Hello. It’s me.

I have a dear friend, my first partner…the first man I was ever blessed to be in love with, and the first man I ever hurt to his core. We have, together, over the years been able to salvage from the wreckage and repair our relationship to where now it is strong, and solid, and with mutual respect and admiration. We have healed.

He is in need of great healing now, and is surrounded by an outpouring of love from family and friends as he battles a very aggressive, ugly, and scary brain cancer called glioblastoma.

quotes-hope-dawn-anne-lamott-480x480In my journey of shaking hands with my shadow self, and becoming acquainted with my faults, my sadness, my self-loathing, my smallness, and then forgiving and healing that shadow self to become a man of integrity and compassion, I’ve committed to the Buddhist practice called “tonglen”.

Tonglen, as defined by Pema Chodron is “…a method for connecting with suffering-our own and that which is all around us, everywhere we go. It is a method for overcoming our fear of suffering and for dissolving the tightness of our hearts. Primarily it is a method for awakening the compassion that is inherent in all of us, no matter how cruel or cold we might seem to be. We begin the practice by taking on the suffering of a person whom we know to be hurting and wish to help. For instance, if we know of a child who is being hurt, we breathe in with the wish to take away all of that child’s pain and fear. Then, as we breathe out, we send happiness, joy, or whatever would relieve the child. This is the core of the practice: breathing in others’ pain so they can be well and have more space to relax and open-breathing out, sending them relaxation or whatever we feel would bring them relief and happiness.”

I wrote to my friend yesterday. I’ve committed to sending him an email everyday as he recovers. He lives in France, and my Seester and I will visit him when the time is right to do so. This is what I sent him, and I’m sharing it here as part of tonglen, with the hope that this practice may benefit others who are going through pain and suffering, too. *Which means all of us.

Dear David,

Hello. It’s me. I’ve been thinking about change, healing, transformation and other stuff, and I want to share something that I’ve learned.
It’s important to just show up. When I meditate, I don’t prepare myself ahead of time. I don’t have the zazen cushion, the bell, the altar. I don’t have my lotus position perfected and my hand mudras facing exactly 45 degrees toward Summer and Winter…in fact, most of the time when I meditate, I’m a hot mess…or I’m in a state of “Meh”…which means, “Okay, I’d reeeeeely rather not be doing this right now, and it’s DEFINITELY going to suck, and “motivation and mindfulness”–well, you can both kiss my ass because I have one cheek for each of you,” and I do it anyway.
It sucks at first, and yet, I still do it. I show up.
The best counseling sessions I’ve had with my clients are when I have no script to follow, no clear cut action plan, and certainly no net.
The best times I have with friends are when our regularly scheduled plans get derailed.
The times that are the most ugly and frightening for me are also the times when I learn the most, and have the best chance for survival…and for growth.
But it requires that I show up, face it, and say, “Okay, so now what?”
Pema Chodron is a Buddhist nun I follow, and read/listen to fairly often. She talks about this idea of “Positive Groundlessness“. It’s that moment when you’re kicked out of orbit, or the rug is pulled from underneath you and you land on your bony tuchus. Positive groundlessness is what happens in the moments that follow. It goes like this: You have an awareness that you are in uncharted waters…that this moment is foreign…that this is dark and scary and there are wolves…and rather than the fight/flee/freeze option we usually choose, i.e. doing what we always do in situations like this to avoid pain and feel good again, we show up fully instead. We turn and face it. We look in the mirror.
In doing so, we are invited to become curious about this fear, the sadness, the unknown, the bad news, the diagnosis, the pain, etc. In doing so, we breathe. We show up and see that there are other things happening around us that are magnificent, beautiful, and in motion. And perhaps in doing so, we provide ourselves a fresh alternative, or a soft place to land, and we choose to respond differently in the face of pain, fear, and suffering than we have done in the past.
I never shared this with you, but it’s an example of the Positive Groundlessness I’m talking about. On 9/11/2001, when I was alone and walking across the Brooklyn Bridge, covered in ashes from the towers after seeing them fall with so many thousands of others, I felt something hit my pant leg. It was a pink post-it note…one of those “While You Were Out” notes with the space for a message and a phone number. It was blank. I knew it must have come from one of the fallen towers, blown across the river from lower Manhattan and come to rest, like some sort of butterfly on my pant leg.
I keep it in my Box of Special Things, along with all your letters and poems. That piece of pink paper is my reminder of Positive Groundlessness. The phrase “While You Were Out” has a different meaning. It reminds me to stay present…not to check out…not to go AWOL…not to flee…but instead to simply show up, fully, even if I’m a hot mess, and receive the moment. I encourage you to do the same, no matter what.
With so much love,
Kevin Redwoods

You’ve Changed. Again.

This July 4th weekend, I was both t-boned and rear-ended by, well, me. In a valiant struggle to transform from who I was/am into who I am becoming/will be, the Universe tends to notice this and becomes a kind of life coach who is into water-boarding and electroshock as a training method. It’s like He/She wants to see just how serious I am about shedding those unwanted pounds and firming up my core.

Kind of like the fucked up love child of Jillian Michaels and Samuel L. Jackson. Not a pretty baby.

I’ll go into depth about what happened this weekend, and what lead up to the ten car pile-up on my personal, spiritual interstate in subsequent blogs, I promise. (Pinky swear). Right now, it’s still too close to write about with clarity, and without bursting into gut-wrenching sobs punctuated by moments of “they’re coming to take me away, ha-ha, ho-ho, he-he” laughter.

For now, let’s play in a safe sandbox that we’re pretty sure hasn’t been peed in, shall we?

iyanla vanzant quoteIn recent talks with friends, change has been a theme. When I spoke with “My Two Todds”–yes, I have TWO, and you don’t–Todd H. mentioned how we often project onto other people what we ought to see in ourselves, or what we don’t want to admit about who we are, in an effort to safely look at our shit with some distance. The problem with this is that we’re flinging our ancient poo onto someone else and blaming them for being covered with it. Because we detest and judge in others what we don’t want to accept about ourselves, we turn away from the mirror the other person is holding up to us, and we miss an opportunity to transform. Instead of turning toward the mirror, our knee-jerk reaction is one of (for example) “This guy has shared with me that he has cheated and been unfaithful in the past. I cannot trust him because I am not around him 24/7 to see what he’s doing when I’m not around. I’ve been cheated on before, and I’ve learned not to trust anyone. Therefore, I shall not trust him, even though he has told me he has a desire to be faithful to me, and is willing to show by his actions–not just his words–that he is a man of integrity. Trust is too big a risk for me to take because it requires transformation and letting go of a limiting belief.”

Instead, we could look at ourselves. “I know that trusting other people is hard. I was taught that others cannot be trusted, will disappoint me and lie to me. I have no control over the actions of others. I can, however, learn how to trust myself, and have personal integrity. I can be open to meeting others who are on the same path, and give a guy a chance when he tells me he’s made mistakes in the past, and has learned from those, and is willing to continue the work of trusting himself, just as I am doing. It’s a risk, but it helps me to grow and transform, and may help this wonderful, new guy to grow and transform as well.”

In other words–every relationship we enter based on mistrust will end in more mistrust. The Universe will continue to give us what we want, and affirm what we believe, until we interrupt the pattern and choose a fresh alternative. It’s having the awareness of, “Oh wow. I have trust issues because I don’t trust myself, not because I don’t trust anyone else. I’ve been taught not to trust others, and learned as a child that I cannot be trusted, and that’s a limiting belief. The person I need to learn to trust–in fact, the only person whose trust I can foster, is me.”

I view change and transformation like a hipster dad with a flat for the first time on the side of the highway with two screaming kids in the backseat. The journey has been interrupted and the kids are hungry and cranky and Dad is still a good thirty miles from home. Dad hasn’t got AAA, Dad’s run out of Goldfish and water for the kids, and Dad’s never changed a tire before. He saw his Dad do it once, but he never really paid attention because he was hungry and cranky and five years old at the time. What should hipster Dad do? No snacks, no roadside assistance, and no instructions on how to change the tire…and too scared and proud to pick up the cell phone and call his Dad to ask for help because looking like a suck-ass father who’s doing it wrong is getting in the way of risking failure and doing it at all. Meanwhile the kids are screaming louder, it’s rush hour, it’s getting dark…

You have a cell phone. You have a Dad who’s done it before. You have a spare tire and a tire iron. Suck it up, buttercup. Make the call.

My second friend Todd sees change as nonlinear. Todd K. says the Taoist perspective on transformation is more about orbits, seasons, and slight shifts in our orbits while we continue to circle around the Sun. Sometimes a life event–addiction, terminal illness, loss of any sort, trauma–smacks us like a meteor and sails us out of our comfy orbit, knocking us sideways into a new one. *Those are best avoided when possible. It’s not doctor recommended to hit rock bottom AND THEN begin transformation, although, that’s what some of us…like myself…do.

IMG_3171Or another portion of us stay stuck in the same boring, limiting, painful orbit going around the Sun our whole lives, bemoaning the fact that nothing changes, same shit different year, wouldn’t it be great to change my job, go back to school, make more money, leave my deadbeat boyfriend, quit smoking, lose 30 pounds…and do jack shit about it other than seek distractions in a series of shiny objects and halfhearted attempts at commitment.

To shift our orbit slightly means that while we are cycling through seasons, we begin to expand or contract our orbit just a couple of degrees per month, per year…and make our way into a new orbit in a mindful, and certainly less shocking way. Let me end this post about how change and transformation work with a bullet point summary for those of you who are more linear, and less orbital. To conclude (clearing throat, grabbing the pointer):

  • Change is the only constant. This is not meant by the Universe to be ironic. And yet, isn’t it ironic? Don’t you think? Black fly in your Chardonnay? Anyone? Bueller…Bueller?
  • The Human is the only species on the planet who rails against change, avoids it, fears it and also reeeeeeelly wants it at the same time, then tries to deflect it or flee from it, denies it, causes wars to bring it on or end it, and suffers as a result of having difficulty  in general…with change. Go ahead, try to refute that.
  • Failure to accept change always leads to suffering. Always.
  • Change is different from transformation, insofar as how we define each. To change something may be temporary, like our hair color, our underwear, or our boyfriend. To transform involves alchemy–once something is transformed, there’s no going back to what once was.
  • Once you accept change as a Universal constant, and also accept the alchemy of transformation, with this awakening, a host of other possibilities and moments of “oh shit!” are delivered to you on a semi-regular basis. This often sucks, and is occasionally fabulous.
  • The moments of “oh shit” and hosts of other possibilities were always there, but you weren’t tuned into them because you were sleepwalking through life and checking Facebook instead of being fully present in the moment.
  • Now that you’re awake, you’re more aware. It’s like tuning in to the constancy of the waves hitting the beach instead of thinking of them as background noise.
  • Sometimes, it takes a profound event–a tragedy, an illness, a death, a loss, or something perceived as truly awful (i.e. suffering is most often brought about by not accepting change and not paying attention)–to cause us to wake up, tune in to the present moment, and accept what we cannot change, gain courage to change the things we can, and cultivate the wisdom to know the difference.
  • That being said, it’s ALWAYS better to recognize you’re sitting in poo and have been sleepwalking through life wearing a dirty diaper BEFORE the shit you’ve been sitting in magically escapes your diaper and hits the fan. *Avoiding rock bottom is preferred.
  • Lastly, change doesn’t care how you feel about it, is neither good nor bad, and is not subject to the ego. Change just is.

I’ve heard it said we truly let go of something when we no longer think about it. Perhaps that’s related to the whole “forgive and forget” idea and the huge expanse between those two words.

Accepting change and fostering transformation come at the cost of letting go of things that no longer serve us in favor of new things that serve us better, and that means letting go, receiving, forgiving, and unlearning some pesky, bad behaviors.

If we accept that change is the only constant, would it not be better to accept each relationship with our bodies, our health, and with those we love as an opportunity to also evolve, cultivate, and transform on a daily basis? It seems selfish and narcissistic to want to keep our bodies and our lovers in stasis, just as we were when we were young and healthy, just as our lover was when we first loved them.

The phrase is “This too shall pass” not “This too shall stay.”

When we begin to accept change, each day brings with it a sense of curiosity. Each day becomes an opportunity to check in with our bodies, with our lover and our friends and family, and see how the terrain has changed for them in a twenty-four hour period. Acceptance of change means acceptance of what is, and a commitment to pay attention to changes as they come. It means our relationship with ourselves, with our partner, our friends, and with everyone crossing our path is in motion, intentional, fully present, and never taken for granted.