Monday, April 10, 2017

resiliency toolkit: create something

some things i'm currently making:  a painting, an outdoor oasis, a mala, a mural

building resiliency and regulation in our everyday lives is an essential life skill.  there are many exercises and brain games we can learn to self-regulate after stress or trauma that are taught in specialized courses (and they are amazing).

often the most effective methods of regulation are built into our everyday lives.  you are likely already doing them. being more intentional about naming them self-care and doing them on the regular (like every day) will go a long way to serve your body and soul and smooth out that hilly ride between sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.

you've seen the "how to take care of yourself lists", right?  these activities are great, but sometimes they don't appeal to certain personalities or lifestyles.  i like to think of resiliency-building occurring within four broad domains: creativity, reflection, movement, and connection.  simply define how you care for yourself on the regular within these four domains and then mindfully do them.

let's start with creativity.

i am an artist, so making art is a huge part of this domain for me.  but let me make this perfectly clear:  you do not have to be an artist or do art to be creative.  think of creativity as building or growing something positive, whether it's dinner, a poem, a garden, a song, a child, a home, a machine (you get the picture).

creating something employs the opposite energy of destruction.  so much of our stress and trauma are about things being destroyed, whether it's a carefully scheduled day or the planet.  use your creative energy to balance that. practicing creativity on a daily basis builds an inner reservoir of this energy for when destruction makes its expected visit.

using your hands, voice, and body to make and fix is also an effective way to discharge the energy of trauma.  our bodies naturally want to build and repair and help.  go with this instinct.  put your hands to use. do you get creative?

take care loves.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

sunday grace: the garden and preparing for glory

yesterday was the first perfect day of spring in virginia:  sunny, clear, clean (lots of rain earlier in the week), and a beautiful seventy degrees.  we spent the day preparing the front and back yards at gypsy hill so that they can achieve their maximum glory in the months ahead.  the work was quite unglamorous in the sense that it involved more shovels and fertilizer and wheel barrels and trash bins than flowers and lemonade.

i couldn't help but think about the work as a metaphor for life, soul, and embodiment right now:

  • where are the spots that require more digging?
  • how is the ground?  is it packed and settled so tight that it supports, but is bereft of nutrition and aeration?
  • what areas need extra nourishment?  which balance of nutritional components is optimal for current conditions?
  • what are components that may require thinning, pruning, transplanting?  how will they thrive under different circumstances?  more light needed here?  more shade and shelter for this?
  • what needs to be respectfully moved to the compost bin?  how did it once add to the beauty and meaning here?
  • who are the people who show up to do the hard, down and dirty work with you?

i'm reminded of a poem i first read in my adolescence.  it's totally corny but i still love it so much. upon reading these words at age eleven or twelve, i began to discover my first real sense of personal power and agency in the world.  

comes the dawn

after a while you learn the subtle difference
between holding a hand and chaining a soul.
and you learn that love doesn't mean leaning
and company doesn't mean security.
and you begin to learn that kisses aren't contracts
and presents aren't promises.
and you begin to accept your defeats
with your head up and your eyes open
with the grace of a woman, not the grief of a child.
and you learn to build all your roads on today
because tomorrow's ground is too uncertain for plans.
and futures have a way of falling down in mid-flight.
after a while you learn
that even sunshine burns if you get too much.
so you plant your own garden and decorate your own soul
instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers.
and you learn that you really can endure,
that you really are strong
and you really do have worth.
and you learn and learn,
with every goodbye you learn.

-veronica shoffstall

plant your own garden, actual and metaphorical.
happy sunday junebugs.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

sunday (equinox) grace: how to spring detox

how to detox•mixed media on wood•lisa parks

i'm already seeing them:  the inevitable reminders that now is the time to detox our bodies with three-day juice fasts and foregoing coffee (um, no way).  i understand there are good intentions here and that some humans may benefit from these measures, but when i am inundated with these reminders, i often start to buy into the myth that there is something very dirty about me.

i'm wondering if you are like me and get really excited about the idea of a clean slate.  you may also be like me and get very motivated on "official start days" like january first, any given monday, or the first day of the season (tomorrow is a double:  a monday and the beginning of spring!).  you may also be like me and notice a rapid decline in said motivation about four days in...

i have to figure out ways to stay present with my "improvement projects".  i prefer to greet the change of seasons with a transitional approach, rather than the burn-it-all-down-and-start-anew tactic.  (plus, for many people, radical nutritional plans and even mainstream juice fasts are not designed for or are healthy for their particular body.)

for me, this softer transitional approach is needed.  here are some possibilities:
  • the most critical poison to eliminate from your body, heart, spirit, mind, and life is the toxic human. you likely know who they are, but sometimes it's hard to tell.  pay attention to that inner whisper of "that feels weird"/"hmm, they said that, but did this..."/"well, now i just need to take a big ol' nap and never talk to another person ever again"/"maybe it's me....."   there is no better time than now to set the boundaries.
  • write a farewell haiku to winter.  or write a story about something beautiful that happened this winter.
  • unhibernate.  unfurl limbs.  move the body.  scrub the skin.  breathe the air.  see the light.  dip your toes in a running stream of melting snow.  find the blossoms.

  • turn hope into action:  plant wildflower seeds, collect or purchase books for a children's club in an underserved neighborhood (here are some great recommendations), donate useful and beautiful things to your local domestic violence shelter.
  • ask yourself, how can i be more awake?  the spring equinox heralds physical awakenings, but what about the awakening of the mind and spirit?   explore limiting beliefs.  conduct a values inventory (if that sounds weird to you, hit me up in person, facebook, etc. and i'll share a simple way to clarify personal values that i teach in workshops).  are there areas of knowledge and discernment that could use fine-tuning?  how do you value and respect and love and express in this sea of humanity?
  • consume the foods of spring that celebrate where you live.  if you live in an area without a year-round farmers market, attend opening day.  i'm inspired to make a grilled flatbread pizza topped with arugula and kale pesto, appalachian cheese, garlic scapes and morels.  or maybe roasted radishes.

  • ponder the ways you can bring more lightness to your life.  that may mean switching out flannel sheets for cotton.  that may mean giving all the windows in the house a good cleaning. that may mean wearing clothing that is lighter in both texture and color.  that may mean transforming that mass of heavy long hair into a pixie cut or coloring your hair robin's egg blue. that may mean losing five pounds.  that may mean beginning a process of releasing a pattern of thought or being that keeps you heavy and dark.
  • make space.  this could done be in your physical environments such as your home or yard or office by editing out stuff and curating a more open space. or it could mean opening up your body; you might have the tendency to curl in and hug tight during colder weather so your body wants to expand.  warm up your body and try some yoga postures: pigeon to open the hips, ardha chandrasana to give your body that amazing wide open feeling, supported supta baddha konasana to open the heart and the hips.  

have a magical spring moonbeams.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

the art of self-care

i learned the hard way to make self-care a non-negotiable in my life.

now, more than ever, we must take the time and make the effort to cultivate a sense of release, rest, and restoration. we must become practitioners of stepping out momentarily in order to step back in with authentic presence.

i encourage you to make a list of ten activities that are easy and accessible for you to do on a daily basis.

here are my go-to saving graces:

  1. sit down on the ground.  breathe.
  2. do a little (or a lot of) yoga.
  3. go outside, whether it is to touch bare feet to grass or gaze at the stars.
  4. pet my dogs.
  5. make something nourishing and beautiful.
  6. smush some paint around.
  7. silence.
  8. take a bath.
  9. write or read something.
  10. get good sleep.

what are yours?

Monday, February 27, 2017

some things i'm learning

"i'd rather learn from one bird how to sing 
than teach ten thousand stars how not to dance."
-e.e. cummings

i'm a lifelong learner.  how about you?

i'm currently learning:

  • how to be a yoga teacher (currently working on my 500-hr teaching certification and it's gloriously intense)
  • how to hold space and build resilience for humans affected by trauma (by this time next week, i'll be fully certified to teach trauma-informed yoga)
  • how to house-train our newest canine love, kiki, with extra patience and love.  we adopted her and she has an unknown history, but we are suspecting some abuse or neglect history as she is super smart but is inexplicably resistant to peeing outside and chews power cords and she startles, cowers and hides when we try to address it.  
  • how to navigate the differences between co-creation, collaboration and competition in my community, while maintaining authentic connection.  
  • how to build a geo-dome.
  • how to refinish wood floors.
  • how to read tarot cards (i've been intuitively reading them for years, but now i'm getting some official training).
  • how to build resilience in communities within a context of collaboration rather than using and/or falling into the trap of the savior/hero model.
  • how to keep bees.
  • how to let go and move on with grace and good will.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

the winter of slow liberation

buried, 36"x36", mixed media on wood, by lisa parks

i started this post with the intention to check in.  because this entire winter has felt a lot like checking out.

i'm still working on my 500-hr yoga teacher training, still working on soul studio curriculum, still painting, still puttering around my house, creating and dismantling tiny altars here and there.  tiny altars for rest, for protection, for healing, for the right words, for courage, for liberation.  still sitting before those tiny altars, face dimly lit by the little flames, staring at the gathered goddesses and creatures, willing x-ray vision to animate their myths so that they inform my own story or so i can recognize my human self in them, heart slowly blooming with insight and inspiration and ideas.

still softening and opening to what my role is in this brand new world.  liberating all the seeds that were buried.

.  .  .  .  .

in other news, artist liz kalloch's tools and talismans series is featured in issue no.4 of amy butler's blossom magazine.  the entire issue is stunning.  my own tools and talismans, beautifully rendered by liz, are shown on pages 150-151.  see the entire issue here.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

a thousand different ways

i'm fond of saying, "there are a thousand different ways to raise a healthy, safe child" in the child protection classes i teach. (we have this discussion in the context of balancing legal and governmental intervention with the cultural values, personal rights, temperament and level of capacity of the parents we serve.)

in the past few months, i find myself muttering a different version to myself as i scroll through my social media: "there are a thousand different ways to be a social justice activist."

there are members of the human race for whom social justice activism is not a choice. it is required for their survival, to save the lives of their children. for the rest of us, who are at any level of awakening that is short of forced awakening due to discrimination and fear of death, we must remember that our activism is the privilege of our lifetimes. (i saw a perfect protest poster that read, 'if you have been scared since 2016, that is a privilege'.)

and we show up to activism differently.

i worry when i see posts either explicitly preaching to or softly shaming others for the type and level of engagement they can do. or for taking a break from the action, to soak up some lightness for a moment. i worry when activism carries a hint of trendiness. stating opinions is encouraged, but silencing those who are feeling their way through this newness is not okay. i worry that i have unintentionally done these things myself. these things threaten the sustainability of the movement.

so many of us are learning to use voice and power, even if we have had the privilege of it our entire lives.

we are learning to move from the outdated and harmful notions of charity and the savior/hero complex.

we are learning to listen to voices different from our own. really listen. with mouths shut and hearts open, in a state of full-on humility.

this is the process of consciousness raising, a recognized stage of activism.

we need to listen for and guard against divisiveness in the cause; divisiveness can halt the process of consciousness raising.

today, some are stunned into silence. we must remember that this may be due to a trauma being triggered. shame and judgement merely entrench the trauma.

other voices have hints of paranoia and/or feel really angry. this may also be trauma triggered.

some are naturally quiet and lend support to those who aren't.

some move fast and hit hard, their words carry immediate power and cut through the fog of overwhelm.

some have the ability to engage in calm, intelligent conversation with the opposition.

some have to cull their facebook friends (and maybe even their real-life friends) to feel safe and able to focus on the work ahead.

some feel overwhelmed by the abundance of BIG THINGS TO DO, so instead they collect needed items for homeless folks in their neighborhood.

some curate and screen credible news and literature to share with the rest of us.

some people are idea people. others are action people.

some teach fifth graders tolerance and mindfulness, ways to self-regulate all the hard emotions.

some make art and write poetry to raise the consciousness of others.

some wear a safety pin because they want to let others know they will not harm them.

some quietly take care of those returning from the front lines of action.

some have day-upon-day when every waking hour is consumed with working two jobs or tending to sexual assault victims, child abuse victims, an immigrant family, or the wounds in their own homes, their own marriages, their own children.

there are a thousand different ways.

all of these things are needed, necessary. thank you for showing up.

some people experience some or all of these things within their own lives, depending on the day. i get this. some days i have superhuman energy and motivation to fix this shit. some days i am overwhelmed by the hatred and lack of thinking and i want to do yoga and eat soup and maybe read a little. some days my words are smart and quick and powerful, flaming arrows landing in just the right spots to burn through hatred or ignite change. some days i am afraid to say anything, to push post or publish, not because of the opposition, but because i worry i will be publicly mocked by the white mean girls at the popular activism table in the high school cafeteria for not wearing the right jeans. some days they silence me. other days they make me want to scream, "you are not the fucking queen of activism."

some days i have to sit with my feelings of anger, and it is really uncomfortable.

some days i have to sit with my feelings of vulnerability and fear, and it is really uncomfortable.

some days i worry i offended someone i did not intend to offend, and it is really uncomfortable.

wherever we are on the spectrum of activism, we can ask ourselves each day:

was my contribution genuine and effective?

did i check in with my privilege, my voice, the words i am using?

how can i leverage my privilege for the cause?

am i ready to take the next step into more/different action?

how can i cultivate more courage to openly listen/speak up/walk out?

what are some other strategies i can learn about and try?

how can i do better tomorrow?

this shit is messy. we keep moving boldly/quietly/softly forward.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

sunday grace: this border is not hospitable to hatred

souvenir shop, nyc, c.2013

yesterday was a dark day (in a months-long parade of dark days) in my country.  that man, person, whatever he is who occupies the white house signed an order effectively starting a border ban based on race, ethnicity and religion.

yesterday i initiated my own border ban.  unlike his, my decision was thoughtful and purposeful and specific, intended to nurture values, rather than destroy them, while maintaining a commitment to the greater good. it was a personal boundary to keep out the hatred in certain circumstances. for months i have felt a strong desire to protect my personal spaces from the vile racism and hatred spewing forth from those who support the direction our country is heading.  my home is already a sanctuary, an environment of serenity, empathy, joy, learning, intelligent discourse and compassionate (sometimes uncomfortable) debate.  yesterday i felt a strong need to extend the border of protection to my social media space.

being inclusive and navigating diversity of thought are values i hold dear, so decisions to establish boundaries need to be based in (real, lived, truth-based) evidence and purpose, not just feeling.  i did a good deal of soul-searching and values clarification before i landed on a decision to secure my border.  i admit that i am struggling with some "all _____ are _____"  beliefs that got our nation here in the first place.  unlike others, i recognize that in myself and it disturbs me.  in order to change and prevent these biases from going further, i must set some boundaries.
  • my facebook, twitter, instagram are not my citizenship or my work, they are personal spaces.  
  • the energy it takes to internally manage others' entrenched beliefs and hatred distracts me from the work necessary to fix this shit, to stand with others for social justice and stand against racism, bigotry, human rights violations and so many other areas of hatred that are commonplace right now. 
  • i do not believe that peace, love, understanding, and prayer will solve these problems.  they have important places for many of us, but this is a fight against violence.  violence doesn't give a flying fuck about those things.
  • i do not hold the delusion that the example of my life or some kind of magical words will shift another's heart or worldview if they haven't already, especially if others are firmly grounded in fear and hatred.  
  • personal boundaries are required in life.  sometimes they hurt people's feelings.  they absolutely hurt people's feelings when they are loosely and arbitrarily established on the down-low, when one is afraid to state a boundary clearly and unequivocally.  
  • i fully understand that this level of boundary-setting, this seeking balance between the work and the rest, this component of self-care is a privilege.  and i will leverage that privilege in order to focus on getting the work done in my public spaces.
i will continue to engage in meaningful discourse with others who hold views different from my own in those face-to-face spaces where we can see each other and can begin to explore our vast and varied views on what it means to have a human heart.  this engagement is necessary for good citizenship.

and mostly, i continue my work helping others gain access to safe quiet spaces where they can rest their minds and souls from the work of being human in this world.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

sunday grace: the beauty and mess of the process

process, by lisa parks

i met a young woman this week who was strong and vibrant and creative.  she told me, "i like to do art, but i'm not very good at it."  after spending some time with her and observing the vast imaginative way she walked through her world, i told her i thought she was quite amazing at art. together we unpacked how the world judges us by our product over our process.  while she may not yet be producing (what the world defines as) art (paintings, music, literature, etc.), her life and relationships and work and the way she is in the world are absolutely art.

i once again recognized my glaring love for process over product; how i appreciate the time and effort of the planning and development and evolution, rather than the end result.

take art, for instance.  if i was attached to the product, i would have given up years ago.  because so much of what i've artistically produced can be objectively judged as crap.  but my love of fingers in paint, the scratch of the pencil on paper, and expression of layered emotion on the canvas bring me back over and over and over again.  staying present for and trusting the hard parts of art, the learning, the risk, the starting over, these are the ways we become art.  the life and love of the final product is always in the process.

and yoga?  the popular western culture of yoga is almost entirely about the product, the perfected pose.  we completely miss the purpose of yoga when we struggle and contort to nail the instagrammable crow.  we bypass the beauty and the pain of the measured process of yoga, we miss that yoga teaches us how to be in the world, how to fly and how to fall.

and this morning, i'm mostly thinking about social justice activism.  yesterday our world lit up with millions of humans marching in or in solidarity with the women's march on washington.  it was an absolutely magnificent product to witness.  but the richness, the messiness, the excruciatingly slow process of true social justice is a long game.  how can we sustain this commitment over time?  how do we keep people interested when "being a part of history" is more about dealing with our own bias and privilege (uncomfortable), calling out injustice publicly (risky), and showing up as allies when the revolution isn't being televised?

Sunday, January 8, 2017

sunday grace: the grace of the gita

yesterday i filmed a three minute dharma talk on the overall message of the bhagavad gita for a yoga teacher training assignment.  while that might sound like a moderately remarkable achievement which could take your average bear a few days to do, for me, it was a months-long challenge.

you see, once i cracked open and delved into the gita and began soaking in its history. metaphor, and meaning, i found it nearly impossible to distill its centuries-old vastness into one-hundred-eighty seconds.   so i continued to study.  i read and listened and read more.  i noticed moments in my real life when the lessons were applicable.   i wrote notes here and there, key words i wanted to communicate through the lens of the gita:  awareness, curiosity, service, presence, authenticity, integration.  i tried to choose just one as a focus in order to pare down the talk but discovered that the unpacking of one depended on all the others to stand along side it. one by itself felt incomplete and hollow.

weeks went by and still i could not imagine how i was going to deliver the assignment in a meaningful way.  and then yesterday, i tired of the struggle.  i tired of my insistence on being the slow and steady tortoise, of trusting she would always be more valuable than the race-to-finish-first hare. i tired of my need to avoid half-assness, or the ghastly fake-it-til-you-make-it mentality.

and i sat down and i did it.

and it wasn't half-ass.  or fake.  or choppy or incomplete.  it was pretty good.

it was as if krishna himself whispered to my inner arjuna, "both parts are necessary, the knowing and the doing.  and because you know, because you didn't skimp on learning or attempt to hotwire expertise, because the knowing was lived and is part of you, the doing flowed from your heart with ease.  you only had to decide to do it and sit your ass in the chair."