Archive | acceptance

NaNo Update

Today is day 8 of NaNoWriMo, and so far, so good, I’ve been able to write 17,245 words. That’s an average of over 2,000 words a day! I am making an effort to write first thing in the morning, when I’m at my best and when I am less likely to be interrupted. Usually that means I am sitting here at my computer between 6-8am.

I’ve been writing and only writing, not reading over what I previously wrote, and I think this method is working well for me. If I start reading back at what I wrote before, my inner critic becomes engaged, and all of a sudden it is not about being creative but about excellence and perfection or, worse, embarrassment and shame. I find that I really work much better if the critic is off to the side, minding his own business. Every once in a while he rears up his head and comments on my progress, and I politely ask him to back off. I don’t need him right now. I want to allow the words, unhindered, to flow.

I hope that when I am done with the first draft (as I feel fairly confident I am going to do) I can engage the services of my inner critic not as a critic but as a “feedbacker.” I think there’s a lot he can help me with, as long as he remembers that his job is to support and build and not to crush and shame. My cousin told me a good quote in Russian for this (and I’m using her translation): The first pancake always comes out in a ball. Similarly, I expect that this first draft is not going to be the end of the process. There’s going to be a second, and a third, and maybe a number twenty-third draft as well. There’s going to be revision. But the only way I can move from a ball to a beautiful pancake ready-to-be-served is with encouragement and love. It’s impossible to cook a nicely-shaped, yummy pancake — or a magical novel — with censure and hurt.

Other than discovering that NaNoWriMo does in fact motivate me to write, I’ve also noticed something else. I have more self discipline than I used to. I think all this meditation and qigong and Reiki practice is really paying off. I am better able to concentrate and to sit down for something that I know deep down inside to be very important to me. I am also, somehow, better able to let go. I put down the words, and whether or not the critic mumbles something from his place of semi-exile, I let my written words flow. There will be a time to review them later.

Having written one novel before, even if I did decide, after who-knows-what-number version, to leave it, I feel both awed and overwhelmed by the thought of what comes after the first draft. I know the task that is ahead of me, and I know what it feels like to have put so much effort into something meaningful to me only to discover that it is just not going to bear fruit anytime soon. I try to let these thoughts go too. Right now there are only two things I am doing, and they are allowing the story to tell itself and myself to feel the fun of it without thinking too much ahead.

Tomorrow I am going to a meditation daylong at Spirit Rock about releasing the inner critic. Very apropos, I think. I hope it will help with the writing as well. I have dreamed about writing a novel for so long, I’ve written and hoped, cried, shut down, avoided writing for months and months, and then found myself trying again and again. A part of me wants so, so much for it to happen finally, but I’ve decided to let go of expectations and hopes, and even of dreams. I have decided to let whatever happen, happen, and to stop interfering.

Many years ago when I was a student at Stanford, one of my professors said to me that in order to write a doctorate you need to have a fire burning in you. For me, the fire has always been in writing a novel. Sometimes it was on low heat. Sometimes on high. But it was always there, burning away, sending desire after desire into the sky. So we will see, won’t we, what will come of this new endeavor, this new concept for my novel. I will keep you updated as I continue following the NaNo path. For now, all is well. I hope all’s well also in your life.


Tree Dharma

One of the questions which often haunts me is what my purpose in life is. Is there a higher purpose? Am I here, on this earth, for something specific, something special? Am I meant to do something, or expected to do something, in order to fulfill a destiny? This question somehow both attracts and repels me. I dislike (and am ashamed of) the feeling of ego that seems to me almost gelatinously attached to it, as though I am somehow unique or different from other people. At the same time, however, I long for a higher purpose, for meaning, in what I do and the way I live.

Another problem with this obsession with a higher purpose, when combined with a thread of (both inherited and nurtured) over-achiever-ness, is that no matter what I do, I never feel it is enough unless it brings fame and fortune. This means, for example, that I can’t just write a book. It needs to be on the best seller list and change people’s lives. Not an easy task, to say the least, when you’ve only got a few words on the page and are not quite sure where the plot and characters are going next.

The other day, while talking about this higher purpose business, my IMC mentor asked me what I see when I look inside — what is most important to me in there. I looked inside myself, and a tree materialized, clear as day. “There is a tree inside me,” I answered. But how is a tree a higher purpose? Can I connect it somehow to a higher purpose? My thoughts churned: hiking, climbing, protecting nature, growing tall, expanding….. aaaaaghhhhh! Too much obsessing!

I like the idea of having a tree inside, of my essence being the essence of a tree, even if I am not sure I understand what it means. After all, I love trees. I hug trees. I kiss trees (I really do). Then, on Sunday, at a group conversation about this subject at Insight Meditation Center, someone said, “A Tree does not feel the need to have a life purpose.” A part of me leaped at this sentence. Is it true? It can’t be, I thought. A tree gives us and other animals food and shelter, shade, oxygen, a place to rest, an appreciation of beauty. What is more a purpose than that?
I started to play with this idea in my mind. Do peach trees feel superior somehow to a Joshua tree because they give fruit and can provide (at least in the spring and summer) more shade? Or does a Joshua tree feel superior because, in the California desert, it is really the only tree there? Do trees care about these gifts they give to us, or do they simply give them, without asking for either internal or external recognition? And, if the essence of trees is also their higher purpose, could I apply it to my question by saying, what could be a better way to achieve a higher purpose than by simply being me?

Perhaps, after all, this is the difference between animals, plants and humans. We humans continually search for more. We don’t just write a book because we want to write a book. We write because we want other people to read it. We don’t just live our life — we continually seek to influence others, change others, make an impact. Trees breathe in CO2 and breathe out oxygen. They extend their limbs to the sun. In spring they renew their coat of leaves and in fall they drop them. They allow tiny blooms to blossom out and fruit to grow without a need for any to see or use them. If one blossom is never visited by a bee, the tree does not think it is a failure. If fruit drops on the ground uneaten, the tree doesn’t obsess about the waste. Whatever comes, comes. Whatever is, is. The tree, stoically, just “be”s.

What I would like to happen, in all areas of my life, is exactly this: this calm, stoic, quintessential being. Writing a book because I want to write. Working with the Reiki because I wish to give Reiki. Spending time with the kids, with Dar, and the dogs because I wish to spend time with them. I wish for my higher purpose to be just being. No proving anything to anyone, no trying hard to be different or more than what I am. Just to be, happy with being what I am right here, right now. A tree.


The Ducks’ Stadium, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things

(Title borrowed from Carolyn Mackler’s fabulous book of almost the same name).

**This blog is dedicated to the USC football team, who my son Uri really wants to win the championship this year, and who have absolutely nothing to do with this particular blog.**

For most of my life, I never obsessed about my weight. This was partly due to the fact that I was extremely skinny as a child, and my grandmother, instead, obsessed about how little I ate.  Even after I discovered food and began to eat a little better, I did not have to worry about my weight, because, of course, I had great metabolism (whatever that really means), and I stayed wonderfully skinny.

This lack of neurosis regarding my weight did not, unfortunately, translate into loving my body. I learned in geometry class about the difference between concave and convex, and realized, to my horror and dismay, that unlike the perfect female human body, I was cursed with a convex belly, while everyone else’s was concave. Fortunately for me, this brought about an attack of a desire to change this unacceptable phenomena, which led to a lifetime of abs work. My stomach remained convex (more so now than ever), but it is likely that the stomach muscles beneath are holding me up till today.

All this remained in something of a status quo until the kids, Dar and I went to Oregon this summer. Do you know that wonderful (and true) statement that says: what you don’t know can’t hurt you? Well, during our visit to the Ducks’ Stadium (initiated by Uri’s obsession with football — doesn’t he know he’s supposed to obsess about his body instead?), Dar took my picture. From behind. With the Stadium in the (near) background. A completely harmless maneuver, you might think, and unlikely to cause any major upheavals in anyone’s life. That remained to be seen while we continued traveling through college-football Oregon, as we made our way back south through Ashland and Shasta, and all the way home, and to the computer, where the pictures were duly downloaded.

As the aforementioned photo came into focus on my computer, I was struck by the realization that while I obsessed about the unwanted convexness or desired concaveness of my stomach, my behind had been busy with her own set of mathematical equations. In her case, exponential multiplication. Oh my god, how did my butt get to be larger than Ducks’ Stadium? So large, in fact, that said stadium looks small and delicate in comparison, despite the fact that I remembered it large and tall! When did this wholly unexpected enlargement occur? And how come all my exercising did not help in keeping this unnaturally overgrown backside at least a little bit from its extreme, surprising, and unforeseen droop?

I once read a romance novel about a woman hiking guide. As her love interest watched her walking about for the first time, he commented on the heart-shape and tightness (really!) of her behind as she walked, with the claim that it was the shape women’s tushies get because of all the hiking. As though the butt size and shape could tell him she’d been hiking all her life! Worst lie I ever heard!!! Let me tell you, at age 42, and after hiking like an obsessive madwoman for years now, all you get from this form of exercise is a big, droopy, and much more rectangular than heart-shaped somewhat flat pillow to sit on. That woman, in the book, must have stood in the butt line when god gave out bodies to people. I stood in the one for brains. So there!

The problem, however, remains. How can I leave the house again, now that the secret of what I look like behind is out, and I know exactly what the people behind me see when they look ahead? Here, again, the fortune (or misfortune) of having a convex belly came to my assistance. After all, for years now, I’ve been able to leave the house knowing what people see when they look at my front. Moreover, having stood in the line for brains (at least somewhat early, even if not as early as some other people in my family, who really got a lot), I am aware of the fact that most of the world actually looks like me, and not like the pictures on Vogue or on television. So I’ve been leaving the house since the summer, and, I’ll confess, most of the time I don’t even think of that large backside I’ve developed over the years, and which, I suspect, is here to stay for all the ones to come.

Yesterday, however, I went clothes shopping with Dar. I wanted something presentable to wear for today’s energy-work open house. And so, I found myself in one of those fitting rooms that has mirrors on all sides, to make sure you can see how fat and droopy all your parts look to other people — which, by the way, seems to me completely unnecessary, since aren’t I buying clothes for myself? In any case, I found myself face-to-face with my butt. Somewhat like the president in Space Balls. Except now, I was prepared. Dar has already shown me what it looks like in the summer, so I couldn’t yell out: “Why didn’t anyone tell me my butt was so big?”

At night, lying in bed next to Dar, I complained about the injustice of having a bottom that is larger than Ducks’ Stadium. I paused dramatically to allow Dar time to disagree, or at least to enthusiastically disclaim. Nothing. I knew he was not sleeping yet, so I held my breath. Surely, now, he would say something. Perhaps: “I love your butt.” That would be acceptable. Or he could say, “Your butt looks totally heart-shaped to me.” Or maybe: “You have the cutest butt in the whole wide world and it’s not at all as large as the Ducks’ Stadium.” He’s in love, right? Surely that’s how he sees me, butt and all?

The silence, however, continued to reign. He was not asleep. I knew that for sure. I could hear his uneven breathing (even breathing, in case you never learned how to cheat your parents into thinking you’re asleep, is a good sign he’s asleep), and he wasn’t snoring yet. Which he does, by the way. Finally, the pressure got to me, and I started to giggle. Well, more like laugh out loud with gusto. It was just too much. Apparently, no matter how much Dar’s in love, he refuses to lie. And the picture did tell all.

And so, I decided right then and there to write this blog and dedicate it to all you lovely women out there who have the same problem as me: when you came into this world, you did not get the body advertised by Vogue. Instead, maybe you elected for brains, or compassion, or love. Maybe you wanted children, or a garden, or to have fun. Now all that remains is to be happy with our decision despite the dictates of fashion. I think, all in all, as long as there aren’t too many mirrors, or too many football stadiums in sight, I manage to feel beautiful, young, slim and fair. And tall.

If you’d like to read my other blogs about body image, here are some links:

In Favor of Belly Liberation

Repainting Body Image

Food! Food! Food!

That Flat Stomach


Peeling the Onion

The poem this morning is for Jeanne, who is helping me peel the onion, and in the process, understand myself.

One day
I know
All these layers
I’m peeling
Will be
Not gone
But ingested
A part of the
Of me
And then
On that day
That marvelous inner sunshiny day
Will be
Not a fear
Not a black heavy cloud
Not a choking in my throat
Or a tightness in my heart
But instead
A song
And a dance
Light and free.


My Television Dukkha (Suffering)

Sometimes I look at my children, and it seems to me they lead very strange lives. They go to school for most of every weekday, leaving home at 7:30am and returning only around 4pm — almost the equivalent of a full-time adult job. Once at home, they need to manage their time between after-school activities, such as basketball and football practice or gymnastics, and their homework, which could take as much as an hour-and-a-half every day. After the homework is complete, oftentimes the kids elect to sit in front of the television, the xBox or their iPads, staring at the screens for hours at a time.

Here’s what my and my sister’s life at their age looked like:

We had school from 8am to 2pm at the longest, often coming home at noon. We had homework, and I sure read a lot, but I spent a lot of time outside, in our garden or the street, playing. I also played the piano. My sister went to jazz and aerobics classes and took karate lessons. But we often played with friends. There was only one channel on television in Israel. For some two hours each afternoon the programming was only in Arabic, and in the evening, it was more for adults. And so, though we watched some television, our life was not focused on it, except perhaps somewhat during summer vacations, when there was more programming oriented to our age. But even then we spent most of the day playing with friends outside, reading (me), or going to the beach and the pool. We did not have a computer till I was in my teens, and even then, games were limited and the internet not invented yet. Our lives were focused on friends and on being outside, and, for me, on books.

When I look at my kids, I wonder what this indoor, screen-oriented life would look like when they’re adults. I worry that they are self-numbing. That they don’t really know what to do with their time other than this digital easy choice. The fear that as a parent I ought to control this better seizes me, and I feel desperate and hopeless at the same time. Somehow, whenever I talk to other parents, they don’t have this problem at all. “We hardly watch television,” one mother told me the other day. “She’s too busy with soccer practice,” said another.

Once school is done for the day, most kids around here head to sports practices, music lessons, horseback riding lessons, and many other after-school activities. Their time is so tightly scheduled that it is impossible to make plans for playdates during the week, and even the weekend is often tough. While admittedly riding horses or playing soccer does sound much better in every way (healthier, more educational, morally more correct perhaps) than watching television, I wonder sometimes if all these activities are simply another symptom of our non-stop society that is so afraid to pause for a moment and get bored.

This morning, I went to meditation practice at Insight Meditation Center in Redwood City. I was tired, and my head kept whip-lashing as I fell asleep and woke up sitting on the pillow. I had looked forward to coming, eager for a half hour of uninterrupted quiet, a half hour of not needing to talk, not needing to do anything, a half hour of simply being in the moment, even if that moment was full of sleepiness. After the meditation, Robert Cusick spoke about the Eightfold Path and how to end suffering (dukkha in Pali). As he spoke, my listlessness transformed itself into a panic about this television issue. I was ruining the kids’ lives. I was not doing my duty by them. What kind of a parent was I? The image of my daughter staring at the television last night came to my mind, and my chest filled with such tightness, such desperation, such helplessness, that I wanted to jump out of my seat, to do anything except experience that.

In my mind, action was paramount. I was going to go back home and sit the kids down for a talk. No more television. Ever. Not on weekdays at least. I was going to talk to Dar about not getting Uri the Playstation he wanted for his birthday. That’s it. No more. I was done with screen time. I was going to be better this time. I’ll make them check-in their iPads in the kitchen. I would be on top of making sure the TV was always turned off. No computer for me either. Possibly not even for Dar. I will let them be bored. It’s better than this digitalization of our life. We’ll go to the pool instead, or I could schedule them some music lessons again. We will be a screen-free home. In my frenzy, I was no longer at the meditation hall. Instead, I was fighting the kids, fighting, in a way, against this awful sin it seemed to me that I was committing against their life.

Fortunately, Robert Cusick’s words interrupted my self-torture, bringing me back to the hall. He was telling a story about something that happened in a class he taught the other day. The class began, he said, with a guided meditation. As everyone was sitting, and he was already guiding them in the meditation, late-comers trickled in. The door opened and closed. Chairs creaked and scraped. Bags thumped down on the floor. Sound was happening, but he noticed some of the meditators were opening their eyes, glancing back. In our heads, he explained, a simple noise transforms into stories: who is coming? why are they late? don’t they know the class started already? don’t they know they’re interrupting the meditation? But it was just sound that was happening. Only sound. Nothing else. The rest were stories that were going on in people’s heads.

As Robert Cusick spoke, I suddenly understood. What was happening for me, thinking about the digital usage at home, was fear — fear that I am not a good enough mother. The rest was just stories that I was telling myself that I thought could happen in a future that hasn’t even happened yet. The need I felt to act, like the need the meditators felt to see who was coming, was a reaction to the fear, but there was no real, urgent need for me to act. If I acted now, I’d be acting from that fear and ignorance, from a place of heaviness and helplessness and despair. Instead, I can do what I’ve heard people talk about countless times in meditation: I can simply be with this fear. I can hold this fear and myself with compassion. I can experience it and see that it is just a fear, even if it does seem to me such a terrible, scary fear. And let go of the need to react.

Perhaps, once I’ve learned to hold my fear (this fear of not being a good enough mother) with compassion, I will be more capable of acting wisely with regards to the television/ipad/xbox situation at home. Right now, I realize I cannot. Right now, any action I take will not really be an action, but a REaction, and as such will probably go the way my resolutions regarding the TV had gone before: to guilt and more helplessness and fear. I have a long way to go in learning to hold this fear. It’s a big one for me. And so, for today at least, I’m not going to do anything except be kind to myself about it as much as I can. I’m going to trust that the sense of urgency I feel is a passing sensation. That this situation (which is largely in my imagination anyways) is not critical. That I cannot build or destroy anything in one day, and that the kids, god willing, will not be quite as irretrievably ruined as I fear by another digital day.


The Tooth’s Way

I don’t know if any of you have ever had a tooth extracted, but man, does it hurt! It’s been almost a week now, and my tooth — I mean, the space where my tooth used to live — is still throbbing worse than labor pains. I don’t particularly care to take pain meds, and when the oral surgeon prescribed codeine, I blithely (and blindly) refused to take the prescription. I’ve had wisdom teeth taken out before, I declared, and that wasn’t too bad. So how bad could just one tooth be? Famous last words, right?

Instead of the rejected codeine I’ve been using a mixture of tylenol, advil, Reiki, and prayer (to all the different gods I can think of), all of it without much obvious result. I am embarrassed to admit that I also tried crankiness, anger, frustration and self pity. Those, sadly, did not work either. The oral surgeon, on a return visit, was even less helpful, claiming he’d known it would be like this, that my tooth had been badly inflamed, and that it will take at least another week. He proposed the codeine again, which I scornfully declined. No way am I taking codeine now, after a week of pain. I can do this. Sooner or later, surely, this pain must go away.

The most frustrating part of this experiment in pain management turned out to be my expectation that Reiki would help me bear the pain, or rather (in the way my mind figured this) that the Reiki would make the pain disappear. So many people have miraculous Reiki healing stories! Why can’t I be one of them? I wanted the Reiki to close the open wound, heal the sutures, heal the issues beneath, relieve the pain, clear up the inflammation, and make everything all better right away. And when I say right away, I do not under any circumstance mean within a week, and definitely not two.

I was listening the other day to Gil Fronsdal, meditation teacher and the founder of Insight Meditation Center. Appropriately enough, he was explaining sickness and well-being and the way Buddhism views the metaphysics of health. What he said struck me strongly, because I had always assumed that if I got sick then it was my fault somehow — I had failed to deal with some issue, I failed to talk about something which bothered me, or I failed to take care of myself. But Gil Fronsdal said that the Buddha encouraged his disciples not to worry or ruminate about why they were sick or why some trouble has befallen them. According to the Buddha, illness or painful situations come from one of three reasons (and I hope I’m not massacring his exact words or meaning here):

1. Free will, or situations/conditions which we invite into our lives because we want to learn from them. Karma.
2. Accidents which are unrelated to us or to our karma and simply happen in the world (I guess without rhyme or reason).
3. The body’s own function and use (and it sure gets used a lot).

My late tooth, though it did get used quite a bit in 42 years, had an issue behind it, I’m pretty sure. It really didn’t want to leave my mouth. The oral surgeon had to fight to dislodge it. As for me, while he was struggling with the tooth, I called upon the Reiki to help me continue to feel happy and safe during the extraction, and I continue to call upon it to help me heal, not just the tooth, but also the problem behind it. A lot of love is required for this particular one. Inside this tooth were lodged, I think, all my hopes and dreams about having a whole, normal family, about having the kids at home every day, about having the marriage I had wanted. I’ve been divorced nine years, and it has not been easy for me to adjust to many parts of the divorce. I can see how it would really be time for me to release, to let go, to accept, even. Still, the Buddha’s words make me wonder if ruminating on the problem is the way to go. What if I don’t need to worry about the reason? What if I can just let go?

Now that I’ve been attuned (or should I say, ignited) to Holy Fire Reiki®, calling on the energy is much easier than it’s been. Before, I did not quite understand what my teacher, William Lee Rand, meant when he recommended calling on the Reiki for answers. I knew the Reiki came when I placed my hands on someone or on myself — I could feel the heat of it, the prickling of it in my palms — but I could not understand how to call on it for guidance. Now, however, with Holy Fire, the energy comes easily to me. My hands fill with the flame of it, and my heart and abdomen turn warm and safe. In a way, I finally understand that Reiki is not outside of me or inside of me. It simply is me.

Buddhists believe that Ki is the energy of the pool of creation. If so, then we are all made of it. I am Reiki, you are Reiki. Even my cellphone is Reiki (though that does require a leap of faith, seeing as how it seems so radioactive and unhealthy). And if I am Reiki, then all I need is to let go of my beliefs or needs for the healing of my tooth to happen a specific way or in a specified amount of time. I can support the healing by taking some pain meds (or at least support peace at my house by taking the pain meds, which will then probably lead to better healing opportunities). I can support the healing by giving Reiki to myself. But most of all, I can step out of my own way, and allow my tooth (I mean the space where my tooth used to be) to heal the way it needs to happen. Not my way. The tooth’s way. The best way.


The Tip of the Pyramid

Dar and I returned home last Saturday from our Tahoe Rim Trail backpacking attempt. We had planned to hike 12 days, with ten nights spent camping and one night (on the sixth night) at a hotel in South Lake Tahoe, where we were also going to resupply. Planning, however, (as is often the case) was not enough. On the third day, an ignored injury in my feet became so aggravated that, when we arrived at that night’s campsite in Mount Rose, we gratefully accepted, instead, a ride down into Incline Village and the ER. The next day, saddened and disappointed, we made our way home.

The doctor at the ER had told me that rest was important for my feet to recover, and so for a few days I tried to lie on the couch, the bed, or the hammock, with my feet resting on cushions for most of each day. Such a small part of the body, and yet so critical that it can easily turn our whole world upside down. I was irritable from not being able to do much and from some discomfort in my feet, but mostly I struggled with strong feelings of inadequacy and failure. Why did I ignored the injury? Why did it have to flare up so strongly? Why could I not just walk through it despite the pain? This trip seemed yet another failed project in a long list of unfinished, unexplored, or un-pursued dreams.

As I lay harassing myself with my list of failures, a cheerful part of me piped up and said, “But what about the list of achievements?”
“Which achievements?” The critical part responded.
“Mount Rainier?” Suggested the cheerful one.
“Climbed with a group. Doesn’t count.” Retorted the Critic.
“Mount Olympus?” “Group. And Alan was a good leader. Doesn’t count.”
“Mount Shasta?” “Easier. With a group. Doesn’t count.”
“Yosemite Matterhorn?” “Cried all the way to the top. Cliff basically had to pull me up. Doesn’t count.”
“Half Dome?” “The guide (Con) had to carry my backpack down because I was so exhausted. Doesn’t count. And,” the critical part slyly added, “Notice all of these adventures were with a guide?”
“Ok, then what about the MBA?” “Liat forced me to study. Doesn’t count.”
“Stanford?” “They accepted me because my essay impressed them, and it wasn’t even about me, and it’s easy to graduate from English once you get in. Doesn’t count.”
“The kids?” “Don’t even get me started about that one!”

And so on, and so forth. That critical part always has an answer. No achievement ever counts.

I live my my life at the stressful tip of an upside-down pyramid. Every project I start is all-important, pivotal. If only this project succeeds (and succeeds according to a very specific set of rules and judgements), then I would be able to keep going to build the rest of the pyramid. Except, because each project is so pivotal, and because each project is so all-important, it is impossible ever to get out of the tip of the pyramid. Every project is again, and again, and again, the tip of the pyramid. Every project is all-important. Every project is pivotal. In every project my entire opinion of myself, my confidence, my worth, hangs in the balance. Each project is the tip, carrying a pyramid of personal failure and unworthiness.

Seems a bit hopeless, doesn’t it?

While hiking on our third day, both my feet were burning with an almost debilitating pain. There was no escape. Each step was excruciating. I tried putting moleskin and second-skin blister pads over the inflamed spots in an attempt to relieve the pressure. It helped, some. Mostly, however, I had to struggle with my thoughts. What is this pain? Is it just a blister? Did I just call pain from a blister debilitating and excruciating? Am I just spoiled? Is this something serious? Will I be able to keep hiking? Will we be near a town when we get to the road? Can we find a doctor? Is this the end of our hike?

In backpacking, many people say that 99% is mental, and the other 1% is mental as well. Fortunately, I am often my higher self in nature. That third day, I breathed in and out and tried to focus my thoughts away from the unhelpful ones. I trained my mind toward accepting the pain in my feet as it was. I reminded myself that most other parts of my body (my hands, for example, or the tip of my nose) were not in pain at all. I repeated some mantras (“I am well, I am safe, I am loved”). I sang songs to myself (“My Favorite Things” was more helpful than the moleskin, let me just say). Dar and I walked nearly 16 miles that day and climbed (and, worse, descended) 2500 feet in elevation. When we got to the ER, I still shouldered my backpack and walked in. After all, I was well, I was safe, and I was loved.

It’s nice to remember these things that I appreciate about myself. It’s nice to remember that on Mount Olympus I had so much energy that I ran circles around everyone else. It’s nice to remember that despite crying I was able to climb to the top of the Matterhorn, that I swung myself out to the crazy ledge and succeeded in climbing up, that (with Cliff’s support and protective rope) I did get myself all the way up and then down, that it was the most difficult climb I had ever done. It is nice to remember that I got good grades in classes with but also without Liat, and nice to remember that I had fun at Stanford and got to do some pretty fabulous things (like go to England and New York to research an author for my honor’s thesis). It’s nice to remember that the fabric of my being is made up of some shining spots, and even nicer to remember that I am the one deciding where I’m going to keep my focus, on those shining spots, or on the less brilliant ones.

I am realizing that in writing the last few paragraphs, I managed to turn the pyramid right-side-up.


Just by focusing on some positive things.

Dar and I will be back at Tahoe. Probably not this season, since we still have a lot of plans this summer. But we’ll be back. In August, I am going to Glacier Peak (Washington) with Cliff. In September I signed up for a weeklong outdoor meditation retreat at Spirit Rock. We would like to take the kids to Oregon for a few days, maybe check out the coast there and the dunes. I also wanted to see the waterfalls around Oroville and to walk 20-lake basin in Inyo National Forest. And Dar said that when my feet are all healed (which they almost are), we can go on the backpacking trip I’ve been planning from Yosemite Valley to Wawona. That should be fun. So, yeah, I still have that fire burning beneath my backside, but I promise, this time, to take good care of my feet – and the rest of me, including my wandering, often critical mind. That, in itself, is an adventure for life.


Gift of Life Within a Chocolate Cake

This morning I heard a story which touched my heart. One of my doctor’s patients, a woman with terminal cancer, was getting ready for her child’s birthday party. This woman had a very strict diet because of her illness and told the doctor she was not going to eat from the chocolate cake she planned to serve at the party. My doctor wondered how much eating the chocolate cake would really hurt. Would it not be more meaningful for this child to have the mother eating birthday cake at what possibly was the last birthday party she will ever attend?

As I listened to the story, I was overwhelmed by the (seemingly irrational) certainty that had the mother eaten the cake, a space would have opened up for her healing. My certainty baffled me. Why would chocolate cake, filled with sugar, dairy, flour, and other commonly-accepted enemies of health, open up a space for healing, make possible (on any level) what could only be described as a miracle? The renouncement of the chocolate cake symbolized for me, at that moment, a renouncement of there being a chance to heal. It was the resistance to the disease personified by a need to control it by diet. Eating the chocolate cake became a metaphor to letting go of the need to control the process of the disease, a letting go of resistance to the illness, an opening up to the opportunity that both death and life were still possible while letting go of clinging to one or the other.

I was perhaps even more touched by the story, because, coincidentally and unrelated, I, yesterday, ate a chocolate donut. It was a gluten-free and dairy-free chocolate donut with sugar frosting. Not large, baked, but probably still full of white sugar and unhealthy fats. While eating the donut, perhaps half way through, I realized half was enough. My heart was already pumping sugar through my body. I didn’t need more. Chocolate is inflammatory, part of me whispered. It will make my reflux worse. It will make my post-nasal drip worse. Stop eating, the part asked. Another part of me, however, was concerned with the waste. What will you do with the other half? It demanded. Are you going to throw it away? And it continued to cajole me: There isn’t that much left. Just finish it. Finish what you started. And so I did, and then, guess what? I felt quite yuck.

The question I am raising in myself, however, is why, exactly, I felt yuck yesterday when I ate my donut? Was it because it was, in fact, too much sugar? Was it even true that it made the reflux or the post nasal drip worse? Or, perhaps, was my feeling of ickiness roused because other parts of me subscribe to the belief that sugar, fat, and chocolate are all bad. Was my ickiness because objectively the donut was yuck, or was it because I guilted myself into feeling yuck?

I think it’s true that in our society we have a common belief that sugary treats are unhealthy and need to be avoided. We also, contrarily, believe that sugary treats are just that, a treat, something to get comfort from, something which makes us happy. A quote on a magnet I found says: “You can’t buy happiness, but you can buy chocolate, and that’s kind of the same thing.” If chocolate is happiness, why, then, do we make ourselves feel so bad eating it?

Perhaps it is not chocolate at all, but the rules we invent for ourselves that are the problem: the strict diet, the beliefs that chocolate cake (or, insert any other food item or behavior) is bad for us or our health. And perhaps not even these are the problem but our rigidity and need to adhere to these rules. I often jokingly say (and you know how there’s truth in jokes) that I can either completely abstain from chocolate or totally indulge in eating it. There is no in-between state. I need the rigid, unbending rule in order to — but then I wonder, in order to what, exactly? In order to be healthy? In order to be happy? In order to do myself no harm?

As usual, I have no answers to my questions. All I know is this certainty in my heart that sometimes chocolate cake can be healing, that flexibility can be healing. And maybe more than that, I think that the acknowledgement that we don’t need to control everything is healing. Sometimes simply letting go and eating all that chocolate cake can set an intention to heal, to grow, to move forward. Maybe even to lose weight and be happier, or freer. Perhaps rather than beating ourselves up next time that we gratify some desire, we can indulge while opening up to the possibility that this is exactly what we need right now, that this is exactly on our path, that this is exactly right and true for us, and just let go into the moment, into, potentially, the sugar rush.

I just want to say, because it’s occurring to me that maybe it sounds like I am, that I am not in any way condoning or encouraging the use of intoxicants. I hope chocolate is innocent enough for my example as something which does not alter the mind. What I am encouraging is looking into your own heart and asking how true is the belief that a certain behavior is “bad” for you. How rigid does the rule of not behaving in this way need to be? And perhaps it needs to be rigid. A diabetic may not be able to eat as much chocolate cake as they’d like. A recovering alcoholic can’t say, “I’ll have just one innocent drink.” The cancer patient, from the beginning of my post, may be completely right about avoiding chocolate. Perhaps the choice to renounce the cake allowed her one more day with her child.


For Today Only, Be Compassionate

whitetaraWhenever I feel overwhelmed, frustrated, or sad, I go to my meditation corner and sit for a while. I set up my meditation corner with a green, satiny pillow on a yoga mat, facing the White Tara tapestry my parents brought back from one of their trips to India or Tibet or Nepal. The room where I sit also serves as our storage space, and my pillow thus faces, in addition to White Tara, four bicycles (from small to large), a car bike rack, some deflated balls in a box, and a towering filing cabinet. But the clutter does not seem to matter. The meditation pillow has become my haven of peace and quiet, a place where I can rest my thoughts, or at least slow to a halt my physical body if my thoughts persist in slipping in and out of my mind.

White Tara, the goddess in my tapestry, is a Buddhist deity who represents the motherly aspect of compassion as well as truth, purity and wisdom. She has seven eyes to show her vigilance and ability to see all the suffering in the world. The tapestry had been hanging in that corner of the room for years now, and while I always loved the way White Tara looked, I did not think to invite her to participate in my spiritual practice till a few months ago.

If anything, rather than compassion, I was ever accompanied by the judging voice of a Critic. This voice has been especially disruptive in my writing. So many times I’ve given up on what I had written, thinking it was awful, only to come back to it months later and discover that it was not bad at all. Through therapy and after reading Tara Brach’s life-changing book, Radical Acceptance, I slowly became aware of this Critic and his dictatorial rule over me. Fortunately, knowing the problem is half the solution. Rather than reject the Critic, I decided to invite him in closer. Yes, it was difficult to listen to this voice, but the fact was, I knew the Critic was a part of me. I wanted to accept this part, but how? Criticism does not equal feedback and rarely serves as encouragement. Perhaps, I realized, the Critic and I could learn to be a little gentler with my other, more sensitive, creative parts if we treated ourselves and each other with compassion.

I’ve been practicing in the room next to the tapestry for a while, longing for peace and quiet and not always finding it, before I figured it out. I wanted to be more compassionate to myself, and here was White Tara, goddess of compassion, watching me! What if I asked her to bless my practice with compassion, to help me be more compassionate to myself? And so I asked. And she had answered.

These days, whenever I feel frustrated, sad or overwhelmed, I go sit in the warmth of White Tara’s compassion. I’m pretty sure that her compassion and love are beginning to rub on me. Certainly, her presence has become my haven, my retreat. Where before meditation seemed a duty, something I was repeatedly encouraged to do but preferred to avoid, now I wait for the moment I can go and sit. From a woman who rarely slowed down,here I am, enjoying a daily pause.

Here are my tips for building your own compassion-filled meditation space and practice:

1. Your meditation corner doesn’t need to be perfect! Any old space could do, as long as you bring compassion into it. My corner is cluttered and hardly private, but when I close my eyes and feel compassion for myself for not having a better space, it becomes sacred and just enough perfect.
2. Invite White Tara, Kwan Yin, or any other deity who brings compassion and love with her (or him) to help. Meditating requires so much self compassion! Jack Kornfield compares meditation to training a puppy. You tell the puppy to sit, and the puppy wanders off and pees in the corner. You tell the puppy to sit again, and it goes off to bark up a tree. Have compassion for your poor mind, your puppy. It’s interested in many things. Bring your attention back to your breath or the belly, pat your mind a little to let it know you love it, and let the cycle of quieting the thoughts start again.
3. Even if thoughts persist in sucking you in, having the body be still for a while is worth the meditation. Pausing physically is as important as pausing the mind. Our bodies deserve to rest too, you know.
4. Expect your meditation to be different each time you sit. Sometimes I sit, and twenty minutes or half an hour pass by in a second. Other times I find myself peeking at the clock every two minutes, hardly believing that only two minutes have passed. Sometimes my mind is quiet and clear like a High Sierra lake, and at other times it is muddy and stormy and restless. Whatever it is, the best way is to accept it with — guess what? — compassion!


Intention to Change

changephotoIn my latest audio CD, Jack Kornfield told this story. A meditation teacher met with a student who complained about some issue in his life. The teacher gave the student some suggestions on how meditation might help, but the student answered each suggestion explaining why it wouldn’t work or saying he had already tried that. Finally, the teacher sat back, looked at the student for a long moment, and said: “You know, I think your intention to stay the same is stronger than your intention to change.”

Oh dear. I couldn’t help but remember my conversation with my therapist, Jeanne, earlier that day. I had recounted a problem I was having, but when Jeanne suggested a possible way of handling it, I responded exactly as the student in the story. “I already tried it,” I said more than once. I never really listened to her. I was caught up in my intention to stay the same.

I wonder why I cling to staying the same even when the promise of better things shines before my eyes. I hang on to the lip of the waterfall with bleeding fingernails, resisting the flow of the river that is my life. The water rushes past me, throwing me against rocks and thorny bushes. I am scratched and exhausted, and yet I cannot release the edge no matter how much pain I’m in. There is nothing for me up there, and I can see the clear blue pool below, but I’m too afraid of the turbulent waterfall to let go.

As a Reiki practitioner, I often remind myself to release my need for specific results when I treat a client. I know that though I am the one channeling the energy, it is really the client who heals himself or herself. The healing that happens and the way it manifests are always in the client’s highest good, and they depend (among other factors) on the strength of his/her intention or willingness to change.

Interestingly, since we have free will, we can refuse the flow of Reiki into the body. This may sound strange. Why would anyone refuse well-being? But remember all the times you procrastinated going to the doctor or refused to take the medicine prescribed? Choosing health is not always the easiest path. A student can even refuse an attunement. It happened to me in a class once when I was feeling particularly ornery. Fortunately, by the time the second attunement came around, I had made my peace with receiving its gift, and I could feel the energy flowing into my body.

I’ve discovered that my immediate “No” almost always ought to be a YES. YES to letting go and going down the waterfall. YES to trying something new. YES to listening to my therapist’s suggestion. YES to an offer that might scare me. I have found that no matter how big the waterfall, life is always better in the clear blue pool below.

These days, when I am feeling sick or unhappy, I ask myself the question: is my intention to stay the same stronger than my intention to change? Sometimes just noticing how much I resist change is enough to give me the boost to let go my resistance. Sometimes we all need to take a step into the unknown. I hope, perhaps, I’ve inspired you to leap into the clear blue waters of the pool, too.


Sigal Tzoore (650) 815-5109