Clear Lens Moments

volcanoclouds

It was one of those days when the air was washed and polished like a lens. Everything was crisp and clear. Springtime in California.

I could see each individual leaf shimmering on the tree and was simultaneously taking in the whole tree in its magnificent glory. The colors were more vivid, the wind more meaningful, each breath poignant.

As I drove away from Green Gulch Farm, I felt a natural high like none other. Each moment, whatever it contained, was perfect, abundant, simple and miraculous. It wasn’t until leaving the Zen center grounds after my five-day personal retreat that I realized how much more mindful I had become. I was ultra-sensitive to my surroundings, noticing the details, savoring the natural beauty all around me, more embodied in my body than maybe ever before.

This blissful state of heightened awareness lasted for a good week or two. That was April, 2004. Now, with the gift of retrospect, I can pinpoint a few other moments in the 13+ subsequent years in which my formal practice seeped silently, secretively into my everyday life. Tiny moments of illumination. That time in my bedroom in Guate when I was doing a standing backbend and the epiphany hit me. A voice that spoke from deep within said, “Move to the lake.” I cried tears of sudden joy, because I knew then that Lake Atitlan was where I was meant to be.

Another clear lens moment occurred January 6, 2013, as I was sitting on a hospital bed, listening to Across the Universe on repeat on my headphones, having taken the doctor’s orders to calm down so that he could perform the unexpected c-section. Jai Guru Deva, Aum…. nothing’s gonna change my world/nothing’s gonna change my world. Limitless undying love that shines around me like a million suns… I shifted from fear-fueled sobs to a quiet, tranquil state. When I saw my daughter’s little face and perfect head full of dark brown hair, my mind was empty of anything but love (and morphine of course; thank you, epidural!).

The air was washed and polished like a lens, too, one midsummer’s day in 2001. I was sailing on Lake Travis with my family. I could see the water and sky, could perceive the spectacular sunset and feel that I should be appreciating its beauty and the gift of my life, but depression absolutely blocked any absorption of gratitude, happiness or even okay-ness. Depression distorted the lens, making everything blurry and hopeless.

My most recent clear-lens experiences have been less monumental, more everyday. The little moments, the frequent pauses when I can sit still, take a sip of tea, look around and soak in the beauty. The gorgeousness of the lake and volcanoes never fails to astound me. I can even (sometimes) see the beauty in the disarray in which our household is often found. The stuffed animals lined up in the hammock, the pile of storybooks by Jade’s bed, the muddy paw prints our dog leaves on the wooden planks of the patio.

I am eternally grateful to Guatemala, every human and animal, stone and flower, fire and body of water that has crossed my path in my time here. The breeze has cleansed the air and polished my lens in such wonderfully unexpected ways.

The Forest Cure

Why I’m Anti Antidepressants

Many years ago, I sat on the couch of a stern psychiatrist who informed me that I needed to take prescription psychotropic pills every day for the rest of my life.

That didn’t sit well with me.

But, I was 21, and facing the moment-to-moment reality of horrible depression during every waking moment of my “real” adult life.

I learned that depression is anger turned inward. Self-blame exacerbates a mentality in despair. For me, depression was like endless fields of gray. I only wanted to sleep or die. I was unable to hope and had zero desire to do anything but lie in bed. It was like being stuck in a huge, ugly glob of what’s-the-point! 

Life was drained of all color, fun, and love.

I chose to take the pills. I was told they would take a couple of weeks to kick in, and they did—like clockwork. My ability to function in the world was restored. Once I felt better, I’d stop taking the meds. Then, of course, I’d feel bad again, dragged down into the quicksand of darkness.

So, I’d start back up again with my prescription refills and they’d take longer to take effect, since my brain was building up a resistance. This carried on for about four years, until one day, all the fireworks exploded in my mind and I was catapulted from the lows of cyclical depression to the rapid fire “high-high-high” of mania.

That’s when I was committed for 10 days to the state psychiatric hospital and was prescribed lithium for life.

Teaching yoga at a fitness center the following year, I struck up a conversation with a woman after class about mental health and prescription drugs. She urged me to read up on lithium and its detrimental effects, and gave me a book on the topic. My mom and brother had both been diagnosed with bipolar prior to me, at age 40 and 14, respectively. I was 24 when my manic side emerged, although, in retrospect, it was more like popping topless out of a cake than a gradual emergence of symptoms.

There is the reality that everyone’s brain chemistry is different and influenced by genetic factors outside of our control, and yet our brain chemistry is also affected by our lifestyle and behavior choices. After a few years of taking lithium religiously, I felt ready to phase it out of my system and did so under the care of a qualified psychiatrist—a doctor not much older than me—also named Michelle. She helped me phase it out, and it’s been eight years now with no relapses.

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The Relaxation Response

During my last trip to see Dr. Tim Brown, N.D, I asked him for other relaxation techniques that I could share within a community of learners.

The staff at Ocean Park Natural Therapies regard their patients as more than just patients. In fact, it is the only public place where I have been treated as the whole (physical, mental, emotional and spiritual) being that I am. (I’m not getting paid to write this. I’m mentioning this because I wish more places, particularly schools, took a truly holistic/integrated approach.)

While I was there, I also decided to pick the brain of one of the other professionals in the office.

Janise O’Leandros, CEO of Brain Body Solutions, is concerned with the number of young children, particularly boys that have been labelled with learning disabilities, who are coming to see her.

The neurofeedback equipment allows her to see “which part of the brain is acting as the bully on the playground, preventing the other parts from freely expressing themselves.” In many cases, she is seeing bombarded prefrontal cortexes, the part of the brain that is responsible for taking in data and houses working memory. A healthy prefrontal cortex allows us to pay attention, delay gratification, and focus on our thoughts and decision making.

… causing me to wonder if some of the practices used in schools are not only not beneficial for some learners but are actually counterproductive and even harmful for brain development and the overall well-being of children. Of course school alone cannot be blamed; balance begins with nutrition and spending ample time in nature… making it that much more important to give learners a balanced, not a data-driven, educational experience.

Merritt, B.C., Canada
Merritt, B.C., Canada

Fortunately, our brains never stop growing and can form new connections in order to restore their balance. Neurofeedback training is one way to facilitate this process. Neurofeedback training is “a learning process for the brain” that can treat ADHD, reading disabilities, anxiety, stress, depression, and addictive disorders. What I find most interesting is that its “primary use has been to improve brain relaxation through increasing alpha waves or related rhythms.”

It is actually the ability to relax that allows people to concentrate and live balanced lives.

So, let’s give our prefrontal cortexes a break:

1. Sit comfortably. 

2. Close your eyes. 

3. Relax, from feet to face. 

4. Breath, easily and naturally, in through your nose. As you breath out, say “One.”

5. Continue for 10-20 minutes. 

6. When distracted thoughts occur, rather than worrying about how relaxed you are (or aren’t), simply repeat “One” to access the anchored state of relaxation.  

As with anything, the more you practice, the easier it will become, resulting in deeper and deeper states of relaxation.

Herbert Benson, M.D. developed this simple practice that combines and simplifies various relaxation techniques (which I have further simplified here). Here are the full steps to elicit The Relaxation Response.

The Gift of Shattering

“Once in a while, if you are lucky, the Universe will ask you to shatter… shatter your preconceived ideas, fears, identities, imaginations… all things not rooted in Truth.” ~ Lila Lolling

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Shattering happens when our current frequency needs adjusting for our highest spiritual evolution.

Shattering is a forced shifting and a forced change in frequency.

On the spiritual path, it seems that if you want to experience the peace within, you must be willing to shatter, shatter the ego, shatter the veils of self-identity, and shatter all beliefs.

The beauty of the shatter is that once you relinquish your old identity and story, what remains in the core of who you are… that part of yourself that is your authentic being. All the negativity that surrounded you goes back into existence. This process of dissolution allows for rebirth and spiritual transformation.

For the next two weeks, it is the time of Shiva, the destroyer. This is an auspicious time to let go of the old and make way for the new. A beautiful time to recommit yourself to your spiritual evolution. To continue to turn over the leaves of life and investigate what lies under each one.

Remember, shattering gives you the ability to live freely in every moment. It allows you to redefine who you are in every single moment. It is the key for personal transformation and spiritual Truth.

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