Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Live In a Way That Lets You Find the Hidden Poem: Seeing Connectedness

Jogging the reservoir during peak post-work hours was more of an exercise in patience and serpentine steps.  Previously unemployed, I had the freedom to go during off hours, enjoying a wide-open path, occasionally aware of someone just ahead, my pace rabbit, or that person doing interval training, with whom I kept a regular pass & nod schedule.  Just before sunset was a lesson in the art of dodging dogs walking humans, strollers pushed, groups of four meandering and chatting. I found myself slightly annoyed that they were on my path.  In my way.

Until I circled upon a view of the water, the porch lights of homes turning on all over the hillside, the seagulls and ducks in a row.  They rocked peacefully on the waves in the aftermath of the setting sun. Suddenly the crowd of people reminded me that I live in community, sharing life and the running|walking|dog-filled|stroller-strewn path.

I paused in my moment of zen to snap a photo.  It's actually easy to feel connected here, to return to this moment. 

Reservoir at dusk, through the chain link.

The challenge is on the L.A. subway. The man playing tinny music without headphones, the 17-year-old punks dudes jumping on and off cars at each stop, probably playing a game, but just young and dumb enough to feel threatening to a girl with only a book as defense. (Hardback, but still.)  The angry girl scowling at everyone, clearly ready for a fight.  Avoid eye contact.

Where is the connectedness here?  When I realize that the boys are BOYS.  They are bored, and have nothing better to do on a Saturday. Angry-girl may have had a hard day, or a hard life, and has put up a wall to protect her vulnerability that has been shattered when offered to those also living in pain, and unable to hold it with care. (I don't know about the guy sharing his bad music with all who happened to choose his same train car.  He's just rude.)

When I close my book, take out my earbuds, and pay attention, I see, just like the ducks resting on the water, the peace behind the chaos.  

“Anyone who says, 'Here’s my address, write me a poem,' deserves something in reply. So I’ll tell you a secret instead: poems hide. In the bottoms of our shoes, they are sleeping. They are the shadows drifting across our ceilings the moment before we wake up. What we have to do is live in a way that lets us find them."  ~Naomi Shihab Nye

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Sitting with Anxiety, Part Two: How to Transcend Pain

"It's one of the paradoxes of life: When we have no walls, nothing can hurt us," Jennifer Kass writes in her piece, "How Highly Sensitive People Can Learn To Be Vulnerable."

"There's a misconception that being vulnerable causes pain, but it's in our vulnerability that we are safe and powerful beyond measure. When we stand in a space of love, we are self-approved, self-accepted, and nothing can harm us. We see through the fear-based illusions of not feeling worthy or good enough. It's only when we close our hearts and put up protective barriers that we are at the mercy of everyone and everything around us — from this place we become victims of our circumstances and give away our power by letting external things and other people control how we feel."  ~Kass

I get it, Universe, this is my work. I'm paying attention. Much of this journey started when I first heard Brené Brown's TED talk on the Power of Vulnerability.  And then listened to her longer talk with On Being's Krista Tippet. Then read her book Daring Greatly. Then realized that much of this journey started at BIRTH. 

"It's in our vulnerability that we are safe." This so closely resonates with the chapter I just finished reading  The Untethered Soul,  entitled "Pain, the Price of Freedom."  I recommend the book, even thought it wasn't til around chapter 6 was when I was connecting to it, mostly in how Singer's writing about how we store energy in our body, and how to release it.

Singer writes about the inner pain that is always there, and how, by avoiding it, we strengthen its power over our lives.  "You will come to see that any behavior pattern based on the avoidance of pain becomes a doorway to the pain itself. If you are afraid of being rejected by someone and you approach that person with the intention of winning their acceptance, you are skating on thin ice. All they have to do is look at you sideways or say the wrong thing, and you will feel the pain of rejection.  The bottom line is that since you approached them in the name of rejection, you're going to be dancing on the edge of rejection throughout the interaction. One way or another, the feelings you experience will work their way back to the motive behind your actions. The avoidance of pain is what your actions are linked to, and you will feel that link in your heart.

"... Your attempt to avoid this pain has created layer upon layer of sensitivities that are all linked to the hidden pain.

"... Most people don't even realize they are running around with pockets of pain inside that need to be worked out. ... What would your life be like if it wasn't run by that pain? You would be free.

... "To live at this level of freedom, you must learn not to be afraid of inner pain and disturbance. As long as you are afraid of the pain, you will try to protect yourself from it. The fear will make you do that. If you want to be free, simply view inner pain as a temporary shift in your energy flow. There is no reason to fear this experience. You must not be afraid of rejection, or of how you would feel if you got sick, or if someone died, or if something else went wrong.  ... All you will end up seeing is how much can potentially go wrong.

... "You must look inside yourself and determine that from now on pain is not a problem. It is just a thing in the universe. Somebody can say something to you that can cause your heart to react and catch fire, but then it passes. It's a temporary experience. Most people can hardly imagine what it would be like to be at peace with inner disturbance. But if you do not learn to be comfortable with it, you will devote your life to avoiding it. If you feel insecurity, it's just a feeling. You can handle a feeling. ... If you feel jealousy and your heart burns, just look at it objectively, like you would a mild bruise. It's a thing in the universe that is passing through your system. Laugh at it, have fun with it, but don't be afraid of it. It cannot touch you unless you touch it.

"...Somebody says something displeasing, and you feel some disturbance in your heart. Then your mind starts talking: "I don't have to put up with this. I'll just walk away and never talk to them again. They'll be sorry." Your heart is attempting to pull back from what it's experiencing and protect itself so that it doesn't have to experience that feeling again. You do this because you can't handle the pain you're feeling. As long as you can't handle the pain, you will react by closing in order to protect yourself. One you close, your mind will build an entire psychological structure around your closed energy. Your thoughts will try to rationalize why you're right, why the other person's wrong, and what you should do about it.

"You must learn to transcend the tendency to avoid the pain. ... When you feel pain, simply view it as energy. Just start seeing these inner experiences as energy passing through your heart and before the eye of your consciousness. Then relax. Do the opposite of contracting and closing. Relax and release. Relax your heart until you are actually face-to-face with the exact place where it hurts. Stay open and receptive so you can be present right where the tension is. You must be willing to be present right at the place of the tightness and pain, and then relax and go even deeper. This is very deep growth and transformation. But you will not want to do this. You will feel tremendous resistance to doing this, and that's what makes it so powerful. As you relax and feel the resistance, the heart will want to pull away, to close, to protect, and to defend itself. Keep relaxing. Relax your shoulders and relax your heart. Let go and give room for the pain to pass through you. It's just energy Just see it as energy and let it go.

"...Sometimes you will go through deep experiences that bring up intense pain. If it is in there, it is going to come up. If you have any wisdom, you will leave it alone and not try to change your life to avoid it. You will just relax and give it the space it needs to release and burn through you.  ... To feel great love and freedom, ... all of this stored pain must go. ... You must be willing at all times, in all circumstances, to remain conscious in the face of pain and to work with your heart by relaxing and remaining open.

"...This is the core of spiritual work. When you are comfortable with pain passing through you, you will be free. The worst the world can do is to hit the pain stored inside you  If you do not care, if you are no longer afraid of yourself, you are free.  You will then be able to walk through this world more vibrant and alive than ever before.  ... Eventually you will understand that there is an ocean of love behind all this fear and pain. That force will sustain you by feeding your heart from deep within. Over time, you will form an intensely personal relationship with this beautiful inner force. It will replace the relationship you currently have with inner pain and disturbance. Now peace and love will run your life. When you pass beyond the layer of pain, you will finally be free from the binds of the psyche."

It alllll resonates deeply for me, and I'm especially thankful for the actual "how-to" of relaxing your body, to pay attention to how the pain is presenting through tension or heat, and purposefully relaxing the body to let it pass through.  And I especially liked the last  part - about replacing the relationship I currently have with inner pain with deep love.  For too long I've attached and identified with the pain, making it a more permanent part of who I am, rather than recognizing it as an emotion.  And that like all emotions, whether we label them good or bad, this too, shall pass.

(This photo of a girl we met in the slums of Addis Ababa always reminds me of joy, and perspective.)

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Talk to Strangers: Carry Congo into the Grocery Store

I love talking to strangers.  When I tell the boyfriend that we'll be having drinks with the new friend I met at the bus stop, he barely feigns surprise. 

I rarely need props, but I find that pulling out my Congo Carryall to bag my groceries at Trader Joe's prompts conversation EVERY TIME.  "What a gorgeous bag!" the checker-outer exclaims, to the background beat of Katy Perry, 60s tunes, and surf songs that make up the ubiquitous soundtrack of the store. (I must sing along.)

And then?  We're off and running, talking Fair Trade and work with women in Congo.  I often learn a bit about this person, who now knows my diverse grocery list and obsession with TJs Orange Blossom Honey French Liquid Hand Soap. You can't ever have too much.

So if you're feeling a little lonely in Los Angeles, or your similar tiny town, try this.  Buy a bag. Take it to your local market.  Smile at the people around you.  Be willing to talk about yourself, just a little, and Congo, and why it matters to you that women's lives are being reinvented through entrepreneurial trainings like the Action Kivu sewing workshops, and that they now have a way to use those skills to earn good wages, and then your new friend will know that through The Peace Exchange, they, too, can help these women create a better life in Congo!

Check 'em out, here.  I'm partial to the springlike blues and yellows of this one, and the more camo-inspired greens and browns and butterflies of another.  What's your favorite? 

Friday, March 07, 2014

Community of Healers: Trauma Tapping Training in Congo

It was almost noon, but already a steamy day in early January, eastern Congo. We were late meeting 26 women, but they waited on us, understanding that time, in Congo, is relevant and fluid. We met in the middle of a jungle, in the center of a village, in a school that butts up against the local church. Tucked in amidst brick buildings with dirt floors, we met women wrapped in dresses of bright African fabrics or dingy, worn tee shirts.  The silence of the hot afternoon was punctuated only by the sound of a typewriter clacking in a nearby school office. The silence made it possible to hear fingers gently thumping skin and bone, to hear the two deep breaths taken together at the end of a round of Trauma Tapping Therapy.

...That day in Mumosho, an intermittent breeze blew through the open windows, wrapping around the women, bringing the outside in as they carefully practiced Trauma Tapping Therapy, touching fingers to a forehead, to the tops of cheekbones, tapping the inside of each finger, lightly pummeling each other's breastbones, holding hands and breathing together. Though the women giggled at how silly it looked to practice the therapy on each other, they soon relaxed into the work, and created a sacred space to explore what trauma means for each woman, and for their community.

Read the full piece at The Huffington Post, here

Gunilla Hamne (left) leads the Trauma Tapping Therapy (TTT) training, Amani translates, communicates and connects, I take non-stop notes.

Gunilla Hamne guides the therapy practice.

Gunilla listens to the women list the kinds of experiences that create trauma in their lives.

The women practice TTT.

The women take a break outside the classroom.
(Photos by Cate Haight)