Getting Out of Your Head: Mindfulness is a Misnomer

Getting Out of Your Head: Mindfulness is a Misnomer

Picture: Eartha Kitt modelling bodyfulness

Sati is the ancient Indian word that was translated as “mindfulness” during the Victorian era — the era that took complex Buddhist concepts and gave us riveting translations like “suffering,” “aggregates,” and “sympathetic joy.” Ugh!

Sati is at the center of the training we undertake to alleviate stress and cultivate well–being. But we put the word “mind” right up front giving the impresssion that all we need to do is focus on our thoughts and presto… joy!

In some ways, yes, mindfulness is a great translation for (part of) sati. It speaks to the attentional capacity we need to develop — especially because most of us are complete and utter scatterbrains, our thoughts and emotions constantly yank us around.  But, in fact, despite all the focus on neuroscience, it’s not only about our brains.

Sati is about training and increasing our capacity to be with our present moment experiences in a more easeful, non-reactive way. The body is the perfect place for that training. While the mind can (and does) pull us into the past or future, the body is only ever in the present moment. That’s why the breath and body are used as primary objects of meditation in so many traditions.

One connotation of sati is memory. Not in the sense of recalling information or having a memory of the past but of that act remembering. You know the feeling during meditation when your mind has been wandering and you come back into your body, your breath, the present moment? You’ve remembered “Oh, yeah, duh, I was meditating. That’s what I was doing.” That very precise moment of awareness is sati.  We are remembering to be fully in this moment. We feel our breath, our body, our existence.

Interestingly, to dismember means to pull the body apart piece by piece… Maybe we are re–membering. We are getting out of our heads, coming to our senses, cultivating an embodied awareness… putting our bodies back together breath by breath. 

Here’s how embodied awareness [translated here as mindfulness *sigh*] is described in the classical teachings :

There is one thing that, when cultivated and regularly practiced, leads to deep spiritual intention, to peace, to mindfulness and clear comprehension, to vision and knowledge, to a happy life here and now, and to the culmination of wisdom and awakening.  And what is that one thing? It is mindfulness centered on the body.
(Anguttara Nikaya I, 21 )
If the body is not cultivated, the mind cannot be cultivated. If the body is cultivated then the mind can be cultivated. (Majjhima Nikaya 36)

It wasn’t until I started doing yoga in my early twenties that I began to (re)connect to my body (I, like many of us, lost this connection in adolescence).  I learned where I carry stress and tension in my body and where I could find and cultivate ease.  I began to understand that contraction and tension in the mind has an effect on our bodies, and also that our bodies effect our minds. BUT we can’t think our way to relaxation. We need to retrain our awareness to uncover and encourage ease and pleasure in the body.

For a few years now, my main meditation practice has been lying down. I don’t usually fall asleep when I meditate, so this is a good practice for me (although the Dalai Lama said sleep is the best meditation, so, there’s that). I encourage you to find an easy and easeful way to connect to your body in your practice, to practice re–membering, to practice bodyfulness.

Space IS Structure

Space IS Structure

Image by Satsuki Shibuya



Before I left for vacation, my friend, Colin (an excellent coach for those who are looking), was coaching me as I was lamenting my inability to create more structure for writing & creativity . He was guiding me in an inquiry process and the statement “the space IS the structure” came out of my mouth. I realized, once again *sigh*, how I crowd all the space in my life and how, get this, even my meditation practice becomes a way to fill the space.These days, it feels so difficult to make space.  Anyone else feel like this?

But the ridiculous part coming from me — all my programs use the phrase make space: make space for transformation, make space for inspiration, make space for change… make space for all of you. Duh.

Of course, it’s not my or your fault (hardly anything is — because modernity). So much of our world now is specifically designed to take space. Our gadgets as a whole, yes. But also the embedded processes of technology… the scrolling function of social media (someone designed that precisely so that you would not have to bother with the extra micro-moment it takes to click “next”), the autoplay function on streaming video that doesn’t allow any break between episodes (advice: turn that shit off!), the ubiquitous red–colored notifications on apps which immediately draw your attention when it might wander or wonder (red is also the sign for danger for a reason), all the content, content, content, content.

But also, the general trend of our society towards time scarcity and the state of constantly being over scheduled. It’s even affecting children.

Personally, I have also been overwhelmed with life circumstances, so I could maybe give myself a break, right? But that would mean making space in my heart for something different than the self–flagellating voice of comparison &  criticism. I look at all the people producing weekly newsletters and writing books and I beat myself up for feeling depleted and uninspired.

After my intuitive declaration about space & structure, I learned of the Japanese word ma, which is often translated as “gap”, “space”, “pause” or “the space between two structural parts”

This is the Kanji character below. It graphically combines “door” and “sun”  and symbolizes light entering through space (originally it was “moon” — which is a whole other post about patriarchy and masculine symbols replacing feminine ones) .

[Ma] is best described as a consciousness of place, not in the sense of an enclosed three-dimensional entity, but rather the simultaneous awareness of form and non-form deriving from an intensification of vision. Ma is not something that is created by compositional elements; it takes place in the imagination of the human who experiences these elements. Therefore, ma can be defined as experiential place understood with emphasis on interval. (Thank you Wikipedia!)

Here’s more:

Space is substance. Cézanne painted and modelled space. Giacometti sculpted by “taking the fat off space”. Mallarmé conceived poems with absences as well as words. Ralph Richardson asserted that acting lay in pauses… Isaac Stern described music as “that little bit between each note – silences which give the form.” —The Art of Looking Sideways, by Alan Fletcher

I realize now that I was trying to stoke the fire of creativity without giving enough air to the flames. Anyone who has tried to build a fire knows that it needs three things: heat, fuel, and oxygen. I barely had the heat (inspiration) and the fuel (energy) let alone the oxygen (space). When I did carve out some time, I used up the little oxygen there was almost immediately — I could get no farther than writing a few sentences before losing the light. My imagination could not experience the consciousness of place, the interval necessary for creation.

Sometimes I notice something similar in my meditation practice itself.  Life gets busy and I only make time for the minimum, usually a 15 or 20 minute sit in the morning. My mind, racing with that momentum, has no space for the  silences which give the form

If space is the breath of art, maybe breath is the art of space.

I CAN choose differently, plan more carefully, open up space in my daily schedule (by fiercely protecting it from filling up!). Doing so allows me to dedicate more time to my practice, rather than cramming it into the crack in my morning. When I let go of the rushing, sit for 45 or even 75(!!) minutes, and maybe even create spaciousness before and after the meditation it’s like a waterway that has been replenished and undammed. Things are able to flow.

So, I am (re)committing to making space in my calendar for writing, for longer practice periods, as well as for ma or what I’m calling free(dom) time (scheduled time for no–thing). To do this I must (re)connect to my sense of inner no–ing and not revert to crowding the door and blocking the moonlight.

AND I am going to NOT beat myself up when the space inevitable fills up again and I have to start over (just like with my mind in meditation).

Tell me, how will you make more space?

“No” is a complete sentence. On Inner No–ing.

“No” is a complete sentence. On Inner No–ing.

Forgotten toddler tantrums aside, I’ve never been good at saying “no.” People pleasing, compulsive compassion, wonder womaning, parker–posey–party girling, and exaggerated empathy have long led to cycles of overdrive followed by burnout.
These imbalanced ways of reacting to the world are definitely learned behavior. Growing up, I got plenty of messages about being a caretaker and putting others first while alsobeing successful and sexy — Enjoli (look it up millenials). But I am a grown–ass woman now and am learning to say “no.”

Say “yes” to Inner No–ing. “No” is a compete sentence.*

But why is it so hard to say it? And mean it?

For me, there are a few things operating (they feed into and on each other):

  1. the need to please: This one is my kryptonite. I have a voracious need for approval. It’s wound up closely with no. 2  but is more outwardly focused — the actions I take more than the messages I receive/interpret. In the past, the need to please had me accepting almost every invitation that I received. The need to belong is wired into us for survival — we needed the pack to avoid harm. But maybe it’s been taken it a little too far — we will not be eaten by wild animals if we do

    Photo-Illustration: Maya Robinson

    n’t go to someone’s birthday gathering.

  2. fear of rejection: It’s embarrassing how much positive feedback buoys me and how much criticism cuts. I’m not the only one. I have a friend who remembers nothing of the multiple good reviews written about her artistic project from 20+ years ago, but she can quote entire sentences from the one bad review (from a shitty publication).  Also: someone not liking me ≠ being eaten by wild animals.
  3. FOMO, aka greed: Fear of missing out is really an acronym for craving. And craving is really our not–so-smart strategy for dealing with the impermanence/unreliability of life. If I distract myself with all the things to do, the things to visit, the things to read/watch/eat/consume, maybe that will keep suffering at bay (um, nope).  A smarter strategy is as Suzuki Roshi describes accepting that [things] go away. Maybe I don’t need that extra cookie/glass of wine/pair of sneakers/episode of Transparent to be happy.
  4. the pull of culture and my own conditioning: The Buddhist path (or any spiritual practice) can be thought of as “going against the stream.” That’s how the Buddha described it 2,600 years ago; and there was no social media. Well, now it’s like going against the tsunami. It’s hard not to be pulled by the messages of our time, especially when they’re disguised as positive habits (I’ve written before about the pathology of productivity).


Of course I say “yes” to many — things I love, things I feel called to do. The challenge is knowing how much is enough — I can’t agree to every invitation and I can’t fight every injustice. For balance, there are four areas where I am focusing and practicing my no’s (and they are also messily interrelated).

  1. no to obligations
  2. no to (the need for) confirmations
  3. no to distractions
  4. no to compulsions


All of these require me to cultivate awareness and presence, which require me to slow down, which require me to create space and time for meditation or other contemplative practices.

“No” requires pausing. Pausing is a radical “no.”

As a radical young adult, I explored transgressive spaces and acts and was exposed to boundary pushing in every domain. I remember wondering at 19 or 20 what (if anything) will seem truly radical once all the boundaries have been challenged in work and art and sex and life?

Today, the most radical act I can imagine for myself is to pause. No consuming. No constructing. “Yes” to curiosity. “Yes” to connection.
Just being.
Followed by a long nap.

Confession: I am not good at this. Some days I am really bad at this. Do as I say, not as I do.

But there’s this: I keep recommitting to my inner no–ing. Just like in my meditation practice — coming back to the breath, to the felt sense of my being — I reconnect to the possibility of spaciousness and wonder and joy and right now. I say “yes” to this moment…

Pause. Be. Take a nap.


*Thanks to my friend Maria Arias for teaching me the phrase “Inner No–ing”

P.S. if you like this post, you’ll love these:

Pause: The Pathology of Productivity vs. The Power of Presence

Sick in the Head: Slow the F Down and Listen to Your Heart

Oh Despair. Some Sun Has Got To Rise.

Oh Despair. Some Sun Has Got To Rise.

It’s been a long while since I’ve written. What a summer.

I felt the call to pen something with each devastating moment — Orlando, Istanbul, Baton Rouge, Minnesota, Baghdad, Nice, Syria, Dallas, Ethiopia, our ongoing climate crises, wildfires, floods, not to mention the racism and patriarchy at the center of the circus that is the U.S. presidential election. The magnitude of each was amplified by the video footage of the event itself as well as the emotional responses of the survivors (and the tone–deaf review by the media).

After the shooting in Orlando, I struggled with how to respond on social media (a problematically passive “response” but as Darryl Pinckney has said: “There is no more denying or forgetting. Social media have removed filters that used to protect white America from what it didn’t want to see”). As a straight person, I did not want to take up a lot of space but I also wanted to communicate solidarity and help disseminate important and powerful statements and perspectives that some in my circle might not otherwise see. Talking to a queer white woman friend during the following week, we expressed our aspiration to show up for issues that were not only “our own” (and therefore may not feel as deeply) as well as those that rarely get mainstream attention.

But the stream of information made me feel insignificant and impotent. The reports hit me. Hard.

 I can choose the inclination of my mind. I can choose to think my own thoughts. //

It’s easier to like and share an article than write one. It felt like a daunting responsibility to offer some perspective, to muster some wise words about events so huge and heartbreaking… who am I to have any answers? With each new event/news–cycle I felt both responsible to act/write and at a loss for words. I felt despair —a loss of faith in possibilities for change.

The strange truth is things are not worse today (than let’s say 5, 10 or even 100 years ago) for black people, the LGBTQ community, women, Africa, the concept of democracy… (the earth herself is another story). There’s actually less violence, crime, war, exploitation; some even say we may be living in the most peaceful period in the history of our species.

The sun still sets and rises. It’s just that today we have non-stop coverage and social media feeds and analysis and inflammatory trolls. I am reminded of a Krishnamurti quote:

“You think you are thinking your thoughts. You are not. You are thinking the culture’s thoughts.”

Despair can be an appropriate response to horror. It is understandable to doubt the wisdom of hope when confronted with unbridled greed, hatred and ignorance. But our meditation practice teaches us the difference between an appropriate response and a habitual reaction.

I’ve written before that creative and reactive are the same word, the C just moves… That C is curiosity. A true response is momentary (and, of course, we can have multiple moments or waves of feeling and emotion). Reactivity is perpetuated by a thinking mind that is locked into one concept or perception — closed off to the changing moments of lived experience. No longer curious.

I don’t need to push despair away but I do need to take responsibility not to get stuck in its loop (which probably entails taking breaks from the news).

If I stay mired in despair, in a loss of hope, I’m not responding to life any longer. I’m wallowing. And I’m wallowing not in my thoughts, but the culture’s thoughts — can I see that? That my attention has been hijacked.

The Buddha said whatever we frequently think and ponder upon will become the inclination of our minds. The news (and my social media feed) can incline my mind to only thinking about disaster, violence, fear, celebrity absurdity, and election nonsense. What I notice is that the inclination of my mind affects my feelings, emotions, moods, conversations, decisions, actions… my life.

In fact, life changes with each moment. Images of murder and devastation are followed by feeling a gentle breeze from the window pass over the tops of my legs. Worries about a loved one accompanied by the sound of a bee buzzing caught between the screen and the window.

I can choose the inclination of my mind. I can choose to think my own thoughts.

The Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs put it well in this song.

Oh despair, you’ve always been there
You’ve always been there
You’ve always been there
You’re there through my wasted years
Through all my lonely fears,
no tears
Run through my fingers, tears
They’re stinging my eyes, no tears
If it’s all in my head there’s nothing to fear
Nothing to fear inside
Through the darkness and the light
Some sun has got to rise
My sun is your sun…
Your sun is our sun
Some sun has got to rise

So, until we really screw things up, some sun has got to rise.

Know Yourself. Love Yourself. Check Yourself.

Know Yourself. Love Yourself. Check Yourself.

[Photo: Pearl Eileen Primus (b. 1919) was a dancer, choreographer, and anthropologist.]

In my last newsletter, I shared the Zen axiom that this path (to liberation) requires us “to study the self.” I first heard that teaching in my early twenties. And because, like most of you, I went to school for the first coupla decades of life, I took it to mean study–study.

The way we are taught to “know” things in this society is largely through an intellectual, rational, scientific, material understanding. We start young and spend most of our time being conditioned in this way. Even though education theory has come to include the idea of multiple intelligences, as a culture, we still tend to think of intelligence and knowing as linguistic/mathematical/scientific abilities.

And that’s exactly how I approached the study of self and my self–development in general — I read. A LOT. I was knowing through my head. I’ve written here before about other kinds of knowing; knowing that is embodied, connected, present. But it took 20–something–me another decade and a cancer diagnosis to begin undoing all that education and (re)learn other ways of knowing.

I read and thought and listened to a lot about meditation before I actually started to practice. And while practicing, I mostly thought about my experience before I learned how to be with my experience. I had to attune to the body – a different way of knowing. And it is the balance of different ways of knowing (a full study of the self) that leads to true freedom. I’ve learned to know myself in my head, heart & belly

In the model of human personality called The Enneagram, there are 3 Centers of Intelligence: head (mental), heart (emotional), & belly (physical). I’m a heart type: I connect first emotionally, with all the happiness and hardships that can bring. But, because our whole culture skews to the head – mental knowing – I mostly float up to the intellectual. Generally, each of us gravitates to one area more than the others and, again, in contemporary life, we are encouraged/demanded to be in our heads (and rewarded for it). To undo this, first we must know our habits and then learn to balance the 3 centers.

Of course, there are many other aspects to our self–development, but I’ve found that even a basic understanding of our tendencies in relation to the 3 centers is helpful. Are you a head type — do you think through things intellectually first? Or maybe you’re a body type — you primarily feel things through your body? What ever type you might be, can you learn to balance all your ways of knowing?

One simple outline I’ve been using lately:

  • Know Yourself (belly) — Connect to your body by first feeling into your belly with any centering or meditation practices you use. What is present for you in this moment? What sensations or feelings are arising? Where do you feel them? What words or images come to you?
  • Love Yourself (heart) — Sense into your chest area. Can you make space for whatever is arising? Can you open to any sensations, feelings, thoughts, emotions, images, memories with a sense of welcoming? Can you offer kindness and compassion to whatever is arising?
  • Check Yourself (head) — Take a few deep breaths. What is your sense of what has arisen for you? What would you like to cultivate and what would you like to release? Can you integrate what is beneficial for you? Can you let go of what is not beneficial for you?

In what ways do you know?

Until next time, be well my friends.

With love (’cause I’m a heart type),

p.s. Check out my new course starting in June, in Brooklyn(!).  Over 6–weeks, we will be exploring these 3 ways of knowing in an intimate group setting. make space!

Open to Mystery

Open to Mystery

“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science.” ~ Albert Einstein


The hype around meditation and mindfulness in the past few years has been bananas. It seems like a new article, book, celebrity–endorsement comes out weekly. Fueling a lot of this are the scientific justifications — studies that prove that meditation positively effects physical, mental, and emotional well–being. It does. And if this encourages people to practice, that’s great. I use my uber–basic understanding of neuroscience to highlight for students some of the benefits of meditation.

But not all of the benefits of contemplative practice are measurable. Or maybe even conceivable.

My wise friend Greg says there are really only two things: concepts & mystery. Take a guess with which one most of us are more comfortable?

And it’s not that concepts are bad and mystery is good. Or that mystery is hocus pocus and concepts are verified. It’s not a spiritual or scientific contest. We need concepts (language, metaphors, ideas) to make our way through life. Mystery is a fact; we don’t know most things let alone everything.

There are concepts. There is mystery. Both.

But concepts rule contemporary life and can imprison us in a need for certainty and control. That’s what our culture emphasizes and rewards. That is our collective conditioning (indigenous wisdom never lost the connection to mystery). The above Einstein quote in full: The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. [One] to whom the emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand wrapped in awe, is as good as dead.

We witness that deadness in our culture. The dismissal of mystery, the dismissal of wonder and awe. The distrust of not knowing.  Einstein also said this: The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.

We must remember the forgotten gift.  We need a reclamation of mystery, of what’s been lost or rejected, of what threatens. The deadness actually comes from fear, from our incapacity to stay curious about what scares us, makes us uncomfortable, challenges us. Meditation practice can help us remember the intuitive mind.

And if we need science to make us feel more comfortable with the process, maybe the “science” behind meditation should include physics.

Last month was the hundredth anniversary of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. His work was revolutionary and it brings us face to face with mystery. It’s been 100 years since he told us that space and time, distances and duration are relative — dependent on different observers and locations in the universe. And we still can’t fully get it. He said time is a persistent illusion and also knew that all matter is mostly space… Wait, huh?

We don’t need to understand the math or concepts behind it because even if we did it’s so hard to internalize these truths. It’s almost impossible, we can’t internalize it. We have this perceptual illusion that we are solid, that matter is solid, NOT mostly space. We have this perceptual illusion that time is moving forward… past, present, future – NOT that it’s relative from one person, place or thing to another. Time is an illusion. Matter is mostly space.

Scientists tell us that roughly 95% of the universe is made up of the mysterious forces of dark energy and dark matter. The rest — everything on Earth, everything ever observed with all of our instruments, all normal matter — adds up to less than 5% of the universe. 95% of the cosmos is mystery. String Theory hypohthesizes that there are probably 10–11 dimensions. What does that mean?

Mystery by its very nature is puzzling. It asks us to give up our usual ways of understanding. It asks us to give up control (like we ever had a choice). It insists that we allow for paradoxes. It exists outside language. It presents us with uncertainty and unreliability. It reveals impermanence.

Not things we like very much. So we try and push away not knowing with facts and statistics. We try and hold on to certainty (of happiness, of pleasure, of safety, of solidity, of continuity).  We grasp and cling — which of course creates suffering…

Our longing for safety and for what’s comfortable is very deep; it’s hard wired into us. To let go of the usual discursive focus and simply listen, that’s not easy. But our practice is all about that, isn’t it? We can be open and curious about emotions, thoughts, sensations that are moving through us. We cultivate a trust with whatever is arising. Not pin down, not know, not fix. To just be with what’s happening. 

Can we open to mystery?

P.S. This post is based on a talk I gave with my teacher Thanissara at Spirit Rock Meditation Center this Thanksgiving. Give a listen here.

P.P.S. I will be going on another long retreat so you will be hearing from me again in March. Happy New Year! May peace & joy prevail on our tiny blue sphere and throughout the vast and mysterious universes.

Curiosity First: Reactive to Creative

Curiosity First: Reactive to Creative


A few years ago, while journaling, I realized that reactive and creative are the same word. The “c” just moves. My friend Rebecca (a very creative person) asked “What does the “c” stand for?” Good question.

I thought it was consciousness, but now I think it’s curiosity (which helps with consciousness, cultivation, contemplation, clarity, connection…).I recently returned from a 7–week silent meditation retreat (which is why you have not heard from me in a while and why you’ll be getting two newsletters this month — so look out for Waking Up Wisely: Positive Critical Thinking in a couple of weeks). Those of you who have done retreats know that it is possible for the mind to become quite still and spacious. Or not… This retreat I experienced quite a lot of agitation and anxiety.  All sorts of things were coming up for me, including this random lol cat youtube memory (which also happens to be an apt visual metaphor for my failed attempts to cultivate a still mind those first few weeks).Our usual strategies for any kind of discomfort is to move away from it, discredit it, or get rid of it. If I’m bored or anxious, I find something to distract me. If I don’t like something you say, I condemn it. If I don’t like something I see, I shut my eyes. But on retreat there’s nowhere to go, no one to blame, and your eyes are already shut. You could sit there all day every day with your blabbering, deluded mind going on and on. But the only real possibility for creative response and for transformation is to get curious.

Mindfulness (sati) has many aspects to it. These days, the most well known and most widely cultivated aspect is the attentional quality. A very useful capacity — especially when your mind is wandering to cat videos (even if that’s not the worst thing it could be wandering towards). It’s been proven in studies, a wandering mind is an unhappy mind; but mindfulness is so much more than paying attention. Mindfulness is ultimately about learning to relate to our experiences with more wisdom and compassion; because a reactive mind is also an unhappy mind. And curiosity is a crucial component of lessening our reactivity.

But how do you cultivate curiosity when you are frustrated, anxious, angry, sad? How do we meet any moment with creativity instead of reactivity?

We open to our experience.

John Paul Lederach (see this just this) describes the haiku attitude — the state of mind/heart needed for creative expression — as the “capacity to be touched by beauty.” As I struggled on my retreat, I remembered this poetic guideline and took refuge in the glory all around me — wild flowers, dragonflies, bees, chipmunks — allowing myself to be touched by summer’s beauty. But as I reflected on the whole phrase, I realized I was emphasizing the wrong part. It’s not beauty that’s the point, it’s the capacity to be touched. Summer’s beauty is glorious. As are cat videos (well, to some of us). And anything, when used to avoid experience, diminishes our capacity to be touched.

So I rationed my chipmunk intake, returned to the cushion, and allowed myself to be touched by what, in a recent talk, my teacher Kittisaro called the wakeful, sensitive, interested, curious silence filled with listening. And there, I met things I had not wanted to touch — pain, fear, loss, grief. I met them with curiosity and kindness and the intention to give them as much time as needed.

And, in time, the stillness I had strived for in the beginning as a way to get away from the anxiety and agitation, it appeared as the spacious awareness holding it all. Awareness holding the tension, pain and fear. Awareness holding the ease, joy, and love.

And all of it is beauty.


Why do you so earnestly seek
the truth in distant places?
Look for delusion and truth in the
bottom of your own heart.

— Ryokan


Erotic as Power: The Problem of Patriarchy & Feeling the Feminine

Erotic as Power: The Problem of Patriarchy & Feeling the Feminine


2015 is my year of the erotic as power.

Keep your panties on people. Not that kind of erotic… Well, not only that kind of erotic.Last newsletter I mentioned bell hooks’ statement that “patriarchy has no gender.” It is true. And one of patriarchy’s primary tactics is to keep us all (whatever gender) from feeling the feminine.

I recently (re)discovered the essay “Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power” by Audre Lorde. Her message about the liberatory nature of the erotic resonated very strongly for me as I explore the role of this capacity in my own life.

The erotic as power is a deep knowing that touches into a “feminine plane” within each of us. The erotic is as she says “the creative energy empowered.” It is rooted in the senses and a vital connection to the body. But the erotic is not only the sexual. She is talking about the ability to feel fully and live deeply into our experience (to love experience), something that is discouraged in a society that values speed, activity, productivity, and the mind over living the richness and depth of feeling in the body.With sex, this depth is perverted into only being about a type of sex that is quick, isolated, and transactional (I do this, you do that) — what she calls the pornographic. In the rest of life, depth is sacrificed to the scramble to keep up and survive — what I’ll call the hustle. Yes, often you gotta hustle to survive (until tomorrow or next month or at all). The erotic is about thriving and savoring, every moment.

Society as a whole, including spiritual traditions, perpetuate a suspicion of the erotic and the feminine. As a long-time Buddhist practitioner, I often find myself questioning the constructs and forms of my tradition(s). Forms can be useful. And sometimes they need to be re-constructed.

The body, movement, relationship, sexuality, depth of feeling, expression, justice, activism, creativity, even the wild (next month I’ll be writing about “A Wild Patience”)… these are things I desire to bring into my practice and the current forms are not always supportive. An example: I definitely understand, practice, and greatly appreciate the necessity and benefits of silence and stillness, of renunciation and simplicity. But when is it self-discipline and when is it self-abnegation? And how will I know the difference?I long for the depth and richness of the erotic not only in my spiritual practice, I long for these things in my work and communities where there isn’t space for them yet. What would the erotic look like at work, with family, at home? Here’s Audre:

“For once we begin to feel deeply all the aspects of our lives, we begin to demand from ourselves and from our life-pursuits that they feel in accordance with that joy which we know ourselves to be capable of. Our erotic knowledge empowers us, becomes a lens through which we scrutinize all aspects of our existence, forcing us to evaluate those aspects honestly in terms of their relative meaning within our lives. And this is a grave responsibility, projected from within each of us, not to settle for the convenient, the shoddy, the conventionally expected, nor the merely safe.

 Aspirations for my year of the erotic as power:
  • aimless playfulness in my explorations walking, reading, talking, cloud-watching, creating…
  • more dancing — including subway platform jigs
  • less time speeding through data — try the SelfControl app  for blocking time-killing websites
  • expressing my deepest longings — whether on paper, screen, or in person

What are yours?


Creative vs Reactive

Creative vs Reactive


Elizabeth Gilbert is the author of what she calls the “freakishly” successful memoir Eat, Pray,Love and her Ted Talk on creativity has had over 4 million viewers. One thing I appreciate about the talk, and Gilbert in general, is the presentation of inspiring information through storytelling that models creativity, honesty and vulnerability. Like many frustrated creatives, I have often taught young people what I yearned to do myself. Some of the bottling up of my creative energy came from my inner critic who whispered societally reinforced ideas about genius, creative spark and the myth of creation being about a destructive and dangerous ego.

In this talk, Gilbert unpacks the myth of destructive artistic genius by describing her own work-horse, laborious process and most interestingly by tracing the origins of our ideas of genius back to ancient Greece and Rome. She describes the origins of the word genius as having started with the idea of each artist or creative as having a genius – a divine inspiration or entity that enabled creation. During the Renaissance this changed; she says this:

“And for the first time in history, you start to hear people referring to this or that artist as being a genius rather than having a genius. And I got to tell you, I think that was a huge error. You know, I think that allowing somebody, one mere person to believe that he or she is like, the vessel, you know, like the font and the essence and the source of all divine, creative, unknowable, eternal mystery is just a smidge too much responsibility to put on one fragile, human psyche. It’s like asking somebody to swallow the sun. It just completely warps and distorts egos, and it creates all these unmanageable expectations about performance. And I think the pressure of that has been killing off our artists for the last 500 years.

This talk had a profound effect on me. It is after viewing it that I started a blog and created my first website (now defunct) – which I coded and built myself and for which I created the logo and took most of the photos (having a cinematographer husband is helpful too). Gilbert’s clear outline of her own mule-ishness – showing up day after day whether her genius does her part or not – inspired me. I remember when I finally figured out how to make my tiny logo show up in the tab of an open webpage, I felt a rush of creative satisfaction. Gilbert’s Ted Talk shares similarities with the Katy Payne interview on listening with the body. Showing up to write (or paint, or make music, or…) and being fully present to what might arrive is opening oneself to the creativity of the universe.

Last year while journaling I discovered that creative and reactive are the same  word. The C just moves. When I was talking about this with my friend Rebecca she asked me what the C stands for. I think it  stands for consciousness. It stands for the awareness and presence in which the universe is asking us to share and with which we must connect in order to tap into that creativity. Of course I know that through my website and my blog posts I am creating something small that very few people would ever see but it thrills me nonetheless whenever I feel a flow. We all contain stories and beauty to inspire the creative genius within each of us.

Then Do Something to That

Then Do Something to That


“Do something, do something to that, and then do something to that.”
Jasper Johns

Creativity is anything and everything. Everyone is creative – not only in an artistic sense. I have found that journaling and other habits support my spiritual, emotional, and intellectual development. Below are the three “techniques” that influence me the most. Of course, there are many other ways of being creative, but for now:


IMG_6821-2I began journaling after college. In the intervening 2 decades(!), I have gone through many small books. There are periods when I’ve journaled more than others, times in my life when I wrote more and periods when collage and drawings have taken up most of the space. Whatever I “do” in my journal, I know that it is often a springboard for my overall creativity. I think of journals like the seedlings started indoors in winter… once your ideas are ready for planting somewhere else, you can transplant them.

To convince you that you don’t need to be an artist to do wholesale jerseys this, here is an image from one of my journals (glue sticks, markers and repeating words and patterns go a long way).



I believe in feng shui. Not that I understand the science of it but it just makes plain common sense that our surroundings influence our energy. From what we wear to what we sit on, balance and simplicity on the outside promote the same on the inside. Color not clutter; minimalism not messiness.

I believe that design is important for our creativity and our practice. aus Color, texture, proportion, and a basic attention to the energy generated by objects on or around us are central to our sense of well being.Also, I am a proud declutterer. This might have something to do with growing up in a cluttered (but clean – thanks mom!) house where a ridiculous amount of time was spent looking for lost keys and misplaced eye cheap mlb jerseys glasses. Or maybe it was the years living with an anal roommate (thanks Peter!) where confusion did not reign, my anxiety levels lowered, and my creativity bloomed. I have found my personal balance – I love to throw away unused items, neaten drawers, straighten piles, and organize objects, and I still have issues with putting my clothes away neatly. But I understand that calm and balance around me cultivate those qualities within me. I never meditate without first making my bed.My teacher, Gina Sharpe, tells a story about sititng a retreat with an Asian master. On the first day, the eager Western students sat Nfl on the edges of cheap jerseys their cushions awaiting his words of wisdom. He told them, cheap jerseys “I want you to go clean your rooms and make sure everything is in order.” In that moment, that was the wisest teaching he could offer.



The body is the perfect entry into our creativity as it is the ultimate source of everything we manifest. Many are intimidated by moving their bodies but any authentic embodiment (including stillness) is creative if done with an openess to exploration and fun…

Yoga is one of the most prevalent and profound embodied practices. There are so many options out there for yoga, I can’t outline all the different styles and philosophies. But if you do a little research, I’m pretty sure you will find a studio and teacher you like; what you will definitely like is how it makes Follow you feel. This ancient system works on various physical and energetic pathways and contributes to an allover sense of well-being. As you study more intensively, you will find that yoga is not only about the physical practice but includes a complete system for spiritual and emotional health as well.If you are totally new to yoga or limited in physical capacities, you may want to try an Iyengar, Slow Flow, Restorative, or Yin Yoga class first. It’s best to cheap jerseys practice with a teacher for a while to learn proper alignment.


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