Thursday, May 27, 2010

Sweet Surrender

Over the past couple of months, I've been engaged in a very deep healing and feeling and inquiry process with myself, my body, and my acupuncturist, Sandra Chiu. I've been just a wee bit resistant, and Sandra has been encouraging me to surrender.

Yesterday I had a whole list of things on my list to DO. I had already DONE some of them and then I took a break to do some journaling and my body started talking to me again (some menstrual symptoms - hence, the acupuncture), and so I stopped and got in the tub with some lavendar epsom salts and breathed. And cried a little bit.

And then I came into my room and laid down and breathed and cried some more. And surrendered to the pain in my belly. And surrendered my plans for the day. And created the following, which I'd like to share with you. I call it my Manifesto of Surrender.

I surrender.

I surrender to my body.

I surrender to my sadness.

I surrender to my fear.

I surrender to my anger.

I surrender to my joy.

I surrender to my desire.

I surrender to my loss.

I surrender to my passion.

I surrender to my pain.

I surrender to my pleasure.

I surrender to my love.

I surrender to my heartbreak.

I surrender to my longing.

I surrender to my shame.

I surrender to my frustration.

I surrender to my ecstasy.

If Goddess speaking through my body wants me to rest, I will rest.
If She wants me to cry, I will cry.
If She wants me to scream, I will scream.
If She wants me to work, I will work.
If She wants me to lie here and do nothing, I will lie here and do nothing.
If She wants me to get up and do stuff, I will get up and do stuff.
If She wants me to cancel my plans or change my plans, I will cancel them or I will change them.

I am here. Right now. And that is all that matters.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

I am sitting here in the kitchen of my relatively new apartment in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn. As I look out the window, I see snow pouring down with a backdrop of naked tree limbs and the outside wall of another apartment building across the way. But there is plenty of space between me and that building, because I live right next to the tracks of the Franklin Shuttle S train. The wall of the other building is brick, mostly painted over but some bricks can be seen through where the weather has worn the paint. The windows in the building vary in size, and most have little ledges painted in a lovely shade of blue-green. Down below are the tracks, surrounded by dried leaves long since fallen from the trees, since it is now December. Snow is starting to accumulate on the street to my left. And I am cooking oatmeal.

This is very satisfying to me. It is possibly not the cheeriest visual scene one could imagine. But it is timeless. And I am noticing lately that that really turns me on - timelessness. Or maybe it would be more accurate to say what turns me on is when something looks or feels or sounds like it could be happening in a previous era just as well as it could be happening now. Actually perhaps timeless is the accurate term, because it's likely that for decades to come, perhaps even centuries, some of these scenes will repeat. I'm not sure. I don't pretend to predict the future. What I do know is that looking at this scene strikes a chord in me. It makes me feel somehow more content, more in my rightful place, the same way that walking down the streets of London makes me feel - the streets where the buildings are old, that is. I particularly adore the little signs on many of the buildings there, which tell you what historical figure lived in that house, and for how long.

Soon after I began college at Yale, I walked through the University Theater, which houses the undergraduate dramatic society as well as a number of activities of the Drama School, including many of their productions. I was aware that Meryl Streep, among other notable artists of theater and film, had spent many hours in that building, and I breathed that in as I walked, feeling the significance of standing in the same places she had stood when she was only a few years older than I was at the time.

I love how Tom Stoppard paints the nature of time in Arcadia, with action occurring simultaneously in two different eras. Sometimes I really think that's true. Things will just hit me in a way that doesn't really make logical sense if I have only lived this one life and am only living this one moment at this one time. Maybe it's a past life thing. I don't know. Speaking of Stoppard again, the first play I ever saw in London was his Every Good Boy Deserves Favour at the National Theatre, and when my sister and I walked into the house, I nearly burst into tears. There was something about the energy in that theater, and the aesthetics of it . . . I don't know what it was, truly. But it hit me to the core.

I wasn't a great history student in school. I found it really hard to keep track of the dates and things, and to this day I confess there are times when people mention historical events that I know I should understand very well and I don't because I crammed the information into my head in a rote way in order to pass the tests, and then it exited my brain fairly promptly. Because it didn't really feel relevant to me or my life. What stuck with me more firmly were things like the events in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, or Number the Stars. In books like these, I was experiencing stories -- stories of girls like myself. Whereas the story I was expected to swallow hook, line, and sinker in my history class really felt like the story of men and power - white men and power. Which is important but leaves a lot of blank spots, if you ask me. I can even remember a tightness in my chest when studying this stuff. At the time I was very studious and not particularly tuned into my body so I just pushed through. But looking back, I can see what that was.

So my identification or resonance with that which is historical is more visceral than factual - it just feels historical. I feel infinitely more at ease in a setting that feels connected to history in some way than in an ultra-modern one. And I have friends who feel the opposite. And I'm aware that something ultra-modern is connected to history in its very departure from it. I get that, on an analytical level, and I get the value of it in the progression of architectural design or whatever medium you're operating in. That doesn't mean I want to live in it. I wonder what makes us have these preferences. In any case, I'm glad to know it, because it helps me put myself in situations and settings that work for me, and in my artistic work it's useful to know what strikes chords and what doesn't. I'm also grateful that my connection with history is more visceral than anything else, because that is also helpful for my art. That being said, I'd like to have a better handle on some of the basics of our historical timeline. And maybe I'll design a way for myself to ingest that information so it sticks. I have some ideas on that.

For now I really appreciate looking out the window at that scene, or washing my face in the morning with cold water and feeling momentarily transported to another time, as if I'm living in Little House on the Prairie. I guess it somehow makes me feel more firmly rooted here as a human being in some way. Which, as you'll know if you've read previous posts here, is important for me. I welcome your responses about this. Do you feel more instinctively at home in certain types of settings? Do you feel a sense of multiple times happening at once? Why do you think that is?

On another note, you have GOT to read White Hot Truth's best list ever post. #38 brought tears to my eyes.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Setting the Stage

I really like to set the stage. The lighting, the costumes, the makeup, the music, the props. These things really kick it up a notch for me, both in real life and in my work as an actress.

Today, for example, after reading part of a memoir that I'm editing for a client, I was feeling really inspired around the creativity and divinity of being alive, particularly being alive as a woman. (This doesn't mean it's not creative or divine to be alive as a man, but I happen to be living this particular lifetime in a female body.) And it's fall and that always feels like a fertile time for me, and as I wrote in my morning pages this morning I was having some great ideas coming through.

So, as I folded up the pull-out couch that serves as my bed here at my dad and stepmom's house in London, and put the cushions back on and washed my face and got dressed, I put on Loreena McKennitt because her music, for me, embodies the essence of wild, magical, divine, creative, sacred feminine, particularly in the autumn. I actually find that her music feels a little heavy for me in the summertime. But in the fall it sings to my soul. It's all in the timing.

And I put on my goddess dress - a long black, full-skirted dress with bronze trim and a crossover, Grecian or Roman-style empire waist bodice.

Do you like to set the stage, as well? It is amazing what a difference it can make.

Some days I require props, like a lit candle on my desk or bedside table. Or makeup, like red lipstick, which many of my friends know is my signature and I find it particularly helpful when facing a daunting task. For today I'm all set with my goddess dress and my music. Now I am ready to take the stage of my life, as I step into the wilds of the day before me.

ASK and You Shall Receive

This morning I woke up remembering a dream I had last night in which my mom and sister had discovered an amazing new workout. They were telling me all about it and I wanted to try it but in the midst of asking my questions about it, my mother started her own workout with the video and my sister was in the midst of hers. My mother had said that doing the workout with just the video and not the book could cause you to be misaligned and possibly hurt yourself, so even though I had one of the videos right in front of me, I was looking for the book so I could do it properly. And in the dream I was so frustrated because both of them were doing their workouts and nobody seemed willing to help me and I felt a familiar feeling of exclusion and rejection. When I woke up, I felt that this dream represented an old paradigm that I have been healing and moving out of, and I rejoiced. And then as I wrote about the actual details of the dream in my journal, I also realized that there had been no point at which I had actually asked either my mother or sister for help. Because they had both begun their workouts in the midst of my asking questions about the workout system, I had assumed that they were too busy to help me and that if I asked I would be rejected. So then I felt angry and frustrated and hurt and excluded - in the dream.

In a few weeks' time I will be returning to NYC after living in London for 6 months, and it occurred to me that I would love to be welcomed home at the airport by my sister. But I hadn't asked, for a variety of reasons that I won't go into here. And now I see that I have been doing the same thing I was doing in the dream - not asking for help or for what I need for fear of getting hurt or rejected.

And the truth is that these are coping and self-protective patterns that I have developed over the course of my life for a reason. I have a wonderful family and many of my friends envy my relationships with them, but of course we are not perfect and I have had some painful, hurtful experiences with them, and one of the ways I came to protect myself was to analyze the behavior of the people around me to try to guess their mood and not communicate my needs directly, thereby isolating myself. And then I get to resent them for not fulfilling my needs!

This is an awareness that I can apply to so many areas of my life - my work, my friendships, my love life, and even my spiritual life. The saying is: Ask and you shall receive. It's not just "you shall receive." You have to ask. And I think that's part of why prayer is so powerful and important. GodGoddess is right there for us. And the divinity and love in other people is right there for us.

But we have to ASK.

So now I'm off to email my sister the details of my return flight to New York.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Tribal Living

This morning on my way to the tube station I was thinking about something highly profound: hair - specifically, my stepmom's hair, my mom's hair, and my dad's hair, and what my hair might look like when I'm older, in relation to theirs. Then I laughed out loud because I realized my stepmom's hair has no bearing whatsoever on mine, given the fact that we have no genetic relationship whatsoever. However, it seemed quite a positive sign to me that I had momentarily forgotten this or, more accurately, that I had come to a place where somehow, on some level of my subconscious, she is family. And even as I write this I feel a little twinge of guilt, like I'm betraying my mother. Which I realize is probably unfounded since she has never once expressed any discontent or trepidation around my developing a good relationship with my stepmother.

Anyhoo, back to me and my own life. Having spent the last 5 months living with my dad, stepmother, and little sister, I suppose it's only natural that I would feel a closer connection to my stepmom than I previously had. She and I have become movie buddies, and occasional at-home Sex and the City episode-viewing buddies. She shares all her issues of the New Yorker with me, and we like some of the same books. And even though her habits of self-care and wellness are generally much more conventional than mine and she is probably quite skeptical of many of the kooky things that I do or say (many of which, incidentally, are partially due to the influence of my mother AND ran quite counter to my dad's beliefs in many cases, hence, divorce), she is more open-minded than I might have first thought. For example, I have continually shared my essential oils with her and my little sister when they have gotten sick over the months I've been here (which, I might add, is rather often and I do have my opinions as to why that might be and what might be done to decrease the frequency of illness, most of which I do my best to keep to myself) and, lo and behold, she found them to be helpful and last time she got sick she requested one of them before I could even offer. For a girl like me who comes from a long line of physicians, healers, and, well, people who can't help but stick our noses into other people's business and try to help, save, rescue, or heal them, that is very gratifying. In fact, for Christmas, I plan to gift my stepmom with some of those oils so she can have ready access to them after I leave.

A month or so back, I was babysitting at a house down the street and just as I was leaving an absolutely torrential downpour began. The broken umbrella that my client loaned me for the walk home did very little for me and I was completely drenched by the time I arrived home. The sky was very dark and gray. It was a highly dramatic storm. And when I came up to the path that leads up to the house from the sidewalk, there was my stepmom standing on the stoop waiting for me, with the golden light from the house behind her in the open doorway. And I was so touched that she was standing there outside waiting for me. It was quite comforting.

These are just a few examples. It's pretty near impossible to do justice to an entire relationship with a handful of examples, regardless of what kind of relationship it is. The point is that I do feel closer to her than I did when I got here in March. And deeply appreciative and touched by her generosity in opening up her home to me, and enjoying my presence here.

A few days ago I was feeling a lot of grief about leaving London, now that I feel so much more connected to my family here, and have made some really precious new friends in this city. Then yesterday I found out that one of my new friends here is moving to NYC within a week of my return. He happens to be part of a spiritual community that's very important to me both here and in New York. And on Facebook, when one of our mutual friends lamented my impending departure, this friend told him not to worry because he had volunteered to head to Manhattan and make sure I am okay, because now I belong to Britannia. It reminded me of when I was in college and had a pretty ethnically diverse group of friends and, for a period of time, there was an ongoing joke about my black friends claiming me as theirs and my Asian friends claiming me as theirs. Side note: For those of you who don't know me in person, to appreciate the irony of this joke it might be helpful to know that I am, coloring-wise, about as white as they come, with blonde hair, blue eyes, and very pale skin. So I am used to being claimed by "opposing" tribes - my parents, my groups of friends in college, and now my British vs. my American friends.

Obviously it's all in fun (well, during my parents' divorce it wasn't, but in the other instances it was and is), but it strikes a chord. When I feel displaced, as I have many times in my recent years of moving here and there, geographically, job-wise, and otherwise, it is comforting for me to know that I am claimed by multiple tribes. Or perhaps more accurately, I am claimed by one tribe - one complex, intricately layered, tribe. And my stepmother is now part of that tribe - integral enough to factor into a rumination on the ever-crucial topic of hair. In fact, she even gifted me with a haircut at her lovely high-end salon here in London last month. It was a rite of passage, you might say.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A Feeling of Home

Yesterday I was having dinner with some friends from the States at a gastropub in Hampstead, an area of northwest London near where I'm living here. They had both gone to the loo - the woman of the couple had taken their little boy with her so she could change his diaper - and I was sitting at the table watching their stuff, savoring the last few bites of scrumptious bread and butter pudding, and taking in the atmosphere. Side note: I notice that it's slightly easier for me to "justify" being the moment and taking in my surroundings when I'm away from home since, ostensibly, my time is limited here and I might as well make the most of it while I can. So, though I'd taken a book out of my purse, I decided not to pass the time reading. There was so much to observe and enjoy - the decor, the other customers, the smells, the sounds.

Then a Norah Jones song came on. I think it was that one "I don't know why I didn't come . . . " Not sure of the exact title. And it was so comforting and calming. I felt a sense of peace and ease and at-homeness. That album of hers was one of my mainstays my senior year in college, which was another time of transition and confronting the unknown. I listened to it over and over again in my cozy room. And now here she was soothing me again, in a pub in a foreign country, as I was out to dinner with friends from home. Granted, Hampstead is known for a preponderance of Americans in its population and people speak English in London so it's not as jarring or exotic as a trip to some other foreign countries might be, but I am still away from home, away from my community, away from the city I know well.

After I parted ways with my friends, I headed up the hill to the bus stop and while I waited there I noticed the lovely evening light on the buildings, and the peaceful feeling on the street, and I enjoyed the fact that, having been here for two and a half months now, there are areas such as that very spot on the hill that are now familiar to me.

As someone who has lived in about 8 different places in the past 6 years (many of them were in NYC, but still different apartments and/or neighborhoods), I really value a feeling of home, and I'm interested in what creates that. I actually have found that ever since I left my childhood home in Maine for college (which was a tough transition at first), I have become pretty adept at creating a sense of home for myself wherever I am. It's a skill I really value, and one that I really require in my thus far rather itinerant life as an artist.

Here are some of the things that I find help me create this feeling of home wherever I am:
music (either deliberate or accidental/synchronistic like with the Norah Jones in the gastropub)
candles, preferably scented
oracle cards - Doreen Virtue's Goddess Cards and Angel Cards, for example
nice toiletries and/or wellness products, e.g., essential oils, a lovely soap, room mist
spiritual books, like Louise Hay's You Can Heal Your Life
making myself a lovely, healthy meal
bodies of water
and, of course, connecting with my loved ones, near and far

What makes you feel at home when you are traveling and/or moving from place to place?

Monday, June 1, 2009

Morning Glory

For the past few years, I've been rather steadfastly dedicated to morning pages a la Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way. Eight or nine times out of ten, they are the very first thing I do in the morning - before brushing my teeth, before going to the bathroom, before eating. And they have served me very well, in many ways. Wonderful ideas have come to me in my morning pages. I've blown off a lot of steam in my morning pages. I've recorded amazing dreams in my morning pages. And I often find that having that clear buffer or transition point between sleep and the rest of my day works very well for me.

But I am not a morning person and I am rarely happy to wake up in the morning, and in my continual quest for greater happiness, it occurred to me that the way I begin my day might have an impact on the way I feel when I wake up. And because I've been going through a bit of a rough patch, a lot of the stuff that comes out in my morning pages is negative. Though I have stood by my morning pages and, in fact, have felt that getting some of that negativity out first thing is good and healthy and productive, now I'm not so sure. Now I'm thinking that it could be a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy, at least at this moment in my life.

So, I decided yesterday as I was writing in my morning pages (ha ha! yes, they are still serving their purpose even when I'm thinking of why I don't want to do them) that I was going to try something else in the morning. So I only wrote 2 pages yesterday, instead of the customary 3, and then I went downstairs and did a little bit of yoga with the online Gaiam Yoga Club. While sipping some warm water with cayenne pepper and fresh-squeezed lemon, which is an excellent alkalizing way to start the day but I am usually so starving by the time I finish my morning pages that I can't possibly wait long enough to drink that before I eat.

I felt so centered and grounded after the yoga - it was a very small amount, but it made a difference. And throughout the day I was much more aware of my body's alignment, which felt great. Also, I was much less prone to pushing myself too hard, i.e., sitting for too many hours at the computer hunched over and creating neck tension.

This morning I did some breathing, spinal fluidity, and visualization from qi gong. And that felt wonderful, too! I remembered how much joy there is in being present in my body and its movements and my breath. Also how much joy there is for me in fine-tuned focus, such as in a visualization.

I don't know if it's because I began both days in new ways, or because I began both days with something physical, or because I'm taking a break from my morning pages - or perhaps because I am giving myself permission to be aware of how I feel in the morning and experiment with what would feel best to me. Whatever it is, these past 2 days I have felt more centered and at peace than I usually do. Also, not surprisingly, more present in my body. And gentler to myself, in general.

This may or may not be a permanent change. I feel rather attached to my morning pages and am hesistant to abandon them altogether. But I think that at this particular point, when I seem to be more vulnerable to the dangerous neighborhood that is my brain, putting my attention elsewhere first thing in the morning might be just the ticket.

I wonder if there are people in the world who wake up in the morning feeling happy and excited to be alive and wake up and greet the day. If you're one of them, I'd love to hear from you. And I'd love to know what makes you feel that way in the morning. Also, from any readers, whether they're happy morning people or not, I would love to hear about people's morning routines. What works for you? What doesn't?

And do you think that your morning does, indeed, set the tone for your day?