Category Archives: The Enlightened Path

An ever-growing collection of what I believe are signs pointing us in the direction of the living the optimal human life. I believe that we can do better. I believe that I can do better. I believe that there is a set of practices that are indicative of just how civilized we are; and that we are individually and collectively responsible for making sure that if we call ourselves civilized, we truly are. It follows that I’m not a fan of “good enough”. Sure, it works in a pinch, or as a temporary fix. But it is certainly not my end goal. I wish with all my heart that it was not anybody else’s either.

My Thoughts on Why Boys Should Pull Their Pants Up

WaddlingFromMarket

This post was intended to be the last of my resolutions posts, something of a collective resolution.  But then two more jumped into the hopper.  Click over for those in the coming days…

Given that I live in Oakland, I often see young men sporting pants around their thighs.  I recently had the uncommon experience of watching a Justin Bieber video and arrived very late to what has become common knowledge, that sagging has become quite the trend.  I realize that I’m not alone in my confusion of why boys would want to wear clothing in such a fashion as to render themselves unable to walk, much less take part in any productive activity.  When I sit in my car watching our society’s future shuffle to keep up with the snails crossing the street, I wonder what the impact of such a gait pattern must be on their hip joints…and their backs…and their legs.  This is what baffles me most about the current style, my profession seeps into every aspect of my life.

I was told that sagging had a practical beginning, in prison where inmates didn’t have belts to hold up their pants.  Whatever the origins of this captivating trend, these young men aren’t going anywhere fast.  Which reminds me of a point that I’m pretty sure Bill Bryson made in one of his books that I recently read, and that Ben Hewitt also made within the past few months:  that in our current societal arrangement teenagers have become our designated specialists in nothing.  Which begs the question, if you haven’t got anywhere to go, why not take your time getting nowhere?  I find it a pity, all the potential that’s going into holding up pants and possibly causing lifelong physical ailments, rather than doing meaningful work.

I believe that we who are concerned about this fairly extreme fashion statement are being caught in something of a trap.  We adults keep wringing our hands trying to convince these kids to pull their pants up, and they keep on doing what they do.  I think that the important point of consideration is what might actually be going on with these youth who are catching our attention.  I’d like to suggest that perhaps we shift our focus off the pants and back to the people wearing them as well as to ourselves.  I’m pretty sure that will give us a fresh perspective on what is happening with these kids and give them some relief in fending off commentary that is tangential to the substantive content of their lives.

I am entertaining the idea, in truth it is based on someone else’s idea that I thought was a good one, that if we all start focusing a little bit more on the content of our dreams and the contributions the we all can make to the greater whole, we’ll be thinking more about the work that needs doing rather than a fleeting fashion trend.  Maybe this annoying trend is offering us an opportunity to redirect our focus back onto each other rather than the clothes that we wear.  Or we could keep it simple and look at the situation from a purely mechanical perspective, it’s a pretty sure bet that once these kids of ours have some purposeful work to get done, their pants will rise.  Because it’s downright impossible to get anything done with your pants around your thighs.

A Fun Read for Pilates Enthusiasts

Laus Deo

Yes yes yes, I’m completely off track this year. At least as far as my blogging projects go (but I am managing to keep up with my workouts). Our boy spent 24 hours vomiting recently which was our first experience with that unfun-ness. But now he’s happily playing with his legos and trains and I’m sneaking a few minutes to share my latest read: The Lost Symbol.

With this share, comes a confession.  That I occasionally partake in reading books that do not demand too much intellect, that sweep me into a fantasy world for a couple of days.  I had been on a Bill Bryson marathon and when I read the last word of the last book that I had on hand; I was feeling desperate for something else immediately.  You know how that is when you have really been consumed with reading for so long and you don’t want it to end so you just keep going?  Well, the Dan Brown book was within reach on the shelf and I tucked right in.

If you know a little about my interests, it’s fairly obvious why I like Dan Brown’s books.  Especially when you take into account that I’m pretty easy to entertain with books, movies, and television shows.  I’m quite good at forgetting sense and just jumping into whatever world presents itself.  I tend to take these things all a little too seriously which leads me to ask my husband very concerned questions about the characters days later – because I’ve been giving the matter serious consideration – as if they are actually people we know.  And I’m quite gullible through it all, which often leaves anybody who is viewing along with me incredulous.  All these things make it easy for me to enjoy myself when I take the time to do so, and so it works for me.

Was it Andrea?  I think so…. Somewhere in cyberspace she mentioned something about how working with Joe and Clara Pilates was more of an exercise in self-realization than physical exercise.  I love those kinds of statements, they are guiding lights for me in my daily practice.  The more I think of them and aim my teaching toward facilitating others’ processes of realization rather than telling they what is right and wrong, the more I see the full magnitude of what Pilates offers.  This book touches upon such ideas and so I’m all jazzed on the magic that comes from simply applying focus to our personal development.

I’ve mentioned The Biography many times here, and I will continue to do so as it offers so many guiding lights for those of us working to honor and fully understand the work developed by Joe Pilates.  Today I’m thinking of how Joe chose to be a Mason.  Of how the philosophical underpinnings of his work reached far back in history.  And of how he chose to come to the United States of America to pursue the development of his exercise system.  Apart from the facts of what he did, we cannot know his reasoning.  But I still find it interesting to ponder these truths about Pilates as I read The Lost Symbol.  All that and the fact that the concluding ideas in the book are quite close to the philosophical underpinnings of Pilates add up to make this a fun read for Pilates enthusiasts who are in the mood for a page-turner that also happens to fuel their passion for living a more fulfilled life through a disciplined practice of Pilates.

I’d say that such a book is perfect for a vacation read.  Although in my case it was perfect for a sick day.  Either way, it’s good to have these reads at hands reach and I was happy that I did!

Thoughts on Being a Citizen of Humanity with Thanks to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Here we are again!  Another year has passed and the day to honor my first and enduring hero has arrived.  Is our little area unique in all the events dedicated to honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.?  I hope not, but I must admit that it seems I hear more about this special day with each passing year.  For that I am grateful.  As my way of honoring Dr. King has primarily been a private affair for as many years as I can remember, and as I am seeing all sorts of banners and hearing of events happening I’m noticing the contrast.  That brought me back to the years of my youth, when our group of friends would head to northern Michigan for a weekend nothing more than some skiing thanks to the long holiday weekend.  So it would seem that I’ve made some improvement on my practice of paying respects as I’ve gotten older (it bears noting that the person who organized the trip every year was a long time employee of Detroit’s Department of Civil Rights so it could be said that she dedicated each of her working days to the betterment of society.)

I heard an enlightening interview on our favorite radio station back on Thursday January 16 with one of the artists behind one of the afore-mentioned events.  He talked about having seen Dr. King in person as a child and remembered how quiet and unassuming he was offstage, a stark contrast from his speaking persona.  Just another reminder of Susan Cain’s well-made point, and a reminder that it takes time and reflection to generate as much insight as Dr. King did in his too-short life.

I was in the usual balancing act of talking to my son while listening while driving and so I didn’t hear everything that was said, but I was lucky to tune back in to hear a basic rule of citizenship:  all you have to do in your lifetime is get us all one rung higher – that’s it.  That’s why I’m thinking about civil service today and feeling guilty for not being more “on show” with my service.  The truth is that thanks to Dr. King’s teachings I’ve always kept an eye on what positive contributions I make and while what I do is small scale stuff, it is always with a love for the whole of us.  In my years of contemplation on the topic, I have come to believe that there are as many ways to make a positive contribution as there are people on this planet, that we are designed to contribute to our collective advancement.  Some of us get the limelight and the accolades, some of us get the shame and the condemnation and most of us get something far more mundane, but in the final analysis we are each and every one of us important to the whole of us.  Dr. King taught us all that in his quiet and deliberate way.  And among a peaceful army, he fought to bring that truth into our conscious awareness.

In my nostalgia for the civil rights movement, something that I have only learned about since I was born in the mid-seventies, I think of the honor and pride with which the freedom fighters embraced their hard-won citizenship.  I may not have my facts straight here, I probably don’t, and for the purposes of what I’m writing it’s okay.  Since learning about the idea of citizenship classes, I’ve often wished that we as a whole would have learned more from that fabulous idea.  To be a citizen is to carry responsibility, always.  I tend to take the notion of citizenship beyond our invented social boundaries which is why I tend toward the term citizen of humanity (even if I did learn it by purchasing a pair of pricey jeans).

In my last post about Dr. King, I was thinking about personal responsibility and as my thoughts have turned toward social responsibility I cannot help but see how closely the two are related, how we cannot do one without the other.  I’ve heard many criticisms about the high levels of narcissism and self-interest in our contemporary US society, but I think that sometimes it can be difficult to discern between truly attending to oneself and to being purely self-interested.  I think that on a collective level we are rather confused about these things and the only way to really get clear is to pay more attention at the most personal level and to engage in heartfelt relationships.  As we open to ourselves and to being close to others we open up to our true place as a citizen of humanity.

Today and every day, here’s to finding and embracing our place in the collective whole, where all our goodness can fully express itself!

Happy Birthday MLK!

mlk and washington memorial

I raise a special thanks to Anu Garg for reminding me that today is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday.  If you’ve been visiting this space for a while you know that Dr. King is one of my personal heros and I like to pay my respects periodically with whatever thoughts his words have sparked in my own mind.  Admittedly, I don’t know much about MLK, but I am always inspired and impressed by his words.  And I am so grateful to live in a place where I am frequently reminded of his many insights.

My favorite part of the A.Word.A.Day emails is the thought for today.  I don’t have the kind of mind that takes in new words for their own sake, but thoughts are another matter.  Here was today’s thought and I must say that it strikes such a chord with me (as MLK’s quotations always do).
Never, never be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way. -Martin Luther King Jr., civil-rights leader (1929-1968)
There is something to be said for truly honoring oneself by considering our higher self when making choices of how we act in this bewildering world of ours.  Indeed, such thoughts are often on my mind these days as I review the choices that I’ve made and my consequent frustrations.  Knowing why I do what I do keeps me on track even when it seems like a different course would be easier in the short term.  And I must say that the words of strangers in cyberspace have been a salve to those frustrations too.  It’s comforting to be encouraged in whatever form.

For today, here’s to honoring the ancestors by remembering that we are more than flesh and bone.  (I do still have some new years thoughts to type out, but 2014 is currently having its way with me.  I’ll be back soon….)

How Long Does it Take to Establish a New (and better) Habit?

A world of possibilities...

A world of possibilities…

A while back, a client clued me into this TED talk on the topic of taking on new projects.  I was intrigued and indeed keen to know more about the thirty days that Matt Cutts suggests.  His justifications were somewhat inspiring, but I was looking for a little more information on the topic.

A quick google search yielded this myth-busting article and this one with tips aplenty.  For me, it’s the plan that makes it.  When I’m determined to really do something beyond my usual, I draft a plan and I set up some framework to keep myself accountable.  This approach has worked for me since I was around twelve years old and I’ve accomplished nearly everything that I set out to accomplish.  It’s good to remind myself of that when I’m feeling like an underachiever.

I realize that not everybody is into resolutions or personal transformation.  To each his own.  But it’s good to know that even a person who doesn’t make a habit of new habits can apply some simple rules to get ‘er done, got ‘er did when it’s really worth doing.

I Say YES

Face Down

Face Down

I’m not going to mince words.  Aside from spending most of my spare waking hours crafting, I’ve been in something of a funk.  A FUNK.  It’s been pretty unpleasant for me and those who spend a fair amount of time in my company.  But I learned something last week thanks to an interaction which I think it’s best to keep private but to say that I saw myself and the other person clearly in that little span of time.  It took a while to sort it all out, but with the help of my trusted bodyworker and MFT, I eventually did.  (I have some amazing support people in my life and I am very grateful to them all!)  Here’s what I learned.  I learned what my anxieties look and feel like.  I learned a little bit more about what another person’s anxieties look like.  And I stayed with myself enough to catch a glimpse of what it might feel like to operate apart from my anxieties in a stressful moment.  Sort of like the first break in a great big wall of glass.  And now I’m more eager than ever for the wall to fall.

The thing about this all is that I was able to flip my viewpoint on what happened just enough to entertain another possible approach.  Generally when my buttons get pushed, I get upset and then I sort of stick my head down and just hope that the situation or the person will disappear.  But of course it, or (s)he eventually comes around again and then I repeat my reactionary response.  In sorting through the details of what happened I was able to see the precise points when our personal anxieties were expressed and those moments were the exact opposite of what I’d thought!  Somehow that realization granted me enough space to view the entire situation differently and what a relief that was.  I still have my anxieties, and no guarantee that if the exact situation replicated itself I would act differently.  But I’ve had an insight that jives with all the little aphorisms that I’m always repeating to myself.  And so I have some hope that perhaps I’ve made a little shift.

Perhaps today’s insight is an example of this shift.  Given my funk of late, I’ve been decidedly unenthusiastic about the upcoming holiday celebrations.  I know that I’m not alone in experiencing a lot of button pushing with holiday time.  And yet in the past my enjoyment of the season always eclipsed my frustrations.  This year is different, and I have been fantasizing about all sorts of ways to escape the reality of the holidays.  Which is a pretty big indicator that I’m facing down a big mountain of personal anxieties.  Which would explain my funk.  Okay, we’re clear on that point moving on…

My point is that I’ve always been a “yes” person and while I see that plenty of people extol the virtues of becoming a “no” person, I have to say that I’m not convinced.  For me being a “no” person would mean shutting the door on my anxieties and while that may offer me some short term relief, I’m pretty sure that they’ll be back.  With a vengeance.  No, I’d like to stay a “yes” person, but I’d like to be a yes person who actually enjoys it.  And that means I’ve got to get crystal clear on when and where my anxieties are expressed.  And then I’ve got to face them down and usher them out, in a kindly fashion of course.

Who knows what all this will do for me?  But I do know one thing thanks to my realization earlier today:  I’m approaching the once dreaded holiday events on my calendar with a new sense of purpose, namely having an express opportunity to face down what keeps me bound.  That and I’ve finally gotten enough space inside my head to write something.  Those two things together have made for a much merrier season already.

Rethinking Rejection

I now have experienced what I could only have imagined up until now:  the heartbreak of watching my kid be rejected.  It’s happened a few times lately, where my very friendly and engaging little boy is overjoyed to see another kid that he knows.  For every ounce of eagerness and enthusiasm that he expresses, they demonstrate the opposite; and with an air of complete disinterest, leave him smiling and eventually crying.  This leaves me incredibly sad and somewhat angry.  But my boy recovers from such setbacks quickly and with a minimum of apparent suffering.

I’m realizing that my son is offering me an opportunity here.  Now is as good a time as any to rethink rejection.  So it would seem that it’s time for a new motto:  in the face of rejection, smile and move on.

Giving Thanks for Being a Parent

I’m nearly two and a half years into being a mom.  But come to think of it, I count pregnancy, because that is when my mindset began to shift.  It’s been interesting for me to see how my thoughts about parenting in general have grown more open-ended since I’m now a parent myself.

Living with a very young person every hour of every day has taught me something about respect for others that I don’t believe I would have learned otherwise.  I have always intended to have respect for others.  But let’s be honest, it’s easy to create unrealistic expectations for people when we don’t know them too well and then be disappointed when they don’t live up to those expectations – and ultimately, that’s not very respectful.  Understanding that we each are indeed a complex combination of traits, preferences, and needs; has dramatically eased my invention of expectations with respect to other people.  I’m grateful for that.

When it comes to analyzing a relationship between two people, this need for respect is increased exponentially because now that I’m living it myself, I see how a relationship between a parent and child is a continuous and never-ending stream of moments of intimate interaction between two complicated people.  The complication factor is therefore huge.  To pick out one moment, or even a few, and arrive at some concrete conclusion about the people involved would be truly impossible.  So I don’t nearly as often as I used to and I anticipate eventually wiping that thought process off my slate completely.  I’m grateful for that too.

There are certainly aspects to the past three years that I wish had played out differently.  There is support that I would have loved to have had but did not and so I figured out my own way to create it for myself.  Honestly, those disappointments do sometimes weigh heavily on my mind when I permit.  But I’m quicker to recover from such lulls in mental vigilance, because I’ve got important work to do.  Motherhood has helped me to be more disciplined mentally.  I’m grateful for that.

Now that I’m parenting, and doing it my way.  I can see more clearly why certain things didn’t sit well with me – things from my own youth, things that I’ve witnessed.  Now I realize it’s simply a matter of preference in most cases.  I believe that this is a factor of spending more years as an adult, that we have the opportunity to see things from enough angles to really understand them.  I appreciate the insights that I have now that I’ve logged some years as a parent.  And I think that I’m building the maturity to form more respectful and compassionate conclusions.  I am so grateful for that opportunity.

Being a parent has taught me the necessity of caring for myself first.  When I have neglected myself, the results have been clear.  Aside from helping me within our little immediate family, this helps me in every other relationship that I have.  I’m more aware of where I end and others begin.  More often than not, it’s become obvious that the best I can offer is my compassionate presence.  Whether it’s somebody practicing Pilates, watching the wheels of a toy car with ear pressed to the floor, or picking out curtain rods, just bearing witness is enough (well okay, a bit of instruction with respect to concepts in the Pilates studio – but mostly I’m observing).  Anything more requires a crossing of a boundary which I simply cannot manage while staying true to myself.  If that’s not a gift of being a mom, I don’t know what is.  For me, it’s been a game-changer for which I’m grateful.

I realize that there is plenty of judgement-free interaction in this world, the sort that reflects people taking simple enjoyment in sharing company with others rather than constantly over-exercising their minds to create mini-theories about other people and their behavior.  But there is a lot of the latter and since empty barrels do indeed make a lot of noise, I’m inclined to comment on the topic.  And say that I’ve been relieved of a fair portion of my judging tendencies since becoming a parent.  For the relief that comes from setting down that heavy burden, I’m grateful.

Today I will revel in gratitude and open my heart to all the goodness that there is to receive.  I wish the same to you, dear reader.

Paula Scher Makes a Good Case for Being Serious

A while back my husband mentioned a TED talk that he thought might capture my interest.  He was correct.  One of the many pearls of wisdom that reading Joseph Hubertus Pilates:  The Biography left me with was the description of the atmosphere of the Pilates’s studio.  It was apparently a serious place with a singular focus:  exercising the body.  I believe that it was Joe and Clara’s passionate enthusiasm for their work that created this environment of intense and singular focus.  As I was considering this idea, I thought about Jay Grimes’s stories of trembling his way out of a lesson with Joe and / or Clara, and of my similar experience in working with Romana.  While I believe that much of our common experience can be attributed to the people involved, my recent read has me thinking that the environment is due some credit as well.  And so it seems that I’ve stumbled upon yet another reason to hold my tongue in my Pilates studio:  we can each put our best effort toward creating an environment infused with focus and passion in which to practice Pilates by refraining from speaking anything but the most essential information pertaining to the work at hand.  I’m pretty sure that we’ll make some interesting discoveries in doing so.  And I admit that it will be a big challenge for me, a person blessed with the gift of the gab.

There are some other aspects of Scher’s talk that I think bear mentioning.  Starting with some thoughts on the joy of work for work’s sake.  Back in my twenties, I had a brief stint of sewing for money.  I quickly discovered that I would never be adequately compensated for my efforts.  Sewing for me is a pleasure and I must preserve that aspect of my hobby by keeping money out of the equation.  (Back then I managed this by naming a price and not worrying about how that related to how much time I spent on any given project.)  There is something to be said for engaging in a creative endeavor for the pure joy that the work brings us.  For those of us that do something creative for money, I believe that it is all the more important to have some other creative outlet for its own sake.

Lastly, rolling around in my head is the notion that consistently cultivating serious engagement is something of a fountain of youth.  There is a particular benefit to ignorance and I believe that Scher has done a fine job of identifying it.  With a practice such as Pilates that only deepens with time and therefore requires years of investment to experience all the potential returns, I believe that her insight bears frequent consideration.  I’ve noticed that with Pilates and with teaching Pilates, remaining curious leaves me open to new possibilities.  The more sure I am of what I know, the less likely I am to be curious.  And so it would seem that cultivating a lifelong sense of being a student is a good strategy for remaining serious in what I do.  The alternative, being all-knowing and having no sense of my own ignorance, is nearly impossible anyway.  So I’ve got that going for me.

Today I say thanks to Paula Scher for the reminder:  there’s a good case to be made for being serious.

Clearing

Recently, I enjoyed something of a revelation within my body which relates in no small part to some other shafts of light that have been making way into my life these days.  I celebrate my joy and relief by sharing them here.

With my tailbone injury comes a fair amount of tension along my spine that radiates out to the rest of my body.  I keep that tension in check with the deliberate movements that make up my regular Pilates practice.  And I get support from various practitioners to slowly whittle away at the underlying tension patterns that have a hold on me.  It would seem that I’m making headway because recently I was able to feel something entirely new and gratifying.  In sitting and nursing, I often feel discomfort across my upper back.  I’ve known for years that this is indicative of my seated posture, I’ve even known how to change my posture.  But my body was under too much load to integrate the change.  In short, the pain remained no matter what adjustments I made.  (Movement has been the saving grace, I just keep moving and that has kept much of the pain at bay.)  But on this occasion, I was able to make the appropriate change, which is to sit upon my hips rather than slumping into them.  Instantly, my upper back pain disappeared!  This brought about a sense of relief that has been years in the making.

In a completely different area of my life, I’m enjoying a whole now sense of happiness and self-empowerment.  My son is nearly two and a half years old now and he’s entering a new phase of independent play.  One of the gals who has helped us with caring for him while I work, is leaving us because she found a full-time position that better suits her needs.  For a while I was struggling with how to re-organize our childcare arrangements and it finally dawned on me that it’s time for me to have less help and more time with my boy.  I can’t exactly describe the cascading benefits of this choice that I made other than to say that it was clearly the best scenario for both of us.  I partly attribute this to having passed through a rough place in my own personal healing process that becoming a mother initiated for me.  I share this because it is my belief that parenting presents us each with opportunities for healing old and long forgotten wounds.  The experience of tending to those wounds is not fun and not commonly embraced or even acknowledged in our collective conversations, which makes the challenge of it that much more than some of us would like to bear.   But coming through to the other side, has been such a clearing that it almost makes me eager for the next challenge that will inevitably come my way.

These two experiences put together bring to my mind another idea that’s been brewing since I put Rupam’s suggestion into practice.  If I think of my body as a vessel, then it makes the most sense to fill that vessel with love and light.  In doing so I expose the feelings and emotions that the dark thoughts in the recesses of my mind have embodied within my physical form.  The more that I fill my body with love, gratitude, forgiveness, and acknowledgement of that which hasn’t best served me, the more I clear out the dark places and complete myself.  In the physical sense I have noticed a spaciousness that comes with this clearing process.  That makes room for the constant expansion that drives so much of what I do.  I applied this idea to my Pilates practice one day when I was feeling particularly stiff and sluggish.  The result was immediate:  the entirety of my body opened and released.  I was longer, lighter, and more supple instantly.

We cannot always bypass the challenges that face us.  Often the only way is through.  And I’d argue that going through, rather than over or under, affords us the best opportunities for growth and empowerment.  In the face of adversity, we can honor ourselves.  We can focus on love and light.  We can give ourselves the best possible support for making the hard journey.  And we can assure ourselves, that we will eventually arrive at a clearing.