Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth, Healing the Mind

This essay appeared originally on The Marsh Online, an online journal founded by Billy Weiland of the Assateague Coastal Trust with emphasis on “Bringing people back to Nature through literature, adventure, and the arts.”

Close your eyes for a minute, I mean after you finish reading these first three sentences. With your eyes closed, find the part of you that is “aware” that your eyes are closed. When you have that “awareness” use “it”—what some folks might call the Wise Mind—to watch yourself having a thought. 

How did it go? Were you able to do it, to identify a part of you that knew your eyes were closed, then use that part to watch you having a thought? 

This exercise is an oversimplified example of what 17th century philosopher DeCartes meant by his famous words Cogito, ergo sum; or, I think, therefor I am. It was his idea that because we can be aware of ourselves as thinking beings, we are able to prove with certainty that our existence extends beyond our mind.

Wild if you ponder it, right? And even more wild is that for centuries deep, devoted processes of thought and questioning like this were valued, so much more than we appear to value these sorts of necessary reflections now. It brings me to concepts I’ve been pondering in response to Billy Weiland’s desire to re-open discourse as a means to reconnect people, soulfulness, and nature, using The Marsh as a platform.

Ecopsychology is a combination of the word ecology, which is knowledge of the natural environment, and psychology, which has the word psyche at its root. According to vocabulary.com, the word psyche comes from the Greek psykhe, which means “the soul, mind, spirit, or invisible animating entity which occupies the physical body.” As far back as the ancient Greeks, we humans have debated the idea that self or psyche is separate from the body. And with DeCartes came the emphasis of valuing this split, applying with his philosophy the idea that the mind has dominionover the body. 

In my work, psychotherapy and teaching, the emphasis is on helping people reconnect to themselves, body, mind, heart, spirit, soul. I like to use two words to describe reconnection: qualitative, and meaningful. Meaningful is easy to understand: reconnection to your sense of self and to life in ways that add personal meaning. This other word, qualitative, has the word quality in it, and basically means helping people reconnect to themselves in a way that they can feel—as an individual’s mental health is ultimately based on the quality of not just what but how they feel. When people feel they are disconnected, they are almost always discontented

Yet, we continue to exist in modern culture according to a philosophic code of dualism, or that idea of Descartes, which goes all the way back to Plato, that the mind and body are split. Self versus other is another name for this. The mind body split places value on what is known through thought or logic, and devalues what can’t be known or proven, as in the subjective realm of the body.  In our modern culture, fundamental “othering” translates both as “what I think I therefore am”, making it commonplace to identify with your beliefs as your identity, as we see all around us on the world stage. And because othering is about devaluing, or making something less than, it also shows up as “who I am (based on what I think) is best and because you are different you are other”, which we see in the ways individuals and groups place values about their own beliefs as “better than” or the only “right” way.

“I call this consciousness estrangement,” wrote Starhawk, an activist and teacher of mine, “because its essence is that we do not see ourselves as part of the world. We are strangers to nature, to other human beings, to parts of ourselves.”  Because dualism (and its shadow aspect: hubris, meaning excessive pride or self-confidence) has long been our accepted code without our even realizing it, and mostly because human beings are powerful and resilient beyond understanding—most humans enact this split on themselves! We know how to separate off parts of ourselves that cause us stress or pain or fear or bad feelings in general, and pride ourselves on our ability to keep on keeping on. In other words, we fall back to self versus other (mind over body) right in our own minds, bodies, hearts, souls, and spirits by shutting away what makes us feel uncomfortable about our own selves. 

It’s true, this is such a powerful skill to have in the short term. However it is not sustainable in the long term, because dualism isn’t actually the truth of our existence. What we don’t work out, we act out~ Emotions are just chemicals called neuropeptides, and they flow through the entirety of the body. The trauma response, known as fight or flight, is hardwired in every one of us in a way that empowers the body for survival. The mind-body when functioning as one is intuitive, instinctual, and full of its own limbic wiring and knowledge.

If only people felt safe enough to connect to it, in all its processes. When it comes to nature, this is where we have so much to embrace by studying its processes—the ways in which multiple species thrive because how they are connected is based on the system’s ability to self-regulate for survival. In a healthy, diverse ecosystem, the word we use is thrive.

When I read the thoughtful reflections on the Marsh for the first time, I thought, now here’s someone who’s on to it. “The current generation has lost much of their ability to understand the language of our natural world,” wrote Billy Weiland. Right, I thought. To me, healing our ability to understand begins within. It means not just healing the disconnect within ourselves, but to do so by connecting to one another, and by finding reconnection to the world, especially our natural world, through this lens. To be present and heal our connection with nature, we are called upon to learn to be present and able to connect first to our whole selves, and to each other.

“A chance to better the world is our love affair with nature,” continues Weiland, and I couldn’t agree more. The old adage is real, though, we cannot give what we do not have, and love and connection must begin from right within ourselves. In this way, our advocacy for our communities and surrounding natural environments happens because it is what makes us feel connected and alive. Thriving.

I am thrilled to engage this work in a hands on way with our upcoming Sacred Gathering Series. Join us on Assateague Island on Saturday, June 15, and Saturday, August 17, from 7-9 pm. We will explore the safety of the therapeutic circle to learn to connect to ourselves within, and practice how to use this connection to better connect to each other and to our natural world. All are welcome! See ActForBays.org for more information and to register!

Reflections: Social Perm

Looking back on the year I have to honestly address that of everything I fed to grow, the  Creative Advisory Social Permaculture project got the most passive amount of my energy.

Which, while one of the intentions when I first took time to tend and visualize was passive action, I certainly had wanted to stay steady with actions that included at least social media posts with educational info about permaculture.  So it is important to me to post here a recap of how and where that fell off.

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I found this image here

First, as someone who identifies as being in recovery, and teaches and sits with people who do, too: what we call the eff-its happened for me for sure.  Where you screw up once and let that justify quitting on yourself and screwing up more.

But if you sit with me, you know I like us to expand our understanding of what caused the eff-its, and to trust our larger lived experience to inform us, too.  This is a very permaculture perspective, to look at the big picture, to observe and interact in order to accept feedback without judgement or shame.

From a more long term perspective, I was really amped on permaculture in the beginning of the year!  I spent my downtime reading books and web pages for creative ideas to implement in my plot at the community garden here in good ol Ocean Pines.

After suffering some powerful, painful losses, I made the commitment to produce no waste emotionally: grief was here, upon me.  I’d work to tend it by making sure I went to my garden bed every other day, because it soothes me, and brought me peace and sweetness and quiet outside.  It was a commitment of small, slow solutions, and a way I could practice catching and storing my energy in my body, and in my garden.  Self-care and earth care!  So here’s the rest of what happened.

Zucchini bugs ate my enthusiasm, or How I got the eff-its but how they saved me, too.  A permaculture micro-story.

Last year my biggest time consumption, and where I really needed improvement in my garden, was with weeding.  So as that was my pattern, I considered the details of where I went wrong.  By doing that, and as a means of producing no waste, catching and storing energy, and using the renewable resources already in my garden, I designed a plan for green mulching.  In February I tilled to turn up the soil but rather then get rid of weeds I then laid down newspapers and black garden cloth to kill them all off at their new starts, and give their nutrition back to the soil.  I layered my compost (I do vermiculture which means use worms, it’s the best!)  from last year in there, as well.

Let all that sit and cook as the spring energy comes on was my thinking, and sure enough at the end of April I scored free hay to lay down on top of all of it. I really thought the hay was a killer idea, a capstone of ensuring green manure and a weed management system all at once.  Slow solutions, letting time and small moves work in favor of creating a lush, fertile soil environment.

So I realized this week by reflecting on my patterns this year that I got up to August and principle 8, Integrate Rather Than Segregate, Asset Compassion on the FB page.  I asked myself what actually happened?

So, it’s suhhmmer, ok, like peak July–hot as hell, dirty, fabulous.  Boy am I getting at it in my garden every other, sometimes every third day.  We’re getting a lot of rain, too.  Water tables saturated, I don’t even water my herbs because the soil slopes into the center and the rain holds there under all that matting of hay and paper.  Also the herbs that are really reedy and like dry and full sun, they’re along the edges mostly, a little sloped up because they’re connected to the land between the beds that’s not been cultivated you dig?  –We value what happens there, along the edges, where diversity flourishes, and it’s the second time in the garden I took note of how mama earth put off natural imitation weeds where I was cultivating wild edibles that grew naturally!  Chickweed, she has an imitator!  And arugula, which I seeded several times, she does too!  FASCINATING! I am in heaven in my garden anyway, loving every minute of it, trying to keep up and learn from her.

Small, slow and natural solutions: I visit the plants, weed, sing to them, speak to them, and feed them an epsom salt and tums solution I mix, and like once a week fish emollient.  They L O V E this, and I love seeing the green growing world do its miracle work before my eyes.

Oh, and in case you think I am this motivated of my own accord?  To keep showing up?  Let’s be clear, I have plants I am tending, and I am D E T E R M I N E D to grow zucchinis because they are so versatile and also because last year those rotten stinker zucchini bugs decimated my plants literally overnight and this year I WILL PREVAIL YOU HEAR ME?  So, my primary motivation to stay near my garden was hand squashing those little dudes.  This small, slow, yes aggressive solution kept me connected to showing up, day after day.  I was grieving you know and hurt people hurt people.   Or in this case, try not to hurt people by hurting little insects, instead.

Little did I know at the time that hay is a primary and perfect breeding and nesting ground for those guys: Which if I was thinking about integrating rather than segregating maybe I’d have learned that in advance? (I was trying to create solution by segregating out weed management and fertile soil creation, and didn’t think about it more integrated as in what could hay harbor, what pests, you know?) But by the time I did learn, I was up for the challenge~  A N N N D

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I was so elated you cannot imagine!  It actually poured off me like the guy at the donut shop gave me free donuts just because “my energy was so great.”  Yea yea donuts and fresh veggies I am who I am ~ enjoy what you eat and also enjoy growing and~
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Ok.  So.  I harvest three big mamas, and I cook this rad baked zucchini dish and it’s my lunch for almost a week.  I’m feeling great… more rains come.  So I let it slide, my every other day bug squashing visit.  What’s the harm, right?  Just gonna go straight to the beach before work today, it’ll rain later need to get in the sea right now, etc etc

The rains and letting it slide went on for 8 days. 😦

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I wish I had a picture to show you what actual DECIMATION looks like.  Like I mean the plant flattens, it turns to dust almost bc those little bugs burrow into the her stalks and eat her from within.  KINDA LIKE THE EFF-ITS, you dig?  So.

Knowing my herbs–what I primarily grow–could sustain, and in that it was past leafy green season, I went full on F-IT to my tomatoes.  This was the first week of August, right around the time I did my last post on FB.  I stopped going to the garden all together.

Around about this time I was also offered a chance to retreat away for as long as I wanted on a big wild, edible farm in the country.  It was almost like mama Nature saying to me: take rest from your hyper-vigilance (and violence? RIP little bugs and zucchini plant!) and remember the kind of true gardening you most love.  Wild-crafting.

And so it was that the growing season, right around First Harvest in August, delivered me to my own medicine.  Begin, again.  Begin, within. On that farm my focus intuitively shifted.  It was month 8, compassion.  I really, really needed to obtain a yield of that for myself and my grieving process. And so that is what I did.

And, when I did return to the community garden to harvest my herbs, almost as if she said to me you are indeed responding creatively to change my love (this month’s principle) a massive, wild patch of purslane had popped up in the the heart of the sloshy parts of my still saturated beds.  Purslane, powerful wild medicinal, after living on a wild edible farm?  You can imagine my delight.

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I really did want to get back to social media and share more thoughts on Permaculture. But fall was here, and the harvest season accompanying came fast, and other areas I was growing, and working to sustain, took my energy.

My sincere apologies.  Please accept this recap, below.  And remember that as with recovery and beginning again a day at a time, Permaculture, a design system based on nature’s natural rhythms, calls us to this, too.

Happy Holiday tide, dear friends.

12 Permaculture Principles & 12 Character Assets

  1. Observe & Interact. Honesty.
  2. Catch and Store Energy. Open-mindedness
  3. Obtain a Yield. Willingness.
  4. Apply Self-regulation & Accept Feedback. Courage.
  5. Use & Value Renewable Resources & Services. Integrity.
  6. Produce No Waste. Acceptance.
  7. Design from Patterns to Details. Humility.
  8. Integrate Rather than Segregate. Compassion.
  9. Use Small & Slow Solutions. Forgiveness.
  10. Use & Value Diversity. Perseverance.
  11. Use Edges & Value the Marginal. Spirituality.
  12. Creatively Use & Respond to Change. Service.

 

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A baby mermaid (who doubles as garden fairy,) and me, in the community garden, with mama Thyme who reminds us: Patience; and mama Basil, who Protects, and reminds us All power to the Imagination, and ma Rosemary, if you look for her, who Blesses All xoxox

Finding Her: Reflections on social permaculture in action.

Reflection today by one of our Creative Advisory Council members, Ana Neto:

There’s this photo.  One, out of about a million I must have taken on my trip.  The day was warm, clear. Maybe 11 am and still early for the old wharf; quiet.  The photo is of the railing. The one I had been leaning on, holding on to as I was heading down the stairs.  The one I used as leverage to pivot back around upon deciding to stay a minute longer. I let my phone rest on it, and looking at the screen, realized that I enjoyed the angular look it added to the shot.  Somehow geometric and abstract, the focal point became it’s paint reflecting colors from the sky and red building next to me, old and peeling from years of salt air, weather, and hand holding. Everything outside of this center was dreamlike, a faded cloudy haze.  Shapes that vaguely made out to be fishing boats at anchor, breaks in color that could be nothing else besides that point where sea kisses sky. Shadows and silhouettes of two lovers enjoying the view. It was beautiful, all so obviously there and yet details mysterious.  Details that would come into focus only when I took a step. When I trust. When I move forward into that space of uncertainty, a little more clarity, with each small step.

anaFor so long my life has been inverted.  I was not on the railing, present with what is taking up space here, now.  Quite the opposite, instead I was inside it. A long dark tunnel, with a dim light at the end.  One that seemed to get farther away the harder I struggled towards it. Moments, months, years passing me by.  Gone forever as I desperately tried to get THERE. Like my life depended on it. Living towards unattainable, an image of perfection that was never mine to begin with.  I set myself up for failure every time. One thing I knew for sure. Everything I needed to be happy, to feel full, to feel worthy of moving and breathing in this world.  I would find it, out there. Consuming. Absolutely draining and exhausting. I found myself trying to force my way into a school I didn’t even want to go to, staying at a job that was toxic and deeply triggering, obsessively working towards an image that never would be good enough, towards approvals of others that never would quench my thirst for validation.  Outward, pushing, forcing, fighting, energy focused external external external. Until inevitably imploding into my emptiness and falling “victim” to it again. It. Any flicker of light I could grasp from the outside. Substances, men, food, stuff. Whatever vice I clung to dependent on the seasons of my life. Something, anything to make existence more bearable.  Anything, all to be absorbed again and almost immediately by the vaccuum in my chest.

Observe and interact.  The first principle in permaculture design, applied with honesty towards my life.  For me this was painful because I had never slowed down for long enough to get present, or better yet get real, with myself and what stories and assumptions about life, about my life, were fueling these behaviors, this suffering.  And also, this meant I had to take responsibility. I was accountable. That’s a hard pill to swallow. Awareness always is.

I started paying attention. Listening.  Challenging. Learning. I was not, I had not been, the subject of my own life, for most of my life.  My wants my needs my dreams; they weren’t worth it; I wasn’t worth it. Because I was impractical and frivolous, because I couldn’t be trusted.  Growing up in a severely dysfunctional home, with a beautiful mother who struggled deeply with untreated mental illness, no father present and a sister to take care of, my whole life was about frantically seeking out safety.  So my actions all became about SURVIVAL, running on fear in a world so unpredictable and terrifying. The obsession then becomes, what do you do, how do you do it, what do you think is right, ok, proper? And how do I measure up?  How can I get through life with the LEAST amount of collateral damage? How can I get through today meeting your standards? Because when I am as you want me, I am safe.

And the closer I got to fitting into this box made for me, by me, the emptier I felt.  And every time I wouldn’t meet your expectations, I would hurt myself. It used to be through substances.  Any, all. Whatever you’ve got, so long as it shifted that noise to a low frequency buzzing in my head, soothing and sleepy.  

Now, I am in recovery, in my fifth year sober.  The, ”this” and “that” of my previous years gave way to new forms of self-soothing.  Bulimia, mostly. I would binge. Throw up. Pinch and pull at myself, curse the mirror for the empty whoever the fuck I saw staring back at me. Try and fill that space again.  With anything I could find. The insatiable hunger for fucking life. MY life. And the desperate need to numb the self-hatred I felt for letting it all pass me by.

This might sound raw still, that’s because it is.  Learning these things about myself, taking the veil away and honestly looking at the undercurrents that I was allowing dictate my life was not comfortable.  It felt deeply just YUCK, at best. All the way down to my bones.

When coming direct and seeing clearly the effects of societal, communal, familial oppressive forces, living in alignment with truth becomes a form of wild rebellion.  Having heard this before, it took until this moment for me to relate to it in this way. I had always considered myself a rebel, an activist. This was a part of me that I could truly say I loved and yet she had become so tame.  I would start there. By loving that wild, rebellious activist back into existence. By getting curious with her, exploring her. By giving her attention and space to grow. By experimenting with what gives her energy, life force; with what fills her up, in a sustainable way.

It turns out that I feel good, emotionally and physically, when I SLEEP.  When I make the conscious decision to turn off social media and read before bed instead.  When I make time for REST! When I make time to get creative, time for music, for yummy smells, for deep breaths and mugs of tea that fill both hands.  When I feed my body the nutrient rich foods she craves. When I ALLOW the occasional dark chocolate salted caramel treat because, because YOLO.  It turns out that writing and reflection, communion with nature mama, dedicated time weekly to connect with the women in my life, these things feed me in a way that a large pizza and two pints of ice cream never could.  And it turns out that when my need for fulfillment, when my soul’s need for care is tended to a day at a time; when I consciously choose love–Love that starts with me–I shift.  

No longer trapped by fear, I found myself on my railing. Uncertain, yes. Details obscure and indistinct, absolutely.  But surrounded by color, and air and light. Sweet spaciousness radiating, potential. Reflecting out, that renewable well of energy.  Of inspiration accessed by learning to feel into and inhabit my own body, to live according to my own soul. Non-material connection.

Conveniently, and just prior to beginning my personal journey with the social permaculture curriculum, I was laid off from my job.  An incident that, while at first sent me into a tailspin of “less than,” and “inadequate,” ultimately gifted me with just enough emotional pain to motivate growth.  (For me, pain always does.) As well as time and lots of it. Time to think, time to dream, time to listen. To wake up to life. A full blown Aries, to say I am an extremist may be an understatement.  But for the first time in such a long time, I could hear her. I could feel her. And I had the beautiful opportunity to know her. So I took it.

She asked for open roads, jagged mountain skylines, to dance with new people and drink new air.  She begged for soil and sun, dirty fingernails and open fields. She screamed and howled for less.  Less noise, less clutter, less worry, less head. More simplicity, laughter, connection, joy. More heart.  And together we left the temptations of sunny southern California. Together we abandoned comfort and safety.  Together we felt the fear that comes with taking that first step, that leap of faith, into the unknown. Together we chose not to let it drive.  She held my hand, and guided me. And I trusted. One step at a time. A little more into focus, the rest surrendered to mystery.

Time spent on the farm, I’ll never forget.  Hands on and tangible. Planting, watering, sprouting.  The vast amounts of growth I had experienced since winter.  Weeding, and the importance of consistency, commitment. To make time for work, for rest.  Learning and relearning, lessons ancient and timeless. Harvesting, washing, and absorbing the fruits of labor.  Digesting the nutrients of the work. Letting it all feed and fuel my body. Witnessing alchemy as waste breaks down, decomposes.  Composts into soil, rich and fertile for healthy germination of the new season’s seeds to be sewn. Processes deeply reflective and reminiscent of my own.   Learning my rhythm’s. Connecting with my cycles. Letting nature teach me, I began to come home.

Over and over again.  Because I forget, often.  I still find myself caught up in old ways of thinking, of self judgement and shame.  I still struggle with image, with dysmorphia of body and life alike. I still have days lacking gratitude, perception still skews.  But I’m not falling backwards anymore, no longer grasping desperately at glimmers of light from out there. I am moving, spiraling forward.  I have cloudy, rainy, stormy days still, yes. There are times where focusing at my feet is next to impossible and I rack my brain for ways to control the clarity of my horizon.  The difference is, that today I have a horizon. I have hope. I am on my railing. And that is everything.

Care for Self: Permaculture and Wellness.

Observing and interacting is the foundational design principle in Permaculture.  It was January’s focus, along with the character asset of honesty.

Permaculture is a design system of sustainability principles. It teaches us by studying nature and its local, rhythmic, and bioregional ways. It is guided by three ethics, People Care, Earth Care, and Fair Share.

People Care treats the self, or our inner experience, as a sustainable resource of energy.  Think about this.  Your energy level fulfills many roles and responsibilities on any given day I bet.

How do you keep your battery charged?

In January our CAC members were challenged to do just that.  To take care of themselves, to love themselves, and to commit to practicing this all year long by creating habits and behaviors that support love as a renewable mental health resource.  We will study a design principle and a character asset a month as guides to deepen and inform our practices of LOVE.

Observing and Interacting

Observing and interacting is rooted in patience.  It is a practice of returning again and again to right now and witnessing your circumstances.

~Being with~

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Patience makes us more mindful of our inner world, and how we are practicing love and self-care based on how we are feeling.

A lot of us hate to feel our feelings.  We hate the feelings in the body expressing the ranges of love and fear!

Anxiety, depression. Anger, shame.  Sometimes these are just words we use for feeling really bad.  Addicts use to control not feeling, or to create a way of feeling.

Humans in general get stuck in why do I feel this way?  when sometimes the remedy is simply to feel our feelings.  Often, I have found that softening to how I am feeling right now, being gentle in accepting me for me, is a sure way to calm tension and anxiety.

I like this relief!

Self-care is about being present with who we are by honoring how we feel and what we need.  It’s, in the words of writer Mark Nepo, allowing the heart to say ouch.

I like that, too.

Maybe a goal is trying to grow in mindfulness of how our feelings cause us to react.

Sometimes some of us have old stories written in our body of times our hearts got hurt.  Hurts that weren’t allowed to be felt.  Sometimes that’s why we focus so much on why?

Why is a way we pathologize, or make a problem out of something.  Problems can direct us on how to find a solution.  Self-care as a solution is about learning to not shame our feelings, and to stop labeling experiences that we can’t control or that don’t feel good, times when life has us in ruts, as bad.

If we grew up in a home where violence, neglect, untreated alcoholism or other substance abuse, or untreated mental illness existed, not getting needs met is our normal.

If this is the case, we repeat old self care systems of self-neglect, self-harm, self-abondonment, and self-abuse.  Meaning we treat our self in ways that are neglectful.

We could do this with drugs, alcohol, relationships, food, sex, spending money.  You name it.

Old self care habits like these usually have a story of self worth behind them.

Observing and interacting with our day to day experience with no judgment for our thoughts and feelings and no shame, becomes a way to stay more present with ourself in an honest, fact finding way.

This is how we challenge ourselves, to see if or where old self worth stories, in ways of perpetuating self neglect or harm, might be running areas of our lives.

We challenge ourselves to replace that story and the old neglectful self care behavior with stories and behaviors of love.

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February’s design principle is Catch and Store Energy.  The asset is open-mindedness.  We spend February observing and interacting with the experiences in our lives that specifically help us catch and store self care practices of LOVE.  We are open to this change.

Be well, friends.  Begin, within.  Begin, again!

 

Yoga. Reflections on the Golden Rule.

Today I joined Heidi McNeely of the Worcester County Warriors Against Opioid Addiction for Holy Yoga.  It’s the first time I’ve practiced in OC since I got home from the west coast.  It was Divine!

Of the many life teachers I have been blessed enough to walk beside, Heidi has a boundless enthusiasm that anchors her dedication.  She is a true reminder of life’s gifts.

 Yoga always makes me remember Jasmine, Bobby Ray, and Father Ed, my first spiritual teachers.  Jas’ presence was to be inside a great, hidden city of dark curls.  You ended up feeling exotic yourself, touched by a bit of her calm.  She was my intro to yoga.  These were the early days when I quit drinking.  Life can be so thrilling you know, if you let in what is trying to happen for you.

This was the same time in my life I met Bobby Ray.  People in the Benfield area of Anne Arundel, Maryland, know of this man.  The first thing Bobby ever said that stuck with me was, “the past is full of regret and the future is full of worry. Both are caused by fear. So the present moment is the only moment you can be fully with god, or full of love.”

I think that last sentence I am paraphrasing.  You get the point, I hope~

I was 23, 24ish.   Learning to breathe from a novice yogi, learning to meditate from a guy they called Shaman Bob, and elsewhere, learning to utilize my power of choice in my reactions and interactions, while out experiencing my day-to-day life.

Jasmine and I lived together my senior year of college. This is when I learned that the word Yoga has its origins in Sanskrit.  An awesome poet—he would call himself a poet and deep ecologist—his name is Gary Snyder, was my favorite reading back then.   I was getting a degree in writing.  Gary Snyder is how I learned yoga means to yoke, or as Snyder described, make union.

So I was learning from Jasmine how to use my breath during yoga, to practice union by feeling a deeper sense of being present in my body.

Back then I was also receiving free therapy, from a priest, this was Father Ed. I love the Christian context for the word yoke. The denotation is a wooden tool used to link oxens together.  The connotation is to yoke, or connect the heavy weight of what you carry, to Christ.

That brings faith into the conversation.

Life has taught some people, maybe many?  That we can’t trust treating one another as we would like to be treated because we always have to be on the look out, defending ourselves in order to meet our own safety and survival needs.

To me, when I practice doing unto others, it is a day-by-day, experience-by-experience, chance-after-chance to bring love and kindness. I challenge myself daily to align my behaviors and reactions with these principals.  Prayer, after all, is one thing.  How I act however, that’s on me.  It is how I pay forward my thanks for getting to live.

Probably my most oft-used adage is Begin Within.  This is because doing so gives me the chance to get present with what is real for me.  Is it an old story, what’s going on in my head right now?  Regret or worry—fear-based?  Written in my body by my life’s experiences, hanging out on the neuropeptides of my emotions, too close to my surface for my liking?  Making me uncomfortable?  I was a black out drunk you know, so I keep a close eye on these things…to avoid picking up my favorite or at least easiest way of checking-out.

Deep yogic union can be a way of reminding me that in the present moment, breath is healing.  It is truly all I actually have.  It can be all I need. I believe that life is a gift.  Lots of loss taught me that.  To live today the very best I can and enjoy myself as much as possible while I am–usually requires me to get real with me, then to turn my intentions towards how I want to behave today.  Doing unto others ensures I enjoy my life more because it makes me soft and open, which is the direct result of lightly practicing love and kindness over and over.

Abidingly human, or Aries, or Irish Catholic, or whatever else it is that I am I remember to hold gently the fact that I’m also totally imperfect as it gets.  Angry, lazy, self-righteous, selfish, arrogant, rigid, overindulgent, super anxious, too controlling.  All of these things.  I keep my own self-understanding close, so that compassion for others is never too far behind.

When I get caught up in fear, which always makes my imperfections worse, my work is to begin within.  Being a jerk is easy.  What I don’t work out I will act out.  Taking responsibility for this takes committed return from beginning within to the question, how am I behaving right now?  I begin again with this present moment, using my breath.  For me, it doesn’t take long in the present moment to get grateful for having access to it.

Doing unto others by becoming deeply present to right now.  Giving thanks for the chance to get to do so.  That’s really all it takes.  I think it’s one of perhaps the most simple and simultaneously most challenging acts there is.

Understanding Substance Abuse

At Tuesday’s free seminar kick-off (!!) we discussed the disease model of substance abuse, what this means physiologically for someone in withdrawal, how it impacts the addict or alcoholic in the form of the shame cycle (leading to relapse!), and especially, how to create solution and lasting treatment that works.

It wasn’t until 2011 that a press release was issued from the American Society of Addiction Medicine stating “that addiction is a chronic brain disorder and not simply a behavioral problem involving too much alcohol, drugs, gambling or sex.”

We now know that deep in the mid-brain our survival needs (FOOD! SEX! EXCRETE!  SLEEP!) are wired, AND also from here neurons called dopamines are released when we experience pleasure.

Drugs like alcohol and opioids, among others, surge those dopamine neurons!  The short version of the longterm–your survival brain becomes wired to need your drug of choice as a priority for survival.  Literally, the neurological line in your brain’s sand is when your pleasure transmitters become chemically confused and begin to believe they need that pleasure spike not just to live but to survive.

Because we didn’t even understand the chemistry behind this enough to call it a brain disorder until five years ago, there exists today a serious stigma around addiction because people believe it still to be a mere behavior or will problem.  For more information between the difference, go here and learn more from Dr. Kevin McCauley.

What that stigma especially seems to mean for an addict is knowing firsthand the darkness of the shame cycle. When we haven’t drank or used in weeks but can’t shake that awful creeping gnarling that tells us we’re no good so why bother.

Or,  when we wake up so horrified by our behavior last night that we remedy it by getting messed up all over again, because lets face it, I guess I really do suck if I can’t stay clean…The shame cycle is so emotionally real, and breaking its stories and associated beliefs takes committed practice!

How to begin?  My favorite definition of mindfulness?  RADICAL ACCEPTANCE.  Radical acceptance of the here and now, which literally means of who I am right this second: starting with how I feel.

Honesty about who we are, and learning how to be emotionally present and accountable to ourselves creates lasting change.

Change

Takes

Time.

Learning to name and tend your needs is how to stop abandoning and hurting yourself.  If you have a problem staying sober or clean there is help.

Your body can heal and grow, as can your mind, and spirit, your soul.

Click here to download the Understanding Substance Abuse notes.  dfs-understanding-substance-abuse

Join us again on Tuesday, November 29, 2016, at the Ocean Pines Community Center, from 6-8pm to learn more, and promote solution and change.

Wellness: Gratitude.

This is what I know for sure:

It is still the nature of November light to outline shadows in a way that’s dark and precise,

shadows through trees losing leaves make my heart stir til it aches sometimes, so touching are the simplicities of the world’s grace,

salt air still opens up the breath I forget about and keep hidden in my belly,

it almost always feels good to get out and take a walk,

and at least for today, I am able to do so and–also–gratitude, it goes a long way.

Wellness is a process, not an arriving point. In my experience it has a lot to do with being present.  It’s an action word, how to be in the here and now, and its principals are grounded in love.

To be here and now you have to be able to be still with yourself.  To be here and now you have to be able to love.

Can

you

be?

Wellness rejoices in the truth, begins within, tells the truth to yourself, is accountable to your own day-to-day.

Breath by breath, that’s how we begin.

Be still.  Breathe.  Gratitude=love in motion.

Have you got your breath?  Give thanks.

A minute at a time.  Gratitude in motion. Until the day is done.

A day at a time. What are your first waking thoughts?

What happens if you choose them:

Just for today~THANKS!  For this bed, I am grateful.  For this cozy blankie, I am grateful.  For this cup of hot coffee…

Gratitude begins within.  Is the next right thing.

Just for today what do you need to be well?

Change happens, it comes just as November light will always make long shadows across the ground.  The simple miracle of the Autumnal light of the burning sun.  Just for today, can you breathe?

Can you tell the truth about how you feel and what you need?

Can you be brave enough to share those needs, or listen deeply to someone else’s?

Can you be grateful, and present, and still admit you’re human, you’re afraid?

It’s okay.

Breathe.  This moment is what you have.

Be well.

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Ninth street today.  Ocean City, Maryland.