In Arizona, the day after…

It is these moments in time when the velocity and automatic-pilot processes of interpreting and judging the messages, people, and events around us, is forced to slow down. Somewhere deep in our psyches, we know the difference between right and wrong somewhat instinctively. To live by that inner guide is just too straightforward for us as humans, though. We don’t operate by instinct; we have the natural privilege of being capable of reflection and many layers of choice. And we have identities that depend on certain routines of interpretation in order to be maintained. They may not even be conscious, but they drive our interpretive processes and drive our choices and actions, they shape our words so that as varied as they might be, they culminate in scripted messages we repeat again and again and again.

Then something happens to disrupt the habituated symbiotic and often competitive patterns. Then something happens that jars our hypnotic state of everyday ‘attention,’ almost like waking us up; we are jarred, momentarily disoriented, needing to refocus and get a sense of where we are–and what is going on.

We want to rush into discussions of what has happened and why. The media clocks keep ticking and airtime must be filled, our conversations call for words to fill the uncomfortable silences. We know that something dreadful has happened while we’ve been preoccupied with the routine perceptions and predictable ‘interpretive’ dances we call our daily lives. We call for a change, we beg for attention to ‘what really matters.’ We try to articulate what this is in some instances; over time we can anticipate this–family, relationships, our health, ability to eat and breathe and love. Stop the madness, we cry. It’s time.

The society around us spins so madly and rapidly that the machines of our creation wield great power over our ability to stop the wheels from turning again. We take breaks, we pray, we pay attention to each other and what we are doing. What was irritating us before seems minor, and we enjoy holding a hand, looking at a flower, hearing each other laugh or cry.

We know this is right. We know this is humanity at its natural best. We vow to live differently; we agree on these things.

It is at these times that some element of the mindfulness a sudden jolt such as a tragedy or crisis or act of terror brings into our lives begs us to preserve it in our hearts. Today, as I practiced silent yoga in the Phoenix Bikram studio, the owner of the studio came in just before we began our practice. “Gabrielle Giffords was a friend of mine…offer your breathing to her and the others today…” In silence, we breathed in the value of that simple effort and exhaled our hope and belief for the next 90 minutes.

We breathe daily; I’d like to think I can learn to breathe mindfully so that I won’t forget this time. This time, I’d like to honor those who’ve paid for these little wake-up calls. This time, I’d like to be who I have the potential to be–and remember it’s in all of us, all of the time, if we’d only be willing–just a little–to let go of who we think we are and what we think we need to prove. It is something we hear a lot right now–that this was one of the things that makes Gabrielle Giffords such a decent, and powerful, human being.

The Shadow: It’s all right here, right now, and begging to come out

There are places I remember all my life
Though some have changed
Some forever, not for better
Some have gone and some remain

—“There are Places,” Paul McCartney & John Lennon

I chose to begin this year with a four-day Four Seasons retreat, beginning on New Year’s Eve. I began with Spring, the season that requires a rigorous ‘cleaning’. In practice, what that means is really taking a serious look at all the gunk that I’ve allowed to influence how I operate, how I perform who I am and what I do, and making an equally serious effort toward the elimination of those influences that get in the way of my authentic self and work.

When I teach my course on the Four Seasons, we do a somewhat playful version of shadow work (which still manages to be quite intense and serious for those who apply themselves earnestly and sincerely). After watching the recent film, Dark Swan, I like to say that working with one’s shadow is much more like that. It’s not a parlor game or light banter about one’s foibles. It’s tough, deep work that requires the humility and vulnerability to acknowledge that how we have been presenting ourselves is not necessarily forthright and ‘honest’. And it offers the liberating and powerful potential of abandoning the shadow selves we’ve been performing in favor of a less labored expression of our selves. In a very real sense, the self we were living is given the opportunity to die in favor of the birthing of a more nuanced, rich, full portrayal of who we are.

Well, that’s what I started out this year doing, and I must say that it was difficult and incredibly powerful. I found the voice to pray from the depths of my soul for the first time in almost ten years, something that has made me feel off-center for quite a while, affecting my ability to create and express my own work.

This year offers the potential to have me embrace this new awareness and gradually let others share what I have (re)discovered. I will be sharing insights into how this shadow work operates and works for me, and I will reflect on the ways shadow selves running rampant in our world today are wreaking havoc with what we as human beings are capable of doing with our lives. If I can screw up the little things in my life so incredibly powerfully by living as if my shadow must be hidden, what if I were in charge of really major, big things affecting millions, or thousands? It’s around us all the time.

This blog allows me to express my deepest, most personal convictions and journey while I am involved in my professional life with other forms of writing. But at the core, if I’m not aware of my hidden shadows and what is happening to me and what I express as a result of that shadow dance I’m involved in, all of my work is affected, as well as all of my relationships and all my dreams and waking moments.