so a night here and there where I have difficulty sleeping is not unusual.

Yesterday morning, the more intense panic set in. It was the kind of panic where I could seem to catch my breath. I tried yogic breathing on and off throughout the day, but I could not draw enough oxygen into my body to feel restored.

Reluctantly, I walked into the bathroom, opened my pill box, and took out the little jagged-edged half pill. I sighed, placed it on my tongue, picked up a glass of water on the countertop, and swallowed.

I felt sad. I was a failure. I could not understand why my body seemed to require an anti-depressant when there was so much that was wonderful in my life.

I am so very loved, and there are people I love who care for me day in and day out. Why so down, Debbie?

Here is the part where I tell mom and dad not to worry. I really am ok. I am in my body and learning from its subtle nuances. I am thankful to have a life partner who assures me that I am right where I need to be right now and that all is fine.

He is right. If I look back on my day, I can find beauty and joy in between the irritation.

I practiced yoga in the park between two enormous cottonwood trees. Each time I brought my arms to the sky, I looked up in their glorious branches, sunlight filtering through the leaves and reflecting in glitter and gold. I felt the earth beneath my feet and fresh grass between my toes. I felt peaceful. I felt joyful.

I performed at my third open mic in Prescott and was showered with love from friends and strangers. Open mic friends backed me up on bass and drums. I could close my eyes and draw everything out with my voice.

In these moments, I am free; nothing else matters.

Yoga in the park II


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Aftershock, living liberation, and a daily dose of yoga

When I left my husband several years ago, I moved into what I have described as a kind of stormy period. It was dark and messy with many waves of grief and tears. I told myself that I needed to move through that to get through the layers of external pressures and expectation to get to the heart of who I was and who I wanted to be.

At the time, I had the sense that if I did not enter that storm, I would be lost altogether. In hindsight, I wonder if I had been living in something akin to a long-term kind of storm only different.

This morning, I thought of it as closer to living along a fault line. There were rumblings beneath the surface. Sometimes, I could hear them and other times they were silent. But there was something deep inside of me that was building in tension for a long time before the seismic episode, which happened during a particularly dark winter in Alaska.

The storm I experienced may simply have been a result of the earthquake; a tsunami, if you will.

What I realized this morning was that the storm may be over, along with the earthquake that set it in motion; however, I am still experiencing aftershocks years later.

What I had imagined was a one-time deal is something I continue to work on—the journey to get to the heart of who I am and what I need and want to maintain a healthy existence.

Having moved through the initial quake and storm, the continued work comes more readily than it did before, but it is work nonetheless.

I have also come to realize that while the repercussions from the storm were perhaps more intense—with regard to my interactions with the people in my personal and professional life and my own self—they are not without a bit of shaking up with the people in my life today.

One great difference—since I seem to be writing in metaphor—is that I have rebuilt the foundation that holds me up. This new foundation is far more table under seismic pressure than the previous one, which was far more shoddy in its construction. So, while I feel some instability and some trepidation when the aftershock passes through, I also have more confidence that I will survive.

My work seems to happen when I am ready. It can be quite uncomfortable, but it also helps me feel alive when I am in it. It is difficult to ignore pain when you feel it; it can become the focal point that draws all of your energy. It is visceral and immediate. When it is gone, it is next to impossible to recall just how intensely acute it felt.

Memory is funny like that. I do not consider myself a glutton for pain, but I do find that I continue to intentionally immerse myself in experiences that will draw out the most genuine version of self that exists.

This current round of work has been inspired by yoga intensive studies. I am an all or nothing kind of person, so rather than taking a yoga class I dove right into a teacher training. If I am going to do the work, I want to really do it.

That is my choice, and it is not without consequence. I left a job and a business venture in its wake, and it is far from over.

But one reason I continue to work is that I have learned that I am not happy when I am only living up to part of my potential. The potential I see for myself changes with time and wisdom.

I realize now that I have potential to move in many different directions and to hone many different skills. I think I have known this for a long time, but it is only now that I am connecting the dots from different periods of my life.

For instance, I played classical piano for 13 years and studied with the artist in residence at my undergraduate school through my first year.

I realized at the end of that year that I did not want to limit myself to a life where I practiced piano for 12 hours a day and endured harsh critique for my efforts. I wanted to learn French and travel. I wanted to study history and other subjects as well. I wanted a broader spectrum of perspective and experience in my life.

So I stopped playing piano.

I realized recently that the form of songwriting I was pursuing into a new business venture had become reminiscent of classical piano. I was feeling limited and confined when songwriting had been from the start a realm for creativity, healing, and spaciousness.

I also realized that I wanted to be more than a songwriter alone. I want the space in my life to be a yogi, a life partner, a friend, a writer, and whatever else may unfold.

So I have moved on from confinement in order to allow songwriting to reveal itself in a more organic way and let all other possible parts of my self materialize.

These are choices I am making, and I know they do not sit well with everyone in my life. But I know enough about my self to appreciate that they embody the right path for me to take.

I know it is right because it is honest and I am honestly listening to my own voice.

Before I turned off the light last night, I read these words, which have inspired this piece:

Yoga traditions have come to place a great value on development. This tradition sees the self as a “seed” with unlimited potential—a river of energy, intelligence, and consciousness. They [yogis] believed that unless you are creating the right conditions for the sprouting of this auspicious and fulsome seed—If you’re not living fully—you will be in some fashion depressed. (Stephen Cope in Amy Weintraub, 2004, p. xiii)

I have known this depression. Through years of practice and my most recent immersion into the tradition of yoga, I am beginning to understand the root of my unease and coming to believe that I have the power to transcend it.

“Emily Dickinson wrote poetry in order to live. For her, art was medicine—and taking a daily dose was literally a life-or-death affair (p. xii).”

I write, I practice yoga, I love and I listen for these same reasons. I know not yet what else will follow, but I want to recognize it when it reveals itself.

I intend to embody the yoga tradition of “jivan mukti—the ‘soul awake in this life.’ Literally ‘living liberation’ (p. xiii).”

As my yoga teacher told us yesterday:

“Do as much as you can, and do it well. This is the definition of practice.”

This is my practice in this moment, and it is helping me stand with greater confidence and less fear while the aftershocks pass through me.


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Rewriting my narrative

I have been to the Southeast corner of Arizona once before. It was during the fall, November 2007, and it was a trip I never imagined I would actually take.

My partner at the time was a birder, the kind of birder they call crazy. Literally. He was insane, and I loved him for it.

We would be out looking for birds, and when he saw one of particular note, he would yell, “Holy shit! F*#@ me dead!”

He spoke of a magical place for birders called Southeast Arizona. He had traveled there with birder friends and fans many years before when he was a bird guide in Nebraska.

In birder speak, these kinds of magical places are called “hotspots.”

Apparently, Southeast Arizona is a hotspot. There are many different, diverse habitats in a relatively small, drivable region of the Southwest. You fly into Tucson, head toward New Mexico, and then make your way to the very tiny, hobbit like village of Portal. Then you head toward a canyon, drive up and around winding mountain roads until you get to a research station, south and west toward Bisbee, up to Ramsey Canyon, Sonoita, and Patagonia, and back to Tucson via Madeira Canyon.

At least, this is the route I learned when I suggested off-hand that we go to Arizona.

Insert expletive by way of response.

There are entire books dedicated to birding Southeast Arizona. We got one. I am fairly certain my partner memorized the book in its entirety. I was just along for the ride, although I had my own plans that I was scheming.

My intention was marriage, and I was going to do the asking. My partner was older and had mentioned marriage several times. In fact, “if we get married” had become a fairly ready phrase, issued in response to any spectrum of requests or suggestions I might make.

When I asked if we could get chickens.

If you marry me, we can get chickens.

We got chickens.

Can we get another kitten?

If you marry me.

We got another kitten.

Still no wedding band.

If memory serves, I was in my late 20s at this time. 27, maybe? My closest friend had just gotten engaged. My coworker and dear friend from graduate school were married. When I asked them why they got married, they either responded “because I loved x more than anyone else” or “because it felt like it was time.”

What did “feeling like it was time” feel like? I loved my partner. The thought of how happy he would be if I asked him to marry me made me feel happy. That surely meant it would make me happy, right? (I learned the hard way many years later than bringing someone you love joy is only part of the way toward bringing joy to your self.)

So, I decided to go for it. I found surreptitious ways to glean information without giving anything away.

“Hey, I wonder if my ring would fit on any of your fingers?” I asked at one point. You get the idea.

I had everything planned out. We would be birding in a beautiful canyon, birds flitting through the trees. I would set the ring on his binoculars where he was bound to see it. It was settled, and my plan was foolproof.

Or so I thought.

Our day in Portal involved a visit to a canyon. My plan was already working! I could hardly contain my excitement.

We walked down into a beautiful canyon with trees surrounding a rippling creek. We set our belongings on a cluster of rocks. The sunlight filtered in through the leaves in the canopy. I set the ring on my partner’s binoculars.

We chatted, looked around, and listened.

A few jays moved through the trees and called out in passing.

And then, silence.

Where were all of the birds in my plans?

It was totally dead (birder speak for no birds).

My partner picked up his binoculars and stood up. The ring fell onto a rock.

I guess we might as well move on, he said, and started to head back toward the car.

Ok, i said, scooping up the ring and placing it gently into my pocket.

Back in the car, I asked if we were going to visit any other canyons that day.

“Why do you need to go to another canyon?” he asked, perplexed.

I just like canyons, I replied in a cranky voice.

Ok.

Several hours and no canyons later, we were back in Portal. We drove to a local hotspot, a homestead where a bird guide put out tons of feeders and allowed people to come and sit and watch the birds.

At this point, I was a little frantic. My plan had completely fallen apart, and I had chosen this day specifically because Portal was a sacred place to my partner and it was an even day of the month that we would be there (for OCD tendencies, read my earlier post, “All but the D”).

There was a clipboard holding a sign-in sheet inside a plastic container atop a wooden picnic table. It was the kind of container you could open and close, with room to spare. I took the ring out of my pocket and set it inside.

We sat and watched what seemed like hundreds of Gambel’s Quail scurrying about on the ground.

“Maybe, you should sign the sheet?” I suggested innocently to my partner.

“Ok.” But he made no motion to get up.

After several minutes, I suggested again.

The same response.

“Don’t forget to sign the sheet!”

He got up, went over to the clipboard case, and opened it up.

“Someone left their ring here,” he said.

“How do you know someone left it there?”

“Did you get a ring for me? That’s no nice, sweetie.”

Exasperated. “I thought we should get married.”

“Huh?”

No time to respond because the bird guide was walking toward us in an old, white tank top and super short cut-off shorts.

“Seein’ anything good,” he asked.

End scene.

——-

So, that was my first Southeast Arizona narrative.

Now, I find myself traveling through Southeast Arizona a second time. Yesterday, my new partner and I headed by Tucson and south through Sonoita to Patagonia. We were headed to the Paton House in search of a violet-crowned hummingbird.

I thought I would be fine. No big deal. It is a different time in my life, I am a different person. Right?

But I found myself wondering and worrying.

Was I the same person who asked someone to marry me all those years ago?

I kept telling myself, “You’re fine. You can do this.” But my body was sending me different signs.

I could feel a tightness in my jaw and cheek bones. I pressed my fingers against my bones, first gently, and then with more intensity. Pain coursed through my entire head. I opened my mouth wide, trying to force the pain away.

Resigned, I followed my partner to the Paton’s yard, witnessed a breathtaking Broad-billed and Violet-crowned Hummingbird and then along a trail at Patagonia Lake in search of an elusive Elegant Trogon.

I traversed familiar terrain. And it was not as awful as I had imagined it would be.

Did I feel a little haunted by my past? Yes.

But I also felt somehow more free. My partner told me that I was rewriting my narrative and creating new memories. I did not have to be afraid of people and places from my past, including my own self. That person is a part of me, yes. But I am no longer that person. So much has happened since then, both within and without.

Alaska has happened and also Massachusetts.

Animal companions have been given away, hearts broken, and my own heart mended.

I am so many things, and I am learning to accept the good with everything else.

Today, I have begun writing a new chapter in my marieke story. I have journeyed south of the Arizona border for the first time and found my way to Kino Bay, a land at the edge of the water and possibility. Beauty and tragedy all mixed together with the lines of Heerman’s Gull amid piles of plastic and styrofoam.


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Big S, little s

“Yoga is in the business of self-acceptance and exploration.”

(McCrary, 2013, p. 15)

In my experience studying sustainability, I became increasingly aware that the concept of the individual—what I refer to as the self—was missing from the field. Rather than questioning the balance of one’s own life, it seemed that the individual was meant to act as a kind of martyr in service to making the world a more sustainable place for present and future generations.

As I reflected on the academics of sustainability, I began to feel like a sustainability hypocrite. My own life was a far cry from the kind of balance I was intending to bring to the world at large. I was not “walking the talk” of my intentions. And everywhere I looked, I began to notice the repercussions of this void in my own life and the lives of those around me.

At great risk to my academic, along with my personal and professional reputation, I proceeded to advocate for the rights of the individual—beginning with my own self—to live a healthy, balanced existence.

I was met with much resistance from each of these three realms but also with support and encouragement. I have never been one to shy away from what I deeply believe to be the right path, so I continued on, creating the term self-sustainability, writing an autoethnography, and earning a doctorate in Sustainability Education.

Since finishing the doctoral program, I have witnessed a shift, even in the focus of the program itself. When I started the program, there was no question posed as to the sustainability of each student or faculty. Now, self-sustainability and the concept of living deeply have become the focus of a required course that I have been invited to mentor.

I write this not by way of congratulating my self but more in gratitude for this small but meaningful shift of focus. If I was at all responsible for this ripple, I am thankful for those who gave me the courage to do so. I do not believe I am on the planet to accept the status quo but rather to stir and shake; however, it can be intimidating and scary at times.

In my post-doc existence, I have felt a bit adrift, searching for a continued path.

I have created a business for bringing songs from people’s stories into the world and performed those songs at venues in Massachusetts and now Arizona. I left a permanent job with the government to pursue these passions, as well as matters of the heart, moving in with my long distance partner in the Southwest.

I have discovered the sage wisdom of Thich Nhat Hanh and others who have written about the realm of Buddhism, mindfulness, and meditation.

Am I a Buddhist?

I don’t know. The more aware I become of my own self, the less I desire to label that self.

I recently happened upon a book that explains the many yoga practices from which one may choose. In it, the author describes two ways the yogic world refers to the self—the Self and the self. I was blown away by this simple but incredibly meaningful distinction and include the author’s words here:

The Essential Self

If you’re read any books or articles on yoga you’ve probably seen the word self written with both a capital S and a lowercase s. In certain philosophical schools there are two selves, the lowercase self, which is associated with the material world, and the uppercase Self, your essential or transcendental Self (or spirit). (McCrary, 2013, p. 4)

How have I only just happened upon this concept?

I find that there is synchronicity in how and when I discover people, place, and also ideas. Perhaps, I learn something when I am ready, when I open my Self up to the universe of opportunity. When I take notice, I begin to see it everywhere.

I practiced Ashtanga yoga for a year when I was living and teaching in France. This practice, along with learning a method of deep breathing referred to in the yoga tradition as “yogic breathing” provided a means for maintaining my sanity while living in a very stressful environment. When I felt my heart race and breath become shallow and quick, I would sit and practice breathing from my nose down to my stomach and back again. And I would experience some element of relief and peace, however transitory.

Upon returning to the United States, I left yoga behind. I created a life that seemed healthy and happy enough on the surface. I ignored the warning signs that crept insidiously into the layers of my conscious. I lived in this ignorance—I would not call is blissful—until the walls began to crumble from the storm brewing from deep within.

In my time as a doctoral student, I began to shed the layers of expectation and self-identity that I had created out of necessity and in the desire to please those with specific ideas of who I should be and what I should do with my life.

It is a practice that I continue and one in which I do not always succeed. Self-doubt and the work of my inner critic are powerful forces at work inside of me, and I have a propensity to compare my own value and worth to the achievements of others.

McCrary has written, “practicing yoga helps clear the lenses, so to speak, taking you on an inward journey back to your deepest Self and to the realization that you have everything you need within to experience the unbounded joy and freedom that is your true nature” (p. 4).

Perhaps, I am discovering Buddhism and rediscovering yoga at a time when I am seeking more tools to help me restore balance and peace.

I do not pretend that reading about these practices will help me to be instantaneously transformed. I have work ahead of me. But I feel excited and thankful for finding new and old ways to practice the work of the Self. In so doing, I become more grounded and open to helping others in their own work.

McCrary, M. (2013). Pick your yoga practice: Exploring and understanding different styles of yoga. Novato, CA: New World Library.


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Pick your pressure release

A friend shared a comment inspired by my recent post “The Ox has eaten enough,” and I was instantly inspired and in love with his words, brilliant in their simplicity but surely far more complex than the short phrase might appear.

“Mostly, driving has become the place where I confront my ego on a daily basis.”

Brilliant! Love it.

My uncle shared wise words a friend of his had once told him. “It’s not always about you, ya know.”

Short, to the point, and spot on.

These comments reminded me of a message Will Duncan shared at his talk, “5 Things I Learned on Retreat,” which he offered at Prescott College this past Friday. I will share the lessons in a written moment.

In a simple, dark, button-down shirt and well-loved jeans, he walked around a podium for nearly two hours while we sat rapt, hanging on his every word. No PowerPoint. No microphone. Two small bars of chocolate that he brought to share with what he thought might be about five people for his audience. There were more like 100 people, but the chocolate bars and made it around the audience in reverse directions. A wayward clementine did not quite make it all the way.

He offered an introduction to offer context and a visual of the place he spent 3 years, 3 months, and 3 days on silent retreat. Out of the three times he spoke, twice was the word ‘fuck’ and were both plumbing related. The third time was to yell “fire extinguisher” when he set the propane tank on fire.

“What is the first thing you do when you find out really good news?” He asked the audience.

“You tell someone!” came the first response. I was thinking the same thing. I share it on Facebook.

Will suggested the idea that we share our news with someone else in order to release pressure in our bodies. He asked us all to breathe in through our nose. He asked if we felt the air moving through one nostril more prominently than the other.

I could feel my left nostril was mere clear than the right.

He told us that if we waited a couple of hours and tried again, we would likely find a different result. (Side note: I did try later and found my right nostril to be more clear.)

Right now, you might be wondering if I have joined the Will Duncan cult.

“She’s doing weird nostril-related breathing exercises now,” you’re thinking.

Not to worry. I am not any weirder or less sane than usual. I have simply been inspired to share these insights because they speak to where I am on my own path to an existence where I am awake and aware.

I was raised by parents who are trained and practiced in the realm of Western medicine, so when Will started explaining our Pranic bodies and the way the left and right sides of our body do different things and our work is to come into the center of our being, I am not sure I completely followed or agreed. The nose exercise was interesting, along with his thoughts on why we become irritable at certain times and fully open-hearted at others having to do with the cycle our body goes through each day. I was intrigued to learn more about Prana, which I had prior thought of as a line of clothing for stretchy pants and flowy tops.

But in all seriousness and without furthier adieu, here are Will’s 5 Lessons (Numbers 1 and 4 were especially relevant to my own recent writing and revelation):

1. Attentiveness: “Be present to the world”

2. Pressure: To relieve or not to relieve

3. Jewel Island: I think this one had to do with realizing that all human beings are precious

4. Illusion of Enemies: “We are under a state of delusion when we dislike someone”

5. Find joy in your practice: “Start small, humble, modest; if you leave the mind alone, it begins to purify itself”

The other day, I wrote about the freedom and relief one can experience in releasing pressure. Another topic related to pressure that Will spoke about was knowing when not to release pressure. Because pressure is uncomfortable, we want to get rid of it. The easiest way is often to use somebody else to relieve our own pressure. We might even create something from nothing that someone is doing to annoy us just to devise an opportunity to make ourselves feel better, albeit temporarily. So, one practice can be to build up an endurance to for this discomfort.

What to do if you are finding yourself irritated by someone else?

Act like a log (i.e. don’t react). It sound similar to my own attempts to perform energy Tai Chi. When I find my self on the defensive in response to another person, I try to avoid absorbing their energy or returning it back to them. Rather, I enision it dropping in the space between us, thus becoming null and void as it falls into the energy abyss.

I like the idea of being a log. I have already tried it, and I found it quite helpful to be a log while I felt the boil go to a simmer and eventually peter out entirely.

So, I believe the idea is to pick which pressure to release and which to endure.

With regard to the “illusion of enemies,” Will shared the analogy of how we feel when we see a puppy. Our hearts instantly open and fill with love and adoration.

“Human beings are difficult to love,” he said. “Imagine all people you are seeing are puppies. This would make it possible to have compassion for all beings.”

I am not sure I am there yet; puppies can be pretty annoying, too. I will do my best to keep this proposition in mind.

And for a final thought, I will leave you with a few more words.

“We are all on this sinking ship; we all have to lose everything we worked for our entire lives; we all have to lose everyone we love.”

We really are all in this together.