Monday, March 28, 2011

Talk Pretty to Me

Hi, Boomers,
I was musing the other day about the power of words. Most of us talk and talk and talk and it becomes an unconscious stream of, well, our unconscious mind. But words are, indeed, a powerful force in our universe. We can use them for good or for evil.
When I attended the Keynote Speaker's Conference in January sponsored by the National Speakers Association, I heard a woman speak on the importance of how we use words when we communicate. This terrific speaker elevated word usage to an art form. I was completely involved in her insights into how the use of a different words can alter the tone and style of a speech, a meeting, a gathering, a dialogue between two people. Her reference for precision about how words are chosen was specifically directed to business management and management styles in corporations. Those of use who have worked for companies are particularly sensitive to the nuances of word choices in difficult workplace situations. And those of use who have lost friends with our unconscious responses know the consequences the unintended remarks will produce. I lost a friend because I didn't choose my words carefully enough, although I think that girlfriend was looking for a reason to get me out of her life.
In my profession as a yoga instructor, I am choosing words in every class to describe physical positions as well as spiritual intent. I have to be perfectly present to do this kind of teaching. After class, I want down time. I'm not inclined to carry on conversations at length between classes. So I was particularly interested in an article on mindful communication that I just read in the latest Yoga Journal. The article suggested that when and if a person wants to speak, the following questions might be considered: (1) Will you tell the truth? (2) Will you be kind? (3) Is it necessary?
I'm a writer and on paper I choose my words carefully, or at least I try to be mindful that written communication sends out as much energy into the universe as does spoken language.
Before we speak or write it is necessary to have clarity of thought - a clear mind - and clear intention. This concept of clarity of mind and intention allows us to draw deeper into the best of our being and communicate with an open heart. Conscious communication sends out powerful energy into the universe. Truthful communication draws listeners closer to the source of those who speak the truth.
Have you ever walked into an empty room and felt a residual energy? Or walked into a room where no one was talking and felt a collective positive energy/or negative energy? Mindful communication fills a space with truth, kindness, and purpose. It's an awesome concept to contemplate, and it's a challenging practice to aspire to as communicators. Good communicators are honest and believable and others will gravitate toward their energy and try to catch some of it for themselves.
I'm certainly not the greatest writer on the planet by far, but when I wrote my memoir, Sixty, Sex, & Tango, Confessions of a Beatnik Boomer, I went through the book with my B.S. detector because honesty was the most important ingredient for writing a confessional. And I literally had to question my honesty at almost every turn of phrase. It was exhausting and exciting at the same time because I was able to expose my vulnerability all the way through the book. As a result, readers have told me frequently that reading my book was like sitting in a room with me and listening to me talk an expose my foibles and mistakes and do it with my customary self-deprecating humor. So my book was truthful, I hope, and mostly kind, but whether it was necessary or not, well, that's up to the public.
Mindful communication is one of those things in life that you really have to practice and pay attention to, and it requires a whole lot of consciousness raising. Lapsing into unconscious responses without clear intention and thought will always get you into trouble. It's really better to talk pretty to each other and our connections will be the stronger for it.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Surrender to the Now

Hi, Boomers,
I was supposed to be on the road tonight, heading for Vegas to see my family. A long weekend of lots of love. It's my oldest son's birthday. He's thirty-nine. Wow! When did I ever think that would happen. Surrender to it, Mom.
But, hey, I'm not on the road. It started to rain at about three o'clock. I was heading out to teach my sixth class today, but it was a tango lesson to my friend, John, and I was so very happy to mix it up today with all of my yoga classes. I decided to dismiss the rain and carry on with my plans to leave after class seven at UCLA.
I wanted to leave town. I wanted to see my grandchildren and my sons and my daughters-in-law with a lot of passion. I could make it out of town. I was sure.
As I drove home through Santa Monica, I slogged through the usual late afternoon traffic, it slowly dawned on me as I reached my apartment building that the rain was going to stop my plans to leave. I couldn't even get into my garage from the street. If I couldn't get in my building because of a huge line of traffic, the traffic on the freeways was going to be impossible. My safety might even be compromised while driving. It would take me about six hours to get to Vegas. Maybe I could make it to my son's house by one o'clock in the morning. Maybe.
I tried to drive to UCLA for my class in the Public Health building. I stood still in traffic while going through the VA Hospital. I was sinking with disappointment. It really wasn't that big a deal, I thought. I was just so anxious to connect with family. I could leave the next day at 4 am and be in time for breakfast with the boys, maybe take them to school.
The moment opened up for me while sitting in the car. I had been talking to my yoga classes during day about surrendering, accepting the moment, the now. It was my turn to surrender. It was my time to step back and detach that 10% and observe what was happening to me. Take some emotional distance. Take a rational perspective on the situation.
The practice of the Tao is about daily losing. Our path in life isn't smooth. Stuff happens and sometimes it isn't fun. Sometimes it's downright disappointing. Surrender, accept and there will be no struggle. It's when we struggle that our lives get chaotic and unmanageable. Accepting the struggle leads to a spiritual and emotional discipline that, in turn creates an element of self mastery.
It is truly unfortunate that we are programmed for instant gratification. It removes our thinking from the now and takes us into future thinking. We cannot stay present while waiting for something to self-satisfy us whether it is food or sex or drugs or shopping. Future thinking robs us of the present and we loose a precious moment. Past thinking destroys the joy of the now.
So I'm going to Vegas early tomorrow morning. For sure it's going to be a shorter ride; for sure it's going to be a more pleasant drive. And I'll be living in the present tense.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The 10% Solution

Hi, Boomers,
The learning curve keeps on giving. I was just interviewed on an internet radio site for my book, Sixty, Sex, & Tango, Confessions of a Beatnik Boomer. It was probably a very small station by comparison to other internet feeds, but I was happy to be asked to speak about my book. The woman who asked me to be on her radio show, Jennifer Hillman, lives in Tucson and is a life coach. She was taken with the themes of my book and I was happy to expound on them while she was at my booth. Jennifer is a hard working and very spiritual being.
While we were dialoguing on the phone, she asked me many questions about how the book came about, what provoked me to write such an honest and forthright memoir, what was the most difficult section to write, what was the most fun to write, how I published it and what expectations I had about the book's trajectory. There were many more questions because it was an hour show, but I was struck by the honesty of questions. I had to be concise and honest in my answers, of course, but it was also a discipline in listening and and it gave me even more clarity about what my path, my Tao, in life. In short, I was challenged.
One of the ideas I'm thinking about lately is that it is important not to invest 100% of our energy and emotion into situations in life. Eckhart Tolle in his book, The Power of Now, writes exquisitely about staying present, being conscious in life and reflecting on ways to raise the level of our conscious being. One of the ways that Tolle and the yoga philosophy blend ideas is in the area of detachment.
For those who do not understand this concept, let me say that that is doesn't mean that we are not empathetic or sympathetic or caring. On the contrary, the way we express those feelings in any situation is to understand the nature of what we are observing. If we jump right in to the fray, into other's issues and problems and catastrophes, we lose objectivity.
Detachment involves standing back (mentally and emotionally) and disengaging about 10% or more even when we are confronted by other beings. Listen and observe more and and our reactions will be appropriate to the moment. It might sound cold to an untrained ear, but the intention of being present fully when helping a friend or family member or any human being will increase mindfulness and awareness. If we are not fully present, we cannot be of service because emotion and clarity become difficult to come by.
Which leads me into my favorite subject: meditation. Jennifer asked me if I take time daily to meditate, to the clear the mind (or try to because sometimes that doesn't work all that well), but to at least let the thoughts go by without attaching emotions to that thought. In truth, meditation isn't precisely the absence of thought because we will always, always have a thought every second or so. But the intention is to let the thoughts go by - as my master yoga teacher, Max, says - like a cloud passing. Just watch the thoughts without labeling them, judging them or attaching emotion to them.
I also learned in my drug counseling work that when the limbic brain takes over - our pain/pleasure center - consciousness is hard to come by. We make decisions on the basis of the unconscious, which resides in the limbic brain, which can lead us to making decisions that are not good for us. So practicing a modicum of detachment - minimum 10% - we increase clarity, consciousness and understanding. We are on the way to self-mastery, boomers.
Simple, huh? Yeah, but it takes practice.

Monday, March 14, 2011

When the Journey Begins

I talked about you all weekend at the Tucson Book Festival. It was the first time I appeared in public with my book, Sixty, Sex, & Tango, Confessions of a Beatnik Boomer, except for my book signings. This was a big venue - the fourth largest book festival in the U.S. I had a booth all to myself, next to the CareMore Unit with a group of the most fun guys (they took blood pressure and established glucose levels) and a couple of ragtag men left over from the Stanley and Livingston scientific expedition in the Congo. I didn't quite get what kind of books they were selling but I loved their authentic costumes.
My booth was bare with just a table and a chair. But they had put a sign above the booth with the title of my book. I loved that sign. I had no cover for my ugly table so I went hunting for a table cloth. As I weaved my way around the booths that were setting up at 7:30 Saturday morning, I saw in the distance the end of a sign above a booth: Venice, CA. I got terribly excited and ran over to the booth to meet a fellow yogi from Santa Monica who wrote children's books. It was an incredible beginning to my two day adventure. Etan was a light that shone bright during the weekend. While were talking, a very nice man came by wheeling his boxes of books. He told us that for some political reasons he lost his booth. Something about a conflict with other people who were selling cookbooks, and he wondered if Etan wanted to share his booth. His cookbook was a visual feast of mouthwatering pies.
Here was a moment out of so many memorable moments that touched my heart. There was a silent pause as I waited for Etan's response. Etan wrote a series of children's books that were sensational and he had energy and salesmanship that rocked the festival. Etan was thinking.
He worked mostly alone, but I was a newbie an I didn't know the territory or the politics of book festivals.
"Let me think about it," Etan said. "Come back in a few minutes."
Stan, the baker of pies, was totally cool. He smiled and walked away with dignity. Etan and I continued to talk about yoga and I bought a few of his children's books for my grandsons. And then Stan came back to us. Etan looked up as he approached. I was just about to tell Stan that I'd be glad to have company in my booth. It seemed awful bare in there. Then Etan said it was fine if he took the corner table. In a way, I was disappointed because I felt I wanted to be generous, but Etan looked happy and so did Stan. So all was good.
I asked Stan if he had an extra table cloth. He gave me some blue plastic, and I went on my merry way to my empty booth. I gazed at my box of books with tape still across the top and decided to set the books on a table. The morning sun was heating up and bearing down forcefully on our row of booths. Out of some nervousness, I kept futzing with the arrangment of books because I had no signage, no flowers, no decorations. I took out my IHome speakers and played tango music. The day was beginning.
I met one of my neighbors. Penny published books and she was a competent and confident single woman who had an incredible handle on the publishing business. She became one of the most important people I met during the weekend. And there were many women who came up to me to introduce themselves and to take me by the hand to other people at the festival who were going to play a significant role in my future goals.
And the books sold, and the people came up to talk to me about the boomer generation, what was it like to live during the beatnik generation in San Francisco during the early 60s. There was dialogue about existentialism, Sartre, Camus, Kerouac, Ginsberg, Vietnam, the greed, hubris, and total disregard for those who were hurt by the U.S. financial markets. They were also very concerned about the lack of urgency to preserve our natural environment.
What I found interesting was that there was an equal number of men and women who approached my booth to discuss my book. I'm sure that at the outset they were attracted because of the title. It certainly wasn't the decor that attracted people to my booth. They found sixty, sex, & tango three words that required some discussion.
I began to think that the speech I was working on, the unbundling of the boomer mythology, was a topic that was very interesting to our generation. Everyone 60 and over wanted to dissect the various movements and social currents and psychological effects that the boomer generation had experienced and are still experiencing today. I found women to be more optimistic than men. But I found men to be more vocal about the economic nuances of what happened to our economy and how our generation would play out the next couple of decades. "What happens to us?" they asked.
What also surprised me was how many young men and women came to my booth to ask questions that related to the historical context of the boomer generation. Some were even curious about the meaning of being "beat." Of course, the sex part of the title was titillating to most everyone, but there wasn't much discourse on that. There was tango conversation to be sure, but most of the talk tended to be more pointed toward the quality of life in later years and what they should expect.
The question of what happens to us boomer now is an area that I want to try to answer in this speech I was writing. It turns out that the connectivity I had at the book festival with its most interesting and intelligent attendees were the key to my conceptualizing the answer. And I'm still working on it.
But what I take with me from this book festival is a sense that a representative population of Tucson are caring and generous and outgoing. It was a wonderful experience and I learned a great deal about the tone and style of boomers in a particular section of our country.


Saturday, March 5, 2011

Singular Sensation

Hi, Boomers,

As you know, last week I admitted myself into the hospital for a laparoscopic procedure. But what I didn't write about was the following incident, which has stuck in my mind since the day I was admitted.

My friend had dropped me off at the Santa Monica UCLA out patient center on 15th and Arizona. very nice lady escorted me into the admissions room where I waited briefly to be admitted. A young woman was my contact. Sitting behind the desk, she seemed adequately pleasant but just a little “down.” I thought, perhaps, that she was worn out by admitting patients throughout the morning. After all, it was 11:15 by the time I got in front of her.

She asked me the usual questions – standard procedure responses from me – and then she asked, “Married, Divorced, Single.” As she said the phrase, a phrase I had heard many times over, I thought it sounded like a Sondheim song.

“Single and happy,” I replied.

Her head bolted up from the form and a look of shock over took her visage.

“What?” she asked in a voice supported by too much energy.

“Single and happy,” I responded again.

“Are you?” she asked curiously.

“Why, of course. It’s wonderful to be single at any age.” She studied the form to find my age. She looked up again. “Wow!”

“Wow?” I prompted.

“I would have never guessed your age. And you are happy single?” It was a rhetorical question.

This young woman told me that she had never heard that before from anyone woman, old or young. Someone is single and happy. Everyone tells her that she is miserable single and that she should date and find a man. Every woman needs a man to be happy.

“I’m not interested in finding a man,” she said. “I’m okay with how it is. I’m single and that’s okay.”

I told the young woman that it was perfectly wonderful to be single. We singles have our own life and we can determine how our lives are to be lived. Sure we have family and kids and grandchildren, but singles are really free to make unfettered choices. Being single is a totality of our being. It isn’t just one thing, one man, one event, one moment. We live single on a continuum and are surprised by all that it includes in our lives.

“I love my time alone after work when I can prepare my dinner and relax and not have to talk to anyone. But sometimes I want company and I go out with a lovely man or have friends over or go out with a girlfriend. It’s all good.”

I thought of the many times in the last years when someone surprised me with an invitation to go to a concert, to a movie, to dinner, made a new friend, didn't have to ask permission, didn't have to look after the needs of someone (of course, when one is love, that's part of the relationship), flitted off to Bali for a week's vacation, tangoed in Amsterdam, climbed the volcano in Costa Rica and thought that my life was completely and wonderfully fulfilled.

A big smile blossomed across her face. “I feel the same way but I don’t tell anyone because they’ll think I’m crazy, different, that I’m weird in some way.”

That was a sad thing for me to hear: the conventional wisdom says a woman isn't happy without a man. Really? Who made up that propaganda? Or more to the point: that's a myth we can dispose of.

I got to thinking that it’s oftentimes hard for people to think of being single as being normal. Being single doesn’t mean we are isolates or kooks or people who have developed fears along the way and are masking anxiety with living alone. In fact, living alone gives us the opportunity to face our fears with resilience and optimism.

I’ve been married for eighteen years, been in a long term relationship for sixteen years and have dated off and on for perhaps four years. However, when I divorced and started on yet another part of my journey, for the first time, I felt in control of my life and my choices. It was a perfectly freeing experience. And I haven’t lost my passion for life and living. I still work teaching yoga and meditation; I just wrote a book, Sixty, Sex, & Tango, Confessions of a Beatnik Boomer, I blog, I dance Argentine tango, I date when I want, I visit my adult children and grandchildren once a month; I have time to write a keynote speech, go to book festivals, be a supportive friend, keep up all those I love within my thoughts daily., and more importantly, have gratitude for all of my gifts.

I suggested to this young woman in admitting that as a single woman she will be able to follow her passions, stay present in her work, be more conscious about the choices she makes, and take very good care of her mind/body connection.

“Thank you,” she said to me. “I’ve never heard that before from anyone and I’m so happy to be finally validated about how I feel about being single.”

I wished her luck and walked into the hospital arena where I, as a single woman without an advocate, forged my way through the maze of hospital bureaucracy and took care of my needs as a single woman (as I slowly dehydrated and almost fell into a low blood sugar coma) until I saw the doctor who was two hours late for my operation. I passed out before I could tell him that I didn't need a man to compliment my natural instincts for survival.



Thursday, March 3, 2011

Life is an Action, Not a Thought

Hi, Boomers,

There should be no excuse for a spiritual moment. I'm having one. And this moment comes courtesy of my internal angst and incessant thinking. Will that "monkey mind" ever cease and desist?

F. W Robertson a nineteenth century preacher is quoted as saying:
Truth is given, not to be contemplated, but to be done. Life is an action, not a thought.

We are so much in our minds. We think and think and mull and go over and over our thoughts as if we they were so important and then it leads to...yep, more thinking and less action. So much time is wasted in thought instead of emptying our minds and finding the space inside ourselves to connect to our inner self - to just Be. Thinking happens when you want to become somebody instead of just staying who you are. Thinking objectifies - from the thought to the object and then to the emotion. Thinking doesn't help us discover our soul; it helps us mask ourselves.

I remember studying existentialism at Berkeley in my theater classes. We had to read Sartre's Being and Nothingness. One of my teacher's said, "You are what you do." That stuck with me ever since. I wanted to be that woman who is her action. That's great. That's part of the collective unconscious of my being. But as I'm identifying with my action, while my life is my action, I can get caught up in the thinking of the action and instead of doing the action.

We all have this kind of loop going on in side our heads. "I am what I do." "I identify with what I do for a living, as a father, a mother, a brother, a sister." The actions gets confused with the being.

So much of what we do is self-serving. Our days are about us, what we think about people, places and things, references to the past, to the future. Where is the present and where is the truth in our lives? It occurs to me that we might be losing our souls to thought?

Sometimes I believe I might have been doing just that in the last couple of weeks so caught up with the need to make decisions about my future and thinking of taxes and my operation and recovery. Where is the present in all of this so-called life I live. I'm passing the present by. It's eluding me. I can't find it.

Easy to lose the sense of self, the honest connection to others when I'm preoccupied with being preoccupied. Time becomes more important than it should. Time runs my life. Racing. Racing. I'm racing from one class to another and not taking the time to live my life as an action. I'm simply reacting in this context.

I don't want my life to be just a series of thoughts. I want to go deeper and get to know my soul, my divine being. I know, as a person who studies yoga, that I want to return more mindfully to meditation, to letting go of my thoughts and creating space to be present for myself and those that I love. I think that's called consciousness raising.

I have a fifty year high school reunion coming up and I have reconnected with my elementary and high school friends and I want to stay present for those whom I've loved in the past and still feel that love in the present. I felt I was giving lip service to my recent connections even though I was feeling joyous about our returning into each others' lives. One of my friends is very ill and I am tremendously concerned about her. My oldest friend since we were two years old and I were expressing our concern about our mutual friend and it occurred to me that not only was I not living my truth - my life was just a series of thoughts and that did not make me particularly free - but I wasn't creating space for myself in relation to my ills friend and to others in my life. Here goes the thinking again. I have not been creating space for action, the truthful living experience that allows for connection and real intimacy.

A path to self is to get out of the way of self and behold the path - or another way of saying this is to follow our Tao, our truth and our journey. I'm going to try to get out of my way, get out of my mud, and do That which is free to experience and just let It be, keeping full attention on and directing my mind to the now. I will know the truth.

Hope that wasn't too heavy for anyone. However, what triggered my awareness is likely old high school friend who has Rheumatoid Arthritis and lives in pain. She consistently shakes up my sense of self and help me to stay in the present. My old school friend and I are planning to visit her in June. I'm so happy about this. This moment is my truth, my deeper and more profound experience that arises out of just plain old Being.