Monthly Archives: April 2008

Writing down the bones*

I don’t know how I’d ever be a painter. As a writer, I edit every time I re-read, usually taking things out. I suspect this technique may not work out so well on a canvas. (Although I recently heard that when painting with oils, you can put saran wrap on the painting to try something out before you’re stuck with it.)

The idea of being stuck with my first draft is actually pretty terrifying. It’s the great thing about blogging. I can change things whenever I want. I just edited my last post this morning because it was the one post that was staying with me – knowing in my gut that I started writing it from the place of wanting to be a good writer instead of the place where I just write to find my voice.

It’s so easy, once something is sent out into the world for public consumption, to begin expanding my consciousness to include such considerations as “but how will this be interpreted?” and “is this witty enough”? To be tainted with the longing to be liked.

Writing for me gets worse the more it gets like chess. In chess, the better you are, the farther ahead you can see the moves. When I write, I do it for the discovery. It is a practice I use to find my voice. To cut through all the gobbledegook in my brain and distill the essence of the undercurrent that’s invariably brewing in my spirit. And it’s surprising. Words like gobbledegook pop out of me and I shake my head in the wonder of where it comes from. It’s how I know that my spirit is bigger than me and my over-active mind. It’s often as though the words write themselves and this is just an exercise in getting out of the way.

And I always know the source of origin of my words, when I choose to look. I know how my authentic voice feels in my chest, ringing a “yes” in my heart, that for me is often accompanied by a shaky, full breath, a wave of excited energy or a tingle of tears.

I rarely, if ever, find this when I’m speaking. The pace of talking is generally beyond my capacity to deeply attune to myself. So I come here to slow down, to drop kick formulas, expectations, and hopes of outcomes – to practice slowing down – to find words with care and intention.

And it’s interesting. Once I allow this, editing is no longer required. My editing tends to make things worse. How cool is it, that I have this opportunity to figure it out through doing? Because I often don’t know what space I’m inhabiting, until my own wisdom feeds back. And it can’t feed back if there’s nothing on the page.

I’ve spent most of my adult life avoiding creation just to avoid the mess. (Nobody is going to be interested in this – why bother? Come on Lis, just spit it out already. Why are you making this so difficult? No no no – that’s so boring. What’s an intriguing metaphor? Nope. That’s bad too.)

And for some reason now the mess is less daunting than it is a thrilling obstacle course. I’m living in Big Sur – full of artists and other creators – and the more artists I meet the more ripples of inspiration buoy me. The more I write the more hungry I am to receive someone else’s creation and then I’m ready to write again. What a relief it is to be in the mess, after years of watching.

I want to mention that is isn’t out of disregard that I try to let go of my imaginings about other people in favor of my own soul intelligence. It’s actually out of a deep love. I think of my own struggling as a microcosm of the whole world. If I can’t find my own way, meet my own voice of dissent or even hate with some resilience, figure out what’s rattling around in my bones… it seems pointless and arrogant to figure out what someone else wants and try to deliver. I don’t want to offer you something I don’t have to give. I don’t want to be the maid with the dirty house.

And if my friends are a guide (and they are) – I know that my own voice is the biggest contribution I can make to Us. My advice, however well meaning, or my tiptoeing through relationship in fear of disappointing or any myriad of other things serves only to distance. The desire to give or the fear – these are real and wonderful – but until I own and express them, there’s little room to connect.

And look at that! In finding my voice I got the most wonderful advice! Thank god I wrote it down.

*btw – I stole the post title from the title of a book, that I just now understand

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The break up

So I’m at that lousy moment. My Ego and I have had a longstanding love affair, intercepted with bouts of Buddhism where I decided to pay it less mind, but it’s been pretty hot and heavy again lately. And here I find my self figuring out how to call it quits. Once and for all.

How do I know I’ve had it, you ask? Well, I’ll tell you. I’ve spent an enlightening (enlightenment by the way, is not all glowy and rainbows – it’s more like realizing that dog poo you’ve been smelling is actually on the bottom of your shoe) few days participating in this dissatisfying internal dialog about how wonderful I am. Not the good kind of wonderful, mind you. The “listen to how wonderful I am” kind of wonderful. It’s like being asked to dance and instead of dancing I count the steps. Especially the one’s you screw up. I dance with miraculous after miraculous person and all my darling little brain can think to do is find evidence of my betterness.

(Note: Historically, I’m usually content with being worse. It’s just one less thing to argue about. But I’ve been feeling pretty good lately.)

This is all feels nice and tidy talking about this now – alone in my dark little cave, writing into blogdom. But over and over there is the moment – the one when I’m looking my friend in the eye and their genuine distress about a fruitless job search turns into an opportunity for me to silently confirm that yes, I wouldn’t have gotten myself into this pickle and then proceed to spout my wealth of wisdom. I rarely muster up the gumption to just fess up and stop it.

If I’m not wonderfuler than you, how on earth do I have the right to offer anything to you? And if I have nothing to offer, than why on earth are you listening to me? Why am I here? The desire to contribute is real. But my god, the concept of both of us just sitting here in our incomparable wonderfulness is still baffling to me.

To be fair, I’ve been sneaking out and seeing my higher self on the side. I have glimpsed it. But in the day to day, my playing field with you is almost never level. I’m watching the bases and listening to the score – measuring the advantages – experience, personality, reputation, smarts, talent, poise – you name it.

I want to know in my bones I’m important and I’m enough. Just for existing. All the time. With everyone. No matter what.

That’s a big commitment. Maybe we should start with coffee.

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Love song

my sharpest angles have been poking out
without regard for the room I’m in or the clothes I’m wearing

and I’m feeling the full force of my not-sorryness about it.

I’ll poke.
and you can move.

all this time being mother hen to the whole world,
lining your nest with feathers,
(and yours.)
(and yours.)

I understand it may be abrupt,
all those sticks and predators.

let’s see what we’re made of.

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Saturday afternoon physics lessons

I asked a question on Facebook months ago that was something to the effect of “Why is it we so avoid (over and over and over) doing the things we know are good for us? ” I got a few answers from friends and from myself – none of which rang the bell of that internal “yes” that builds our sense of world and understanding of ourselves.

The question came up again inside me today. It’s one of those lost-feeling, whirly weekend days. I had plans, they changed, so now what… kind of thing. It’s 2:30 in the afternoon and I’m still sitting around in my flannel pjs. I made a little food, talked to a friend on the phone, talked half-heartedly over possible plans for the day with Yossi but the talk dissolved into each of us getting lost doing our own thing. All of it leading me into that moment of choice I’ve been somewhat hyper-attuned to in myself lately – do I follow the momentum of my energy? Or make a choice of will to send my energy somewhere new?

Today the momentum was rolling down the hill toward what one may refer to as “wasting the day”. Curling up in the sun and napping. Watching a West Wing marathon. Eating comfort food. Avoiding the work and responsibilities that are at my door. Without any plans or urgency enough to force me out of it, I sit right in the middle of that moment watching the process of my decision-making, or lack thereof.

A variety of options come up, in the form of fortune-telling, where the ultimate aim is to end with me feeling good. I scroll through imaginations…

A. my afternoon disappears but I’m refreshed and nurtured by the downtime,

B. I follow my energy down its lazy path and land in a soup of dissatisfaction,

C. I pull myself up by the bootstraps and go create or do something enlivening.

I feel again how strong the pull is toward the familiar and the comfortable. I feel how the dissatisfaction with following it has steadily collected in my consciousness over time and I wonder if maybe today will be the day that the dissatisfaction is big enough to push the ball back up the hill – magically changing the pattern without me having to do anything hard.

And it occurs to me – this metaphor – the ball rolling down the hill – is based on simple physics. An object in motion stays in motion. I’m no physicist – I never particularly liked nor do I remember much of my last physics class 15 years ago, but it feels to me – here in my bones – that this physical principle of the universe is true of energy too. I feel how the patterns of my being are just energy – energy manifesting this very basic, and probably obvious physical phenomenon. Neural connections following their well worn path of least resistance, blood pumping to muscles that just like to do what they always do, my body alive with energy – all pulsing down the river of habituation that was first cut in the sand when I was but a wee tot. When it feels like pushing a boulder up a mountain just to decide not to eat the ice cream or turn of the TV, it really really is, just like that.

But we’ve been given this gift of will, that saves us from our robotic fate. Will is a tricky one for me – in that it wasn’t particularly nurtured or encouraged and now it’s harder for me to come by. Or more accurately, it requires a more convincing invitation than your average party goer. Once it’s there though, you can bet it’ll the life of the party. I do know that.

I don’t know who will make an appearance at the party today or how the evening will turn out. To be sure, I give my environment a leading role in the play – it distracts me from setting intentions of my own and carries with it its own momentum. Yossi pops in the Netflix and grabs potato chips – now there are two West Wings behind me and it’s almost 5. I’m still in my pajamas. We talk about going for a walk, he falls asleep and I start writing. Maybe the writing is enough. However it turns out, I’ll know more, and I suspect that’s the whole point.

The universe has a momentum too. And it carries with it the ultimate irony. I only have to glance at the stars to be relieved of any sense of significance I’ve given to my Saturday afternoon, or to my entire life. So why does it feel – in my heart of hearts – like stopping a ball from rolling down a hill is changing the whole world?


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Dancing and swimming

Swimming upstream
seems to me a strange destiny
for an entire species.

Then again,
if the water didn’t move,
nothing would be nourished.
If the gravity didn’t pull,
the water wouldn’t move.

The interdependencies
created by having all of us here
are beyond any possibility of understanding.
I wonder
that there is any swimming at all.

There must be an extraordinary
amount of grace in us
to be dancing like this.

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I heart chicks with guitars

Went to a little house concert in San Rafael last night to see a couple indie artists on tour – one of whom has been in my ipod favorite chick singers playlist for a few years, the other is a sweet new discovery. Check em out:

Edie Carey

Rose Cousins

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The call to greatness

I saw my friend Ani Difranco again last night, in concert this time in Santa Rosa. And I indoctrinated Yossi, who it was a treat to share with, especially since he really liked her. Truly, as I watched I wondered how anyone couldn’t – if not appreciate her music, style or perspective, at least honor her presence on the stage and in the world. What a shining star.

I’ve seen Ani in concert for 15 years, and while it’s been a few since I saw her last, I was prepared for the familiar schizophrenic ongoing internal dialog that invariably accompanies the ticket price.

Audience member Lisa A: “Oh it’s the Becky song! Remember Beck, how you always sang that line “you are by far the cutest?”

Lisa B: “Yes. I was feeling the Texas of my heart today in the car. That’s it exactly.”

Lisa C is busy adding harmonies and riding the guitar picks like electrical surges.

Lisa D: “She is so obviously doing what she was meant to do. Wake up! It’s time for Lisa to be Lisa.”

Lisa E: “She’s existed in the world for a year more than me and has released 21? albums. What the fuck am I doing? Where has my creativity gone? Lisa, you have so much potential and you’re wasting your life. You’re still not even sure who you are. What distinguishes me from everyone else in this anonymous crowd? I hate crowds. We’re all hypocrite cattle, cheering at every cry for rebellion and independence while we’re all sitting here in the dark fantasizing to the tune of “I want her to see and love and validate ME!” If I met her tonight, what would I say? What is my offering? I bet she doesn’t watch TV.”

Ok, I suspect that audience member E. is actually a few voices, but I’ve lumped them together here for the purposes of recognizing that none of what they have to say is helpful. The simple act of going to a concert for me is a complex brew of enjoying the familiar, identifying with the artist, appreciating the music, being inspired, and then tumbling down the hill in comparisons, judgments and self-consciousness.

Fully aware of and prepared for this last night, I suited up for the show with all the resources I could muster after what had been already a long and challenging day. And I managed largely to hold the cruelest forms of “voices E” at bay. I focused on voice D instead. The voice being nourished by inspiration – the voice who in seeing Ani shine felt my own call to greatness. And I knew that true calls to greatness are not laced with barbs and they don’t get report cards. They happen of their own accord, in their own time, each with their own unique manifestation.

I don’t know what happens in everyone else. But I’ve seen and heard enough to believe that the call for greatness is a common if not universal experience. Greatness not being confused with fame or glory, though greatness often inspires followings, but greatness of embodied spirit. It’s a recognition, a flowering, an excavation of the divinity that has been inherent in our beings all along.

I feel the tingling of this inside myself many times a day. And then I see the 184,256 things that are in the way and if I don’t just drown in hopelessness right then and there, I get tripped up by #4 or #58 or #184,255. It takes a special kind of inspiration, or maybe more commonly a desperation, to plow all the way through, which is why I don’t see it much when I look around. But I’m attracted to people who I see making a go of it, and my spirit lifts immeasurably to be present for someone who just hit another six barriers but did it anyway. We see this a lot in people with life-threatening illnesses. People who are adequately nursed with an urgency to go beyond their habitual, self-imposed limitations. I’ve looked deeply at the invitation in more than one dark night of the soul – the stark choice – climb the impossible mountain or deny my life force and die inside.

And last night I recognized all those voices of stopping as being a barrier that keeps me from my greatness. And for some reason, whether inspired by Ani or just following my own evolution, I felt the urgency more profoundly than I ever have. And the urgency dramatically loosens the grip of fear and dread. The voices that normally stab me and sit me down transformed into little stings to brush off.

There is NO TIME TO WASTE. As Ani said in one of her songs last night “We’ve got ourselves a serious situation down here.” There is no time for self-pity and misery and stopping. Today I’ve been visited by at least 238 of the things I do and think that stop me and I haven’t had breakfast yet. But at this moment each one feels like a calling. Beckoning me to climb it, drop it, cut through it here and now because there’s a life I have to live.

It’s tempting to throw it all up in the air together and say I’m done and I’m starting over. I’ve attempted this before and it ends badly. My knowing is that each one of these things is something I have to look at in the face and say no to. One by one. I just have to trust it will all happen perfectly and drop me off in the middle of my greatness on the other side.

On to breakfast.


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Just you and me

I’m alone in a hostel in Sausalito tonight. A private room, as private as hostels go, that smells like a boy’s dirty socks. I’m attempting to remedy this with tea tree and eucalyptus soap-covered tissues that I’ve placed strategically around the room and I feel like a new-age MacGyver. It’s quieting down and I’m fading, but am drawn to write nonetheless.

Hostels tend to bring out my already predisposed leanings toward loneliness. So do going to concerts by myself, which I did tonight before coming here. It’s aloneness surrounded by people, which for me shines a bright light upon the way I relate, or rather often don’t relate with the world. I told my therapist this week that there are two chairs in relationship – expressing and receiving – and that I’ve spent WAY too much time in the receiving chair. I realized later that I actually haven’t been in either chair. I’ve been watching and reacting to other people, and most of the time I’m not only not receptive, but I actively shut down my receptivity from this place – spending a whole lot of time in relationship with myself. And all the watching becomes isolation that turns quickly into loneliness and resentment. So much so that it’s paved a well worn road to depression and despair.

The concert tonight was actually a public lecture – an interview with Ani Difranco at the Palace of Fine arts in San Francisco. She’s been a longtime source of musical, social and personal inspiration – I feel like I’ve grown up with her. It’s bizarre to feel like this with a stranger. A completely one-sided friendship, that on my one side, has been full of complexities and growth and emotion. She’s just a stranger I’ve watched and listened too more than the average person – while I go about having my reactions and relationship with myself. So I decided to really pay attention tonight to what relationship I’m having exactly. I listened, I received Ani’s offerings and felt nourished. And afterward came a strong and natural wave, of hunger for dialogue. I felt enlivened and inspired, and I wanted an outlet to share the new creations that were brewing in me with these new ingredients.

This is my practice. It’s why I decided (and re-decided, and re-decided) to start this blog. To feel fulfilled experiencing relationship in this way – this most basic giving and receiving that has been the primary developmental gap in my life. And I am already finding wells of vitality in me that have been long hidden. Since I started this blog I feel like a fountain has been turned on, and the more I express the more I want to receive and the more I want to express. This is what relationship is. I’m alone right now, writing in a strange, stinky room without knowing who, if anyone, will read this. But in writing I am learning how to find and speak what is inside of me. And if you are here receiving my little offering, it may grow something in you. What else on earth is there for us to do?


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Lisa’s Big Give

I don’t have TV, so I sometimes watch shows online the day after they air. Somehow I got sucked into the vortex of reality TV (kicking and screaming) and have been keeping up with Oprah’s Big Give.

As far as reality TV goes, it’s pretty standard in the whole “how can we create as much drama as possible” bit – the first and last 10 minutes of each episode being particularly appalling examples of our human potential, in my opinion. And still I get sucked in, poo-pooing all along but not turning it off.

They’ve mastered the art of alluring the ego in these shows. It’s “reality”, so they’re just like us – we can imagine we’re in the seat and go flying right along with all the emotional turbulence. And it works. For those of us (me) who watch movies and TV to step out of our skin for a while and vacation in the exciting world of somebody else, we feel every bump and triumph as keenly as if it were our own, while still having the luxury of a second seat in the judge’s box. I’ve noticed all these shows have both participants and watchers. There are the players on the journey, and there are the people watching the players and commenting all along the way on how they are doing.

It’s the quintessential metaphor of our cultural and egoic conditioning. The judges decide what’s acceptable, what’s better than, what wins and what goes home. And just in writing this – in really getting this – the compassion I have for myself is deepening. When I watch this stuff the judgment never feels good. This is what our culture does to us every time we step out the door. And we’ve been in a cultural immersion program since birth, so we don’t even have to walk out the door – we only have to breathe and we’re doing it to ourselves. I do it day in and day out – and I’m usually so in it I’m not even seeing it – which makes a lot of sense, seeing as how the show isn’t fun to watch even when it’s not me. I’m doing it right now.

In this particular show, the cultural repercussions are about subtle as a Vegas sign. From a nice diverse pool of 10 original participants, all but the three richest, prettiest and whitest have been shown the door. In this system you don’t have a chance if you’re not equipped with the right gear. And I spend so SO much time bemoaning the places where I’m not equipped. The many places where I wasn’t blessed with, or nurtured into the impossibly perfect form for brilliant physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual success in the particular place I happened to be born into.

As I write tonight, the judge watching me is taking the form of my teacher Cheri Huber, who is shaking her head and saying “I’ve been telling you this in a thousand different ways, in seven different books, and here you are writing this like it’s some big new discovery. And then writing it as if it’s yours!” I assure you that in my regular, daily reality Lisa show this most compassionate Buddhist teacher does say such things, and I unquestioningly believe – I get hurt and defensive, but walk off stage without hesitation, really thinking “she” is teaching me to be better than I am.

Tonight I’m writing anyway. It is mine to discover, and I’m doing it. And the resolution is like a salve. There’s more to reality TV than the participants and the judges – there’s us watching it. I’m turning it off.

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23 miles per hour

The wind won’t stop in Big Sur. For a week now the wind hasn’t taken a break. We’re having a beautiful spring – the lilies and irises are up everywhere, it’s green and blue and sun in every direction – so I feel a little bit bad complaining. I saw one Iowan friend’s Facebook status the other day, saying she was ready to take a hairdryer to the snow on her windowsill. But at least the snow isn’t moving all the time, that’s all I’m saying.

There’s something exhausting about constant wind. Even angering. I remember when I was little, standing inside the canopy of what was at the time an absolutely enormous evergreen tree in our yard. The wind wouldn’t stop and I convinced myself I could talk to it and make it calm down. For some time I actually thought it worked. It seemed that as soon as I asked it to stop – when I didn’t yell, and when I really wanted it to – it would ease up for awhile. But I remember being angry at it, which is what I decided was my downfall in the negotiations.

Now I’m a grown up girl, living amongst a truly enormous canopy of redwoods, still angry at the wind. It’s hard to sleep, it’s cold, I get tired just walking outside. I find my frustration more noble as I think of all the little creatures – the poor Steller’s Jay couple building their spring nest have had to start over and she’s gonna pop out those eggs any minute.

But my grown up girl mind suspects they aren’t in negotiations with the wind. They’re just starting over. And I look at the young saplings that look like they’re taking a beating and know that this wind is ensuring their survival – strengthening their young roots. What seems ferocious and unrelenting is just moving things through.

It’s spring, after a winter of relative ease and comfort. Life is stable and sweet and rooted. And then comes along a Sunday afternoon, when Yossi and I go for a walk and discover the invisible little cobwebs that have accumulated in our relationship. And we follow the natural instinct. We decide we’ll open all the doors and windows – clear out the stale air – each of us not even realizing we’ve been feeling confined until we catch the scent of something fresh and new. He longs to travel and find his own feet in the world. I’m just now finding my wings here. And we love each other, so who would close a window?

Yossi sold his car and is buying a traveling van. I’m looking for a new Big Sur nest for one. The wind hasn’t stopped blowing since that Sunday and the sweet, fresh air is now just feeling brutal. I resent it pushing my best friend out the door.

And then yesterday, the news that my friend Ronnie decided to die. My friend who I waved to in his truck on Tuesday just had enough. The wind blew him through Vietnam and who knows how many other things in his seventy years – most recently ending his marriage, evaporating his wealth in the stock market and taking his home. Sometimes the wind is too much. It’s something I can truly understand.

But today life is calling upon me to strengthen my roots. To let everything move through… loss, discomfort, grief, fear. And trust that like most growing things, I will be stronger.

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