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The Body Remembers

It will be a year ago next week that my dad passed away. He died on a Friday. I’ve been wondering how all of this would feel as the 1 year marker approached, because that experience was a really difficult time for me, in both my heart and my head. I wasn’t super close with my dad, but he wanted me there in his last few months – so I did my duty as a son and was there for him. I arrogantly assumed that it wouldn’t bother me much when he passed because of the distance between us, but I was SO wrong. Watching him pass was insanely painful, and coming to grips with his passing afterward was one of the darkest valleys I’ve ever passed through emotionally.

I have read in so many books about how the body remembers trauma, and so I wondered over the past few months how my body might remember this sad day, and what emotional stuff might come up throughout this anniversary.

The body definitely remembers, and it remembers much more than I had anticipated. Again I arrogantly assumed that maybe I would just feel a little sad on the day that he passed, but I’m not getting off that easy. See, he didn’t just die in one day, his experience was spread out across multiple long hospital and hospice stays, and then a really intense final week in ICU. This week, I’m apparently reliving the nightly panicked emergency calls from my mom, and reliving the daily visits to the hospital and ICU, as we watched him slowly fade away. I making sure to make some extra visits to see my mom lately, and not rolling my eyes or getting annoyed at her daily phone calls. I can only imagine how much harder this is for her.

My point? Everybody has lost someone close to them. Many of us have lost more than just one person. Those traumatic days of their passing, and the events surrounding them, our bodies remember those days. Even if we don’t realize it, the body remembers. Actually, it’s a pretty safe assumption that most people haven’t spent much time thinking about these anniversaries or traumatic events, and how it it might be affecting them. So try be gentle with people as you go throughout your day. You have no idea what they might be feeling or going through, and a kind word or friendly gesture could mean the world to them on a challenging day.

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Connections Over This Thanksgiving

Here’s the thing: We live in a world that is increasingly toxic and intolerant, where people are so polarized and opinionated that it’s difficult to interact with a lot of humans. But at the same time, we are all human – and each of us have this innate need for love and acceptance from one another. So in our increasingly intolerant world, we have begun replacing human connections with virtual ones. Texts, email, social media, these conveniences have made us faster, but they have also stripped away part of the fabric of our lives, and put a machine in between human connections. What good are hundreds or thousands of followers who are just digital tick marks? How many followers would you trade for just one or two true friends?

Make no mistake about it, when you text your friend on your phone, you are really talking to a device. When you comment on a friends’ post online, you are really only talking to a device. When you write a post on Facebook like I’m doing now, you are interacting with a device. The people who like this post, they are liking it through a device. People who scroll are scrolling through a device. Almost all of the human-to-human interaction has been stripped away, and many people underestimate how important this human connection is, or how much we all need it.

It’s challenging to wrap your head around the truth that devices, social media, and “likes” don’t give us the same level of intimacy that a real human connection offers. So we find ourselves using social media more and more, attempting to fill an emotional void that can only be filled with authentic human connections. And in the process, people get angrier, more intolerant, more needy, and ironically, they become harder to love.

But it’s Thanksgiving this week. So try to be nice to people anyway. If you can, try to remember that a lot of people are out of practice using their human connection skills, and maybe that makes it more difficult to be loving towards them. Try to be loving anyway.

So put your device down for awhile this weekend, to catch up on some real human connections. I dare you.

Musings on the Direction of Humanity

Maybe it’s just me, but replacing god with science in our culture has been a complete fucking disaster. Kids today have a drifting moral compass, since profit and status are the only things pointing the way in life today. Teaching kids that we are random genetic mutations that don’t have souls, and don’t have afterlife consequences, I believe these mindsets have heavily contributed to the “every man for themselves” mentality the world is suffering from today. God only knows what future lifetimes these mass shooters will experience. God only knows what future lifetimes most of us will have, moving through the world thinking only of ourselves, and living daily lives full of selfishness, and full of anger and resentment and intolerance for others. Staring at our phones, posting selfies, collecting likes and follows, withdrawing further and further from real connections. Being alone together with social media strangling the life from us. We have lost our way as a people. 

It all matters. Energy can neither be created nor destroyed, it can only transform. That’s not religion, it’s a law of physics. Here’s another law of physics – every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Nearly every world religion teaches versions of these truths, I hope someday we see that the religions were closer to truth than we ever thought. 

What are you transforming your energy into today, energy which will one day return to you? What old energy of yours is returning to you right now? What changes can you make in your circle, to encourage and remind yourself and others about the magic this place is capable of? Breathe. Remember. Wake up. Believe.

Tag, you’re it.

 

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So Long Dad, and Thanks for the Bus

In 2009 I was a smoker with a nasty smokers cough, and a couple toddlers in tow. I didn’t smoke around them, but they would howl and scream at the back door while I sat outside, hammering another nail into the coffin. You know how it is – you want to quit, but it’s hard to get over that first hump and stay off the cigarettes. So my dad chimes in one day and says he bets I’ll never quit, and bets me $500.00 that I couldn’t quit for six months. I grabbed his hand and shook it before he had a chance to change his mind, and I quit smoking that very minute. Maybe it’s because he told me I couldn’t do it, maybe I was just ready… But I never smoked another cigarette from that day forward.

When six months came along, I called up my dad and asked him if he would meet me at the bank to pay off the bet. Of course he hemmed and hawed, and tried to say that he was just joking at the time, but I reminded him that I shook his hand with the kids watching – and they had had spent the last six months watching me quit smoking, to win a bet with grandpa. Did he really want to welch on a bet in front of them? That helped jog his memory, and he reluctantly met me at the bank.

Also meeting me at the bank that day, was the nice lady who held the car title to the 1971 Volkswagen Transporter Deluxe, that I was purchasing that day for $500. She waited in line behind me while my dad made the withdrawl and paid off the bet. I literally turned around in line when my dad handed me the money, handed the money to the lady behind me, and told her I would like to buy her bus. My dad looked shocked and asked me what I was doing, I smiled and explained the dad had just bought me a car.

He pretty much went into a conniption fit right there. He had never bought me a car in my whole life, and he wasn’t going to start now. To him, that bus was just a wreck, a torn up shell that would probably sit and rot in my backyard forever. I might as well have kept smoking he said a few times, to just go and waste my money on such a jalopy.

But things change. And perceptions change. Slowly I brought the mechanical systems back online in my beloved VW transporter, and gradually she became a running vehicle. Many nights were spent in the backyard tinkering, after the kids were asleep and the temperature was below 100°. Knowing very little about cars, I bought some books and found some mentors, and a great mechanic. Eventually she still looked like a jalopy, but her insides were rebuilt and growing stronger every day. A couple years after that, bodywork. And window tint. And wheels, and 100 other little details. And before you knew it, my dad changed his tune, and was now bragging to anyone who would listen about the bus he had bought his son. He never said much to me about it, except that he was impressed with how well I had taken care of it.

Fast forward to three weeks ago. The day dad died he was mostly incoherent, mumbling and not making much sense. At one point while laying in his hospital bed, he reached his right hand up above his head, held it there for a moment, wrist bent as if he was about to walk like an egyptian. I asked him what he was doing, and he said “I’m closing the hatch on the bus, let’s go!” It was the last full sentence he spoke before he died, everything else was just words or phrases. He was ready to go.

Thanks dad. We’re taking your remains out to Butcher Jones today in the bus, to scatter ashes and honor you memory. Thanks for the sweet ride, I’m keeping her forever. I guess you could say, you might not have bought my first car for me, but you sure as hell bought me my last car. Well played dad, well played.

Dora original pictureDora Now

What I Mean When I Say “Let Go”

 

 

Buddha’s big breakthrough was pretty simple when you get right down to it. He figured out that the root of suffering is desire. He didn’t say you couldn’t have desire, just that it was desire in life that brings about suffering.

So you probably hear me going on and on all the time about letting go, I know I’m a bit repetitive sometimes. A bit. But whenever I say let go, there’s this whole conceptual truth running through my head, and what I really mean is to hold on loosely. Let go is my catch phrase that encompasses this truth Buddha discovered.

See, the truth is you can have almost anything you want, IF you’re able to keep that desire in a place of want, instead of a place of need. If inside of yourself you truly NEED something, that becomes a place where suffering will eventually overtake you. You need air to breathe, or you will suffer. You need sunlight, or you will suffer. You need food, or you will suffer. Do you need an internet connection? Some people really do. Do you need a smartphone? Some people REALLY do. Do you need someone to listen to your problems? Yep, this is where suffering comes in. And figuring out how to manage these desires so they don’t lead to suffering, that’s the real trick. Rooting out every desire, it’s WORK. Some desires have been brewing deep inside of us since we were kids, they will not come out easily.

I have attachments in my life that I try to manage. I love my old VW beetle, I love her like an old friend. I plan to drive her for as long as the universe allows. But if I get rear ended tomorrow and she gets totaled, I know I can let her go and move on. I regularly remind myself that there are lots of other ’66 beetles out there, and I can build another if need be.

Here’s the rub: many of us have not cultivated a frame of mind that can truly let go of many things in our life. And whatever you can’t let go of, that “holding on” causes suffering. I know I’m attached to my children, if I lost them that would cause intense suffering. I’m hoping the universe has long lives planned for them and I, but I know this is a place in my life where letting go would be really hard. When I am apart from them for a few days I don’t fall apart, and I feel good about that. Maybe that’s as healthy of detachment as I’ll ever get about my kiddos, but it’s something I think about. Because I’ve suffered enough in this lifetime, I want to enjoy the attachments I’ve still got with as little suffering as possible.

I’ve accepted that many people in this world probably aren’t going to grasp this truth. At least in this lifetime. I also accept that of those who can see it, many of them will not do the work which frees them from their consuming desire. That sucks, but I accept it.

I’ve also accepted that many people in this world DO see this truth, and are experiencing the freedom and joy which comes from rooting out these desires, and getting attachments into a healthier place in their lives.

It’s not about being a monk in a temple and giving everything up. It’s about turning your “needs” into “wants”, and being thankful for what comes. And being willing to let go of what doesn’t come. Not settling, accepting. And yes, it’s a delicate balance that shifts day to day. There’s magic in this truth, I swear it.

I’m very thankful.

Turning off Cruise Control – Digging into the Subconscious Mind

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Wherever you are in life, whether a good place or bad, you didn’t get there by accident. It took a lot of time and effort to get to your present position in space and time. It’s very likely that you reached your location through a gradual process of making the same (or similar) choices each day.

Some of those choices were conscious, some unconscious. The trick is, figuring out which choices work in your life, and which ones leave you in an undesirable place.

The second trick is figuring out how to change the unconscious choices. Sorry, but that one is going to be a tough nut to crack. It is possible, but few have the tenacity to persevere, or the willingness to chip away at an unconscious mind that most people don’t even believe in.

But whether you believe in it or not, your unconscious, aka subconscious mind, is very, very real. It is estimated that the subconscious mind takes up 92% of your brain matter. Your conscious mind, that only has a measly 8% of grey matter to work with. The subconscious mind makes all kinds of decisions for us, like who we are attracted to, what we crave to eat, how we view the world around us, and even whether we feel happy and blessed, or depressed and ashamed. That 92% of subconscious brain matter is not directly accessible to our conscious mind, making authentic change very challenging, if the changes being desired are ruled by the subconscious.

The subconscious mind is very malleable in our early years. More than malleable, it is literally being wired up and programmed throughout our childhood, with many key developmental milestones sprinkled throughout the first six years of life. Those formative (form-ative) years literally form our subconscious mind into the machine it is today, for better or for worse. After childhood passes, the hood of our car slams shut, and the subconscious engine within is ready to go. For better, or for worse.

If you had a lot of anger directed at you from a caregiver through those first six years, then guess what is buried in your subconscious? Anger from a male role model will turn your steering wheel one way, anger from a female role model will turn it another direction. Resentment or hatred, those might rob your engine of power and leave you in the slow lane, feeling worthless and broken down. Or even worse it might damage your fuel tank, leading your conscious mind to attempt to refuel over and over again, in a fruitless quest to fill a bottomless pit. Other traumas end up being interpreted by the subconscious in various ways, but the end result always seems to manifest in habits and desires which our conscious mind disagrees with, but is powerless to change.

On the flip side, having a loving and attentive role model can transform the subconscious in amazing ways. A parent or role model who supports and encourages a child can shape the subconscious in good ways, as does a parent or role model who demonstrates honesty, integrity, and compassion. And don’t think that good deeds go unnoticed, because the subconscious mind sees all, and weaves every experience into its tangle of neurons. But along with that good deed, the subconscious mind is also gauging motive, and intent, and making many determinations based on how things feel. Delivery becomes key, because a visibly angry parent will likely be interpreted by the subconscious mind as less loving, if the message of love is picked up at all. So remember that if you deliver a message of love angrily, that the subconscious mind interprets how things feel, more than what is actually said.

So how do we access this immense piece of ourselves? How do we turn off, or at least adjust the trajectory of, this cruise control that our subconscious mind is stuck on?

The first step is awareness. Knowing that the subconscious even exists is a huge step that few people ever take. Instead, they read endless piles of self help books and try new diets, or make endless New Years resolutions, then shame themselves for lack of willpower when they fail over and over again. True story. But with awareness, and a regular mental review of how our minds really work, we can gradually get ourselves comfortable with the concept of this hulking machine lurking under the hood. And finally come to accept that we can’t overhaul our engine by using the same turn signal indicator, over and over again.

Once that awareness becomes easily accessible, once we carry a waking realization that our subconscious is ruling our lives, we can use this new awareness to begin mapping out exactly what it is we want to change. Do you get angry when someone criticizes you? That’s a marker to stick a pin in. Does it only anger you if it’s a male, or a female who does the criticizing? Stick a pin in that new piece of awareness too. And buy a big map, and a bigger box of pins, because once you lift the hood you’re going to find bread crumb trails everywhere. This can be accomplished best with a journal, because you will need to document and revisit many of these locations, many times, in order to rewire them. Not just because the process of conditioning is a repetitive practice, but also because the subconscious can be triggered in more than one way. For instance, How you respond to criticism might be different when received from a boss at work, versus the same criticism from a spouse. Sorting through these reactions, and following the bread crumb trail back to the childhood influence which created that response, THAT is the true heart of this work.

This endeavor is not for the faint of heart. You may discover that your late night hunger is because your mother left you each night in the care of an abusive alcoholic father, who devalued and shamed and physically attacked you nightly, depending on how bad his day was, and how much scotch he drank. Being born under punches (Thanks to Talking Heads for the great term) can leave you with deep-rooted fear that loving partner will always abandon you, leaving your subconscious to select unavailable partners – who not only will always leave, but in reality were never there for you in the first place. Those evening encounters may leave you with an intense desire to soothe yourself with food, or in some cases it may turn you into the same drunken alcoholic parent who raised you. (I’ll take the bad eating habits anyday) It can also leave you with serious trust issues towards men, and physical confrontations as an adult could very well be a terrifying and heart-pounding experience.

But even a less abusive childhood can still leave you with an engine that has little power or acceleration. A child who has a parent who constantly belittles or criticizes a child, might be creating an adult who has very little self worth, with an inner dialogue full of negativity. That person might not realize why they can find something wrong with anything or anyone, or why they are shunned by others, for constantly pointing out faults in others. That person might read a self help book on positive thinking, but after years of effort give up – because that internal dialogue is ruled by the subconscious, so it persists – running silent and deep, an undertow which drags all positive thinking out to sea to drown, in the sea of criticism that subconscious was formed in.

None of these realizations show up on day one. It’s a scavenger hunt, mapping out the subconscious, and finding the roots of our early childhood conditioning. Awareness is key. Deep conscious breaths are key, because they increase awareness and help the conscious mind begin to learn how to take the wheel. There are more steps beyond this, involving acceptance of these past experiences, and lovingly inserting replacements for old ways of thinking. Once we bring those childhood experiences into the conscious mind, we can “reframe” how we FEEL about those experiences. Reframing an abusive alcoholic fathers actions, that takes some work. You pretty much have to take a step back, and realize that the drunken parent was himself a victim of child abuse, and that’s what turned him into the monster who haunted your childhood. People don’t become assholes by chance, and they almost never realize they’re assholes. Their subconscious is running the show in their world too, blinding them to why they lash out towards others.

But none of this can happen unless you achieve some mastery in cultivating awareness about your subconscious, and the role it plays in your life. Especially since the world at large seems asleep to this truth.

I’m sorry, did I wake you?

You Reap What You Sow

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Everything happening to you right now is an echo of your energy, like your voice bouncing off canyon walls and returning to you in familiar fragments. It takes time and patience to see the truth of this. It is especially helpful if you make dramatic changes in your life, because when that changing energy echoes back to you some time later, it is confirmation of this mechanism at work in your life. This realization has altered the landscape of life for me, even passing thoughts in my mind have untold power. I literally interpret negative thinking as akin to hemorrhaging blood, because that energy will manifest in the world with the same power and vitriol that you feel in the moment you have the thought. Strap a bunch of those thoughts together, and you’ll find you are creating the “drama” that many people exist in daily. How do I know? Because I was once plagued by this type of thinking, it took some time and effort to cultivate enough mindfulness in my life that I could stem the flow of thinking like this. And as I turned the tide of such rumination, I gradually watched the drama in my life recede, until ALL of the sources of drama in my life were eventually located safely on my perimeter. It wasn’t that I was plagued by drama, it’s that I was inviting it in by dwelling on it. So much of this creation is set up like that, with our poor perception and scientific causal thinking blinding us to the truth of our energy and the true nature of reality. But mess with the formula a bit, and it unravels. We are constantly creating and influencing our reality, moment to moment. Your energy is like a message in a bottle, and a new chapter washes ashore each day. Make some small consistent changes in your energy, and watch that echo return to you. Hello… Hello… Hello… Hello…

You know why life is such a gift to me? Because I make more of these changes every day – and I’ve been doing it for so long that I’m now living in the flow of this changing energy returning to me, every day. And I keep turning the volume up with each passing day, so every day IS better than the last.  Thank god I dared to believe in something more than what I’ve been taught, because there’s no demonstrable evidence for what I’m experiencing. You have to try it for yourself to see the truth of it.