Sunday, March 31, 2013

Liberating my Future-Focus

I'm future-focused. Always have been. It's in my blood, my lineage. In my Michigan working-class family, we worked for the future. We studied for the future. We planned, with discipline and patience. With great pride we endured today for tomorrow, for next week, for next year. Our ancestors did it, and our children will have to. We. Our. We.

I am no longer a part of We, of Our. I chose to seek out a new paradigm. Twenty years on, my horizons have expanded beyond what I ever thought possible, and my beliefs have shifted. I have lived in many worlds and created many realities since my Michigan years. And yet, the layers keep peeling. Deeply ingrained layers of belief conditioning so lovingly shaped around me as a child continue to arise and peel away, years later. Amazing. Beliefs and ideas I thought I let go of are still arising! It feels endless at times, but each release is extremely liberating.

One of these beliefs is this: Most of my life I have been future-focused. It's a common thing in American culture, and widely accepted as the norm. As a culture, we are excited about the future, we worry about it, we work for it, plan for it, anticipate it. It's almost part the American Dream. Many accomplishments require planning, and future-focus surely has its place. Mine has served me well in many ways. It has helped me achieve some goals- yet it can be a bit of a double-edged sword...

Faith over fear.
Being future focused involves worrying, something I've always been great at. Of course I've heard the saying, "Worrying is like praying for what you don't want." Great. More to worry about, now I've said a prayer for what I do not want!

Yet recently something's shifted within, something has awakened. For the past year I have been living in Bali, among an international community. Many of my friends have left behind all semblance of "security," for travel and spiritual pursuits. When I ask them what their plans are, a common answer is "I don't know." These friends are all ages, all classes, families, singles, mixed. I have never in my life met so many people with no future-focus! My local Balinese friends are also present, smiling, enjoying each day though ceremony and strong community.

As human beings, we are creatures of influence (more so than we'd like to admit). In the same way I chose to leave the dominant paradigm of my Michigan upbringing, I now choose to drop my future-focus. I have gained the strength and inspiration to make this shift amongst the support of a community very much focused on the NOW, and I am grateful.

A simple observation: when we worry about the future, we feel the need to try and control things. When we try to control the future (from the present), things usually don't work out as we'd planned. Circumstances change, we change, the weather changes! Change is our only constant. So how can we control the future from the present? We cant! Give it up! We must surrender. Allow. Be.

Opportunities arise spontaneously and we can miss them. Beautiful people come into our lives and we rush by them. Our children change and grow so quickly that we don't experience them.
The power to slow down is in our hands- our world will follow. Our will to stay present creates our reality, and our surrender to what is becomes freedom.

And so my story goes, and another layer peels away. I am no longer obsessed with the future. More than ever before in my life, I am content with not planning, with not knowing what is to come. It's a new feeling, a liberating one. Naturally, I am still an occasional worrier, but the key word here is occasional.

In regards to the future, the possibilities are endless! By awakening to the moment we ignite our intuition, our best inner wisdom to guide decision making. When challenges and opportunities arise, we tune in and trust our own knowing. We flow with- rather than react to- the world around us.

All we have is this moment- and it is a pretty nice one. I am loved, healthy, surrounded by beauty. Sure, the infant next door has been screaming for hours as I write this. Sure, the house is a mess and my to do list never ending, but this moment is grand. And the best part- I am here in it!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Presence of Substances

Tea. It's a "thing" here in Ubud, Bali where I have been living for the past eight months. A divine thing indeed. Tea and raw chocolate, that is. I'll get back to the raw chocolate later...that should be a post on its own!

Substances. They come from nature, they affect our nature. They can be fine- even helpful- in moderation, and they can devastate lives. Hailing from northern California I know all too much about such substances and their affects. In the land of fine wine and kind marijuana- proudly exported across the world- offerings are frequent and fastidious. My last residence was in Oakland, California- appropriately nicknamed "Oaksterdam." And on occasion, I love me a glass of good local pinot noir.

Ancient Pu-erh tea, an experience to savor.
Some say it's how we approach our substances. In the innocently swift change from the decade of my twenties to my thirties, it became apparent that the divide runs deep. The divide of how friends and loved ones handle their substances. Sadly, there is quite a split. By my late twenties came the interventions, the seemingly have-it-all-together people announcing their alcoholism and asking for support, and the really, really smart and talented friend who is clearly, hopelessly addicted.

Years into my polite declines in California, I genuinely appreciate the lack of substances in my community here in Bali. What a blessing it is to be part of a very social community in no way centered around substances! It takes away all necessity for self-restraint. Parties, social events, dances, all sober. Unless you count chocolate and ancient pu-erh tea that is, and folks can get crazy on that stuff! When we purify our bodies through conscious nutrition and clean habits, we strengthen our nervous systems, awaken our senses, and balance our hormones. The results of such healthy habits allow us to function from a more balanced state.

My commentary is not a judgement on others choices, just a personal observation. I'd like to think of the communities we surround ourselves with as a conscious choice, but that's not always the case. We develop close friendships over the years and people change. Amazing people have all kinds of lifestyles. So, as I return to my wonderful arts community back in California, I will look forward to exercising my self-restraint, and resume my polite declines. After that one glass of pinot.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

My Imperfect Practice

I sit on my purple cushion at sunrise. I do it everyday, without fail. Though it takes discipline, it is a necessity. I need meditation to maintain a semblance of balance. Things get pretty out of whack when I don't get to my cushion.
My capability of actual meditation, now that's something else altogether! It's not what usually happens. Cuticle picking, spacing out, trying to remember my dreams or simply falling back asleep on my yoga mat in child's pose are all regular occurrences. And yet somehow I manage to climb onto that cushion, reach for my zazen app every morning, and tap the screen to start my practice.
I close my eyes, and concentrate on the moment. In Raja yoga, it's called Dharana. Number six of Patanjali's eight limbs of classical yoga, Dharana is defined as "uninterrupted concentration," and it is the step that comes before Dhyana, which is defined as actual meditation. I may call my morning practice meditation, but technically, Dharana is as far as I get. After all these years of practice- according to classical yoga-  I may have actually meditated only two or three times, go figure.

And still, I'm comforted by this refuge from my thoughts, and I intend to enjoy it. I listen. Birds, jungle sounds, the whirr of the fan in our room. From listening I turn my attention to my body. I'm warm. Starting with my head I feel into the subtle sensations all over- tickles, achy muscles, the pressure of gravity. Inevitably, I notice tension. Relax, I remind myself. I wiggle my jaw, and soften my face. Back to listening.

There are loud crickets out this morning, I hear the road in the distance. I need to call that place today, and email that lady about the man. Once I get his contact information I will set up and appointment and...hey! I am sitting here to meditate! Breath, sounds, body scan. My right elbow itches, my toes feel cold. I adjust my posture. Deep breath. I can do this! I am staying with the moment now. Seeing the orange light behind my closed eyes, I listen.

The sounds are changing, a new bird call echoes out, one I have not heard before. I will have  to use that cauliflower today or its going to go bad. I'll make the soup this morning- put on some cooking music, start chopping garlic, fresh ginger, and.....are we out of garlic? Shoot, we might be. I won't have time to walk to the market. I can't make that soup without fresh garlic. Arg. Well, if the cauliflower goes bad at least I supported the farmers market...once again it's....

Hey! Wake up girlfriend! I adjust my posture, inhale deeply and listen to the whirr of the fan. I relax. This is what its all about- this moment of waking up. The cycle repeats, again and again, until eventually, the bell rings. Monkey mind is free! This is why it's called a practice.