Renewable Energy: Tapping our Inner Resources

19 02 2015

I continued to focus on my breath, exhaling forcefully then inhaling again without a pause. Inside, I began to feel a buzzing, humming sensation similar to standing next to an electrical generator. It began at my diaphragm and radiated upward. I could feel the energy expanding and filling my body, sending electricity through my arms and up through my chest, my neck, my head. My facial muscles began to twitch involuntarily, until suddenly there was a huge pulse of internal light and I felt as if the energy that had been building inside me had just burst forth. It leaked out through my pores, and shone in a beam of light out the the top of my head. 

At least that’s how I pictured it in my minds eye.

I felt radiant, expansive, and more than usually ALIVE. After a few minutes, I spoke quietly to my friend, Melissa, who was standing next to me. “Can you feel that?” I asked.

“Your energy field is about out to here,” she said, holding her hand roughly 16 inches in front of me. “I can see it.” Truthfully, I could feel her hand before I opened my eyes, even though it was more than a foot from my body. 

Last summer I volunteered to assist my friend, Melissa, who has been getting her certification as a facilitator in guided breath work. The experience described above was from our tenth and final session last week. What I’ve felt during these sessions has varied, but the best ones have led to similar high-voltage experiences.

It’s got me thinking a lot this week about energy: how we get it, how we make use of it, how we replenish it.

As a starting point, let’s consider that Albert Einstein said energy “cannot be created or destroyed, it can only be changed from one form into another.” While Einstein’s words carry the weight of scientific genius, they remind me of another quote that I have seen attributed to various famous individuals: we can be miserable or we can be happy – the amount of work is the same. I take these statements, together, to mean that we are expending energy no matter what. Whether that energy is spent procrastinating, complaining, creating or exclaiming is up to us. It is all energy.

If energy can only be transformed, then a good place to start is with fear and love. Fear is an energy that makes us smaller, causes us to contract. It vibrates on one frequency. Love is an energy that enlarges us and our world, that helps us to expand beyond previous boundaries and expectations. Love vibrates on a different frequency than fear. It seems a fairly safe bet to say that connecting with what we love is more likely to produce positive energy, and positive results, than connecting with our fears.

In my experience, authentically engaging with others and with the world around me often leads to feelings of increased energy. Authentic engagement is a form of love energy. It calls for openness and vulnerability – you have to share some true part of yourself for this to come about. With others, this can mean lowering your defenses and/or pretenses. With the world, I believe this means being open to possibilities, allowing our guarded hearts to be cracked open by beauty or the ineffable. There is a quality of permeability that is called for. We have to be willing to let what is outside us touch us on the inside, as well as to allow our deep selves to come out of hiding.

For example, risking authenticity with others has recently led to offers of mentoring and support for my creative endeavors. It has also yielded the opportunity to brainstorm with a friend about a new business venture she is contemplating. Risking authenticity means I am now actively feeling that internal buzz that signals high energy frequencies. My creative juices are flowing and I can’t seem to find enough hours in the day to address all I want to accomplish.

Another important factor that allows our energy to be transformed into something powerful is the simple step of taking action. I would never berate wishful thinking, daydreaming, or hoping – I believe that spending time in these activities allows us to open up to new ways of seeing the world and to new possibilities. However, it can also lead to an energy build-up that, if we give way to procrastination or just move on with the mundane tasks of life rather than implement some portion of what we dream about, dissipates without transforming. Worse, habitually doing this leads to negative energy – we feel like failures who have wasted our time and our talents. Feeling this way adds to the inertia we were already fighting.

The opposite is true, though, if we begin to take action. If you’ve ever spent time dreaming or wishing you could conquer some obstacle, then taken even a small step toward resolving the problem, creating the solution, or achieving the goal you’ve seen it can lead to an incredible upsurge of positive energy. Suddenly, you find you’ve moved farther faster than you thought possible. That higher energy frequency you’ve attained is allowing you to experience what has been described as “flow”. Or, as motivational speaker Tony Robbins has said, “The higher your energy level, the more efficient your body. The more efficient your body, the better you feel and the more you will use your talent to produce outstanding results.”

Now, I’ve been talking about the kind of energy that can be generated from within, from attuning your heart and your mind to things you love, things that you think of as positives. There is also the kid of energy that is generated by a healthy body – one that is fueled well with clean eating and good hydration, moves well due to exercise, and is rejuvenated by restful sleep. This kind of energy cannot be overrated in any way. However, that’s another post entirely!

In thinking about my expanding energy field during my last breath work session, it occurs to me that we all have energy reserves we may not be aware of – that these reserves are available for our use should we choose reach for them, and that they are inexhaustible. This doesn’t mean that if we begin to practice using them we will never feel our energies flagging (sometimes this happens for reasons beyond our control, such as illness). Instead, when we do feel our energies vibrating toward fear, procrastination, inaction, or isolation we have inner resources we can tap. All we need do is remember to engage with our love instead of our fear. That, and breathe.

 

Advertisements




Pulling a Forrest Gump

15 11 2012
Forrest Gump: That day, for no particular reason, I decided to go for a little run. So I ran to the end of the road. And when I got there, I thought maybe I’d run to the end of town. And when I got there, I thought maybe I’d just run across Greenbow County. And I figured, since I run this far, maybe I’d just run across the great state of Alabama. And that’s what I did. I ran clear across Alabama. For no particular reason I just kept on going. I ran clear to the ocean. And when I got there, I figured, since I’d gone this far, I might as well turn around, just keep on going. When I got to another ocean, I figured, since I’d gone this far, I might as well just turn back, keep right on going.
 

Lately, I’ve been thinking I’ve lived my life, in some ways, a lot like Forrest Gump – at least during his running phase. In the movie, Forrest claims he just felt like it, so took off running and kept going. Until he didn’t feel like it anymore. Plain and simple, just like the character of Forrest Gump himself.

Those of you who have known me for any length of time are likely wondering in what possible way I have been like this image of Forrest – I rarely run, after all. And I am hardly considered simple (recent descriptions have included cantankerous, introspective, difficult and an overthinker – not one simple in the bunch).

As I look at my life and ask, “What next?”, I can’t help but look back and wonder – what the??? How did I get here? It is as if I just jogged along the path of my life, for no particular reason continuing on the same trajectory. When I came to a roadblock or a turning point, I made a minute course correction and kept jogging. I figured that since I’d gone this far, I might as well just keep going. This is how Forrest crisscrossed the continent, and it is how I passed a lot of my days. I just kept going.

Aside from the obvious oversimplification – there were, after all, moments of soul-searching, difficult decision-points, days when striking out in a different direction was a near possibility – this is a fairly accurate description of my adult life. It is only relatively recently that I’ve learned to recognize the truth – the downside of over-identification with your career, your social milieu, your physical condition or your whatever is not that others define you by it. The downside is that you define and limit yourself. You are so far “in”, you can’t even see that there is an “out”.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s a place for “staying the course”, for commitment. But Forrest just ran. He thought he “might as well”, which is hardly the same as commitment. And while he ran, a series of events and adventures happened around him. But they didn’t actually happen to him. They happened because other people were seeking meaning, looking for answers, trying to discover a purpose or a passion. (In the movie, others mistakenly assume that these things will be found by running with or after Forrest. We are meant to see these others as pathetic, but I think that’s open for interpretation. At least they are searching for something.)

One day, Forrest stops running and begins a new phase of his life. Who can say why, for sure? The same thing happened to me. One day I realized that I was just mindlessly running on a treadmill and calling it “my life”. I decided to stop doing that. Many people have asked, primarily wondering about my weight loss. “What was different? Why did it ‘take’ this time?” I don’t have a ready or easy answer for that. The day I stepped on the scale and decided 352 was a really high number felt, otherwise, like any other day. So did the day I started working out. I refused to begin with a solid statement of commitment, “This is the day I change my life!”, because I’d done that before and it hadn’t been true. I began with more of a “Meh. Maybe I’ll give this a shot.” I might as well.

If that’s how it began, very much in the vein of Forrest’s running phase, that’s not how it continued. Stepping off the treadmill I’d been running on took daily effort, and continues to take daily effort. I wake up in the morning and decide to exercise. Decide to eat more veggies and less dessert. Decide that I can go one more day without pizza. And in the other areas of my life, my emotional and professional and spiritual selves also have to make active choices, set goals, decide. There is no room for “I might as well” or “for no particular reason”. Because that old treadmill (or hamster wheel if you prefer) is still in working order and, even after several years of wakefulness, it is easy to step onto it and forget to choose. To just jog along with the status quo, to somnambulate at pace.

Steve Jobs famously stated that you can never connect the dots moving forward in your life. You can only connect the dots looking back. We still have to move forward, trusting that the dots WILL connect. There are periods when living consciously is exciting – we feel our own forward momentum and it is exhilarating. And there are periods when making deliberate choices day in and day out feels really hard. Sorry, Forrest, but as endearing a character as you are, I don’t want to be like you anymore. I would rather choose the hard way and stay awake, live with purpose, than look back at my life and say, “I did it for no particular reason.”





Invitations

18 10 2012

It had been gray and raining for days, so sunshine on Monday was a welcome sight. Rather than wait and walk later in the evening, after dark (as you will know from last week’s post is my latest habit), I was determined to get outside and walking while the sun was still shining. I took off in the slightly sketchier direction – the one I wouldn’t head in if it were dark and I was by myself – so cheerful there was an actual bounce in my step.

The neighborhood was alive with people: a couple of punk teens with bad-ass hair on banged-up mountain bikes, a young mother trying to wrangle three toddlers out of a leaf pile and into the house, two girls walking slowly down the sidewalk in stocking feet. About two blocks from home, I noticed side-by-side yards. One yard had been meticulously raked of leaves, while the yard next to it was a matted carpet of orange and yellow. The boundary between the two lawns was clearly, meticulously, demarcated.

As I approached, I noticed an older woman raking in the side yard of the well-manicured lawn. She looked at me and broke into a lovely grin.

“Beautiful evening for a walk,” she said.

“Sure is. Looks like you’ve had quite the job keeping up with those leaves,” I replied.

“Right! There’s another rake if you want to join me,” the woman said with a mischievous smile. (I believe her eyes literally twinkled as she said it.)

We both laughed, and I continued on my genuinely merry way. About a block later, I stopped to photograph some graffiti which ordered me to:

but rather than consider the definition of art, as directed, I found myself contemplating an entirely different question. Why didn’t I take the proffered rake and help that woman finish cleaning up her yard? 

In the moment of our brief conversation, I had assumed that the woman and I were engaging in noncommittal stranger interaction. Just a friendly passing of a few congenial seconds. It had not occurred to me to take her seriously and join her at her labor. But as soon as the question came to my mind, I knew I had blown an opportunity. I had declined an invitation.

Lately, I have complained about being at a…pause point…in my life. Near the end of one road but not yet able to set foot on the next. I have been chafing at this, contemplating ways that I can experience forward movement or at least some kind of engagement in the NOW, so I don’t revert to old (nearly lifelong) habits of living in and for the future. I know from bitter experience that when I exist in a future context, I have a tendency to allow inertia to lull me into inaction. Suddenly, I have lost focus and months have passed without movement in any direction (except, perhaps, upward on my bathroom scales).

I have been contemplating different tactics, from purposely stepping outside my comfort zone in some way (um, do I really want to hang out at the biker bar by myself and see how that goes?) to setting up some kind of social experiment (eat for a week on the same amount of money a food stamp recipient receives) to see how resourceful and creative I can be as well as to understand how difficult it might be to live within externally-set limits. Don’t get me wrong, these kinds of activities are not necessarily bad. However, for me right now these ideas are inauthentic. Contrived. Right now, I need grounded and authentic.

In Hymns to an Unknown God, Sam Keen says, “Enter each day with the expectation that the happenings of the day may contain a clandestine message addressed to you personally. Expect omens, epiphanies, casual blessings, and teachers who unknowingly speak to your condition.” In other words, expect invitations to enter into the lives of others, to engage with yourself and those around you in different ways. Invitations to journey in new directions and to try new things.

I believe these invitations (opportunities, clandestine messages) occur in each of our lives on a daily basis. But I also know I am often so caught up in my own scripts, my own daily agendas, that I easily miss them. I don’t realize something important or meaningful has just been offered. What if I had accepted the invitation to rake with that woman? At the very least, I would have taken a little time out of my day to help a neighbor. At the very most…well, who can say what might have been created in that space?! Either way, I would have been richer for it.

Sometimes, these invitations lead to life-changing encounters. The kind of encounters (with others or with ourselves) that give us pause, offer us insight, allow us to connect the dots from where we are to where we want/need to go. As Gregg Levoy says in Callings: Finding and Following an Authentic Life, “In whatever form these signal events come to us, they seem to indicate…a way in which events on the outside and the inside work together and match each other. The event and our state of mind become like the two eyepieces of a binocular microscope, they are both looking at the same subject, the same truth.” When this happens, the invitation extended to us is, in fact, a call to become our most authentic selves.

I am grateful for the reminder that I need to be on the lookout for these invitations, these messages intended for me personally. Though they might show up at odd or unexpected moments, it is vital to keep the following in mind : once I’ve received the invitation, the whole point is to accept it. To show up at the party (or conversation, lecture, volunteer site, relationship) – without attachment to preconceived outcomes – and see what there is to learn or to give.





Authentic Personas?

27 09 2012

I read this piece on The Living Notebook blog about artists creating personas in their work. He discusses a number of reasons artists might work with a persona – from exploring a new voice to gaining some distance from their subject matter. We all know of famous, successful, uses of personas in literature, art and music (John Berryman’s Henry in The Dream Songs, or Nicki Minaj’s Roman Zolansky). There have been a few quite public backfires: Garth Brooks as Chris Gaines? Anyone?

Reading the article made me wonder: have I ever used a persona in work I’ve created or on this blog? Since I am on a quest for authenticity in my life, one part of me says a resounding no to this idea. If I speak in the voice of a created character, how can I also be authentic?

Then another part of me remembers picking Flo Rida’s “Club Can’t Handle Me” as my 50th year theme song. The reason I loved that song was that it allowed me to express a side of myself that usually doesn’t see the light of day – audacious, self-confident, desirable. I would generally not be able to express these qualities in my own voice as I would be both too self-conscious and too doubtful of their reality. But when I sang along with Flo Rida, I became the part of myself that felt those things. I wasn’t Flo (or is it Rida?) – I was me.

Just for fun, I’ve been thinking about the various personas it might be possible for me to explore while remaining authentically true to myself – not overlaying an imaginary person on my frame, but drawing forth a piece of my personality not usually expressed openly. Below, I’ve dreamed up three candidates for my own persona, along with a little of what they might have to say…

____________________

“Cheeks”: an athletic and geared-up woman. Outdoorsy. Her enthusiasm for life results in those who listen to her speak imagining lots of exclamation points and air quotes.

Dude! I woke up to the worst leg cramps EVER! I’ve been sore before but nothing like this! My first official endurance trail race totally took everything I had and then some!!! I can only say “WOW‘! My new motto: “If something doesn’t hurt, you’re not giving it enough!” I just didn’t expect “everything” to hurt this much. I thought I understood “discipline” and “hard work” before, right?! But now I know I’m capable of so much more. Man! I have to hold myself to even more stringent standards to reach my “athletic potential”. As for actually competing – Holy crap – what a rush!!!!!

____________________

Sasquatch: Imposingly tall and muscled, S. is clad only in long, matted hair. She makes little to no eye contact when speaking. Her voice and demeanor are both disconcertingly soft and gentle.

I am here today to share my real-life experience of being a yeti among humans.

The first thing you need to know to understand the yeti experience in common society is this: yeti’s like people, but you scare us. We will do anything to maintain the safety of our solitude and to stay separate from those around us. We hide out. We keep to the shadows. Why? Because you people have great potential to hurt us. You get close and then you blab about us, exploit our vulnerability. And yetis do not like being hurt. We strike out in response – and we are powerful enough to really hurt you in return, which frightens us immensely. Hurt or be hurt – its a terrible choice. So, for the sake of all, let’s just stay apart, keep a safe distance between us. Let’s preserve our aloneness and separateness.

____________________

Shirley: A middle-aged woman with salt-and-pepper hair. She speaks only after taking a sip from the cup of black coffee seemingly welded to her hand.

I know what you’re thinking. I have the same name as Jenion’s mother. Well, too bad for me – that’s life. In case you’re wondering, it doesn’t really matter what I say, I will end up being blamed for everything anyway. See? Life isn’t fair.

____________________

Hmmm. Perhaps it takes a more skilled writer than me to actually pull off this persona thing. Jenion/Cheeks does not equal Hemingway/Nick Adams! On the other hand, as I said last week (here), we need to reclaim the parts of ourselves we’ve rejected, the parts we’ve disowned. That includes both the parts we are happy to reclaim (an idea of ourselves as capable of things we didn’t realize, a la Cheeks) and the darker parts we don’t like looking closely at (the inner yeti whose fear and shame makes us want to hide from others). Imagining these pieces of ourselves as various personas, we can learn so much about who/what they are. Who and what we are. My inner Shirley may be a bit cantankerous at times, but she is also realistic and practical – two qualities I’ve tended to shun in favor of projecting a more creative and airy self-image. Is that a trade-off I want to continue making?

Allowing these inner selves  to speak can be a very powerful means of working towards authenticity and congruence – a way of bringing the scattered parts of ourselves back together so that we see their gifts as well as whatever liabilities caused us to disown them in the first place.

For now, though, I think I’ll stick to a strictly internal dialogue with my personas!

P.S. Thanks for being a good sport, Mom!




In Praise of Weakness (Just kidding! I hate weakness!)

30 08 2012
 

If I had a dime for every time someone has told me, “You’re one of the strongest people I know,” or, “You’re so strong, I could never (fill in the blank) like you” I would have enough dimes to buy something really big. Right this minute, though, I just want to munch on something crunchy and salty, so I would use some of my imaginary dimes to buy a couple of boxes of Cheese Nips and call it a day. In my weaker moments, I have been known to down a whole box by myself.

Weaker moments. We all have them, even the strong ones among us. It is in vogue to wax eloquent about how failure and weakness are our great teachers in life – that without them we wouldn’t even understand, much less achieve, success or strength. And this may, in fact, be true.

But here is how weakness feels: Weak.

Powerless. Fearful. Humiliated. Vulnerable. Stupid. I can’t speak for you, but  I don’t like feeling this way. If I can avoid these feelings altogether, I will. Failing that, I will suppress them, push them deep inside to a place they won’t inadvertently be seen or heard. I know they’re there, but when they speak, I am the only one who hears. I can be so heavily invested in the image of myself as strong that the idea anyone else might see my weaknesses and vulnerabilities is untenable.

Problematically, suppression has limits. I can suppress my emotions really well, sometimes for a very long time. Then some event, often insignificant in itself, triggers their escape. That escape is usually unexpected and sometimes directs itself toward another person who is blindsided by my emotional outburst. In thinking of these moments, it turns out, I have been learning some valuable lessons from my weaknesses. But these lessons are not about success or strength in the traditional sense. They are about courage. And they are about love, friendship and forgiveness.

What can these awful, painful moments teach me about courage? They can teach me, first and foremost, that there is a price to be paid for hiding behind silence. Not that everything we feel needs to be blabbed to the world or played on constant repeat. Rather, that our weaknesses – insecurities, fears, vulnerabilities – are part of who we authentically are. We are all generally happy to share our light with others. But when we enter into relationship with another person, the quality and depth of that relationship is determined, to a degree, by how willing we are to share our darkness. No one falls in love with the models in the J.C. Penney catalog – they are good looking but one dimensional. We also don’t develop deep bonds with people who only show us their shiny bits. Just to be clear, this lesson about courage is one I haven’t fully grasped at the emotional level yet, and my practice of it is uneven at best (pitiful at worst).

I am on firmer, and more proven ground, when discussing the lessons my own weaknesses can teach me about love, friendship and forgiveness. After all, these lessons have been demonstrated time and again to be true. Demonstrated when someone on the receiving end of one of my emotional eruptions stays with me in an effort to understand what just happened (as opposed to sensibly, understandably, running away). Demonstrated when evidence of my darkest self results in compassion and the offer of support. Demonstrated in the gift of forgiveness when my inability to hold onto strength results in hurtful actions or words directed at myself or others.

I haven’t learned to celebrate my weaknesses because they are my teachers. I doubt I will ever get to that point. I am just on the upside of accepting that my weaknesses don’t make me an unlovable pariah. They do make me human. They give me the opportunity to practice courage by sharing my authentic self with others – without knowing in advance what the outcome of that will be, but trusting that it is the right path anyway. As I work to change the pattern of suppression followed by emotional outbursts, my weaknesses offer the chance to develop kinder, gentler coping skills (kinder, gentler to self and others). Coping skills that actually help me cope.

And while I can’t manage to actually celebrate my weaker self or weakest moments yet, I can truly celebrate those who offer their love, compassion, and forgiveness to a flawed me. I hope that I am able to return these gifts, with true joy and gratitude, when those I know and love are having their weaker moments. Who knows, I may even be willing to share my Cheese Nips with them!





Awakening The Dreamer…(part 1 of 2)

7 04 2011

“I don’t think an authentic stand comes from your head. I think an authentic stand comes from your heart.” Van Jones

A couple of weeks ago, I flew with friends to Vegas for a long weekend. It was fun, but while we were there, our conversation returned several times to the artificiality of the environment. Vegas is about the least authentic place on earth. I remember one comment about the waste of both water and electricity in that city in the desert. But, like the hundreds of thousands of others there for St. Patrick’s Day (or March Madness or Spring Break), we were there to have fun. We didn’t dwell on anything as deep as what it meant to participate in the inauthenticity and waste that are the hallmarks of the Las Vegas experience. We were there to conspicuously consume, gamble, eat and gawk – not to think too much.

And so our three days in Vegas passed in an almost trance-like state. We ate when we felt like it, we drank when we felt like it, we slept as little as possible no matter what we felt like. Most of the time, I had no idea what time of day it was, nor did I track what I was spending. I was awake and moving, but a large part of me was asleep.

Fast forward a couple of weeks, to Saturday, April 2. 9:00 a.m. found me seated in a conference room, holding my Starbuck’s venti Americano in the iconic paper cup, ready for a symposium I was attending for work. The truth is, I wasn’t sure what to expect, because I hadn’t really paid attention to what the symposium was about other than a vague idea that is was related to sustainability. I also was not thrilled to be spending another Saturday at a work-related event.

Five minutes into the symposium, I was crying. It would be difficult for me to tease apart the complex threads of emotion the symposium evoked, but it was comprised of shame, grief, fear, pain. In one of the symposium’s video modules, Joanna Macy says not to be afraid to feel the pain associated with what we are learning. She says we need to feel the pain, and follow it to what it springs from – which is love. Love of this earth, love of our fellow humans, love of our fellow inhabitants of the planet.

The name of the powerful symposium, “Awakening the Dreamer, Changing the Dream”, is now etched on my memory. As is the goal of the alliance who created it: “Bringing forth an environmentally sustainable, spiritually fulfilling, and socially just human presence on this planet.” What resonates with me about this particular take on our environmental future is, first, the direct line of connection drawn between the environment, spirit and social justice. Second, the hopeful stance taken that we can, indeed, change the trajectory we are currently moving along.

“Awakening the dreamer” speaks to the idea that most of us in wealthy, privileged societies, are living in a kind of trance or dream which allows us to “not know” that our choices, our consumption, our distraction have real and damaging consequences in the world. The video modules tell a powerful story of this dream world we’re living in, and it rings true. My friends and I experienced it in a palpable way in Vegas, where it was so exaggerated that it actually impinged on our consciousness (most days in our normal routines, we never even notice we are living in a dream).

And here’s the thing: I think many of us have, for a while, been on the verge of waking up. You know, like those times when you are lying in bed and start to wake up, maybe you even crack your eyes open — only to quickly tell yourself to just close them again and you’ll get back to sleep. I’ve peeked at this world and quickly closed my eyes again because it is so much easier to stay asleep. I don’t have to recycle. I don’t have to make my own coffee or argue with the barrista to put it in my reusable mug. As long as I can continue to “not know”, I can enjoy the lights on the Vegas strip without thinking about the Navajo people living at Black Mesa.

But how authentic or just or spiritually fulfilling is that? Maybe we should just take a deep breath and open our eyes.

The most remarkable feature of this historical moment on Earth is not that we are on the way to destroying the world — we’ve actually been on the way for quite a while. It is that we are beginning to wake up, as from a millennia-long sleep, to a whole new relationship to our world, to ourselves and each other.

— Joanna Macy