The Practice of Letting Go

There are a number of times when our mind clings to something tightly, and it is rarely helpful:

  • I am right, the other person is wrong
  • That person is living their life in the wrong way, they should change
  • My preference is the best way, others are wrong
  • This is the thing I want, I don’t want anything else
  • I really don’t like that, it sucks
  • I should have that person in my life, loving me
  • I shouldn’t be alone, shouldn’t be overweight, shouldn’t be however I am, shouldn’t have this life

In all of these cases, and more, our minds are fixed in a certain viewpoint, and we often judge others. We complain. We are attached to what we want and what we don’t want.

It leads to stress. Unhappiness. Anger. Righteousness. Being judgmental. Distancing ourselves from others. Closed-offedness.

And it leads to being closed off to the beauty of this moment, as it is, full of openness and possibilities.

If you’d like to work on letting go, I would like to offer a simple practice.

The Practice of Letting Go

You can actually practice this all day long, because even if we don’t realize it, we’re clinging and hardening and fixing upon viewpoints all day long.

Here’s how to practice:

  1. Start by realizing that you’re hardened. Notice that you are stressed, upset at someone, feeling like you’re right, complaining about someone or a situation, not open to other viewpoints, putting something off, avoiding, tensed. These are good signs that you are holding on, hardened in your viewpoint, fixed, attached, clinging. Get good at noticing this.
  2. Notice the tension in your body. It’s a tightening that happens from your stomach muscles, through your chest, into your throat, up to your forehead. Think of this as your central column, and it tightens up when you think you’re right, or someone else is wrong, or you really want something or don’t want something.
  3. Start to relax those tightened muscles. This is the heart of changing from holding on to letting go. Whatever is tight in your central column, relax. Try it right now. What is tight? Relax that. Soften.
  4. Open your awareness beyond yourself. Once you’ve done this (and you might have to repeat the relaxing, multiple times), you can open your awareness from just your own body and your self-concern, to the world around you. Become aware of the space around you, the people and objects, the light and sound. Open your awareness to the neighborhood around you.
  5. Become aware of openness & possibilities. With your mind opening, you can start to feel more open. Your mind is no longer closed, but has made space for possibilities. You are not fixated on one right way, but are open to everything. This is the beauty of not-knowing.
  6. Open to the beauty that is before you. Now that you are not fixated on rightness or your way or the way things should or shouldn’t be … you can take in the actual moment before you. You’ve emptied your cup, and made room for seeing things as they actually are, and appreciating the beauty of this moment, the beauty of other people, and of yourself.
  7. Step forward with a not-knowing openness. From this place of relaxing your fixed mind, of opening up … take the next step with a stance of not-knowing. You don’t know how things should be, let’s find out! You don’t know if you’re right or wrong, let’s explore! You don’t know the answers, you just hold the questions in your heart, and move into open possibilities.

It’s that simple. And of course, it takes a lot of practice. You can do this at any moment, but it’s helpful to have a short time of day when you set a reminder and then take a few moments to sit still and practice with whatever you’ve been clinging to today.

When we practice like this, we are shifting from our habitual patterns of self-concern and shutting out all possibilities, to openness and not-knowing, to unlimited possibilities and seeing the breath-taking beauty of the world in front of us.

Continue Reading

Be the Euphoria You Want To See In the World

Euphoria, n. A feeling or state of intense excitement and happiness

When I experience euphoria

I’m a pretty stereotypical runner guy now. So I’d have to tell you first about the euphoria that kicks in several miles into a long run. I’ve written before that it’s like:

You become an animal – something far more basic than your everyday self. You feel amazing, transcendent even – and you also feel desperate. You are being tested and rewarded. You sweat out your distractions, your pettiness, your greed, your insecurities.

This sort of thing isn’t unique to running, though.

I might get it when I wrap up a difficult jiu jitsu class (or some other session learning some difficult skill).

I just about always get it when I’m vulnerable with someone about attraction, or my failures, or difficult truths.

And I probably get it when I work my butt off to organize an event at work or home, when I’m working late in the office and no one’s around*, and when I hit “send” on an email delivering a hard project at 3 AM in the morning.

The common denominator is that I experience this kind of euphoria whenever I confront the things I might tend to avoid. Chemically, it’s adrenaline. Psychologically, it’s conditioning. Spiritually, it’s growth.

The world becomes lighter, I become stronger, and everything falls into place because I know I can take it.

But there’s also euphoria in reflection and dreaming.

When I’m going for a long drive I’ll reflect on where I’ve been and the beauty and chance and hard work (my own and others’) that has gotten me to where I am. There’s a euphoria that comes with realizing that (despite the many problems) you’re living in the fairest, freest, healthiest, wealthiest, and most peaceful society in all of human history.

Also while I’m driving, I’m probably listening to film scores (one of my favorite genres, judge me) and imagining a more adventurous life. If I’m going fast, with the windows down, with courage, and with the hope of a challenge ahead, I’ll feel just a bit euphoric. Heck, I get this sometimes on the way to work, right where I get to pick up speed.

When I see euphoria in the world

I wouldn’t say I often see euphoria – it’s pretty hard to separate from normal happiness or excitement from the outside looking in. But I do see often enough when people come alive – that low-level hum of euphoria and joy that can characterize not just a moment but a life.

You can tell pretty fast whether someone has that low-level euphoria. They voluntarily spend their time exploring a topic. They start talking faster when it comes up. They alternate between grinning with joy and frowning with focus. They own the adrenaline rush, and their initiative is magnetic. It makes you want to work harder.

I see something like this when I see great young apprentices in the Praxis community. They’re often just 18 or so and moving cross-country to work in startups. And the ones that are asking questions, doing hard work, and eking all the value they can get from their experience clearly have that “alive” quality that I don’t see in most young people.

I also see that low-level euphoria when I see great artists at work, like when I saw Lindsey Stirling perform around Christmastime. She may have been tired after a long tour of the same routine, but she did not show it. In the dancing, the decor, the stories, the music, the humor there was this sense of tremendous effort but also of effortless joy. Stirling was someone who from love brought together all of the best of human potential into this show. You have to be alive to do something like that.

So I suppose the answer is the same – if you want to see euphoria, go where the effort is. You can find it at celebrations occasionally, but you’ll find it often where the most sparks are flying.

Be the euphoria you want to see

How do I contribute to euphoria?

I guess I start by experiencing a lot of euphoria (when I can). I’m a big fan of the popular Howard Thurman quote:

“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

What I want to do is show people that it’s possible and practical to live a life of joy. Most people don’t believe that and so don’t find much euphoria.

So a good deal of that is on me. I’ve had experiences that have convinced me that truth (a big prerequisite for undivided joy) is worth it, and that effort is worth it. I want to communicate that. And I’ll do that best by taking as many chances as I can to surprise and delight people into the realization that joy is *right there* for anyone willing to act boldly.

I can encourage euphoria just by finding and encouraging others already on the path to “what makes them come alive.” If you’re an alive person, you can basically expect to have my friendship, or at least my alliance. Your fire is precious and deserves respect (the world is boring without people like you). I will root for you at least, and I might even be willing to fight for you in the extreme.

And what I’d like to continue to develop is a philosophical grounding for joy. People need to know that their struggles are worthwhile and their joy possible and good. Plenty of good thinkers (Ayn Rand for me, especially) have started this work. I’ll continue to try to share the words I’ve learned and find new ones that make the case for joy.

*The euphoria here is not much different than the state of “flow” in psychology.

Continue Reading

On Empathy II

Penn Jillette shared some fascinating insight recently. Do we not have a natural propensity to be deeply affected by the emotions experienced and portrayed by others right in front of us? Do we not want to either reach out and hold them, to soothe them or on the other end, to smile and to dance with them? Imagine the ability to view someone suffer, in some great way, perhaps someone you know, from behind a sound-proof one-way mirror. Our empathy would be barred, stunted. What if I told you that from an early age we are trained and conditioned to repress this natural propensity due to this barrier? Assuming this is the case, what effect does this have on us as empathetic creatures? Now, you might be wondering what in the world I am talking about. I am talking about something that humanity never experienced until the last century. I am talking about the emergence of witnessing other people’s grief or happiness and not having any responsibility for sharing in it. Never before have human beings witnessed other people’s emotions that were not right in front of them, that is, not until the invention of video recording devices and the creation of cinema. That’s something to think about, and today’s two cents.

Continue Reading

The Women’s March Stance on Reproductive Rights is All For The Erasure of Fertility, Not For Women

When I think about “women’s rights” and what that means, it isn’t much different than what I think about human rights. The right to life. The right to health, vitality and the opportunity to thrive. The right to happiness, freedom and personal autonomy and sovereignty. The right to resources and information and truth. The right to embodiment and a deeper connection to the universe and self.

Sure, some of that might seem idealistic and super meta, but I don’t aim low. If you know me, you aren’t surprised.

The 2019 Women’s March is coming up in three days and I am seeing women everywhere gearing up to, once again, march and “fight” for their rights (of which I am still confused about those they claim we supposedly don’t have. I am also in disagreement about what constitutes as a “right,” but I digress….).

When I think of many of the tenants of modern feminism, I don’t always hear, “fight for your rights,” so much as I hear, “fight for your right to pick your poison.”

On the Women’s March website under “Unity Principles,” it says the following on reproductive rights:

“We believe in Reproductive Freedom. We do not accept any federal, state or local rollbacks, cuts or restrictions on our ability to access quality reproductive healthcare services, birth control, HIV/AIDS care and prevention, or medically accurate sexuality education.  This means open access to safe, legal, affordable abortion and birth control for all people, regardless of income, location or education. We understand that we can only have reproductive justice when reproductive health care is accessible to all people regardless of income, location or education.”

If the women’s march and Planned Parenthood (one of their main sponsors) platform cared about reproductive freedom, then why do they not include anything about the daily occurrence of obstetrical abuse and violence? Or the reality that obstetrics is inherently violent and rooted in slavery at its core?

What about all the women who are harassed and invaded by CPS for choosing to birth their babies freely in the comfort of their own home without being overseen by a figure with a stamp of authority? No mention of birth freedom. Life freedom.

How come it isn’t mentioned that there are still states that midwifery care is illegal, and mostly unaffordable where it is legal? So being for women means we make “care” affordable and accessible to women who don’t want children (contraceptives and abortions), but we don’t include making care affordable and accessible to women who do?

Or even worse, how it is illegal to call oneself a midwife unless the government has granted you the title, meaning government owns the conditions of birth, and if women do not abide by these conditions then they are at risk for being tormented, interrogated and persecuted. Modern day witch hunts, in essence.

What about advocating for women to rest for 2-3 days when they bleed?

It’s because the women’s march, their platform and sponsors don’t actually care about women’s freedom in regard to their health and life giving abilities. They only care about furthering the modern feminist and Planned Parenthood agenda which includes the erasure of fertility, an abandonment of our hormonal matrix that distinguishes us as women, and sterilization. These components are what helps us further advance in joining the ranks of men and a world dominated by men. Modern feminism, AKA be more like men. The workforce and Planned Parenthood don’t really benefit when women stay home from work and opt out of medical care in order to take their care into their own hands.

For what it is worth, I love men and the roles they offer and provide. I just don’t want to be one. I am different, and offer value in other ways as a woman.

The thing is, and what I want women to know is…..

Women already have all the rights they are fighting for. They have them by virtue of their womanhood. They were given the power by nature to control birth or to terminate it if need be (and abortion is often caused by living in a society run by masculine ideals and values, not a solution to it, but I digress again). What I want women to know is that they don’t need to be wasting energy fighting men to feel autonomous over their bodies. We already are, and we have a vast well of resources and knowledge that is available to us that we have been robbed from by growing up in an industrialized, modern society. We don’t need to be marching on Capitol Hill. We need to march on over to the living rooms of our community sisters and relearn the art of DIY healthcare. It’s really not that hard, trust me, I do it. Not only do I do my own healthcare, but I train second year medical students (I know, how ironic. Another post.) how to perform the well-women’s exam and I’ll let you in on a little secret….

If you’re reading this, you could do the damn thing yourself…..

As much as I see myself as a woman who radically cares for the health and well-being and rights of women, I just can’t get behind the modern, liberal feminist movement that feels so rampant today, precisely because I don’t see that it carries similar values as I do. It touts that it does, but I see it all as a wolf in sheep’s clothing. The amount of disconnect between women, their bodies and the foundations of true health in the feminist movement is astonishing. I can’t support women demanding their “rights” for pills (that were invented and created by men) that screw up our hormonal health, (which is inextricably connected to everything else), and is responsible for many deaths.

I can’t cry for free access to a healthcare system that is dominated by the ideas of men and predicated on abuse and the perpetuation of chronic disease. A system that persuades women to part with their breasts and womb in the name of profit. I can’t hoot and holler when they make toxic feminine hygiene products “tax free” that wreak havoc on our bodies.

Like I said, the Women’s March platform mentions access to birth control and abortion, but says nothing (zero!) about a woman’s right to a healthy, physiological, sovereign birth and support around that (with the exception of maternal leave). I only see the erasure of fertility within feminism everywhere I look. Plug it up, take a pill, kill it.

I. Just. Don’t. Get. It. How is it not painfully obvious that (wo)man’s abandonment from nature, and now destruction of nature is what got us where we are today? And in a hierarchy where hu(man) thinks he can dominate that which sustains him (nature), it has translated over to women’s bodies, and feminists have taken the bait, and are now demanding free and total access to a world that was never created in support of their biology. I simply don’t resonate with anything that separates women from what makes them women, or attempts to make our unique, biological functions and gifts a burden that we need to abandon ourselves from.

To my mind, things like top-down, big medicine, hormonal contraceptives (or any pharmaceutical drug), and medicated/technocratic abortions are not components that can help “liberate” women, but rather, they only further exploit women. By no means do I see these as solutions to our problems, but rather, some inevitable outcomes to our deeper distresses.

Last year, I discovered a term called Ecofeminism. I can’t believe I had never heard of this before. It’s. So. Me. Sure, it’s just a label, and why the need to label myself? It’s less about the label and more that I know there are women who see the correlation between the oppression of nature and how that has translated into the oppression of women. Women who get that we are nature and trying to ignore and override it is the true “patriarchy.”

Some tenants and ideas of Ecofeminism are:

  • Ecofeminism uses the parallels between the oppression of nature and the oppression of women as a way to highlight the idea that both must be understood in order to properly recognize how they are connected. These parallels include but are not limited to seeing women and nature as property, seeing men as the curators of culture and women as the curators of nature, and how men dominate women and humans dominate nature.
  • One ecofeminist theory is that capitalist values reflect paternalistic and gendered values. In this interpretation effects of capitalism has led to a harmful split between nature and culture. In the 1970s, early ecofeminists discussed that the split can only be healed by the feminine instinct for nurture and holistic knowledge of nature’s processes.
  • Vandana Shiva says that women have a special connection to the environment through their daily interactions and this connection has been ignored. She says that women in subsistence economies who produce “wealth in partnership with nature, have been experts in their own right of holistic and ecological knowledge of nature’s processes”. She makes the point that “these alternative modes of knowing, which are oriented to the social benefits and sustenance needs are not recognized by the capitalist reductionist paradigm, because it fails to perceive the interconnectedness of nature, or the connection of women’s lives, work and knowledge with the creation of wealth (23)”. Shiva blames this failure on the West’s patriarchy, and the patriarchal idea of what development is. According to Shiva, patriarchy has labeled women, nature, and other groups not growing the economy as “unproductive”.
  • In Ecofeminism (1993) authors Vandana Shiva, Maria Mies and Evan Bondi ponder modern science and its acceptance as a universal and value-free system. Instead, they view the dominant stream of modern science as a projection of Western men’s values. The privilege of determining what is considered scientific knowledge has been controlled by men, and for the most part of history restricted to men. Bondi and Miles list examples including the medicalization of childbirth and the industrialization of plant reproduction.

There are many philosophies within ecofeminism, some are even conflicting just as they are within Christianity or modern feminism. I don’t agree with them all, but ecofeminism is the closest thing I have found that can articulate my personal views of feminism and what true health and empowerment for women is.

If being a feminist means I must support women in their choices no matter what, then I am not a feminist. Often times, supporting women “no matter what,” means watching women fall prey to toxic patriarchal exploitation cloaked in “women’s liberation,” and I can’t (and won’t) sit back and swallow one iota of toleration for something I view as doing so much harm. Which doesn’t mean I’ll jump down your throat about it, either, or even bring it up if we don’t have a relationship built on a lot of love and trust.

If being a feminist mean I think women deserve equal treatment, respect, and pay for the same work (they do) as men or any other human being, then of course, I am a feminist, and quite frankly, who isn’t (with the exception of some assholes)?

Continue Reading

The Beautiful and Scary Practice of Moving Closer

Life is full of all kinds of stresses, and each of us has habitual ways of reacting to those stresses — we procrastinate, run to comforts, lash out or distance ourselves from others, try to exit from a stressful place, mentally complain about others.

The sad effect of these habitual reactions is that they move us further away from others, and from the direct experience of the moment.

Let’s take a quick example: If you are hurt by the way someone is acting, your habitual reaction might be complaining about them, taking offense, getting angry (all of these or a combo). Then you shut them out, closing your heart to them, moving away from them.

The effect of this is that you’ve now distanced yourself from the other person. And I submit that this is the cause of most of our relationship problems, work issues, violence, racism, political strife, and wars.

Closing our hearts to others and creating distance from them out of habitual reaction to stress is the heart of aggression, violence and pain.

We do the same thing when it comes to our direct experience of the moment — if we’re bored, unhappy with our situation, unhappy with ourselves, stressed or tired … we habitually try to find comfort in food, drink, drugs, online distractions, TV or videos, shopping, porn, drowning everything out with music, and so on. We are moving away from the present moment, shutting out the world around us.

Moving ourselves away from the direct experience of this moment, out of habitual reaction, is the heart of our unhappiness and disconnect from life.

These are all based on the same problem — we have habitual reactions to stress, and those habitual reactions move us further from other people. From life itself. From ourselves.

Today, I’d like to offer you a practice that I’ve been exploring myself: the beautiful practice of moving closer.

It is scary, shaky, and transformative.

It goes like this:

  1. Notice that you’re feeling some kind of stress — anxiety, pain, struggle, frustration, overwhelm, sadness.
  2. Notice your habitual reaction to that stress: you procrastinate, try to exit, shut someone out, complain, run to one of your comforts, hide, quit, run away, lash out, yell, hit, medicate, etc.
  3. Refrain from indulging in your habitual reaction. Instead, just remain still. Instead of complaining, do nothing. Instead of spinning around a narrative about the other person and shutting them out, do nothing. Just refrain.
  4. Breathe deeply into the sensations in your body. When you refrain from your habitual reaction, you are left with an energy in your body that still really wants to do the habitual thing. It will be a strong urge. You just sit still. You do nothing. But you breathe deeply and relax around the energy in your body. Notice how it feels, in your torso. Be curious about it. Stay with it. Be present with it. Welcome it. Give it compassion.
  5. Now, move closer. Someone else stressing you out? After refraining from complaining about them, move closer to them. Open your heart and be fully present with them. Be completely loving. Yes, sometimes you have to physically protect yourself — but that doesn’t mean you have to shut down your heart. You can love the person who has hurt you, without letting them continue to hurt you. Maybe it’s not a person but a situation (or yourself) that’s stressing you out. You are filled with discomfort and uncertainty. You refrain from your habitual reaction, and instead you move closer to the direct experience of this moment. You open your heart to the world, and love it as it is. You love yourself as you are.

Continue to move closer. Continue to reopen your heart. From this place, see what action you need to take. Not from the place of habitual reaction.

It’s an incredibly beautiful practice. And yes, it’s filled with shakiness. That makes it even more courageous.

Continue Reading

On Expectations

The expectations that parents set on their children can have the effect of stifling the child’s own expectations, and expressions. A person is a unique combination of genes who grows and evolves within a unique combination of memes. Therefore, every person is a unique individual, and will learn to set expectations for themselves for what they will become. Parents can influence these self-set expectations, but they must be careful not to influence expectations that are incompatible with their child’s nature. You may want your child to be athletic, but they may be more inclined to mathematics and engineering. You may want your child to be musical, but they may be more inclined to painting and drawing. Children should be given ample opportunity to become whoever they will become without fear of shame or disappointment. Expect greatness and happiness from your child, but let them surprise you with how they manifest those things. And that’s today’s two cents.

Continue Reading