I think the word “trust”
and my heart cowers, trembling,
trying to squeeze
into the tiniest corner it can find,
to be left alone to pick up
a million shattered pieces,
find utmost tenderness
in the wake of a thousand heartaches.
There are so many ways of falling apart,
each feeling like a well-trodden road
that can take you to your place of pain
with the great ease of the unburdened.
The climb back, out, in the other direction,
the monumental effort of this.
The ache of one tiny swivel of the head,
the reward is instant.
Right there, just off to the side
on the road of worry,
a tree, gargantuan, protector and protected.
It makes no promises, asks nothing of you.
So you are drawn here, slowly, to observe,
(still clutching your aching heart)
the great way of the tree,
standing through all seasons,
accepting of its plush plenitude
and bear nakedness alike,
harming no thing,
nourishing as it is nourished
only to the extent that it can,
so that it always has what it needs,
the great lesson in this.
The great miracle
of being teaching being,
of all that is offered, all the salves
to a heart in need of healing.
- This article was first published on The Tattooed Buddha.
All my life, I’ve lived in my head.
My mother tells me that they used to sit me on the windowsill of my grandmother’s apartment when I was a wee one and while everyone else chatted away, I’d stare out the window, occasionally pointing at things and asking, “Sta?” I was in my own little world, fascinated with the world around me. This tendency to be introspective and observational by disposition has stayed with me.
When I was in my early twenties, a close friend told me that my best quality was my independence, and my worst quality was my independence. It was an astute observation, even if it did leave me a little unsettled.
I’ve also loved communicating and expressing myself as long as I can remember.
That’s actually not true; I was a very shy kid. However, once I entered adolescence and started understanding myself more in relation to others, I found I was a talkative, opinionated being who also needed a lot of alone time for reflection. I loved being around other people, mostly close friends but also strangers or acquaintances in large gatherings whom I could meet and learn about, after which I’d need a few days to recover.
These days, there’s so much talk about introverts versus extroverts. Back then, all I knew was that I counted on my “catch-up sessions” with myself and my journal to refuel and understand myself better.
I have identified more strongly with the quieter side. The more outgoing I appeared to be or was labeled, the more I actually wanted to dive into a corner and retreat into what I considered to be the most authentic version of myself.
It’s amazing how we cling to our identities, how long we can go in life without challenging our basic assumptions about ourselves, and how invisible these assumptions become as we take them to be incontrovertible truth about who we are.
When I was laid off from my job at the end of 2009 and decided to travel on my own, I deeply looked forward to my time away. While I knew I’d miss my friends and family, I was longing to get some distance from some of my unhealthier habit patterns, which I would have a chance to dissect and deconstruct. I had no fear whatsoever of travelling on my own; I reveled in it, though my old friend’s voice did nag at me a bit:
Am I too independent? Is this part of the problem? What is the problem, exactly?
I refused to believe that loneliness could be lurking somewhere within all the alone-ness I was embracing with joy.
A great teacher I met along the way said something striking to me when she told me that I had a great opportunity to really dive into myself and experience solitude, since I’m the type of person (incidentally, or not incidentally, a Gemini) who exists and thrives in communication. I was surprised. “But I love being on my own. I’ve always been quite independent and introspective, maybe too much.”
A raised eyebrow told me I had a few lessons coming my way.
Cut to a few years later, moving from the sometimes chaotic, often serene and always vivacious landscapes of Southeast Asia and India to Japan. My head and heart were filled with so many encounters with people met along the way, with whom I could share intimate conversations and learn so many things. My ears were still ringing with the jumbled notes of India—the soulful chanting, the “chai chai chai” invocations, the clanging of wares on street, the talking-yelling-laughing-bellowing-beckoning exuberance that was part of daily life there.
Japan is a very quiet place.
My more Zen inclinations reveled in, and continue to love this shocking change of ambiance. I have been rewarded often by ancient mountaintop temples, the tiny urban temples and shrines I visit squished between school and houses and shops, to feel the special charge in the air there. My heart is also warmed by the understated grace, kindness and gentility of the people here.
The truth is, though, that over time I have really had to come face to face with what it means to live without the social interactions to which I’m accustomed.
In a land where it’s not common for people to make direct eye contact or to invade the space of others in any way, where politeness reigns over intimacy in initial interactions, I find myself often contemplating my very visibility when I’m out in public.
If I sit in a café, I’m entirely left to my own devices, which makes me feel that I’m basically in a more crowded version of my living room. I’ve never realized before how much my café experience at home is informed by the chattering I can hear around me, the stolen glances, the smiles exchanged with strangers, the awareness that people around me are reading books I’ve read or have been meaning to read…
In other words, by a shared, common and mutually understood culture.
I’m learning that while I’ve always loved my alone-time, it’s also always been cushioned within the knowledge that I can go out and relate to others any time I feel the need; which, as it turns out, is/was more often than I realized.
As humans, we all live in relation to others. How these relations are expressed across cultures varies widely, but we all exist in a frame of reference that includes others. We are all interdependent. This is a fundamental Buddhist tenet—that of dependence-arising—and a truth that grabs me in the heart.
When we’re outside our familiar culture, we lose our direct grasp of this interdependence, or not know how to fit into the societal web around us, which can lead to well-documented feelings of unease and isolation. Most importantly, though, it’s a great reminder:
As much as we may value our independence—or as introverts, cherish our alone-time—we truly thrive not only when we have time for our own thoughts and feelings, but when can be active, sharing and giving members of our communities.
Exploring new lands and learning about new people is a wonderful thing that I thrive on and personally love. However, understanding how precious it is that we come from a particular place with unique sets of values and codes for social conduct is equally important, and not to be taken for granted. Our culture is not the totality of what we are, but nor should we deny the beautiful ways we have of connecting within our familiar environments; they are part of the fabric of us, and can be an integral facet of our evolution.
Living in Japan is really teaching me how important it is to feel connected and to share in a wider community with love, joy and compassion. Also, that we need to truly confront loneliness that exists within our alone-ness so we can learn to be in healthy solitude, and bring our best selves to the world around us.
The daughter asks:
Mama, why doesn’t the tree fly?
The mother answers:
Because it is a tree.
It doesn’t think of flying,
But look at its branches
Floating high in the sky,
Swaying in the breeze.
This looks a little bit like flying,
Don’t you think?
But why doesn’t the bird talk?
Because it is a bird.
It doesn’t think of talking,
But look how carefully
She feeds her young, and
Listen to the singing sounds
They make together,
As they pass each other by.
This is a little bit like talking
After all, wouldn’t you say?
But why doesn’t the rainbow stay?
Because it is a rainbow.
It doesn’t think of staying,
But look at the lasting
Impression rainbows make
Long after they’re gone,
And how they live in our memory.
This seems a lot like staying,
Wouldn’t you agree?
But why doesn’t the sky fall down?
Because it is the sky.
It doesn’t worry about falling.
But look at how we can’t tell
Where it begins or ends,
And how it comes all the way down
To meet us where we are.
That’s a little bit like the best,
Most hopeful kind of falling;
Do you think so too?
And what about us, Mama?
Why aren’t we kinder to each other?
Because we are human,
We do think about being
Kind to each other; we think
About it all the time.
We are sad when there is
Hurt in the world, and even
Sadder when we are the cause.
We are human, so we make many
Mistakes, and we still
Have so much to learn.
But we are trying, and this is,
Is it not, the kindest
Way we can begin?
*This poem was originally published on The Tattooed Buddha.
*This article was co-written by Ruth Lera, of Root Awakenings, and myself, and published on elephant journal. It was so much fun to collaborate on this piece, and to work with Ruth! We recently met through our various common writing activities, and have discovered we have much in common – this is the beginning of a beautiful relationship! Thank you, Ruth, for suggesting we work together!
Energy work such as Reiki, Healing Touch or Cranio-Sacral isn’t something that needs to stay on the massage table.
Working with energy and using it for healing can easily become an everyday activity if we just let it.
All that this opportunity to bring energy healing tricks into our daily lives asks of us is to open our hearts and minds to see new ways to relate to ourselves and the world around us.
Below are stories from two professional energy workers and elephant journal writers about how they came to be involved in energy healing, the shift in perspective it has brought to their lives, and some suggestions for how anyone can incorporate this kind of healing into their daily lives.
I was 20 years old when I had my first experience with any type of energy healing work. I was heading out for a month-long kayaking trip in Alaska and I had this throbbing pain in my wrists that I wanted gone before I left. So I went to see a Cranio-Sacral practitioner I had heard great things about and in three sessions the pain was gone.
I never thought I would do anything like that.
At 28 years old, I went to see a popular local Osteopath who energetically separated me from my parents and told me that life was easy—which had never even crossed my mind before.
This experience brought an incredible amount of bliss into my life.
But I never thought I would do anything like that.
And then about four years ago all of my friends starting taking these healing touch courses and raving about how much they were learning, so I followed along and signed up for Healing Touch level 1. My mind was blown.
Within hours I was feeling energy and healing people by manipulating energy. I thought that this was the most amazing investment of my life.
I saw that it was like investing in a first aid kit but in my hands. Suddenly, I could help with headaches and stress and tummy pains and all the bumps and scrapes that my family and friends are always having.
I still didn’t think this would become my career but it has and this is great. But what is more interesting to me is how we can bring this type of energy awareness into our daily lives.
Here are five things that I do on a regular basis:
1. Increase my personal vibration.
I draw energy from the center of the earth through my body. This visualization generates a kind of tingling or humming sensation in the body which in turn helps decrease stress and increase health in all situations.
2. I become aware of how other people’s energy fields are affecting me.
I notice if I suddenly feel anxious when I’m around a certain person or suddenly feel like I need to get away from a person. I don’t judge that other person. I just stay aware about how I am being energetically affected.
3. I place my hands on someone who is stressed or sad and raise my energy.
This is great for spouses, kids and close loved ones. It’s a practical way we can help them when they are down.
4. Send love and light wherever it seems needed.
This is a great tool when we see pain and suffering and feel helpless. We can imagine the person or situation surrounded in light while simultaneously paying attention to our personal vibration and giving it a little boost.
Will it cure everything? Probably not (if it does please let me know!) but it is something.
It really is something.
5. Being playful and experimental.
This morning I went for a walk in the woods. While walking I brought attention to my energy field, making it bigger and smaller while I walked (it felt amazing when it was big, intertwined with the entire forest).
Was I trying to get a certain result? Nope. I was just having an experience.
Life is an experience, not a cognitive construct. That is why energy awareness can be a daily practice, a daily, experiential practice.
I love what Ruth wrote about being told that life is easy. This has also been a profound realization for me, as someone who tends to overthink and overcomplicate things.
I came to energy healing by being introduced to Reiki twice, almost my chance. The first time, a friend pointed the way, saying, “I didn’t get much out of this, but it seems like your kind of thing.” It was! The practitioner told me almost on sight that my energy field was depleted.
I knew I felt like I had absolutely nothing left to give, but was amazed by her recognition of this.
The second time was during my travels in Southeast Asia, when a friend of mine suggested I get a Reiki treatment from a local healer. I felt soothed by her gentle touch, but was astounded when I started to have great trouble breathing and felt like I was going to have a panic attack.
I knew immediately there was something going on here.
When we talked afterward, one of the things I was told was that I was someone for whom life seems complicated, but that this was only my perspective; life does not have to be experienced that way.
I was hooked, and spent the next several months learning and practicing Reiki, along with several other healing modalities. Learning to be in the world with a sense of oneness and not solely through the filter of my ever-active mind, and being able to work with others to bring about healing and a sense of balance has been an enormously rewarding path.
We might over-dramatize what “healing” means, and reserve blocks of time to see therapists and the like, to “work on healing.” I believe that healing is, at a basic level, a commitment to being fully alive in the world, and this is an ongoing, daily practice of awakening to our energy. As Ruth suggests above, there are things we can do everyday to remain vibrant and strong in the present moment, so that we can also be a light for others.
Here are five things I enjoy doing to work with energy:
1. Ground myself.
Be a tree! Stand with your feet planted on the ground, and feel your legs firmly rooted to the ground, and the Earth’s energy filtering up through the body.
2. Protect myself.
There is a lot of “noise” out there, and it’s hard to have a clear mind and heart when there’s so much external traffic running through us. We can visualize a protective shield of sparkly white light around us, so that we can stay balanced throughout the day.
This is self-explanatory. Breath is life, and pausing during the day to allow long, deep breaths to run up and down the energy channels of the body is rejuvenating and essential.
4. Practice “Give and Take” meditation.
Here, we visualize someone in need, and breathe in their suffering, and and breathe out love, compassion and light to them. It can take as little as a few seconds, and make a huge difference.
We instinctively know that being in nature is healing. For me, being barefoot and taking long walks is the best way to get out of my head and find my natural rhythm with the world around me.
Jack Kerouac was many things – writer, philosopher, artist, wanderer … and I’d like to add mystic to this list. In “How to Meditate”, he brings his unique literary voice to a process that, in the end, defies linguistic expression. Sometimes, though, a stunning rendering of words can be as meditative as the act of sitting on the cushion seeking peace. Meditation is not just something that happens on a cushion.
Whenever we can step back from our traditional way of looking at the world – from our busy minds, our many conditionings – and become present within our bodies and surroundings … this is meditation. From this space of presence and mindfulness, we can go deeper with our contemplations, and find that an opening has been provided, so that we can experience a vastness of experience typically unavailable to us.
We can access this state while on a long walk, surrounded by trees and and mountains and rivers, by staring into someone’s eyes with real presence and compassion, and also by reading the inspired words of others. May these words fuel calm and happiness for you!
HOW TO MEDITATE
— lights out —
fall, hands a-clasped, into instantaneous
ecstasy like a shot of heroin or morphine,
the gland inside of my brain discharging
the good glad fluid (Holy Fluid) as
I hap-down and hold all my body parts
down to a deadstop trance — Healing
all my sicknesses — erasing all — not
even the shred of a “I-hope-you” or a
Loony Balloon left in it, but the mind
blank, serene, thoughtless. When a thought
comes a-springing from afar with its held-
forth figure of image, you spoof it out,
you spuff it out, you fake it, and
it fades, and thought never comes — and
with joy you realize for the first time
“Thinking’s just like not thinking —
So I don’t have to think