Wednesday, November 30, 2011

It's Complicated.

When I started so purkh-ing over a year ago, I did it with the intention of blessing and elevating my dad and brother, and resolving any lingering emotion in relationships past. The prayer can be applied for the purpose of calling in one's Beloved, but all I really needed at the time was a clean break. I wasn't in the market for a lifelong partner.

Similarly, when I set up my online dating profile I was still not looking for a mate. I just wanted to date in a normal, Hollywood movie way and get a better understanding of dudes. It's been a real mixed bag of an experiment. One guy got so upset when I wasn't comfortable coming over to his house after the first date ("I thought I did a good job proving that I'm not crazy." Ahem.) that he determined that we could never be together. Another fella smiled and flirted and smiled, sent me links to his music and never called again. And then there was the guy in rainbow cheetah print leggings. We won't get into that one.

And then! Then this man who I am supposedly only 41% compatible with found me. We started writing each other and quickly found that we had more in common than anyone else I had met this way. After dozens of messages, he took me out for beets and conversation and we immediately clicked. He seemed to possess everything I had ever asked for, silently and aloud, that I never would've thought could exist in one person. At the end of our first date I was literally dazzled, drunk although I had no drinks, practically levitating my way home.

The four days that stretched between that evening and the next when I saw him again felt endless. I grew more giddy and also more apprehensive- something wasn't right, or rather, something had to be wrong. Hoping that I was just leaning into old patterns of thinking, I met my new friend again. Open and receptive, I watched and listened, waiting.

A week after our first otherworldly meeting, the other shoe dropped. Cozy and cuddled on a couch in my favorite cafe, he tentatively unloaded his baggage- the pregnant pause in between his words that I had intuited. As surprised as I was that someone so young could've already amassed so many interesting intricacies, I had to admire the man- it was an intimate moment and his trepidation was palpable (he must really like me!). His timing was good and his honesty appreciated. I took it all in and thanked him for being forthright.

Then began the processing and questions: How devilish, how big of a deal are these details? How much do I care, and in what ways? And, most importantly, does this change how I feel about him? I observed the way in which I had built him up in my mind, how I had decided so many things about him based on what it means to me to be a "yogi" and a "spiritual person"...and how if I felt at all disappointed by his reality, that is my fault. The assumptions we make about people do not become true because we've assumed them. Our assumptive power cannot bring non-realities to life.

So here he is. This "perfect" yogi, potential Beloved partner is a human man with baggage. It stings a bit to realize his reality and then I look at my own baggage and it stings a bit more and I wonder if I have any right to lift an eyebrow at him. He and I are hauling around totally different overstuffed knapsacks, but we're both weighed down. We have junk, we have crazy, we have dysfunction. The determining factor is whether or not we can love each other not in spite of but because of all that we are- suitcases and backpacks and duffel bags included. Can I allow this imperfect person to be imperfect and not punish him for it?

Of course, this is an important question for all our relationships. Can we love each other unconditionally? Can we love like Jesus and the Buddha loved? Like Amma mama loves? Can we love each other on our worst days when we are in absolute disgrace? Can we love each other even when we've hurt one another? Can we love each other for the whole sum, the whole reality, of who we are?

It's complicated. Challenging. Heart stretching. But impossible? No. Just really hard sometimes. Practice on yourself. That's a good place to start. Softening ever softer to our own foibles so we can love each other better.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Chapter Nine: Meeting the Natural Limit

No way. Absolutely not.
There is a particularly searing Dear Sugar letter response with a quote that I love which has been resonating lately:
"Limits are not punishments, but rather lucid and respectful expressions of our needs and desires and capabilities."

Everyone has natural limits to what they are able to offer one another. They don't always express them in a lucid, respectful fashion, but when you meet someone's limit, you know it. When we have a need and it falls outside of a person's limitations, it can be really upsetting and we often take this personally as a rejection or criticism. I had a conversation with a dear friend today about this and framed it this way:
Say you really want me to tightrope walk. I don't know how and am afraid of falling so am unwilling to try. As much as you may need or want me to perform this daring-do, it falls outside of my limitations and it has nothing to do with you or your value.

Let's apply this same idea to human relationship needs. Perhaps you want someone to treat you in a certain way and overtime they continually do not. You can fight and yell and demand and cry and feel terrible about yourself, but it may very well be that the person in question is simply unable to give you what you desire. You have found their limitation, your need falls outside of it and there is no amount of cajoling that can change that.

So what do you do?

Well, you can keep demanding the same thing over and over, expecting a different result (crazy!). You can be angry at the other person. You can pull the ego in and assume that they're not giving you what you want because there is something fundamentally wrong with you and of course this is all about you! You can keep struggling and trying to change the other person.

Or you can recognize that you have simply met this person's current natural limit, realize that it has nothing to do with you and meet them where they are instead of struggling to manipulate the person and situation to your liking. This is surrender and graceful celebration of reality- the easiest and the hardest thing to do.

This does not mean that you give up what you need and sit around allowing yourself to be abused or neglected, though. You deserve love and respect. If someone is withholding those things, you are well within your rights to walk away and choose to keep company with people that are generous with their affection and support.

The recognition of other people's limitations is meant to be empowering. It allows you to be realistic about what people have to offer and look elsewhere for the things they do not. Different people serve different purposes in our lives. I have friends that I know are not available for certain types of support, so I don't go to them in those moments. I don't expect them to be able to meet all my needs, because every relationship is not meant to offer you everything- even marriage. Rather than decrying what people cannot give, I attempt to identify and celebrate what they can give.

People can and do change. Limitations can expand to include whatever it is you want, but I wouldn't recommend waiting around for that to happen (Hello Bitterness!). If you've articulated what you need and your need is not met, move on down the road, honeylove. No one is young enough to wait around. Take responsibility for your sweet self and Get It, whatever It is.

And if you begin to feel your blood pressure rise in the face of unmet needs, remember: you, too, are limited. Bring attention and compassion not just to the limitations of others, but to yours as well. Knowing what you are willing and able to give, and lucidly, respectfully expressing that is a whole other source of empowerment. Give only what you can and take only what others freely give.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Chapter Ten: The Bright Light

The Lady with the Lamp
Florence Nightingale's name has been badly maligned in order to describe caregivers who form emotional attachments to their patients. FloNi was no sap, though. She was a strong, courageous woman who flouted the wishes of her family and the conventions of society in order to pursue her passion. She gained the nickname "The Lady with the Lamp" from a quote in a report on her work in the Crimean War:
"She is a ‘ministering angel’ without any exaggeration in these hospitals, and as her slender form glides quietly along each corridor, every poor fellow's face softens with gratitude at the sight of her. When all the medical officers have retired for the night and silence and darkness have settled down upon those miles of prostrate sick, she may be observed alone, with a little lamp in her hand, making her solitary rounds."

The bright lights stand out in stark contrast to the darkness around them and attract an enormous amount of attention. Some people, unaccustomed as they are to such radiance, attempt to snuff it out. The brightness utterly overwhelms them. More often than not, though, people are drawn to these bright lights because they love how they feel when illuminated. Being in the light is uplifting and allows people to see their highest, best selves.

If you happen to be a particularly bright light, you may have noticed that people like to be around you and will tell you how good they feel when with you. This is nice to hear, especially if you like taking care of people and helping them feel good. Be cautious of this good feeling, though. Do not rest too comfortably and wrap your identity in it. For there will come a time when someone comes to your light and tries to possess it, control it, exploit it and offers nothing in return. Accustomed as you are to shining, you might want to give them everything for their joy and elevation, but you must not.

In Kundalini yoga, we talk about being "impersonally personal" as teachers. We are there to deliver the teachings and to deliver people to a conscious, ecstatic experience of themselves. We are there to Poke, Provoke, Confront and Elevate- not to coddle or save. 

The desire to hold on to a good feeling is understandable, but good feelings generated without are not sustainable. Bright lights are not in the world to make other people happy- they are mirrors to show us how much light we actually contain. Like the best teachers, bright lights can lead us to the gate of our own understanding so that we learn to find our own happiness within. We are accountable for finding and keeping our own happiness- we mustn't vampirically steal light from others. And as bright lights, we mustn't allow the weight and darkness of others to diminish our glow.

Shine. Radiate. Light up every dark corner with your bright truth and don't let anyone make you responsible for how they feel. That's cheating.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Rise of a New Nuclear

Awhile back I jokingly suggested to a very beloved gay friend that he and I might have a baby together if I reached a certain age and had yet to have the parent experience. He took to the idea better than I expected and we've been talking about it since. I don't know how serious he is (how serious are you about this, honey?) but the more I date, the more viable the idea becomes. Who says babies have to be born to people in a romantic partnership? Why not co-parent with a close friend you genuinely love, with whom you share important values and interests? Aside from the fact that all the homos we go to happy hour with agree that our baby would be beautiful. And that's what really matters, right?

Lately I've been living with my cousin and her daughter, my goddaughter, and informally exploring the possibilities available in the world of family, partnership and child rearing. I am by no means my godbaby's mother- I am far too indulgent to be anything but an auntie- but I have been participating in parent-like activities. I help pick her up from school, make her dinner, brush and braid her ever-tangled hair, and tuck her in with a song. My cousin and I have been sharing kid coverage so we both have time to take care of the many facets of our lives, including dating. At the end of the day, with the kid well-loved and sleeping, we swap stories, laugh and/or cry and share a kind of sisterhood I am finding invaluable. Maybe we're onto something in a Mosuo-style.

Research has a lot of conflicting things to say about the make up of a household and a child's success, but my godbaby seems to be doing just fine. She is reading above grade level, knows that a comma goes at the end of "the quote," (which my cousin pointed out some UC Berkeley students haven't mastered) and she did a beautiful painting recently that's reminiscent of Monet. She also kicks ass at math and wants to have an all-girl science birthday party. She is a happy, playful kid who gets along well with others and will sensibly negotiate for what she wants. My cousin has familial and tribe support, but when all is said and done, she and my godbaby make up a sweet family of two...and they are both succeeding admirably.

The farther away I get from my last real relationship, the closer I come to deciding to remain single, committing to a blessed lifetime of love with myself. All this dating is putting me in touch not with how much I want a partner, but with how content I am being "alone." I am not so yogic as to be without cravings for meaningful, intimate contact, but I am realizing that I have no desire or intention to be in a traditional relationship for the sake of being in a traditional relationship. My perspective would likely shift if faced with someone who moved me very deeply, but being moved, shaken up, awakened by someone like that is the perfect reason to spend some time getting to know them better...perhaps even choosing to relate romantically to them. These people are the mirrors that help show us our truest, highest selves- who we were, are and can be.

In the meantime, while I imagine, chant and look for this person, I will be my own mirror. There are things within ourselves that are more easily viewed reflected back in the eyes of another, but this is not essential to know and love myself. That's what yoga is for.

This much is clear: "Family" is what you make of it and, like the whole world, it's rapidly changing as we live and breathe.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Chapter Three: Occupy Your Body

it starts with YOU!
Let's forgo a whole lot of suspense and drama with this big ol' Spoiler Alert: The only person you can ever really significantly hope to change or control is yourself, home fry. March and occupy and scream and wave signs all you want to, but if you don't make internal shifts to become the person who can inhabit a new, elevated world, how in the heck do you expect the people of Wall Street to do so?

And make no mistake: as much as some might want to demon- and other-ize the "1%", they are people. They were born of mothers who loved them fiercely just like you were. They eat and breathe and make love and feel pain and elation. Separation is not the answer. What we need more than anything else in this world at this time is a softening to one another. We need to get real soft and real gentle, to begin to see our own reflection mirrored back in the eyes of those who seem so very foreign and so very "other." These big, nasty egos keep us apart, tell us that we are so special and so righteous and so different from one another, but we are really all just spiritual beings sharing a human experience. And we are ALL human.

All that aside, none of that is really any of my business. "What is your business?" you ask. This inhale and this exhale. This typing and sharing of my thoughts on the subject of the shifting times. I cannot control or change you (as much as I may want to!) and you cannot control or change me. If you change, it is because you allowed change to occur. I can lead you to water but I surely cannot make you drink.

We have far more control over our own bodies and minds than I think we even want to own up to because it means being accountable for so very much. But this is the really exciting thing about growing up! You get to be in total (reasonable) control over your external and internal environments. You can choose to leave or to stay, where to work, who to spend time with, what to eat, etc, etc. Sometimes the myriad of choices to be made can be overwhelming, but they are our choices to make and the source of such enormous power. This is power to be cherished and not be signed away lightly.

Above all else, though, I believe the most important choice we make is what Viktor Frankl called "the last of the human freedoms: the ability to choose one's attitude in a given set of circumstances." It is this internal, mental and emotional control that allows us to thrive when we loose the ability to influence our external environments- when disease, injury, death and natural disasters step in and sweep us off our feet. We get to choose how to view what is happening, whether we feel victimized or empowered, destroyed forever or forever resilient, and how to integrate the experience.

Yoga helps me to occupy my body- to be aware of the quality of my breath, tightness in my jaw, my posture.
Meditation helps me to occupy my mind- to be conscious of my thoughts, to intuit the outcome of actions not yet taken.

Together, these are my tools to become a person who can successfully inhabit this rapidly shifting, elevating world. While I can get behind large public displays of civil disobedience, I am also aware that collective change is impossible without individual change. Go ahead and put your money into credit unions. Peacefully occupy city centers all over the world. But the most revolutionary act you can hope to achieve is to occupy your own body, mind and heart, and to Master Yourself.

Your body, mind and heart are your domain, my body, mind and heart are my domain. This is your dance space. This is my dance space. We can support one another in our journeys to discover and live in alignment with our highest, truest, most authentic selves, but we cannot master one another. I can totally understand the desire to keep an external focus on other people's business and avoid looking inward, but other people's business is just that: none of yours. Don't you have enough to do already? Self-mastery is a full time job and you are the only qualified applicant, so get to work. The world changes because you do.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Chapter Six: Cruel to Be Kind

Let's begin with a conversation about Karma. Karma is about cause and effect. You reap what you sow. What goes around comes around, etc. Karmic actions are actions which are incomplete. The "live a good life" goal is for our choices to be aligned with the principle of ahimsa- to do no harm, to act with kindness and non-violence toward all beings. When we lean away from ahimsa in thought, word and deed, we generate ripples that can turn to waves and make big messes for us to clean up later. When we act in line with ahimsa our actions are expansive, elevating and life giving. If you think and act and speak unkindly, you will later be held responsible for those choices in ways that are perhaps uncomfortable. This is karma- the bummer effect of d-bag behavior.

As I age, I become increasingly sensitive to the size and quality of the impact that I am making in the world, or rather, the amount of karma I am generating or not. I want to preserve and ripple, build and destruct in all the right ways at the right times. I am mindful about the amount of water I use and waste I generate, about the food and products I choose to consume.

Where I am growing lately is in my understanding about all the difficult ways in which we need to be honest in order to do no harm. There are truths to be told that will disappoint or hurt in the moment, but are ultimately necessary to prevent more significant hurt in the future. We have to do and say the uncomfortable things that need to be done and said now, and do it in a way that is not violent to ourselves or the recipient.

Violence comes in many forms and I think we often miss how violent our words can be, especially when we direct them at ourselves. Ahimsa covers ALL living beings, though, honeyloves- that includes you. Telling half truths, speaking disparagingly about ourselves or compromising our well being for the sake of someone else's happiness and comfort is a form of self-inflicted violence that serves no one in the end. You deserve to speak your truth and get your needs met, and the recipient of your truth deserves to hear it, even if they don't think they want to.

The concept of being "cruel to be kind" resonates here for me. Sometimes people's feelings are going to get hurt. It's not really any of our business how people feel, though. Let them feel hurt or not. But tell the truth. Always tell the truth. And be as gentle as possible with your words.

Tonight I faced my first major test in this area in a while. I had to tell someone that I did not want to see them anymore. The relationship had long since run it's course for me but this person was still contacting me. The last time we hung out, I felt terrible afterwards and knew in my heart, in my gut, in every cell that this was not good for me. Instead of turning on myself or on him, I kept it neutral: "This type of relationship does not feel emotionally good for me anymore. I have enjoyed our time, thank you! I wish you all the best." No blaming either way, no dramatics. Straight, simple, as-gentle-as-possible honesty. He may be hurt and angry, and he is free to feel that way, but I know that pretending to be engaged in the relationship any longer would ultimately hurt us both. Considering the principle of ahimsa, this is unacceptable. In this moment I am reminded of the wise, irreverent words of my dear friend, Jeff:
"It's quite simple. If you're lying next to someone and your heart and mind are both in this same spot, this is likely the right situation for you. Otherwise, do the Universe a favor, put on your undies and take a walk..."

Start inside. Soften to your own needs and hurts and sensitivities. Think and speak of yourself gently, kindly. Practice and practice until it becomes a habit. Grow the habit to envelop every thought and word and interaction. Ahimsa. Kindness. Non-violence. Realize that sometimes you have to be "cruel" to be kind. Speak your truth oh-so-very-gently. Do your best today. Practice and practice. This is how the world changes- when you change through patient practice. Gently, now.