I’ve been between the no and the yes
Sunday, July 26, 2020
I’ve been between the no and the yes
Thursday, June 4, 2020
In order to contribute Good to our collective, shared reality, we need to implement a zero tolerance policy. This needs to be done in our schools - and it makes me sad to say that it needs to start in pre-school. This needs to be done at gatherings of family and friends, in every place of work and commerce, and it needs to be done in our every exchange.
The anger right now is a justified and needed tool offered for all of humanity.
In order to bring forth the inherent equity of every One, we must acknowledge sovereignty. We are sovereign in our nature. We are sovereign in our ability to change and effect change. We are sovereign even when we cannot express it. Even when we are suppressed and oppressed. Even when we are violated. Even when our life is ended against our will. Sovereignty does not require acknowledgment to be real. It inherently is.
Of course, when sovereignty is disregarded or disrespected or violated, it is painful. It is sad. It is unacceptable. But it is real nonetheless. The sun does not need to be respected for its light and warmth, the earth does not need to be respected (or protected) as the source of life, the moon does not need respect for overseeing our oceans’ tides, in order for it all to be true.
Certainly consequences come from the resulting pain of actions that attack or violate sovereignty, but actions and consequences are separate from sovereignty. Even when a life has been disgustingly snuffed out. I say this with certainty, because we must honor that sovereignty exists beyond anyone’s recognition of it.
And if (and unfortunately when) we witness a challenge to the natural sovereignty of any individual, we need to meet such a challenge with dismissal. It is not ok. It has never been ok. The attempted reduction of another sovereign being - be it through violence, through words, or societal programming, is barbaric and born out of evil. Humanity is not served by barbarism and we can reject it. It has gone on long enough.
I say ‘attempted reduction’ because it is just that: attempted. We can violate, we can dehumanize, we can restrict - and the impact of those sorts of actions is real and huge; but, ‘inherent’ also means just that... No one can diminish your sovereignty.
But freedom is another issue. Freedom can be controlled. Freedom can be culturally, economically, and physically taken away. We all have a responsibility to ensure it does not.
What is true within One is true within all.
So yes, the change begins within you, especially if you find yourself more of a horrified observer (or activist, or ally) than a victim, but it also requires systemic change. The adjustments needed to our socio-political-economic systems will not be made just from awakening to the collective reality. They will require overt action. And if, by chance, you feel uncertain about the next steps forward, do - please - start with yourself.
Hold your sovereignty in the dismissal of that which is evil, of that which is counterproductive to the inherent sovereignty of all...of ways of thinking and operating that are now irrelevant. Hold your sovereignty and find your strength in order to even begin to meet the strength that has been especially required any one that has systemically been forced to worry about functioning or existing in society - so that you can be a harbinger of the change that, unless it comes, will degrade us all in God’s eyes.
The above photo, by Jeff Malet, is from the dance “A Tribute to Marian Anderson”, which my husband and his amazing dance company (Dana Tai Soon Burgess Dance Company) premiered in February at The Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery.
Saturday, May 2, 2020
Than how I used to be
The issue is my friends are gone
And replaced...by a tree.
The tree is very soothing
It listens and it speaks
It heals and cares and expels air
Much higher than its reach.
For its branches and its trunk
Are barely half the story
While I've felt my mind has shrunk
It enriches in full glory
The roots go so much further
Than upturned balls will tell
Heaven in its nurture
While air, sea, land scream hell
We may not yet comprehend
The damage that we cause
But revelations come regardless
Of callousness or pause
The tree is a good friend
Much smarter than myself
It holds so many things in place
Without respect or help
Speaking many languages
To many forms of life
Connected to the world wide web
All creatures and all strife
You see a tree is not just
An individual above the ground
It is the entire forest
Air, dirt, shrooms, and sounds.
Sure the tree could grow alone
And try to fill your lungs
But better with its ancient ones
Undisturbed in their functions
So I realize I may stand alone
If alone to stand I choose
But like a tree, the forest calls
To heal, to love, to soothe.
Tuesday, March 10, 2020
Lessons from different teachers, seekers…and YouTube videos…that I’ve been exposed to have led me to believe that there are three voices: the internal voice – the voice of Self; the external voice - other people, the World beyond the Self; and, the voice of Now - something rather ultimate and all-pervasive. When the internal and external voices are in conflict, we are in conflict. When we listen more in balance to all three voices, we are more balanced...more in alignment. And alignment is enjoyable.
As we experience alignment, it becomes difficult to be out of alignment. As we experience enjoyment, we can notice when things are in contrast to enjoyment, and the lack of enjoyment becomes uncomfortable.
Enjoyment can be any type of happiness (perhaps the act of creating, or experiencing beauty, or exercise, or being in nature...) and despite the discomfort we experience from its lack, we often have a strange resistance to it...to allowing ourselves to think thoughts, and say words, and do things that bring enjoyment. We are resistant to enjoyment. I would suppose out of fear of its stopping. Fear of enjoyment ending, or FOEE (pronounced foo-ee).
Yet one of the only collective certainties is change. So how can one fully enjoy the experience of…experiencing…if we know that everything is temporary? How does one enjoy change?
Attachment to permanence is a major source of my resistance. I have felt it much of my life. I have been a longtime sufferer, not yet fully recovered, of FOEE.
My wanting to 'hold on' to good-feelingness - or good-feeling moments - is likely the root of my anxiety. A result of not yet having the tools to allow the enjoyment of things even with the awareness that 'this too shall pass'. I have always hated that phrase.
This past Wednesday, I interviewed Diane Rehm, who I have listened to on the radio since I was a kid on NPR's The Diane Rehm Show. It was an honor. The evening was with diverse guests at the Arts Club of Washington, and centered around her newest book: When My Time Comes.
While preparing for the interview, I remembered that she had spoken at American University while I was a student there. It was the 2007 Commencement Address for the College of Arts and Sciences. I wasn’t graduating that year. But even though I did not see the speech live, I was able to look it up in the university’s online archives, and watch it. It is a beautiful speech.
One of the things Diane talks about in the speech is how she became a listener, which had to do with her upbringing as the daughter of Arab immigrant parents who did not support her receiving an education. She was told she was not supposed to ask questions. So she listened to others…teachers, friends, her husband…she learned from listening. And synchronistically she became able to ask lots questions…and allow millions of people every day to listen along with her.
We can listen too much to external voices (news, other people), to the point that it becomes our only focus, and we can forget to care about how we feel. We can forget to nourish the self, and forget the importance of enjoying, mystery and wonder.
A thought came to me this evening while lying in bed. I felt concerned about my own questioning of whether there was still magic left in the world (and whether I should change my Facebook ‘religion status’, which since 2007 has said: “I believe in magic”). I have been tired lately, but a voice that seemed different from my questioning thoughts said, "There is plenty of magic in the world. The world is magic. None if it, however, is permanent."
So my focus lately has been on enjoying things even while aware of impermanence, even while knowing there is contrast in the world. Knowing that we – and our experience of the world – are always in motion.
We affect others with how we feel, because how we feel affects how we think and what we say and do… Our reality is a result of where our attentions are focused.
But boundaries can be a tool for allowing ourselves to enjoy moments more. We need them not only to protect our physical bodies at times, but also our emotional states – to listen to our inner voice. The better we feel the better those we engage with feel. Healthy boundaries for ourselves allows for self nourishment, and for others to have their own healthy boundaries.
After a wonderful conversation last Wednesday, including with the audience, the evening needed to wrap up. I ended the program with Diane Rehm by quoting her words from the 2007 AU Commencement speech:
“I believe each one of us can achieve progress, one relationship at a time, by quieting our inner voices of disagreement, of competitiveness, and attempts at one-upsmanship. We honor then, the voice of the speaker. The act of listening itself becomes an expression of generosity and compassion, which can lead to the creation of a new and more harmonious society. True listening is a form of spiritual hospitality by which we open ourselves to the ideas of others…we invite strangers to become friends, and friends to become even better friends.”Even if we do not listen as much, or to as many and varied others, as Diane, we can still be more aware that listening is respect.
I wish more and more often, that more and more of us, will be more and more respectful of one another; that we can receive respect, and know that our sense of sovereignty does not require us to always assert - to dominate or seek power over another. Our sovereignty is what allows us to listen to others, and to respect others.
We are allowed to experience enjoyment. (There is relief from FOEE.) And we can enjoy any and all good-feelingness without needing permanence.
Knowing that we are always creating with our thoughts and our words and our questions… Listening creates more respect for own experiences, and for those of others.
I’ve been trying to listen better to my internal and external voices. My body seems to want a better balance of the two. Perhaps more enjoyment and less anxiety. It’s been telling me to take care of it, to rest more, observe more. Listening to my Self actually allows me to better listen to others. My mother often says “listen to your body…your body is wise, and it always wins if you ignore it”.
I have been listening to my mother more and more.
Tuesday, January 7, 2020
|Swami Krishnananda Yogashala, near Mysore, India (Dec. 2018)|
December 20, 2018
There’s a sense of dust-covered royalness among us that I have not experienced since childhood. Wearing garments of various colors, many draped in blankets, we stood around the guru to receive instructions on kunjal, or the practice of induced vomiting from the imbibing of excessive and quickly swallowed water – in this case saline water. It is dark outside and pre-dawn, and the stars offered themselves as shining things to focus on in the moments between retches.
Following this, we did sutra nedi - meaning 'thread through the nose' - to clean the nasal passages (in our case a rubber catheter tube…more gentle) – pushed into each nostril and pulled out the mouth. We have been doing this for a few days. I followed this with jala nedi – the water method (nedi pot) more commonly used in the West – because I could not get the catheter tube through my left nasal passage this morning and I wanted both to be clear. Today is my birthday. I am cold, dirty, and tired.
April 22, 2019
December 20, 2019
I am in San Juan, Puerto Rico with my husband. Today is my birthday. We live in a time where we are not sure that we can be made whole. But it is the acceptance and forgiveness of our brokenness that brings thorough healing, as well as the awareness that we are never - and have never been - truly broken. We always have choice.
With recognition we step out of denial. Denial undermines our freedom.
- Jack Kornfield
December 25, 2019
In the woods of Connecticut with family. The trees moan and one can hear owls. Glad to be home for Christmas.
The whole point of Jesus's life was not that we should become exactly like him, but that we should become ourselves in the same way he became himself. Jesus was not the great exception but the great example.
- Carl Jung
January 6, 2020
Watching the sun rise in Twenty Nine Pines, California this morning, my feet bare on the cold, rocky soil, I felt awe. I like awe.
|"Sky Landing", Twentynine Pines, Mojave Desert, California (Jan. 2019)|
Twenty Nine Pines is in the Mojave Desert and north-bordering of Joshua Tree National Park, where we will visit this morning before heading west again to Los Angeles. My sister's birthday this coming Friday will coincide with her and I being on her favorite podcast called "The Positive Head Podcast", as well as the web series "Optimystic", both hosted by Brandon Beachum and currently broadcasting out of a house called the Mystic Manor in Venice Beach, where we will be staying the week.
Strange delays between DC and San Diego meant that I missed the Abraham Hicks workshop (it would have been my first one) that I had booked for my sister and I. But she, having arrived on time and thus a day before me, was able to attend. She shared notes, pearls of wisdom and cosmic downloads during our northwest drive into the desert yesterday.
Going to Los Angeles will complete our triangle tour of California. Our three stops are almost equidistance. This is first my time visiting California.
Traveling this year - from India to Amsterdam, Alabama to California - has enhanced my sense of a strong sense of interconnectedness with things. This is not something I have always enjoyed. It has, since childhood, had the capacity to overwhelm. But, it is more and more and more perceptible - unignorable - in my cerebral awareness, my spiritual knowing, and my physical body. And, I think, it is becoming more and more manageable. I have decided to take a hiatus from alcohol for a year. There is a lot that needs doing.
|Climbing at Joshua Tree National Park (Jan. 2019)|
I find myself thinking a lot about Truth. The concept of it, the pursuit of it, the relaxation into it. I feel that we can never truly lie. Even if we say false words - our voices, our bodies and countless other forces of the universe conspire to push the truth into awareness, whether immediately or finally.
The world is a mess. It's hard to filter honesty from the internet or television or people. I feel that an occasional hiatus from any of these could do humanity good.
I feel that the anger about secretive, exclusionary orders, or the outdated design and destructive nature of our collective systems, is insufficient, and so is trifling jealousy or ignorant rage directed at decision-makers. We are not disempowered unless we separate ourselves from power. And this is not necessary to do, nor is it productive.
I hope we will alchemize our anger into the forming of a new order and designing of a new collective destiny, which has been done before and will be done again, and must be done now.
The emergence and blossoming of understanding, love, and intelligence has nothing to do with any other tradition. It happens completely on its own when a human being questions, wonders, listens and looks without getting stuck in fear. When self-concern is quiet, in abeyance, heaven and earth are open.
- Toni Parker
January 7, 2020
Venice Beach, Los Angeles:
There does not need to be any agreement on experience. We are entitled to our own. There needs not be any cohesion in processing, or responding to experience, as we are entitled to our own - and only our own. You do not owe any one misery. You are entitled to your good feeling. You are entitled to feeling good. In feeling good one serves a higher purpose. Feeling good is being good.
I used to believe in - or wish for - a point, or for some profundity in suffering...past sufferings, the idea of suffering, etc. I suppose it is because I wanted to feel certainty that those experiences were 'worth it'...so that I would not feel regret.
All experiences are correct. Truth is available for us to tune into, and we can feel it with more light, more lightness...we can be lighter in the way we perceive and receive and give. We do not have to withhold ourselves to be sovereign. We can be in truth and experience it with more enjoyment and light - we can be lighter. Truth does not need to be heavy or dark...even that which lowers our energies or triggers our rage can be felt in lighter and lighter ways.
Tuesday, June 11, 2019
Sometimes we wake up with a song in our head. This morning, in Amsterdam, it was “This land is your land, this land is my land...”
Quite an ode to the USA while being in Holland, learning a new form of yoga, designed by a Brazilian man.
The second verse of the song, by Woody Guthrie, goes:
“As I was walking,
I saw a sign there,
And on the sign it said,
But on the other side,
It didn’t say nothing...
That side was made for you and me.”
Many of the buildings here in the city of canals - and global center of commerce during the 17th century - lean slightly, in all different directions. Some sinking lower to one side or the other, leaning against their adjacent neighbor, others leaning forward or backward. Somehow, however, they stand stable. “Because they’re all together,” said Bonnie (the friend I am here with). That’s a metaphor if I ever heard one.
Bonnie is the reason behind us being here, and the one who introduced me to Kaiut Yoga, a specialized yoga we have been training in for the last week. My first time doing so - not hers. The opportunity to train directly under Francisco Kaiut, the technique’s founder, has been enlightening... It had not occurred to me until now - not really - just how crooked and tight so much of me was... And despite being physically and emotionally exhausted, we are not drained - so far enjoying Amsterdam between and after classes. Yes, we both need rest, but it’s an invigorated sort of tired.
Today we both received certificates for the completion of a particular module. The next one will be taught near Sacramento in July. I am enrolling.
Kaiut Yoga could be a metaphor for life. It is both complex and simple. It is an exploration of the self to find and clear blockages.
In the body these are restrictions, or areas of heightened sensation (often called pain). By focusing on the body during certain poses and allowing tension release and restrictions to be ‘cleaned’ out, the mind learns to support the process and clears out storage of emotional or psychological tension as well.
One often thinks of yoga practice as a way to increase flexibility, but presently yoga is often practiced in a way that causes rigidness, and even in ways that espouse restriction and exclusion rather than broadcasting welcomeness and unlimited potential. I don’t want to rant about this now, but suffice to say many techniques bring about injury - slowly or quickly - and ego-based practice does not offer much freedom to get to know thyself.
Yoga should not allow you to hide from yourself; instead allowing you to know you...more and more and more. I think Francisco Kaiut has developed an approach that is true to the process of self-knowing. As he said to us the other day: “You cannot be smarter than you.”
There are more than a few Americans that were part of this Amsterdam cohort. They join others from Holland and Europe, of course, as well as Brazil, where the technique was first developed.
It feels interesting to be an American nowadays, more so than I remember it being in years past, and especially while off of American soil.
Since we’ve been here, the American president has visited the U.K. and France, and we - while avoiding broadcast news for the most part - heard whispers of a State Dinner with royals, awkward moments with British leaders, and speeches from heads of government, including ours, commemorating the Normandy landings of June 6, 1944, known as D-Day [the allied landing at Normandy that led to the liberation of Nazi-controlled France and eventually the Allied Powers’ victory ending World War II. Side note if-you didn’t-know-&-r-curious: “D-Day” refers to a military designation for a combat operation. ‘D’ for day and ‘H’ for hour are commonly used, and numbers typically follow the letters to indicate time before or after a specific operation: ‘D+2’ would mean two days after any given ‘D-Day’ and ‘H-5’ means five hours before.]
My father was a ‘third’, the namesake of my great-grandpa, because the family was proud of his service during WWII. I am still trying to think of a place for his official military portrait which my brother and I now have.
War is of course complicated in its terminations and carryings-out. Decision-making before, during and in its aftermath is full of option-weighing of things certain and things - most things - uncertain. War feels wearisome...bad...for the good-hearted; intoxicating and mechanical for those who do not feel strongly. One prefers to keep the peace; the other is jaded by its inevitable end.
Allies...alliances seem less complicated than war. Cohesion around peace and stability seems obvious in its good. If only for all, but certainly those adept in trusting their senses and judgement - adept in...knowing feeling.
And alliances with those whom one shares values and culture with should be easy to maintain, as there is rational trust - especially from the American perspective - that no party will declare war on or try to invade the other. I guess I wish for the norms of diplomacy, the frivolous elegance, and the seemingly low instances of surprise amidst Western international relations after the Second World War.
Last night I cried in bed. This yoga - with its focus on clearing restrictions in the body - can release things that have been deeply held in tissues for ages. More recently, I am still sad about my father’s death late last year. It has been a lesson for the animal self - that one must learn to live with, and appropriately nurse, wounds. But I also cried from having a sudden and seemingly random realization: that I have made others sad. Like a wave, I was overcome with flashed memories of instances and ways - grand and minuscule - that I’ve hurt people. Within one’s own body, hurting is more painful than being hurt.
I wonder: if humanity’s attunement to feeling - not just emotional reactions, but physical, body-feeling and its ability to inform judgement, its connection with a morality - becomes more and more heightened, will war even be possible?
At the moment, anything seems possible. And that’s not necessarily a welcome feeling.
Just like, as Thomas Merton said, people immersed in sensual appetites and desires are not very well prepared to handle abstract ideas, nor are those who entirely ignore or cut themselves off from the body’s wisdom and its natural signals very well prepared to adapt.
If one cannot adapt to environments and situations but instead requires environments and situations to adapt to them...well, one will always be disappointed. And those who cannot adapt to different environments find it harder to survive - not just major events, but even minor experiences, and therefore become more likely to ignore or hide from what is happening, both within themselves and outside themselves. And those who ignore what is happening within and outside themselves are not very well prepared to engage - or advocate for that matter - change.
We need to ask ourselves: how does it feel to be divided? To be angry? To be scared? How does it feel to refuse - to literally be terrified and abhor the idea of - standing together? How does it feel to be embarrassed? To feel hatred and to not want to feel hatred at the same time? How does it feel to look at your neighbor? To talk to an acquaintance? A friend? To listen to your own thoughts? How does it feel in your body?
This ongoing introduction to new yogic horizons has been intense, and being present in the world and in my self has meant that sometimes it is difficult to maintain good-feeling and upliftedness.
In the last few months, I had decided I did not want the negativity of politics (which was my college major) or even ‘news’ in my reality. I didn’t want the energy of it, to interact with it, or to feel its effect on me.
But there is strength in feeling. And one can feel truly, deeply, strongly - yet not be overwhelmed. There is a joy to be found in uncertainty, the exploration of self and society - a surrendering to discovery that comes with simultaneous relaxation and allowance of sensation. The process that leads us to adapt. And thus learn and grow and know what we want and where we stand.
Exactly six months ago, I graduated (not sure of any other suitable word) from the Swami Krishnananda Yogashram outside Mysore, India. Today, I received my first certificate from Kaiut Yoga.
The ashram experience was profound and transformative, of course, and very focused on discipline. But I went to India to escape myself after my father’s death. I learned there is no escape from the self - only getting to know it better and better and better, and with genuineness and no denial. That is the best way to face and heal injuries, to clear blockages and restrictions; to learn how to feel, and therefore be able to face the world from where I stand - with courage and clear understanding.
“You cannot be smarter than you.”
Thanks for reading. Namaste.
Friday, February 8, 2019
Serendipitously I showed the governor the book I was holding, which was an advanced copy written and gifted to me by Lester Hyman (out soon - title: JFK, The Kennedys and Me - I'll actually be hosting a book signing dinner for him at the Arts Club of Washington on March 22nd). I reminded Terry that the last time we had crossed paths was at a restaurant in Georgetown while Lester and I were lunching. Terry had walked in and we couldn't help notice his jubilant arrival and the conspicuous presence of gubernatorial security guards. It was 2016, the eve of one or more major primary elections between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. Both Terry and Lester have known each other a long time, both were friends and backers of Hillary, and I remember this being discussed.
Seeing Terry made me remember interning for the DCCC, and that I was only weeks into recovery from a major surgery which to this day offers a lot of challenges. It was done the summer after graduating high school. The surgeon broke my upper pallet in several places, and then put it back together, securing it with actual screws. Afterwards, my upper and lower jaws were wired together, so that my mouth was fixed shut well into my first semester at American University.
This meant that for my internship, I had to apply, be interviewed, and begin without being able to speak. It also meant for an interesting way of starting college.
Terry no longer has the gubernatorial security, but he was as jovial as ever. Politics is tough. So is life. He might run for president. I like him and liked seeing him, but am currently an early supporter of Marianne Williamson's campaign.
I am now once again in recovery, this time from the unexpected passing of my father towards the end of last year. Today I woke up before dawn to drive to his house to meet the tow truck driver who would take his/my old mustang convertible out of his driveway. When it runs, it runs rickety, and my brother and I decided to donate it to Cars Helping Veterans.
It was the car that we (my father, brother and I) would drive down to Alabama in when we visited family each year, stopping at caverns and other sites along the way. It was the car I learned to drive in. My father would stop it on a hill, push in the parking brake, put the clutch in neutral and tell me to get behind the wheel, shift into first and drive forward without stalling out. It was a process, but I learned to drive. It then became mine for two years until I left for college, and returned it back to him, allowing for a healthy amount of hi jinx in the interim.
A month after receiving my license to drive legally, the Mustang (and teenage me) was in a major accident - which, according to Kelley's Bluebook, totaled the car. But we still had it fixed. My father didn't keep collision insurance coverage so that meant we had to fix it out of pocket. The passenger door never again closed completely, but it was forest green with a tan top and a gold racing stripe and I loved that car. It took 20 minutes of jumpstarting the battery this morning to be able to back it out of the driveway, and its engine belt howled until it was fixed to the tow truck and turned off.
I have found myself reflecting on the concept of brokenness.
My parents divorced when I was six, so the term might be applied - by some - to elements of my and my brother's childhood. My mother remarried a good and kind man and together they brought my sister into being, who I love and learn from. Every break allows for growth. Appreciating that dance seems correct.
Our politics is broken, but we now have an opportunity to begin transforming our nation in ways that are truly revolutionary, which I believe involves a spiritual awakening as much as a new social contract.
We all have traumas. As individuals, families, communities and societies. We can try and share them or explain them but ultimately they are not healed from doing this. They are never healed. They do however expand our consciousness, making room for more awareness, and they therefore pave the way to more love, more compassion, and more joy.
We can heal our Selves not by getting 'over' anything, but by growing through and beyond obstacles...by acknowledging realities - of Self, of politics, of nature - and letting awareness guide our choices.
Having just returned from India, where I did a monthlong yoga teacher training at a rural ashram outside the city of Mysore, and also having recently openly committed myself to a spiritual journey, I have been asked whether I feel transformed. Sure. Of course. I have found myself saying that I am 'still processing' the India experience. But in reality, we are always processing, and constantly transforming. This gives me inspiration and hope, because within this process, we can never be broken.
Wednesday, January 2, 2019
Friday, December 14, 2018
Flying over the Persian Gulf towards the sunrise, I feel contemplative. I will land in Dubai shortly to switch planes.
Last night, I saw “We choose to go to the moon”, a dance created by my husband Dana and premiered at the Kennedy Center in 2015 after the passing of his father the Autumn prior. It was a collaboration with NASA, who supplied incredible visuals and access to space scientists, as well as astronaut Bruce McCandless, the first man ever to be untethered in space. The sound score includes American classics interspersed with clips from interviews Dana conducted with McCandless, the space scientists and other experts, as well as a New Mexico medicine woman whose father worked on the Apollo missions. It is being reprised at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery for three nights as a joint presentation with the Air and Space Museum. The work explores humanity’s connection to and fascination with the planets, stars and universe, as well as the character and culture in America leading up to the moon landing.
My father, who passed on the eve of Thanksgiving three weeks ago, loved this dance. From the stage last night, my husband dedicated the performance to him.
Serendipity is many things, including the connection between possibility and reality. It is also the allowance of the Divine to manifest in our lives.
“We choose to go the moon” came to be starting with a flight en route to my husband’s hometown of Santa Fe, New Mexico to visit his parents.
Dana somehow acquired a small, stuffed ‘Elroy’ character (from The Jetsons cartoon series), and found it funny to bring him with us to photograph at various locations - from airport bar to yoga studio. Elroy served as both a travel companion and a mini avatar for me. We are weird. In any event, the first leg of our Westward trip was to Houston from DC, and the third seat in our row was empty...so Elroy was sitting in it, with seatbelt fastened. That was until a lovely lady approached and requested to sit in the seat she had purchased.
She turned out to be Barbara Zelon, communications manager for the Orion Spacecraft at NASA. We talked most of the flight - about dance (both her daughters danced and one is a choreographer in New York) and space (of course), and as we debarked, I invited her (and her daughters) to come to see Dana’s dance company at the Kennedy Center in a few months time. They did. By the following year, when Dana’s space dance premiered she had been instrumental in making the NASA connections that helped supply the dance with incredible space imagery, as well as the introductions for some of the interviews that were featured in the sound score. It was an amazing collaboration between art and science.
My father, a sailer who loved the sciences and the stars, closed one eye and held up his thumb to blot out the earth during the last scene of the dance, which features a character who represents John F. Kennedy with his back to the audience, facing the world and waving as it shrinks into the distance, giving us the sense of floating away into space.
The name Dana chose for the work is from a famous speech by JFK given at Rice University.
But why, some say, the Moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask, why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas?
We choose to go to the Moon! We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win, and the others, too.
At the time I don’t remember feeling the added serendipity that Rice is my father’s alma mater.
I guess I’m thinking about my father lately.
I’m now sitting in the Dubai airport before my flight to Bangalore, India. From there, I will head south to Mysore, and then to an ashram just outside of the city where I will stay through mid-January meditating, learning and training in yoga. I booked the trip months ago, before my father’s passing. Before all of this.
It feels like serendipity.
Friday, November 30, 2018
|Jerry Saltz and Charlotte Burns at the Hirshhorn's Ring Auditorium, Nov. 29, 2018|
The collective sense of truth - or perhaps the increasing sensitivity to it...and its absence - entangles those that act rashly. Not all falsehoods, spoken or practiced, are rooted in deceit - sometimes lying is a reaction to not being in a calm state of mind. Sometimes it is a reflection of insecurity or fear. Certainly, one's character has a big part to play also.
When political pundits catch a politician in a contradiction of words or reality, the 'gotcha' is almost gleeful. And the lying is expected.
When we see art that seems like fraud, we can have strong reactions as well, and the lambasting of the artist can be euphoric. Better disgust than disdain (at least for the artist, passion is better than ambivalence), but whatever it may be - when art is not created from a genuine place it feels void of meaning - and therefore a lie, and we can sometimes relish the calling out of its creator.
There are some people who are easier to be truthful with, for whom there need not be enhancement or fabrication in order to genuinely connect. This has to do with your own frequency as much as theirs, but ultimately you can only adjust your own - and that is done through action and choice. In art and in politics, one opens themselves to others beyond their social choosing, and the value of meaningfulness currency is significantly higher than during your conversations at happy hour.
We should not feel glee when we catch an other telling a falsehood. Truth should be expected. Gotchas should be disappointing. We should respect artists all the more when they meet such a high expectation, given their strange choices and challenges. Perhaps less so for politics, where truth is less evasive.
We should also not be afraid to be quiet when we don't have anything to say.
I attended an interview with art critic and recent Pulitzer Prize-winner Jerry Saltz by podcast host Charlotte Burns last night at the Hirshhorn Museum. His reinforcing of honesty and true-to-selfhood resonated with me...for application in art, politics and life.
Thursday, November 22, 2018
This message was posted above my father’s door the day before his passing. We asked the nurses who put it there, and no one seemed to know, although it’s clearly something the hospital does. The quote is unattributed. Apropos.
My brother and I looked at the moon a lot last night. His moon.
I miss my father, and I am so thankful for the people in my life. I miss my father, and I am getting better as a Self. I miss my father, and I have so much gratitude for living right now. Happy Thanksgiving and Love. Truly.
Friday, November 9, 2018
Yesterday evening was an okay yoga practice. We opened with a prayer because of all the violence in the world. A woman interrupted the class to say she did not like how I was demonstrating because I practice along with everyone rather than showing all the poses beforehand, and requested that I redo a 'routine'. Another woman approached me after class to ask for some advice and a man said how good he felt. I missed the supercool party celebrating my husband's dance company at the residence of the Ambassador of Switzerland and his wife, which featured a performance of their recent piece “For Giulia”, inspired by a Ferdinand Hodler painting. So, you know: okay.
Ego is tough. It is difficult to ignore in one's self and in others. It shares a lot and often. It's funny and cute and interesting until it's not. We do not exist alone, so the ego has value when it informs us about our individuality. That in oneness we are many, and in many we are one. A nation is as good an example as any of collective identity composed of...multitudes. There is a lot to a Self, whether it be You or your country.
My husband, Dana, choreographed a dance some years ago called "Hyphen" (performed at Lisner Auditorium and the National Portrait Gallery in DC; as well as Skirball Center in NYC) which was about hyphenated identity - specifically Asian-American identity. He was given access to the archives of famed Korean American artist Nam June Paik, whose video work was projected and incorporated into the performance. The sound score includes the spoken line:
Does the hyphen connect or separate our hybrid identities?All of us struggle with belonging, some more profoundly than others. Belonging means more to some than others. This is a consistent theme in Dana's work.
When we think of our core...what is it exactly? Our core is our body's center. Core values are often considered fundamental beliefs. Gut feelings should not be ignored but we should also know how to listen to them.
Maybe core values should be practices, not beliefs. I can believe anything, but I cannot practice anything. The limitation is a good and useful one. I can believe someone is bad, but I cannot practice attacking them physically - the conscience and the law forbid it; and I should not practice attacking them verbally or otherwise. So the value of 'not attacking others' or 'letting others be' is something I can follow, or practice. Believing that all others are good and decent is more challenging, no matter how much yoga I do. It's a process.
What are American values - our country's 'core values'? Whatever they are, they should be practiceable by any one. They should be apolitical. They should be practiced for our common good, not simply believed. I suppose then that we must believe in a Common Good.
- Time and Efficiency
- Work Ethic
I pray that we listen to our core more often. Instead of others and instead of words. Our collective American consciousness is scattered right now. We need to be quieter. And I need to do sit-ups once in a while.
Friday, September 28, 2018
What is your world? Is it the planet Earth which provides all living materials, nourishment, and life to life? That is certainly a thing to cherish and care for.
"Jai Guru Dev, Om" is the refrain, a mantra intended to bring higher consciousness to the mind. The Sanskrit literally translates to 'glory to the shining remover of darkness'. But, in modern context, because The Maharashi - whom The Beatles famously visited and practiced Transcendental Meditation with - spoke it in reverence to his spiritual teacher, it translates to "all glory to the divine teacher" or "all glory to Guru Dev".
"Nothing is going to change my world."
If we consider our world as our reality, conscious experience, waking life - it may be a thing that we do want to change. This is not the reality I currently want - I can barely get through the day - how awful to think that nothing will change it!
"Jai Guru Dev, Om"
We know there are diverse elements to life. Good, Evil, Brightness, Darkness, Ease, Challenge. But what if our World was our sense of Self? Our sovereignty.
Across philosophies and religions, histories and cultures, there is a concept of some thing that approximates what English vernacular would call 'Enlightenment' - whether this is self-realization or a merging with The Divine can be interpreted individually. Certain yoga traditions describe it as The Absolute, and a number of New Age (and Old Age) thinkers practice 'moving beyond' or 'letting go of' the Self, or Ego (which are arguably not the same thing, or at least not one and the same thing). Nearly all religious belief includes a concept of prayer. Thank God. We need it now.
I pray sometimes, and it is great. But, right now the one thing every one has no matter their circumstances? Their Self. Beyond what the mind sees and the heart feels, there is still more. Call it the inner light which perceives reality, a connection with Spirit, Divine Spark, Soul - it is your sovereignty as a conscious being. It is your world. And to know nothing is going to change that? That is beautiful.
Jai Guru Dev, Om.
Tuesday, July 3, 2018
- Robert Anton Wilson
Yoga's populatrity in America has exploded. A 2016 survey found approximately 37 million Americans practice (some form or derivative of) yoga on at least a semi-regular basis. That number increased from 20 million just three years prior. Statista estimates this number will reach 55 million in 2020. Whether it's for strength and flexibility, injury recovery or physical therapy, stress management or spiritual reasons, the number of citizens participating in something that encourages awareness of the mind-body connection has been a major growth trend.
The other day, my brother mentioned to me the uniquely long and enduring pervasiveness of self-improvement books in America, an industry once contained on a single bookstore shelf is now "wholly transformed from a disreputable publishing category to a category killer, having remade most of nonfiction in its own inspirational image along the way". Yoga is perhaps one of the oldest philosophies promoting self-improvement, benefited by thousands of years of input and experimentation. We clearly want to be better.
When my mother certified as a holistic healer some years ago following a career in finance, she would occasionally share various pearls of wisdom from Traditional Chinese Medicine and The Five Elements philosophy with my siblings and I. One that sticks with me is: Listen to the body, for the body is wise. You ignore it at your peril.
It has been said many times how Donald Trump is clearly a symptom - or the manifestation - of a societal illness that the United States has been quietly suffering for many years. But the illness is not new to America nor new to the world at large. It has had such deep and consistent impact to our collective reality for so long, that describing it is difficult. 'Evil' isn't quite right - at least in its oversimplification - as much as some of my progressive brethren may disagree.
Something is wrong. The majority of our body politic seems alert to this malignancy within it. More and more, this awareness brings spontaneous action. From shaming officials at restaurants to marching in the streets. But are we just fighting the symptoms without addressing the cause?
"Yoga teaches us to cure what need not be endured and endure what cannot be cured."
- B.K.S. Iyengar
When my friend Bonnie and I took part in the March 24th "March For Our Lives" in DC, we met Eric Holder, former U.S. Attorney General and pariah of conservatives and right wing conspiracy circles. He was waiting for a bar order at a crowded restaurant, as we were, tired and hungry after presumably demonstrating earlier with his two daughters.
Bonnie asked him whether he thought our country would get through this - this bizarre time of extreme division, nationalist rage and general uncertainty. He said that yes, he did...
"But I think it'll get worse before it gets better."
How can this all be happening - the attempted undoing of the global order, the disfiguring of America's face to the world, the villainizing and abuse of desperate people, the quarantining of children sundered from their parents, the promotion of base values, the translucent lack of honor, the acceptance of narcissism with nuclear weapons - at the same time there seems to be increased spiritual exploration? An expanding, collective pursuit of goodness and equality en masse coinciding with the apparent rising of our darkest human natures?
But of course this makes sense. Duality permeates our reality. The evolutionary cycles of our collective consciousness have corresponding periods of light and darkness. The Enlightenment of the 17th and 18th centuries was preceded by what many call the Dark Ages, and followed by what some scholars refer to as the Counter-Enlightenment, a rejection of rationalist ideas that arose in the later 18th and early 19th centuries. The abolition of slavery, women's suffrage, and desegregation were met with fierce opposition despite their ultimate justness. We would do well to remember that true justice is justness, not law.
Theodore Parker, a unitarian minister and prominent American Transcendentalist said the following in 1853, predicting the eventual success of the abolitionist movement:
Things refuse to be mismanaged long. Jefferson trembled when he thought of slavery and remembered that God is just. Ere long all America will tremble."
- From “Of Justice and the Conscience”, third sermon in Ten Sermons of Religion.
His words presaged the American Civil War, which broke out eight years later.
Martin Luther King, Jr. paraphrased Parker in 1956 following the Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott, eight years before the passing of the American Civil Rights Act of 1964. King used the phrase in several speeches, as well as in his final sermon before his assassination in 1968.
I have worried that Donald Trump may not be the precipitating downfall of our nation, but the downfall of our species. I think the disease of which he is a symptom is not just evil, but neglect. I think Trump is a manifestation of the neglected Self. And the neglected Self is as dangerous as it is common.
"Yoga is invigoration in relaxation. Freedom in routine. Confidence through self-control. Energy within and energy without."
- Ymber Delecto
I want to be a better person. Part of that process for me has been yoga. In recent months, as I try for daily practice, yoga and meditation has helped me improve my awareness. Awareness of my own weaknesses and unmet needs. Aware of a sense of truth and good and bad that is easily pacified. Aware that I have not been the most attentive friend; that I haven’t been the most loving partner; that I haven’t been developing as an artist. Aware that I haven’t been taking the best care of my Self; more aware of what holistic health truly means.
There is more to do, not less. And the frustration within has been rooted in the sense that I am not ensuring my ability to grow, and thus be present and most aware, that I am not challenging what is transpiring...that I am letting others deal with it. Hoping that others deal with it. That I am distracted by petty matters of ego and immediate needs.
Yoga teaches many things, including that the ego can lead us astray. President Trump is a marked manifestation of the emotional self out of control; the ego raging to remain affirmed in its role as sacred-deluder. What he displays is within us all if we neglect ourselves. Perhaps it is not expressed by condemning immigrants and equating torture to 'toughness', but when we do not address the parts of our physiological and emotional selves that need maintenance, healing and rejuvenation, we cannot be our best. Animus starts from within before it is dispensed to others.
It makes sense that in the many dualities of our time, the rise of yoga and self-improvement comes alongside the public resurfacing of racism, nationalism and counter-progressive rhetoric.
Besides praying for Vishnu to bless Robert Mueller with protection and strength to counter balance the destruction Kali brought in the form of Trump (as Vera de Chalambert described after election night in 2016), it is important for citizens to voice themselves and protest against bad things their government does. It is also important to put effort into Self betterment. It is vital. So I will march. And I will vote. But this push to save our nation starts from within. Nourishing the Self arms us with tools to improve the world, including clear judgement and commitment to good character.
So, yoga and meditation seems to work for me. It drives me to want to make certain commitments to my Self - not only to be healthier, wiser, a better friend, husband, brother and son - but to be a better citizen. In thinking about MLK's words "Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice," I really like what Mychal Denzel Smith said in relation to our present times:
"The dawn of the age of President Donald Trump has restored to that quote some of the meaning lost in Obama’s repeated use. We say it to ourselves now because we need to believe, even as all visible signs of progress are eroded, that the world we seek lies waiting for us, just on the other side of this hellscape. It is not going to show up tomorrow, but knowing that it will show up someday should help fortify us for the fight ahead.
This use of the quotation, though, carries the risk of magical thinking. After all, if the arc of the moral universe will inevitably bend toward justice, then there is no reason for us to work toward that justice, as it’s preordained. If it is only a matter of cosmic influence, if there is no human role, then we are off the hook. This isn’t how King meant it, as evidenced by the work to which he dedicated his own life."
- Mychal Denzel Smith
With your Self and your society, the time for betterment is not tomorrow. The time to form and nurture and preserve progress made and goodness coveted is now. Now.
The best maintenance of our communal space requires the maintenance and continued growth of the Self. Our communal space is diverse in composition: spiritual, as well as temporal, physical, psychological, and political. Our individual sense of justness and ethics impacts the ethos and mores of our community - from our group of friends, to our towns and cities, to our countries. We share what we reap and we reap what we sow.
"For those wounded by civilization, yoga is the most healing salve."
- T. Guillemets
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