The Dark Side of Excellence

The Dark Side of Excellence

Once there was a greatly admired martial arts master. He was at the highest level of his field, skilled not just in his physical prowess, but in his deep understanding of the subtle energies that govern the practice. He was a great friend to many, often the first to help in a time of crisis. He was even an accomplished sushi chef. It seemed there was nothing he couldn’t do. He was the envy of many. One day, he took his life “with his own steady hand.” My teacher opened up one of his courses with this story. His intention was to remind us that while cultivating great skill is a wonderful thing, it does not erase the deep sense of not being enough. Achievement and success may feel good, but if you have hungry ghosts in your heart who always want more, the pleasure is fleeting. What was once your dream come true becomes ordinary, and not quite what you wanted. One of the signs of addiction is believing that the thing you desire will solve your problems. It doesn’t work, yet you persist in the belief and want even more. You’re like a big empty bowl, that only gets bigger the more you try to fill it up. Here’s another way. Become a smaller bowl. I know this is the opposite of what many self help books and life coaches tell you to do. They tell you to dream big and reach for the stars. With the subtext being, this will make you happy. The truth is, beyond what you need to live a comfortable life, there...

What I Learned From My Semi-Orgasmic Birth

Like most women, I was afraid of childbirth. Fear was part of the reason I delayed getting pregnant. I knew that a natural, drug-free birth was ideal, but I hate pain. I have no qualms about taking a painkiller for the occasional headache. So when I became pregnant, I gave myself an out: I promised not to judge myself if I asked for pain meds. Then I set out to prepare. I spoke to everyone I knew who had a natural birth. I had several cousins and a few friends who had done it. I decided to use hypnobirthing, a method that uses self-hypnosis to help you relax through labor. Hypnobirthing is based on the observation that tension increases pain and slows down the birth process; learning how to relax makes the process as efficient as possible.  Animals in labor don’t waste energy in the form of fear  – they simply find a safe spot and get down to the work of birth. In ancient civilizations, as well as unwesternized human tribes, painful birth was not a given. Bolstered by this information, I listened to self-hypnosis recordings daily. They helped me to relax in the moment, while conditioning my mind to see birth in a positive and powerful way. The moment of truth. When labor surges finally began, I had no fear at all. I was excited yet calm. As the intensity grew, I lay in my bedroom alone with the lights off. I hummed a disjointed mix of my favorite songs as the sensations ebbed and flowed. When it was time to go to the hospital, I was...
A Calling for the Ages

A Calling for the Ages

Whatever you’re feeling right now, feel it fully. Stay present with it, and allow it to be in its fullness. As you are experiencing these emotions, I invite you to feel into what your role is in all that is happening right now. What part you have played so far, and what you are being called to be. What will it be? What has it been all along? Power structures are changing. It’s happening in medicine, media, and governments. Even if you have been cheering on the change – pay attention. Do not make the mistake of thinking that a big victory is all it takes. The world is truly on the brink. World powers are re-organizing. Our environment is in peril. We are divided deeply. It’s chaotic, and this means there is an opening for a new way to emerge. The question is, will you take part in what the building of a new world, or will you simply trust in your idols and hope they do a good enough job? Or criticize from the sidelines, without action? Now is the time to become what you really believe in. To take your life (but not yourself) seriously. Because you have something to contribute. If you are in favor of the upheaval, be part of the wave of the change for good. If you think we are losing our way, shine a light for others to follow. It’s good to grieve. It’s good to celebrate. And, after the intense wave of emotions pass, there is wood to chop, water to carry, and the work of showing up that needs...
Maybe This is Why You’re Anxious

Maybe This is Why You’re Anxious

The bombardment in Syria. Climate change. Poverty. Racial injustice. Corruption. Make no mistake, there are problems in the world. Terrible, serious problems. I bring these up not because I want you become more anxious and depressed. I’m saying this because, as a living, feeling, and loving human being, you may be more aware of global problems than you realize. Your pervading feeling of dread, grief, or sorrow may not be an illness to be medicated away. It could be a calling from the earth itself; from no less than the human family to which you and I both belong. Will you continue to let it eat you up? Or will you step up to play your part, whatever it might be? I once attended the screening of a documentary by the Pachamamma Alliance – a partnership between westerners and Ecuadorian indigenous people. Their mission is to transform the most environmentally destructive activities on the planet. It was an inspiring video. Afterwards, a woman I spoke to said: I’ve been in therapy for years, but I think I’ve just been tapping in to the pain of the planet being destroyed. Could it be the same for you? It’s hard to think about everything that’s wrong in the world – or even in your personal life. It’s overwhelming to realize that your actions may not be enough to create change. But what I’ve found is that anxiety and overwhelm are rooted in trying to take in too much at once. Wanting to solve too many concerns RIGHT NOW. When the truth is, you can only attend to one thing at a...
When NOT to Analyze Past Mistakes

When NOT to Analyze Past Mistakes

Understanding your past is important. Recalling childhood events can help explain why you have certain ingrained behaviors. Maybe you’re way too defensive because your mother was overly critical of you. Or you don’t trust your spouse, because your father abandoned you. Look, answering the “why” is a moment that can be incredibly healing to your confused and long-suffering spirit. But reliving the past can also work against you in these two instances: 1. When trying to change a habit. Habits are generated by creating neural pathways in the brain. Think of a habit as a well-worn and clearly marked trail in the woods – it’s easy to find, and easy to follow. Unfortunately, when the path leads to destruction, the brain’s efficiency is not your friend. The problem with a bad habit, is that even just thinking about it makes the pathway even stronger. And when you rehash – yet again – why your childhood stress made you a chronic worrier, it reinforces your tendency to be anxious. 2. Before going to bed. Sleep is crucial time that the brain uses to edit out the millions of stimuli you receive every day. Microglial cells are particularly active while you’re catching your zzzs. These so called “gardeners of the brain”  prune out non-essential neural branches and connections, allowing more oxygen to nourish what is left behind. How do these gardeners know what to prune? Researchers have discovered that unused connections are biochemically marked for deletion. Conversely, well-worn thoughts (and their corresponding neural branches) are considered useful, and thus left intact. After a good night’s sleep, your mind is less cluttered...