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The Air We Breathe

Today is a terribly stifling day. The air feels thick and slimy on my skin and in my nostrils. Everybody’s face is frowning; thin lipped and frozen in that typical endurance grip. If today’s air quality is any indication of the future, we should be worried. I’m standing at an intersection. I watch the row of bumper to bumper cars beeping and hustling a bus. The concrete is hot and although the river is not too far off, the air is heavy, staggering. Those standing closest to the river feel like they are in nature. Several bodies stretching and sitting on a 4X4 patch of grass feel like they are in nature. I think, let’s close our eyes and pretend that we are alone in our private grass, that the buildings and smog don’t exist, nor exhaust fumes.

On my walk home, I wonder about my practice and the importance of air. I breathe in and I breathe out. Besides meditation I’m wondering about how mindfulness relates to my views on the climate and my understanding of social ecology. My brain is trying to make connections. What is the action?

I return home and turn on the AC. I watch a movie about human beings living in space. The set is a detailed floating capsule with vents pumping clean air into the room. Actors are floating and look intelligent. I think about COVID-19 and how we’re all floating in our bubbles, scared and isolated, no trust to connect with others, no trusting the air we breathe.

I am alone, I sit, I breathe, I contemplate, I read and that’s all good. Still, I want to go out in spite of the suffocating air and the humidity because it’s my earth too and I am hungry for the outdoors and seeing people. I want to tear off my mask and I want to talk to people, see their mouth. I want to touch someone’s arm and do all those things that make us feel good and make us feel alive and connected. So, I think there’s a small war going on against our humanity. And I think air quality and the environment we choose to live in matter right now.

I look out the closed window sadly. Thoughts that follow are an interrogation of selfishness and selflessness and then I remember all the years working in the poorest of neighborhoods, in the inner city. I was doing some good in the world. The environment was toxic and depressing but I was fighting it, one child, one teacher, one classroom at a time. How much has changed since? I wonder about the quality of air in the classrooms, the life of all the workers and how if each one refused to work in a toxic environment, then schools and work places and whole cities would have to be designed differently. Just to get the people in. We want to come in, but we need a reason. We need a commitment to clean air and nature and spaces that we can care for one another again.

A million-dollar project just opened up between the river and the highway. It’s a strange looking park raised on top of concrete pillars. The swarms of people going over there. They want to climb the concrete and stand on a patch of grass and stand next to a tree. The whole thing is ugly. It’s an illusion. I think about all that money.  

Clearing Space

There are three teachings that I aim to apply to my daily life and work that are especially complicated when I’m stressed and dealing with trauma. I put them under the headings: Love, Loss and Letting Go but they are all interrelated. Love is about authentic presence. It’s learning to be in alignment body, mind and spirit. It’s practicing self-care and kindness. Loss is observing and accepting the temporal nature of all things. Letting go is about releasing and clearing space for novelty. Today, I want to talk about Letting Go.

The purpose of Letting Go is to make space for something new to enter your life when your inner being is ready. It involves releasing elements of the past and the feeling of control. The opposite of Letting Go is clinging. We can cling to an object, a person, a way of life, a view point, an identity. When we hold onto something that is no longer beneficial for our stage of development, it weakens our life energy. Letting go can be difficult and painful when it involves cutting off something that once provided us with joy and purpose. It’s like a warm hug that’s now turned into a choke hold.

In order to let go, we first have to accept Loss, the temporal nature of all things. Then, we can begin to turn to our behavior and decision making to see how we either assist or stifle emergence, that is, our transition into a new state of being. The longer we resist change, the more we suffer and eventually suffering can become a longstanding part of our reality. When we choose the practice of Letting Go, we are courageously opening ourself up to a life of freedom and possibilities.

When we are stressed or experiencing the effects of a trauma, we have a tendency to cling. We are vulnerable, tired and weary and we really just want to sleep. Sleeping requires very little space so the clutter serves you well in this state of mind. But, if your will power is strong or the current of life pushes you forward to your potential destiny, you’ll be faced with a dilemma. Sleep or experiment with Letting Go of something.  

The practice of Letting Go starts with asking: What am I holding on to that is consuming my energy, holding me back or causing me suffering?

With this question in mind, thoughts naturally arise. It’s an excellent starting point for meditation. In meditation you may observe the patterns of your thinking. Perhaps it is an object of your clinging or a fear. Your clinging will have a language of its own, but it generally runs on in your mind like a fixed narrative, or a loop with no outlet. When we meditate on this, we may find that we justify why we’re clinging. We may think that suffering is simply part of life and loving. Still, when you listen to your body and spirit, you become aware of not feeling at ease. You may feel tense, frustrated or angry.

In my experience clinging is attached to deep rooted fears. A deep rooted fear stems from childhood or a trauma. There are many clairvoyants who believe that fears can hold over from a past life time. A fear of scarcity, for example, will have you clinging to money. You may have become greedy or miserly. Fear of being alone or unlovable may have you clinging to a person or an unhappy relationship. Fear of death may have you clinging to excessive health routines or young people. When we cling, we have over identified our self with something and feel lost without it.

When we’re faced with a sudden life change or trauma, we’re forced to reevaluate everything. It can be difficult and painful Letting Go in these circumstances because we find ourselves managing Loss and Letting Go simultaneously. It can be tricky figuring out the needs of an emerging identity and releasing attachments at the same time. We worry that if we let go even more we may lose everything! At first, it’s normal to sit with your suffering. Pain is a natural part of life and change. But in our sitting practice we begin to realize that we feel imprisoned by old thoughts and circumstances. Little by little we learn that what is most important in life is never really lost or in jeopardy.

In my practice, I alternate my daily meditation with Love intention and Letting Go. This provides me with the strength, self-care and kindness I need. Trust that you will naturally want to feel lighter and free. Trust that you will naturally lean into your most promising life energy.

What are you holding on to?

When Mindfulness Matters Less

I’m writing to you, dear friend, because I’ve come to some realizations that you may benefit from. I fear that in spite of the fact of having written a great deal on the subject of mindfulness, I’m growing tired of the word. Perhaps it’s just the natural limitation of the word itself or maybe it’s semantics but it seems to me that there is something missing about it. I think now that the term mindfulness may accidentally diminish the central role of heart in our life and conversations.

So there, I’ve said it. I’m unsatisfied with the broad use of the word mindfulness and I’m currently interested in the role of the heart. I’m doing some reflecting on this topic during these somewhat turbulent days.

When I think about the heart, I think about it inside me, the organ, but also the feeling, the outside experience of love which is more like an energy. I’ve been listening very carefully to my heart, starting with its beat in my body. This beating feels so instinctive and expected and yet, I notice how it speeds up or slows down depending on the situation, the person I’m talking with or the circumstances I’m facing. Therefore, I see now the heart is both instinct and radical energy, that which is both within and beyond myself simultaneously.

I will add, and you will appreciate this because you can be a practical person, that there is also an awareness of the relationship between my heart and my gut, both of which are both physical and metaphysical elements, like the body is telling me something about my true nature and the true nature of a situation. You’ve heard the expression, follow your gut, right? Or in Spanish, it would be: do what your body tells you. I believe that the heart (like the gut, or in partnership with the gut…) speaks to us all the time and sometimes it can appear mysterious but the more aware you are, the more you realize that it’s not very mysterious at all.

So now, I hesitate more when using the word mindfulness. It seems to discourage me. It seems to communicate that life centers in the mind and freedom has to do with the level of mindfulness of a person. But I don’t think this is true. You certainly know this my dear friend because the heart has ruled over most everything you do, for better or worst I dare say! I guess I’m just now accepting this, this sense that the heart really does drive human behavior. Isn’t it perhaps the most powerful energy source of all? And why is this a bad thing? Isn’t it that all matters of the heart bring people together? Isn’t it this notion of heart that dictates the rise and fall of families and whole civilizations, everything we value and fight for as a people, as a nation?  

Today, my heart beats a little steadier, but at night it still beats rapidly in my chest: bum, bum, bum. Just like that and I want to stop it with my mind and breathing exercises but my heart is so powerful, like it knows something. In an effort to embrace the path of least resistance, I am now accepting my heart as the center processing unit of my being. After all, the heart is the mechanism by which air flows throughout my body and I do believe in listening carefully. The heart holds the answer to every life decision..

Sometimes I think people turn to mindfulness for safety. When the heart is allowed free reign, open and honesty, we are vulnerable, raw and crying. We are less practical. It’s literally an open window in the eyes, a volcano.

In defense of mindfulness, though, I will say that mindfulness is about becoming aware of the heart, managing and setting aside thoughts so that you can hear clearly your heart beat. This is true and important. Mindfulness can bring you closer to a healthy, dancing heart. But, it’s a tool and that is all.