5 10, 2013

Working with Shame

October 5th, 2013|dealing with life, emotions, love|3 Comments

Shame is something that permeates our culture. Advertising preys on shame of one’s body. Dr. Gabor Mate, who works with the heavily addicted, says shame is the “one constant among addicts of all types“. It fuels much avoidant behavior such as procrastination and can be the prime impetus behind relationship breakups and lack of intimacy.

This year I have looked into my own shame and doing my best to directly experience it. By that I don’t mean jump into “healing”, which is often the attempt to get rid of it. Years ago, when I wrote and said thousands of daily affirmations of my worth and inner beauty, I ended up feeling worse about myself. To me, that kind of healing leads to feeling ashamed of one’s own shame, a feedback loop, which is unfortunately pervasive given the prevalence of pop psychology and the “quick fix”.

But what is shame? Joseph Burgo defines same as the sense of internal damage. I define shame as the following:

Shame is the feeling or body memory that you cannot be connected with others, or yourself, so long as a part of you is present. It’s the sense of a split within one’s self, the feeling that a part of you shouldn’t be there.

Say you grew up, as I did, in an emotionally repressed family where there was a heavy reaction to an expression of anger or a “go away” message. If I rejected my mother, either by saying I didn’t like something she did to me or that I didn’t want to talk now, she would react by pushing me away violently, even implying the relationship might end. Even showing this emotion on my face without vocalizing it provoked a reaction. This was her own hurt, but of course as a young child I didn’t know this – I internalized it. It became part of my body and brain.

There are times I find it hard to even feel that energy; it ended up being blocked from my consciousness, with sometimes severe internal reactions and symptoms as a result. Connection with my family was more important than self-connection, and this created pathways in the brain short-circuiting that energy. Though I’ve done much work with myself, I still feel shame regarding this; my body believes people will cut me out of their lives if I let it be visible.

This can happen in shame-1251333-1280x960work too: a friend of mine was talking about procrastination in learning a new skill for a client. There was a deadline for getting a project done and she needed to become adept in a new software utility that she hadn’t used before. For years she had been used to being highly skilled in what she did; the sense of not being an expert already was very uncomfortable to her, and it was far too easy to avoid that discomfort by procrastinating. Even when she devoted time to acquire the new skills, the learning was slower than when she had been a student. Upon talking about it, saw the basis of this behavior was the sense that she needed to be an expert to be worthy of the connection with the client. Not knowing everything, being less than perfect, was not acceptable – the client might drop her. The connection wouldn’t be there. There was no quick ability to not feel this, so the easiest thing to do in the moment was to focus attention anywhere else, rather than wade through the emotional quagmire of shame.

Sexual attraction is another magnet for shame. It’s something that easily cross-reacts with inadequacies of beauty or worth. I still have feelings that my partner may cut off from me and end the relationship if I fully admit, beyond an intellectual confession, that I feel a serious attraction to someone. So in the past, rather than admit it fully, I have intellectualized it or numbed that part of me, which led to distance and lack of trust. Another option for me that many do (and I’m glad I haven’t) would be to act it out – rather than admitting or feeling the shame, I could try to act on the attraction and start something while not showing it to my partner, thus trying in an unconscious and unhealthy way to not numb a part of myself while still remaining connected to her. It’s the shadow side of trying to resolve shame. If anything happened, I would likely feel more disconnected from her because I would have to hide more and more parts of my life. If I confessed it after time, the anger she would feel upon discovery, mostly based on the deceit, would be tied to the original shame and add to it. Thus shame grows.

The movie “Shame” made in 2011 with Michael Fassbender depicts the shame underlying sexual addiction amazingly well.

The dark side of the growth of psychology and this culture’s lack of time and space for just feeling things as they are is that we want the quick fix. Feeling any shame that’s there doesn’t make it immediately better.  Culturally there’s an incredible discomfort around it, which can lead to a subtle ostracising.  Rather than being present with shame and giving space, we ask loved ones to “see someone about it”, to find a solution by thinking positive thoughts, or make more rules so as not to bring it up. But since the source of shame is from feeling disconnected, what we deeply need is the experience of being connected while feeling shame and the original source.

What brings on this feeling of connection and working with shame? From my experience, we need to first truly feel the shame and whatever is bringing on the shame, without intellectualizing or compartmentalizing it. It has to be brought to the surface, in our bodies, face, voice and breath. This means going beyond any kind of sit-down therapy structure. Then, someone needs to be there and be open for a connection without any kind of attempt to resolve the source of the shame. There needs to be space for the emotion, thoughts or impulses with no action to change them, while truly being there and available. This is itself a form of meditation.

A couple months ago, while in a very emotional state (I won’t go into the trigger here), I called my girlfriend Kirsten for help. It was an agonizing decision for me, as I grew up feeling I should be the one supporting others, but at the time I truly felt lost and knew I couldn’t move anything alone. She dropped everything and came. As soon as she was next to me, I started bawling. I confessed how ashamed I was of asking for support, and then how ashamed I was of feeling shame, like I needed to do something to make it better so I could be a healthy person. She was simply present with me. I confessed I felt like there was always a price for support. Inside, I was feeling that I needed to please others in order to be worth getting any kind of love, and sex had been a major part of that with women, giving them pleasure when I didn’t necessarily feel into it. I told her I didn’t want sex now, and felt so much shame at admitting that, continuing my bawling. She simply listened. She backed away physically when I wanted it, and held me close when that felt good to me. She was absolutely wonderful at remaining connected without any price. I didn’t need to heal, say the right thing or make it worth her while to be there for me. She was a friend. She wasn’t even playing a role of “healer”, breathing the right way or watching what she said. All she did was show that mattered to her – me, not the role I played in her life.

This was a pivotal shift for me. As it turns out, I didn’t want sex for close to a month afterwards while I processed the internal shifts – which related to past sexual abuse, being treated like a “thing”. That in itself was very unusual for me. It made it easier for her that we are in an open relationship and she could, if she wanted, fulfil needs elsewhere – another dynamic which has helped me work with shame. But that, along with other experiences, brought the body knowledge that I could still be connected while revealing shame without having to play a role of strength, humour, health or comforting others. This has led to a huge foundation of trust and friendship. It’s amazing how many sexual relationships don’t have that.

I’ve also had dyads with a number of people. This is where you sit in a meditational manner facing each other, being present for 10 minutes or so before talking, connecting to one’s breath and body, and each person taking turns asking a simple question and listening. When it’s your turn, you speak slowly and with self-connection about your experience and insights while the other listens and is present in their own self. One of the questions asked was about the “sense of self in relationships”. That’s a prime question related to shame – when do you lose that sense of self-connection, where you’re not hiding or altering anything inside? When do you feel you’re walking on eggshells, controlling everything coming out because you feel it would harm the relationship? And it was wonderful just practicing revealing myself without guile, showing how “imperfect” I am and getting to a place that this is just fine. It doesn’t need to change.

It’s also led to a different place in being there for others. Largely arising from my narcissistic mother, I had felt that I needed to be playing a role when giving support to others. Internally I had the belief that had to suppress my own issues, not feel anything “unsupportive” like anger or resentment from my past (even if unrelated to them), in order to be helpful. This made me far from present and created a tense feeling; because I was not relaxed, I couldn’t help friends be relaxed. Not being in a state of allowing with my own emotions at the time, I could never truly convey that their emotions were just fine as they are. I was saying the “right things”, which probably made them feel like they had to say the “right things” in response. While I don’t have any scientific data, I think this is what the vast majority of therapeutic sit-down relationships are like this. So many healing achievers!

The lessening of shame has led me to more feelings of joy because by not disconnecting from myself, there’s more wholeness. I can joke around with it more, even bring some clownishness. What a feeling of freedom that is. And I’m just getting started.




6 07, 2013

A Ha-Ha to Laughter Yoga

July 6th, 2013|love|Comments Off on A Ha-Ha to Laughter Yoga

Last night there was a public, free offering of Laughter Yoga as part of the Indian Summer festival in Vancouver. My friends had arrived and set up their blanket on the grass barely 10 feet away from the throng of new laugh-yoginis. The leader, a 30s women who could have been easily coaching a group of 8 year olds to act happy and behave, set the tone of merciless positivity. How much do we not laugh when we could? How much more fun could we have?


I felt my own negativity-guilt pull at me, saying “oh, maybe this will be healing!” or “you’ll be isolated if you don’t put on a happy, laughing face!”. But I stayed on the grass. I listened to the forced laughter, which was pleasant enough to listen to, but didn’t remind me of the lightness of joy. It more reminded me off the steam let off when someone lets out a tight lipped giggle in a tense room and the dominoes of giggles that fall in the blowing off of steam.

After about 15 minutes of watching and rolling my eyes increasingly, I decided to join in my own way, to laugh in response to what was going on. I laughed a crazy, maniacal comic book laugh, as if I was Doctor Dastardly about to tie up a maiden on a train track. I let it grow in a crescendo, giving a full embodiment of Dastardliness. Yes, I’ll get you yet, my pretty Laughter Yoga teacher! While a part of me expected to be singled out as the “party pooper”, I didn’t get noticed at all that way; in fact there were a fair number of people around me that were really laughing now in response to me.

I guess real laughter comes from truth. Yes, there’s the giggling that’s just releasing a bit of tension, but the great humor comes from honesty and reconciling seeming opposites. I suppose my maniacal laughter said things like “OH YEAH? How about THIS laughter?” – a fuck off to the leader speaking as if we were young children. It was a finger to any implication that there is a right way, a spiritual way to laugh, that we have to smile, that we have to have fun by obeying. That healing is about following, doing something in the right way instead of listening to my own voice. Maybe others were laughing from understanding that too.

Later on she asked people in that same pedantic voice to listen deep within and say a word or phrase that came from within. Those that spoke to her said such positive words as “joy”, “freedom”, “play”, and “openness”. From behind the crowd, I spoke my phrase of “fuck off”. But I said it with a smile on my face. I then had a wonderful discussion with a friend on the value of that phrase, how important it is to welcome that energy too. It also made people around me laugh honestly. What better way at times to say “I don’t want to be controlled by an ideology or by peer pressure to be positive – I want to march to my own drummer.” I certainly don’t want to disrupt others’ experiences, but that was truly my inner voice’s honest phrase. Speaking it loud enough to be heard was fun.

Over 10 years ago, I did a clown intensive for over 3 months, 15 hours a week. In every class we did a related exercise : we lied own on the floor and made emotive sounds and movements for half an hour. Words were forbidden, but we could laugh, cry, or anything in between. The teacher, David MacMurray Smith, called it the cycle of agony and ecstasy. It was a meditation on just allowing emotions, sounds, and movement to flow and change. Laughter would only last for a time, then it either calmed or moved into crying sounds, baby-like curious sounds, or even the odd tantrum. But with the freedom to fully allow each to bloom, nothing lasted, and more, each was genuine. And in a room full of other people, it was fun to be affected, to see where the group energy was going. When there wasn’t control over what we should experience, every emotion became fun. Sometimes the movement from crying to laughter and back again happened many times in a minute, because crying was fun too. It was a celebration of that part of humanness.

I love emotional expressiveness, I do. I suppose I also love the expressiveness of saying “fuck off” to unspoken rules of conformity and control. Anything that helps is going to help me to be natural, to let go of assumptions, and find the fun of being true to whatever’s there in the moment, while listening to the environment and bringing respect (of a sort) and compassion. I’ll gladly do the laughing/crying “yoga” any day, but the next time on a hot day I see someone teaching laughter yoga that way, I hope I have a Super Soaker to spray her with. Maybe that’ll help get some genuine laughter going.

24 01, 2013

Resist not Resistance

January 24th, 2013|buddhism, love|1 Comment

Upon a recommendation by a friend I’ve been reading “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield, the author of the “The Legend of Bagger Vance and numerous other titles. It’s subtitled “Break through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles”. The book is separated into three sections, the first being all about the enemy of creativity, Resistance, which I’ll be focusing on. The second part is about what a true Professional is and the last section is a look at Inspiration, the muse and the spirituality of the creative person. There is some good material there, but what really made me thinking (largely because I disagree) is the first section.

In the section of resistance, there’s an emphasis on “just do it” – resistance is the enemy. It’s a war. Resistance is insidious. Invisible. It’s fueled by fear. It recruits allies. It’s akin to a state of victimhood. It never sleeps. It leads to self-medication. Rationalization is resistance. Often looking for ‘healing’ is resistance.

There are some good points in there, but I have a fundamental disagreement with any attitude that places a part of ourselves as the enemy. The need to create enemies is seemingly a great part of our culture. It’s part of how we were raised. “Just get out there and succeed! Don’t be a loser! Keep pushing!” The part of us that wants to rest and regroup turns into an enemy. The part of us that feels anger and says no to what we “should” do turns into something negative, often labeled “resistance”.

What’s Wrong with Resistance, Anyway?

These attitudes are so common place that we don’t question them, and so don’t question them when it happens inside ourselves. It turns into how we self-relate. We lose self-compassion, patience, and understanding. We want to force everything, and then divorce ourselves from our body because we don’t want to feel the consequences of not listening to “resistance”. We think that it’s just not worth listening to anything that we think is resisting.

An example in my memory is from years ago, when I took a course in song writing. I’d already learned much music theory but kept encountering blocks when trying to write a song. (I still do, even though in high school I wrote a fully orchestrated piece for the concert band). In the course, almost all of the instruction was not about music; it was a coaching of “Just do it! Write!” There was a constant a pressure to just write something, no matter how true it was or where it came from. It didn’t matter what price you paid. The problem was, I was already applying too much pressure to myself. I knew all about pressure. Forcing something can be great in the short term, but over the long term it creates rebellions. This is true in nations, in groups, and in the body and mind. And my mind rebelled. A stress response came up big time. I knew that if I continued to force myself, I would lose any love I have for song writing just to say that I wrote this song.

Of course, there was something in the resistance. It was a piece of me saying “no, if you do it, do it from the right place”. It was inviting me to connect with the passion of wanting to create, rather than pushing myself because I should create. That, to me, is the difference between great creativity and mediocrity. If you’re doing something because you should, it won’t have your soul behind it.

I probably had a bit bigger response than most people would in that class, but I see this as universal. Making an enemy, especially something internal like “resistance” creates a war. War creates violence. Violence leads to shell shock and disconnection from our essential gifts of being fully human. Disconnecting from our humanity (in itself the essence of trauma if taken too far) kills creativity.

Learning to Laugh

Now I’m totally for feeling the fear and doing it anyway, but to me that’s more about laughing with the fear. If you can’t laugh, you’re disconnected. And to me, the only enemy is disconnection. The opposite of disconnection is wholeness. Welcoming everything that’s inside you, even contrary, crazy ideas. When you’re whole, there’s no enemy in yourself, because everything is part of the whole. You don’t get whole by attacking a part of yourself, even if it’s an emotion or thought that feels bad. That’s how you disconnect. Learning to laugh about fear is about feeling the tingle that says “wow, this feels alive and out of control in a good way”.

I often go to the Vancouver Shambhala center, and there they talk a lot about Chogyam Trungpa’s idea of “basic goodness”. Essentially the idea is that every last part of us is unconditionally good. In reality, there’s no healing to do. Whatever is going on – fear, resistance, anger, all these “negatives”- is actually a part of that basic goodness. That’s the foundation behind being present and listening to the present moment. And creativity is fundamentally about listening to a deep-seated whisper and being free enough to let the body and mind be moved by that. When there’s the guns blazing of an internal war against resistance, that whisper is impossible to hear.

When I meditate alone, even after years of meditation and months of retreat, I still get huge impulses to distract myself. Without the presence of others in the room, there’s less restraint in following the desires that arise. I can reach for my cell phone, start a chore or just want to move because I’m feeling discomfort inside. I used to think this was bad, that the ideal was to stay rock-solid, to at least look like I’m a good meditator, even if I’m far from Buddha-like inside. But that’s again making an enemy of these impulses. There’s something beautiful in that discomfort. I find letting myself act on it at times makes it visible, lets me feel what’s really there. When I let my body show all these avoidant impulses, maybe even get up for a bit, then come back, I can meet them more consciously and see them more clearly. If I were to stiffen my body and mind simply to be able to stay still for an hour, I would lose connection. Why meditate if it isn’t to become more whole?

In that discomfort, I usually find shame. Gabor Mate recently said in a talk after the play “Medicine” that shame isn’t at all about shameful thoughts, but rather a primal state of brain chemistry that originates in disconnection. If a mother drops eye contact with her 9 month old child suddenly, the child will slump in a state of shame and create associations if it’s a pattern. Disconnection is a brother of shame. But it’s by allowing some of it, without getting lost in it, that reconnection can occur, that we can discover what was disconnected, and that it is “basically good”. So I allow resistance and listen to it. I allow myself times to run away, to procrastinate for a little while before I come back. Because if I hold a whip over myself, treating myself like a bad mule, meditation and creativity ends up being a war.

It’s unfortunate that we live in a society with so much pressure. It’s tempting to think that we just need to this last thing done. We just need to write, or act, or do something that’s “good for us”. The problem is in always living in short term, all-or-nothing thinking.  There will be times of crisis or need that we push through something to get it done.  But the key is to minimize that, to learn to live most of our lives from another place. If we focus instead on the bigger, long term picture, then there are different priorities. We focus not on results, but dynamics, making relationships (including to the self) better. We choose actions that develop peace and creativity, not actions that fake that we’re already there. We realize that the ends don’t justify the means – the ends are the means. We can’t reach peace and wholeness by any sort of violence, and we can’t be creative by putting ourselves in a small prison inside our mind.

In summary:

Fear is not an enemy. Resistance is not an enemy. Distractions are not an enemy. Discursive thoughts are not an enemy. The only enemy is disconnection. There’s always something to connect to. Connect with resistance and see what’s really there. I guarantee when it’s truly seen it won’t be called resistance anymore.


22 11, 2012


November 22nd, 2012|love|3 Comments

I’ve currently been in a meditation setting for the last month.  This ashram, or center is that of Ramana Maharshi, known as the silent sage.  For over 50 years, he simply sat in mostly silence around a holy hill.  He didn’t try to attract followers, nor did he preach.  He simply answered questions, with the answers being remarkably without judgement.

Those interested in his teachings can read and download Self Enquiry by Ramana Maharshi.



In this center, there’s little schedule except meal times and noon break.  No one forces you to sit.  No one keeps track or what you did or gives you suspicious looks if they haven’t seen you meditating.  No one keeps track of your posture.  Most people slouch or lean comfortable against a wall.  The library has a large collection spiritual books from all major religions and teachers, but also has plenty of novels, including detective stories and science fiction.  All that the managers of the ashram do is try to restrict those who come here to those who are serious and non-disruptive.  After that, they leave it to you.  After all, only you know your own Self.

Quite a difference from the 10 day meditational “prison” retreat of Goenka!  Some day I’ll write about that one.

So for a month, I meditated only when I wanted to.  In that month, there of course was letting go.  Letting go of why I should meditate.  Letting go of how to meditate.  Letting go of trying too hard.  Of even thinking I know what meditation is.

It’s easy to say things like “let go” or “forgive”, but to be honest, if we knew how to do it, we would.  In fact, the idea of “how” is based in the conscious, rational left brain.  And that is not what meditation is.

The following is more a reminder for myself, in hopes that I will remember in my body and spirit this experience when I’m back in the chaotic western world which can get my adrenaline up so easily.


Meditation is not forced sitting – in fact that is the antithesis of meditation.  If you are forcing yourself to do anything, there is the part of you that is pushing, and a part of you that is resisting or being pushed; an inherent conflict and violence.  True meditation is without violence.  It is just sitting.  There is nothing but sitting, and everything contained in it.  The body sensations, the breathing, the thoughts, the emotions.  But in deep meditation there is nothing “other”.  There is just that.

Because meditation is non-violent at all levels, it is fundamentally new.  Meditation is acting with each breath in a new, different manner, disconnected from habit.

Normally, we don’t act, we react.  We re-act.  We repeat acts of the past.  We act habitually, in the same way we have done before.

Thoughts are by their very nature chained to the past.  On a biological level, they are formed by association with other thoughts or through the “likes” and “dislikes” of the emotional brain’s (or limbic system) past.  They are built from all the labels built up over a lifetime.  But they are not direct experiences, nor are they the “flash” of insight that comes from moments of true relaxation or seeing clearly.

This is why it’s almost impossible to make great progress from a book.  The teacher may be wonderful, but words by themselves are just thoughts.  They may remind us of great inner truths, but they remind us through thoughts, through our past.  What is needed is a gentle shock, a break from the past.  A slight hop out of any ruts in the pathways of brain connections, where in this moment there is something new.  “Truth is a pathless land”, said JK Krishnamurti.  When you follow something – a person, an idea, an identity – you are not in truth.  You cannot be honest with yourself, because to be truly honest you need to put that at the highest priority, which takes a firm knowledge (not a belief) in your own perceptions, your own seeing.

Meditation instructions are great, but should be experienced and forgotten, or else they chain you to thoughts.  I know if I’m thinking of how to meditate, I’m not meditating.  Sometimes when  I’m sitting meditating, there’s all these wonderful wise thoughts about the nature of reality, Self, and meditation, but while I’m chasing those and feeling good about myself, I’m not meditating.

Meditation has no goal.  The irony is that when you meditate for healing or enlightenment, you aren’t meditating.  You’re trying to invest for the future, which of course isn’t now.

The more I learn (or unlearn) about meditation, the more I experience that it’s not in contrast with extreme states like pain, angst, rage, or terror.  It is simply inviting a state of newness to all of them, a spaciousness that gives more possibilities than the normal reactions.  Meditation isn’t constrained to sitting; it just means acting, not reacting.  In wholeness.  Without violence of any kind.



5 08, 2012

Living in a prison of demands

August 5th, 2012|love|Comments Off on Living in a prison of demands

Today I was reading Non Violent Communication again by Marshall Rosenberg. At the same time, I tried some swimming in a small pool to cool down in the heat and to try my muscles a little bit. The pool was quite cold, so I decided to get some real exercise and see what would happen. Although I hoped it wouldn’t happen, not long afterwards I started to get “spacy”, which is one of the symptoms I’ve had from chronic fatigue. My brain felt foggy, like I’m on heavy painkillers. I felt weak and unmotivated, and it got much harder to speak and put words together. Mostly at that point I try to withdraw from anything social, because each interaction takes progressively more effort to try an act normal.

I’ve been trying to understand my symptoms for years now, and while more understanding has come, putting the understanding into practice is often two steps forward, one step back. But the re-reading of Non Violent Communication did offer new insight.

I was reading the section on making requests true requests, not demands. In it, he describes how resistance is naturally formed when a demand is made, even if the wording sounds like a request. If there’s punishment or drama when a request is denied, then the request is actually a demand. If there’s no listening or empathy to the response to a request, it’s an authoritarian command, and there’s nothing more human than to resist this. I think that our souls need freedom and autonomy as much as we need good food to eat.

How does this relate? It relates because thinking of my body as something to command is a wrong understanding. Yes, my body is “me”, but it is also “not me”. It is a network of individual cells and organs, each with its own needs and requests. My body is “me” in that I’m housed by my body and my consciousness is intertwined with it, but it is “not me” in that there are actually many identities out of my conscious control, each needing space and to be listened to when there is feedback. And because of that, they all have their own responses to demands.

If I think of my body as something I own and can do what I want with, a possession like a car that exists solely to follow orders, then I turn into a dictator of my body. I’m making demands, not requests. On the other hand, if I’m too identified with my body, then I can get lost in it and not benefit from a wider consciousness of knowing what is beneficial for my entire being in the long run. What is “me” is not just my stomach or my muscles. If I’m too identified and not aware of the whole, I can easily get reactive. I’d stop any exercise when there’s any soreness and perhaps not want to eat any food if there’s any sour taste. So it’s good to be aware that my body is both “me” and “not me” in this sense. I both have the ability to know what’s best for my body from a place of knowledge and past experience, but also need to balance it with listening deeply to it. Which is another way of saying there needs to be empathy within.

So again, it relates to NVC in that because my body is in this sense “not me”, it also resists demands. Even on a subtle level, if I tell my muscles “do this” in a controlling, non-listening way, like a dictator’s command, I’ve eventually there is a build up an energy that makes me not want to demand anything of it anymore. In other’s lives, perhaps that’s with soreness and pain. Severe back pain is unfortunately commonplace in our society; I’ve experienced that too. But because I’ve used that forceful, dictatorial energy as much with how I approach intellectual work and learning, I think the brain fog is actually a perfect response my body has created. It’s saying “No, this is too much“. My body knows more than me.

Perhaps I’m unusual in this response, but I think it’s a matter only of degree. Certainly these symptoms are not commonplace, and I’m happy others don’t experience them. But I think in western society the idea of control is almost ubiquitous. Parents often raise their children with the idea that “parents know best” and disobedience should be punished. Education is most commonly built upon the idea that there is one “right” answer, even for creative pursuits like commentaries on literature. Our schedules are getting more and more tight and inflexible, so that we know there’s just not room to listen to our bodies if they are asking us to take it easy, to move slower and be more conscious. There are just things we have to do, which implies we have to just ignore our bodies and “just do it”. A response of “get over it” feels natural and familiar when we encounter inner problems – at least until the problems get too large until we know we cannot get over it by issuing more demands of ourselves. There’s more awareness that many of these methods are unhealthy, but I think they are still the norm.

I think also that the pervasiveness of psychological awareness and self-help thought has made demands even more pervasive and unhealthy for many. This can demonstrate itself in the cult of positivity. In my life, I tried to force myself for years to think “positive” and think “healing thoughts” at all times. Self-help books offered quick solutions, so it was pretty natural for me to try to force myself into the “healthy” mold the book extolled. This again was a form of demand, but this time directed at my cognitive brain and emotional system. (Note: I know this tendency is more exacerbated in me than others given my counselor mother’s rather destructive attempts to “heal me” of things she didn’t think were good through forcefully counseling me.)

There has been significant evidence that the “positivity” movement doesn’t help in the long term, and even can contribute to disease. Gabor Mate, in his book “When the Body Says No” (which has been very influential for me) offers evidence that emotional denial through positivity has a significant correlation with various diseases, with a major one being cancer.  Forcing thoughts and emotions on oneself, even if they are considered “positive” by society in general and even inspirational, is still a form of denial and inner demand. And make no mistake – it is a form of violence. Any form of violence will have counter reactions, from simple stress to serious conditions such as chronic fatigue or cancer.

I suppose I’m writing this because I long to live my life without this violence. It’s this violence which is one of the root causes of my symptoms. I know it’s there in me now, in how I relate to my mind and body, even in the smallest movement of lifting up my hand to grasp a glass of water. When I swam in the pool, telling my muscles to push, it wasn’t in a state of togetherness with my body, a collaboration that creates benefit and the pleasure of pure movement for the union of me and my body. No, it was a push, a demand. I’ve known professional athletes who related to their body this way, just pushing and pushing and ignoring pain and any signals that came from their body – and then years later had their own personal breakdowns.

What I long for is more harmony inside. In my body, I imagine learning a movement like I’ve seen in dancers – where there’s a symbiotic joy in movement itself. The body likes to move when it’s given freedom, and the mind likes the freedom of not controlling it too much. It’s a sensation akin to flying. Sometimes when I’ve danced I’ve gone there, albeit irregularly. I know it’s possible. Just as I know it’s possible to relate with others like that, with such empathy and synchronicity it’s again like flying. But getting there is like a ground up bootstrap to another program. To live without violence to myself.

Because how can I treat others kindly when at the most basic level, relating to my own body and brain on a cellular, I cannot treat myself with kindness? Despite my best intentions, I’ve noticed that when stress and anxiety appears and I’ve been relating to myself in language of demands, I start communicating with others through demands. My voice gets colder and without realizing it, I give orders. Often these demands might seem reasonable such as communicating with me using the principles of Non Violent Communication, but in reality they are still demands. Even then, it’s easy to then make demands of myself, ordering myself to communicate and respond like I’m an expert in NVC – but inevitably inner tension builds and it all falls apart. I’m rightfully accused of not following NVC. But in reality it’s impossible for me to make constant demands (often in the form of “shoulds”) of myself without making them for others. They go together. It’s impossible to treat others kindly without, at the most primal level, treating every aspect of this organism I inhabit with kindness and empathetic listening. So I think my body and brain, in their symptoms, are actually helping me develop compassion for others by making sure I learn to listen with kindness to myself.

Lately I did another 10 day silent meditation retreat (not with Goenka – ugh!). Getting up at 4am every day and focusing on very little other than being aware of doing the simplest things, such as breathing and walking. I quite enjoyed walking meditation, especially when I let go of following instructions too strictly. It was a movement without purpose other than awareness and connection with my body, my senses and everything touching them. There was a particular contentment in me after a week had passed. It was a good start. I think every moment of experiencing “another way” plants seeds to live all of life like this. But that’s another blog post.