Meditation on devotion; Mapping a path to the divine

If you’re like me, you try to live in alignment with what is true and do what is right, even as you acknowledge that this may be different for everyone. You feel your way around topics like divinity, devotion, and grace. You try to touch lightly, with all the gentleness of tending an open wound or a newborn.

If you ask me to explain God, I’ll tell you it’s the Universal Energy that makes seeds sprout, that holds protons and neutrons in the nucleus while electrons orbit around them, that creates atomic bonds to form stuff, and that otherwise structures the world as we experience it. As a feminist, I’ll never use a masculine pronoun to refer to God. And as a devotee of reason, I’ll never claim that this God-stuff that holds the universe together as it generates, degenerates, and recycles matter has any interest in me personally. And I certainly won’t anthropomorphize this Force. Ultimately, my mind and language are finite things, I’ll say, and God is infinite, so I’ll never be able to really understand or explain God.

This is what Rational Me knows about God. Rational Me has gone to books to clarify ideas about the divine, to trace my fingers along the well-worn maps of other travelers, which is how I view these texts.  Rational Me is helpful. Up to a point.

But sometimes she gets in the way. So I have learned to find my way by observing her. Reading the Bhagavad Gita, Rational Me had an immediate, clear opinion about the central issue on Bhakti (devotional) yoga (Chapter 12). Arjuna asks Krishna, Which is best way to unite the personal consciousness with Supreme Consciousness  – either devoting oneself to God with attributes (manifest) or without (unmanifest)?

Rational Me sided with the unmanifest form, pure in its nothingness and everythingness, in its potential. Rational Me was irked by Krishna’s answer that it was better to meditate on the manifest form of God (Krishna) rather than the unmanifest (Brahman). It’s easier, He explains, for embodied beings to devote themselves to an embodied God. In addition to thinking Krishna’s answer was self-serving, Rational Me got a little rush of self-satisfaction. “Maybe it’s easier for other people,” she thought, “Yeah, those other people who take their metaphors too literally.”

RM gloated a while – through a few readings of the chapter, actually. And then it hit me! (Because I was observing the ego in RM.)

Almost daily as I have made long drives through Los Angeles and Orange counties, this feminist talks out her frustrations, fears, and dreams with an invisible dude who has the power to help her with stuff – even if it’s mostly finding peace and gratitude when things aren’t going my way. I talk things out – OUT LOUD, mind you – and my unseen buddy ribs me about how we’ve been through this before. And I nod and chuckle to a voice only I can hear. Many days it’s just me and God: on the road together, yucking it up about what a dumbass I am, as I live out the “God is my co-pilot” cliché.

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This is me at BhaktiFest, a yoga festival in Joshua Tree, CA.

But there’s more: As with other friends, I’m disappointed when God’s plans don’t include me, and I’m irritated when his plans for me aren’t what I had in mind. Sometimes, the relationship feels really dysfunctional. Sometimes, I’ve blamed him. There are times, I get busy and don’t call. But when I’m really in a crisis, I can count on him to answer. Even if it’s been a long while since we’ve talked, he’s kept up with what’s going on and knows how to guide me. When I am grateful, accepting and compassionate, I sense that I am in good hands (not my own) in this journey from birth to death. This is how Intuitive Me experiences God.

As odd as it seems, rational thought doesn’t entirely govern my beliefs. Rational Me doesn’t know the map, no matter how many of them she reads.

This split between my thinking (abstract; unmanifest) and my action (concrete; manifest) seems to speak to the question raised in Chapter 12. While I can be in awe of the beautiful complexity of God in either form, it’s easier to be in a state of loving devotion to a manifest form that loves me back. I might add, that my devotion is absent when I am self-involved.

As a person who has changed her mind a lot, I’m a bit of a commitmentphobe. This is especially true of dogma. I like to explore the spiritual terrain of religions and even set up camp and learn their practices, but I have never settled on one. If anything I draw on all I’ve experienced in mapping my own route to the divine.

One of the things that I love about yoga is that I can, without having to worship a literal deity, still love “God,” unite with It- — whatever It is. I don’t have to define it because I directly experience It. Believing in a Source/Force that underlies the apparent world –creative, sustaining, and destructive – I feel what a small pixel of the big picture I am. It makes it easier to surrender the outcome of my actions, which I cannot control because more things and bigger things also impact the outcome.

It seems like this is my personal experience of Krishna’s counsel that if you cannot observe the Vedic rituals (which I can’t), then one should cultivate knowledge (which I have been); or better yet, meditate on the Supreme Consciousness (which I do often); or best of all, in devoted work, surrender the fruits of action and achieve peace of mind (which I also do often). Krishna closes chapter 12 saying that is in equanimity (toward comfort and discomfort, toward friend and foe, etc) that one becomes dear to him.

Equanimity: maybe this is what I am sensing, rather than indifference, when Rational Me explains God. If so, when I am equanimous, my consciousness is aligned with the Supreme consciousness, and I experience union, which is what the word yoga means.

As I experience equanimity through surrender, I achieve that peacefulness in which I feel loved, and that engenders love in return. And therein are the seeds of bhakti; that is to say, devotion.

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Dirty Lies that Keep You from Writing Magic

I’m so tired of all the glorification of suffering that seems to go hand-in-hand with writing. The idea that one must suffer for her art has been ingrained in us. It doesn’t help that some of our literary icons have told us its true.

“Writing is hard work and bad for the health.” E.B. White 

“Easy reading is damn hard writing.” Nathaniel Hawthorne

“Perhaps it’s good to suffer. Can an artist do anything if he is happy?” Aldous Huxley

Even if you’re not familiar with these quotes, it’s likely the notions that writing = hard and that suffering = better writing are some of your core beliefs because they’ve been repeated so often.

The truth is, as writers, we all hit creative blocks or need solutions to a craft problem. And, yes, writing takes effort. But we don’t have to suffer.

I did it, anyway, because I didn’t know better. After 10 years as a journalist, columnist and poet, I just couldn’t handle the suffering my writing life caused me. My writing depleted me. My failures, whether perceived or real, demoralized me.

Even though I’d made deep sacrifices for my art, I just couldn’t do it anymore. I quit my column. I stopped performing. I stopped publishing. I knew I either had to quit forever or I had to find a new way of doing things.

Marya yoga writingIn a commitment to this new life, I moved across the country to California, and I began cultivating a yoga practice that changed everything.

The teachings of yoga philosophy helped me with my relationship with writing. (I published a paper on this in a book on innovations in teaching writing. Read it here.) Soon, I saw that my yoga practice was a magical tool, too. And as I continued my quest for a relationship with my writing that felt supported, purposeful, and nourishing, I recognized the principles that I now teach in Practical Magic for Writers workshops.

Imagine a writing life…

  • that allows you to feel connected, rather than isolated.
  • that fills you with purpose, inspiration and joy.
  • that nourishes you, instead of depleting you.
  • that contributes to the well-being of you and others.
  • that helps you realize your best and highest self.

I have a FREE upcoming webinar where you can find out more: Intro to Practical Magic for Writers. You can attend live or watch it in replay.

 

 

The Art of Doing without Doing

“Practice the art of doing without doing”: it’s on a Post-it stuck to a binder for what I call my “Phoenix Feather” project. “Phoenix Feather” feels good in the mouth; it’s fun to say. I had a childlike wonder as I used crayons to draw a picture of a red and purple feather. Then I slid my artwork into the front the binder to impart that energy to my work there. I’ve learned that feeling good about my project helps me approach it in a way that lets work happen easily rather than as part of a struggle. I’ve been making much progress on this project because it feels fun, wonder-filled, and inviting.

Another Post-it on the binder reminds me “I can of my own self do nothing. John 5:30.” And a third, a paraphrase of the Gayatri mantra, a highly revered Hindu prayer, invokes the source of all inspiration and creativity:  “You who are the source of all power, whose rays illuminate the world, illuminate also my heart so that it, too, can do your work.” I’m eclectic when it comes to spiritual inspiration! There’s wisdom and guidance from so many sources.

I love that invocation in the Gayatri. When I’m connected to Source, letting divine energy move through me, my work is effortless. It becomes doing without doing.  In my search for more on the topic, I found this post by Lindsey Lewis on Daily Cup of Yoga: 5 Ways to Master the Art of Doing without Doing.

You might also try my tips on procrastination, How to Get Moving and Get Things Done, which is my own kinder, gentler way to entering flow.

#whollycreative #whatsyourstory

Free yourself from a dysfunctional mind-body relationship

I think it’s fair to say I’ve lived in my mind for most of my life. I’m a reader and a writer. I’ve also been in school nearly my whole life, except for a five-year window in the 90s before I became an educator.

Other than for vanity reasons, I never gave much thought to my body. Through my twenties, I punished it with long hours of work and school and got few hours of sleep. Through my thirties, I replaced the school work with independent study and writing. My genetics kept me slender even though I got only a little exercise. The important work was mental not physical, after all. As a scholar and a writer, I need a brain; my body is secondary.

More, there wasn’t much motivation to be “in my body.” I always ached, literally head to toe: chronic headaches, neck stiffness, back aches, knee pain, foot cramps. I just thought that was how it was, and though I saw a chiropractor and massage therapist, I thought managing pain was a normal part of having a body.

Seriously.

I lived for the times I was “checked out” while reading and writing, “zoned out” when I was performing or teaching, or “numbed out” from drinking.

At 40, things changed when I began yoga, which is when I started to really feel what was going on in my body. I had huge emotional releases – lots and lots of crying – just moving through the poses on my mat. Sometimes I’d have to drop into child’s pose to sob. Even though I had a wonderful consciousness shift after I began my yoga practice, my body actually became more painful. Some days (not all) my knees ached so badly, I had trouble walking.

Even after I quit drinking a couple years after beginning yoga, I’d wake up slowly and have trouble moving. “I need the first hour of the day to stare in my coffee and mutter,” I’d say. As recently as a couple weeks ago friends would invite me to morning yoga and I’d say, “I can’t do anything before 11:00 a.m.; I don’t move well in the morning.”

And I thought this was normal. That’s life, right? You get old and your body hurts.

But this morning, I woke up at 6:30 a.m. on my own. When I put my 47-year old feet on the floor, they didn’t hurt. I didn’t have to limp to the bathroom with one hand on the hallway wall for balance. I put both feet down and stood up. Then I started shifting my weight back and forth, stepping in place. My feet were limber, sort of like hands. My toes felt longer, sort of like fingers. I started to dance. My whole body had an ease to it, I’d never felt sober.  I felt lighter, taller. I started to swing my arms over my head and then I sang as I danced around, “I feel good…in my body!”

Seriously.

What had changed? I’d had two sessions of rolfing (deep-tissue work that stretches the fascia, developed by Ida Rolf), which had worked out the adhesions in my connective tissue. The places that were bound up had been pulling my body out of whack, and the problem had compounded as the years went by.

But it wasn’t just my body. Two days after my first appointment, a girlfriend who’d known me for fifteen years called. She’d seen me through heavy workaholism and functional alcoholism, when I’d been alternately high on progress or booze, and she’d stuck around to see a new more peaceful, sober me. I’d answered her call while I was walking on the beach and watching the sunset, and I felt energized about my writing and the work I’d done developing Wholly Creative. I was bubbling with enthusiasm. For the first time in years, I didn’t feel like I had to slog through the day.

“Are you on a bender?” she asked. I didn’t understand what she was asking. “You sound like your old self… You sound happy.”

I’d been sober for four years, and while I’d cultivated more peace, I hadn’t felt this good since when I got those regular doses of “spirit” that allowed me to feel really free in my body. I’d had little windows of elevation after yoga or dance or a bike ride, but pretty quickly the window closed and I was back to the slog. My friend was right. I felt alive again.

Today, it occurred to me there is a correlation to how I was doing mentally and how I was feeling physically. I am more inspired and more creative because my body is functioning better. Talk about mind-body connection, right!?

With still eight more sessions to complete the rolfing process, I am ever more amazed by how we can increase the quality of our creative and intellectual life by tending to the body. And it’s not just mind and body, it’s spirit, too.

Get my free guide to Get Moving and Get Things Done.

Rule breaking, time warping, persona stripping: it’s how legends are made!

I broke rule #1 of blogging.

I didn’t publish a blog for years.  After my move to Los Angeles from South Florida, things inside of me shifted, like my consciousness was tectonic plates and my life was the resulting earthquake. I wasn’t sure who I was anymore or what I had to say or why anyone would want to listen. My professional creative life was the casualty. After over a decade cultivating a readership, I didn’t want to be “followed.” I didn’t have any idea where I was going.

Now, I know some would say, “Hey, that’s the kind of thing that sells…those dark periods, that descent, that drama.” But the truth is, I’d pimped out myself as a writing persona for so long in alternative media, I wasn’t even sure what the real me sounded like or what she had say. I knew I didn’t think mean was funny (Actually, I never did. I was coached to write that way by an editor). I needed to find myself.

(I bet you can relate to that. I’m sure there’s been a time in your life when you didn’t know what to say or what your leadership was. Maybe that time is now. I’m here to tell you: It’s okay.)

In the hiatus, I lowered my expectations and stopped engaging in the activities that triggered “old Marya” behavior. But I didn’t stop writing. In fact, I wrote a lot. In fact, I need to write my projects down now to prove my accomplishments, even if only to myself, so here it goes (I encourage you to take stock of your accomplishments, too.):

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My first improv comedy class show. @ M.I. Westside Comedy.

I wrote a few articles for Palm Beach ArtsPaper about my experiences in California. I wrote a narrative essay “Trapped” about childhood traumas and escapism, and I performed at Spark Off Rose. I wrote lots about yoga philosophy and practices and how these could be applied to the writing process. I was asked to present on my research at the Rocky Mountain Modern Language Association Conference, and then I was asked to submit that paper, “Writing East to West: A Yogic Approach to Life Writing,” to a new book project, Beyond the Frontier: Innovations in First-Year Composition. I also wrote a lot of poems and essays that I have left unpolished and stored unceremoniously on a flash drive. Oh, and I spent a year doing improv comedy…quite badly, in fact.

None of these projects were things I was sure of. (Some days I still wonder about what I’m doing with my life: a yogic approach to writing?) I struggled because what I was doing was new for me. I’d left behind the smartass, hard drinking, shameless Marya Summers that I’d capitalized on in South Florida. It’s hard to invent yourself, but it’s harder to strip down the persona and show up authentically, with no mask to shield you. I have been cultivating humility and grace; it’s made my humor gentler and wiser, I think.

Now, I’m back. It’s not a new Marya, it’s the real Marya. As myself, I’m vastly more… I was going to say more Zen, but I had been zooming around on a endless tank of an ego-boosted fuel blend of anxiety and shame in the opposite direction of  Zen for so long that, now, even being in the zip code of Zen seems like some serious Sci-Fi technology.

My point is that transformation is possible, and it’s never too late to start. But you have to let go of something if you want to reach for something else. You have to be brave enough to trust that you are enough.

Get my free guide Get Moving and Get Things Done.

Take your writing (and your body) in new directions

THURSDAY NIGHTS, MARCH 3, 10, 17, 24 & 31, 7-9 PM !

Creative Flow: Yoga and Writing Workshop 

Consciousness meets craft in this course that uses ancient principles and practices to stimulate modern, creative writers of all genres.  Students will be guided through movement designed to develop focus, draw inspiration, stimulate imagination, and manifest creativity. Each session will include exercises on the mat and on the page. Participants will share their new work in a format that allows for supportive feedback.  This course is for every body — stiff or limber, young or old, beginners or experienced practitioners.

Santa Monica Yoga, 1640 Ocean Park Blvd., Santa Monica, CA 90405. 5 SESSIONS. $150. $125 if purchased by Feb. 24. Space is limited to 12 participants. Sign-up early to ensure your spot!

Paypal msflambe@yahoo.com.