With the current boycott of spending advertising dollars on Social Media platforms, it reminded me that I was overdue in speaking out about our departure from Social Media last year, aka Social Media Distancing.

From the time the Information Super Highway was a dirt road, I have been an optimistic pessimist in regards to the Highway …reading Clifford Stolls: Silicon Snake Oil paved that Highway for me.

At the Sol Center, we had been questioning the efficacy of social media platforms for a long time. Cambridge Analytica, constant false news and adverts, personal privacy, the incendiary ramblings of elected officials, etc …it was all really just too anti-social, and not at all compatible with the verdant mindful mission of the Sol Center.

In the fall of 2019 it all became abundantly clear, that it was now the time to depart and no longer offer any support to Social Media platforms in any fashion.

The catalyst for this departure came about after reading what happened with Suzie Kelly and the loss of her retirement savings. The data that Facebook and Aristocrat had compiled about Suzie, allowed Aristocrat’s behavioral analytics to easily recognize and prey upon her gambling addiction, or that of any Facebook user.  Good News! Susie, and two other Plaintiffs were able to reach a class action agreement in principle totaling 155 million in the Spring of 2020.

Reading about the peril of Suzie, I had come to realize that our departure from Social Media needed to happen with immediate effect, Natasha understood and agreed. The business implications of a social media presence for the Sol Center or Natasha could no longer, in any form, be justified …and with that we were gone.

From a purely business perspective the decision was difficult, but it was conscience, reasoned, and liberating.

I do miss the adventures of: Felix at Huddersfield Station, Augie the Plant Doggie, my cousin washing his RV, Sadie Golden, and of course your adventures as well. So for now whilst we practice Social Media Distancing, I just imagine.

To be truly effective in forcing the hand of change on Social Media platforms, an entity cannot simply temporarily or permanently suspend the spending of advertising dollars. Entities must remove themselves from Social Media platforms entirely …and the same for individuals.

At the time I was born, my mother was 29. She was now the mother of 3 living in Hyde Park, Illinois. She often said she missed the 1960’s because she was already with child by age 18; but she was still a woman of her time. She was an artist and writer, she had been a playboy bunny in the clubs, she married a Jew when her family had never met one, she befriended and often housed unusual, interesting, radical, struggling people, she was anti-war, she was gay friendly, had campaigned for Kennedy.

She is gone now so I can’t ask her to refresh me, but I imagine she was devastated by the assassinations of President Kennedy and years later, in my third term in her womb, Martin Luther King. I was born the day Robert Kennedy won the California primary for their Democratic Presidential Nominee, he was killed the next day. And we lived minutes away from the riot scene of the Democratic National Convention. I was probably in her arms when she watched the TV those days and heard the city around her in chaos.

Flash to now: I watch, listen, and sense into the events of these past weeks. The tragic death of Ahmaud Arbery. The knee on the neck of George Floyd. The ridiculous responses of our president, who has fanned racial tensions flagrantly all along. What am I to do? How am I to meet the moment? Me, a babe of the civil rights era, the daughter of a performance poet, and an ordained minister?

Looking around my life, I am aware, more than ever, that it is lily white. No black friends or neighbors, very few places where I come into contact with any diversity. I had not noticed. It happened gradually as I left work in organizations and focused on creating something of my own. Like my mother, who was sucked into domestic and suburban life; only worse because I don’t even have children to draw me out into the community they might have, or make me think about the youth perspective.

I attended the “Black Lives Matter” event on the U of A campus this past weekend and thought of her, my mother. She was more socially active than I am. More dramatic. She would have carried a sign. She would have known some of these performers on stage, or their equivalents in her day. She was someone who could get up on stage and speak and sing of the aches of the wounded heart and the ravages of oppression. She was someone who would affirm anyone who tried to as well. She wasn’t political, but she was a champion of truth and justice and the power of the spoken word.
Two of the speakers at the rally spoke of the need to stand up, the need for all marginalized people to raise their voices, the need to risk offending the powers that be. I heard them. And then heard them again, when they said that those who are standing here will turn away again. White people in particular. Will retreat. Will collude. Will comply. Again. They were scolding us and I felt it, and deserved it. They also were voicing their despair; you might feel good about being here letting us be us, but you will forget about us tomorrow….

A client I had been with earlier in the day- grieving deeply the wounds of her family combined with the grief of our country and world, likewise had doubted that any protest would matter. Not just this but in general- all that has been trampled these last 3 years….
It’s too big and pervasive. All the brokenness. And the Powers That Be, that serve themselves and their kind alone.

And yet: Something finally does seem to be happening. Moving the needle. Shaking the status quo. What can I do? How can I contribute to the moment? How will I remember, tomorrow and in the weeks, months, years to come what is happening and what is needed to help others up and out of not only personal despair (which I am trained to do), but systemic oppression (which I am not)?

Please know this reflection is primarily personal. I am sharing it to expose my own process rather than to wave a sign of any kind. As a contemplative, someone who is more introverted than extroverted- more emotional than intellectual- more spiritual than practical- I am searching for my authentic response to how will I remember and act.

I will take heart and inspiration from those I see standing up, speaking out, calling out, crying out. One of the presenters yesterday, sang a song about the places she can’t go because of the risk of being killed by police. It was stunning and at one point she screeched and screeched and it was just, right. Just as we would hope in our grief workshops when people connect to the rage or fear or desperation that really was a natural way to react, but most likely was repressed to stay alive. We have to allow ourselves and others to grieve, which includes rage and anger properly directed.

I will continue to listen and care and beam a deep faith in the potential of individuals to connect with deeper powers than the powers that be. As a black minister said of Trump’s photo op at St. John’s Church, “The God I serve is higher than that.”
I will continue to commit to my own contemplative path of Yoga. Prayer. Meditation. Not as an escape or evasion, or personal pursuit of health or wisdom, but as a form of purification and the innate desire to provide places of refuge and processes of insight for others. Refuge, that Thomas Merton referred to as necessary to make active work “fruitful.”

And I l will commit to learning more about systemic oppression, about my own bias, about what is now referred to as white fragility. I truly don’t understand these things- have not felt it was relative to me yet. Now it is.

All this does not alieve the pain of those actively oppressed, the real suffering of so many, but it is something I can and will sincerely do. From a black president to a racist president to the unknown future. We each have plenty we can do that matters.

While the moment is ripe for change, while the situation is dire for so many, while hope is sincere, it will not be easy. In the words of Thomas Merton again, and in the spirit of the long view, and the contemplative I am, “concentrate not on the results, but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself. ” Thomas Merton

The Friends of Jung brought Thomas Moore to Tucson in February to speak at an organizational fundraiser.  I confess I had heard of him but never read his most well-known book “Care of the Soul.”  He is a former monk, religious scholar, and Jungian psychoanalyst, the title of the talk was, “A Soulful Life in an Unsettled World.” This was before the pandemic.  While there was plenty to be alarmed at then, it seems like another era already.

I took copious notes.  He is a marvelous speaker. It relates well to what we do with our contemplative practices, and expands horizons as well as we live into this time of significant upheaval.  Here is a rough synopsis. I have tried to keep it simple.  I will loop this back to Vedic Astrology at the end.

He began by mentioning that he had found a letter Carl Jung had written to someone in Tucson; a reader of one of his more obscure books who was appreciative of Jung’s thoughts in the text.  Jung commented and even complained that many people did not share his enthusiasm, that he was aware that his ideas were frightening or scary to people, he noted that the “world of the intellect is afraid” of the depth he was exploring.  Moore then asked us to consider for ourselves, “are my ideas frightening to people..?”

In general, Moore was starting to talk about dealing with anxiety; really dealing with anxiety, from a depth perspective. He talked about it from his study of Jung and his own living into the spirit of Jung.

One of the stories he told was from early on in his own academic career.  He was being considered for a Fulbright Scholarship and the professor noticed that he had already read all of Jung’s work. The professor asked him if he knew that Jung was considered “crazy,” that he did magic and practiced alchemy. Moore didn’t get the scholarship and joked that it was perhaps because the man suspected him to be similarly in-route.

“The intellect is afraid.”

Moore began to talk about Jung’s emphasis that we need to get in touch with the extra-ordinary, to get in touch with Eros or Desire as a way to contact this; that this was the necessary direction to abate the anxiety and depression prevalent today.  Moore also gave context to Jung’s life which involved the rise of Fascism and his own precarious situation as an intellectual emigre.

He described how yes, Jung did “magic,” that he valued mystery, that he saw these as ways to confront the unconscious, figure it out through play rather than thought.

He went on to speak about the Jungian concept of Anima- the feminine aspect of the soul we all have; that the voices and images that come from there have to be listened to, expressed in some form for us to be whole.  Anxiety is about not being in touch with the power of the soul,  not being able to perform alchemy- transforming things elementally- not being able to listen inwardly or get the image out.  He joked that “STEM education was not good for magic…”

He emphasized that images were for power not adornment, that art and poetry were from other realms- that it was vital to create, play, be goofy, eccentric (outside the circle), crazy:  “talk to your dead people”, “enjoy your craziness,” “do what your dreams tell you to do,” “people should worry about your sanity sometimes.” He noted that Plato had philosophized that religion, love, intuition, and art were all forms of madness.

The primal need is to be in touch with your power, to follow your inspiration, to follow your desire.  Moore asked, “What would YOU do?”  “There is no answer, find your way in your life to your power.”

He spoke some about Dark Eros as well, the realms of aggression, evil, ego and worldly power.  He suggested anxiety was a form of masochism, self-harm through a limited ego, lack of imagination, or dimensionality.  He talked about the reality of both evil/good, darkness/light and the imperative to face the dark side of shadow otherwise the goodness and vision of light was merely a defense, not facing the truth of our being both human and divine.

While he didn’t talk extensively about shadow, he did talk about the need for spirituality to have both a vertical axis and horizontal axis.  He implied that in secular culture we tended to live too horizontally, and with religion and un-examined spirituality we could live too vertically.  We need both-the ability to transcend and to sink roots, to have a deep and broad humanity and faith in transcendence as well, he asked, “Can I trust myself?” “Do I trust life?”  “Do I have a big enough vision for life, enough to hold tragedy (mystery, paradox)?”  If not, there is some work to do.

Again, not talking much about shadow he did point to it as something that must be integrated.  That innocence was not ideal, that sentimentalizing was a form of denial that we had to suspect our motives and our assumptions creatively.  Here are some other questions he posed:

Can we not act out our shadow but be with it?

Can we look at our desire to make a lot of money?

Can we look at our sexuality in the light?

Can we catch ourselves doing something stupid?  Or being too clever?

Can we consider that we are being manipulated by our own story?

Can we listen to people who point difficult things out to us?

Can we catch ourselves when we are filling space, spouting?

Can we leave room for mystery, emptiness, ignorance?

This is the last piece from my notes that I will share.  When asked about psychedelics, their place in the exploration of consciousness or soul he was measured.  Yes, these can be ritualized and used, yes they have had a place in traditional cultures and may have some relevance today.  Yet he seemed to want to distinguish what he understood about soul work from the realm of personal seeking, spiritual experience, self-expression.  As a student of the mystics myself, he was pointing towards mystical experience that was somehow earned or yearned for rather than stimulated.  That we had to dig, that it was there, all of us had the potential to tap into the eternal. He quoted William Blake, “We are secretaries, the authors are eternity.”

Now, I tried to be brief but there is a lot here.  Plenty to ponder and play with as we shelter in place and consider how to be right now and going forward in the midst and after-math of this pandemic.

I will write about Vedic Astrology next time.  I will leave you with a teaser.  Carl Jung actually called astrology the “sum of all the psychological knowledge of antiquity.” And the origins of the word influenza, actually means “influence of the stars.”

We are all feeling so much right now, processing a lot of news, figuring out how to prepare and how to adapt- at home and at work.  What we may not realize is that we are grieving as well.  Grieving for what is unfolding, for what will not be, and also for the unknowns of the future.

While this situation is enormously complex, and the effects of it all will affect us each differently, there is also something surprisingly unifying.  We are all in this together, it is not just one country or state or city or family.

Here are some tips and tools from my yoga, mindfulness, and grief practices to support your mind/mind/spirit in this trans-formative time.  I hope they can help, and I know personally they do.

  • Elisabeth Kubler-Ross laid out the 5 stages of grief:  denial, anger, sadness, bargaining, acceptance.  They were not her last words about the process and often are taken too literally, yet they are good signposts.  Notice what you are thinking and feeling- which one might apply to your current state of being with all this?
  • This is a chaotic time, whether your life has come to a full stop, or you are actively engaged in an essential function.  What can you do that helps you personally calm down, slow down, tune in, pause, and be present.  Ask yourself, “what am I aware of right now?…How am I relating to myself and the moment right now?…What is needed, if anything?..
  • One of the most powerful self-compassion tools is to bring your awareness to your heart center, or to breathe into your heart center, or to put your hand or hands upon your sternum.  Sometimes, this is enough.  Feel the sensations. No words needed.  Just the feeling of connecting to your heart center can be soothing. Think of this as stocking up on compassion, kindness, and patience too.
  • Find safe ways to express your feelings and ideally to feel them through for a few minutes at a time.  The more we deny, distract, project, suppress our feelings- the more problems they create in our body and in our relationships.  In lieu of a safe person, there is always pen and paper- write them down, let it rip, and rip it up or burn it if you are worried about it being read.  The point is to get it out, externalize it.  Sometimes it is pure catharsis (it is a good sign if you cry while you are writing), sometimes it leads to insight (it doesn’t have to), let go of analyzing why or problem solving (you can talk back to the voice that goes there quickly).
  • We all have different ways of processing our feelings:  exercise, dance, art, music, nature, talking, meditating, praying, playing.  You don’t have to put words to them, but you do need to feel them, honor them, let them flow rather than simply sit.  Emotion implies motion.  Give yourself permission to feel what you feel and see where it takes you.  There is a short poem by Mary Oliver that expresses this perfectly:
    We shake with joy, we shake with grief.
    What a time they have, these two
    housed as they are in the same body.
  • One practice I have been doing spontaneously lately is simple breath awareness, or conscious breathing.  Just being more aware of my breath coming and going throughout the day, as I am doing what I am doing.  Letting it be and appreciating what it is.  I am thinking of this as breath affiliation.  We all need to breathe to be alive.  Breath is the symbol of our birth and death.  For now I am indeed alive and well.  I can breathe well for all those that may be struggling.  Jon Kabat Zinn often said “practice as if your life depends on it, because it does.”  I always marveled that he made the mindfulness practice truly seem so critical. Today it truly is.

Take care

Natasha

I said goodbye yesterday to a group of Catholic clergy I have been working with for 7 weeks.  I teach a “Mind, Body, Spirit” Seminar for a clergy sabbatical program here in Tucson. 

Essentially, I give them an ecumenical model for how yoga, meditation, and mindfulness “work” and then we spend the majority of our time engaged in gentle, relaxing, and prayerful practice.

As a closure, I asked them to tell me what stuck with them from the practice experience, what they would be taking away into their lives and ministries.

Here is a summary of their list for all of us to remember:

  1. Breath.  How important it is to breathe consciously and to notice our breath holding patterns.
  2. Gentle Movements.  How much can happen with simple, mindful movement.
  3. Simplicity.  Stand against the wall for a few moments.  Fold forward ½ way with your hands on a table top.  Lie down and let your body open.
  4. Alignment.  Notice how the body contracts and rounds and the difference you feel when you adjust and align more with gravity.
  5. Respect.  Work with your body in this moment.  There is no need to force, strain, or effort for something particular.
  6. Relax.  Notice the way we rush, lurch, tense, grip as we are acting.  Consciously relax within the effort and notice how that also affects your mind.
  7. Grace.  In movement and in the whole experience.
  8. Space.  It helps to have the right environment and we become the right environment- our body/mind state.
  9. Focus.  The mind on the body, the body as a worthy focus for attention, prayer, communion, insight.

In truth- this isn’t their list exactly.  That arose on the white, dry erase board and then was dissolved as we talked about yoga styles out there in the wider world.  This list is what I remember and what I have embellished a bit.  Yet, it’s the same and different every time I teach.  What makes it different is the alchemy, the respect we have for ourselves and each other as we commune on this day.  Goodbye Fall Sabbatical Group, it was lovely to share my yoga ministry with you these 7 weeks.   God Bless us all.

If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time.  But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.   Aboriginal Activists Group, Queensland

When considering what to share from my practice this month, the idea of pace came to mind as a relevant theme.

As I tried to write about it, it became overly complex.  So I am going back to basics and simply sharing some personal thoughts that I hope are useful for you.

Years ago, I read an article by the excellent teacher of the Vedic sciences, Robert Svoboda, regarding the cultivation of Prana.  Prana is the Sanskrit term for subtle energy, similar to the Chinese term Chi.

The article had a wonderful effect on me during an especially difficult period of life.  I felt stuck and thwarted in many ways then, and was undoubtedly being hard on myself.  Why was I so slow?  Why did I have no energy?  These were constant, semi-conscious questions I circulated in my mind.

I share with you the first paragraph of this article and a few reflections about how it helped me and informs me to this day.

Whoever you may be, and wherever you may live, you live your life well when you live it at the right rate. Plow your way through life and life will wear you out; poke your way along and your life will grind to a halt. Find a pace that suits you, though, and amble along it accordingly, and your world will spontaneously level a path for you.

The article goes into some depth about yogic matters that I jive with, but what struck me right away was the possibility that slow was my pace.  That being upset about my pace was perhaps the drain of energy.  That maybe it was time to surrender to a deeper understanding of my rhythm, and to life’s rhythm for me.

This insight paradoxically allowed me to slow down more, to drop down deeper, to rest and rejuvenate, to ask different questions, to hear from my heart, and to follow my heart.

In this period since, about 5 years now, I understand my pace more and I do my daily best to honor it and amble along accordingly.    I don’t expect the world to spontaneously level my path but I do seem to understand more what is meant by such a statement.

Our pace connects us to our heart.  Our heart emanates our unique emotional and spiritual longing.  This is what influences the course of our path.

May you know and honor your pace.  May your heart illuminate your path.

May our practice and our healing be of benefit to the whole world.

Here is a link to the entire article for those that are inspired: Prana

Here are some reflections from my practice and hopefully some inspiration for yours:

This winter and spring I have been concentrating on getting stronger through hiking.  It has felt important as I enter into middle age to not just move more, but to be in nature and to be reminded that my body is a vehicle for connecting with the wilderness.

My asana practice is simple and sweet these days.  I don’t try and get much out of my body- rather I attend to it so it feels good and balanced.  This attitude has been distilled from years of practicing in ways that were not necessarily simple and sweet.

Even though I have always gravitated to gentle styles and found teachers who understood the meditative and spiritual dimension of yoga, I still pressured myself to do more and more.  I imagine I thought that was my duty as a professional yoga teacher.   It took some time to realize I was inflicting pain upon myself rather than resolving it, and that was serving no one!

This is really a lesson regarding the Mind.  I didn’t know I was being aggressive.  I didn’t know I was off track.  My teacher Rama always emphasized a will-less way of progressing and I loved the message.  It just took years to bear fruit and flowers. Perhaps there is much more to come.   Meanwhile, I am pain free, at ease, and in awe with the way my practice has evolved.

This brings me to the concept of Mind/Body that I am playing with lately.  In the new brain science we see more than ever that the mind and body are integral, not distinct.  The mind is the body, the body is the mind.  Awareness and sensitivity are keys to integration, thinking and dissecting are disturbances.  Yogis and Buddhas and Mystics of all stripes have essentially agreed upon this- now there is a modern wave of contemplative science and study that affirms and explains the phenomena of integration.

It is an exciting and exhilarating new way of conceiving of self and human potential.   What does your body tell you?  How does the thinking and judging mind distort the information?  How do we enter into the energy and information of the mind/body, learn from it directly?  How do we translate this integration of being into our lives and world? What might it mean for the future?

In regards to your practice, I hope you have the opportunity to move more and the wisdom to will-less from your body.  I wish you the enjoyment of nature and the opportunity to touch into wilderness.  I pray that your own mind/body journey flowers into good health and spiritual integration.  And that each of our practices aids to the healing of the world.

Blessings and Light, Natasha

Our normal daily life creates a pattern of mental focus that often takes us out of our physical, present moment reality.  Our attention goes away and in many directions, often for long periods of time.  This way of being, while it may seem necessary, productive, and even creative has many limitations.

The primary limitation is that it accentuates the mind/body disconnection- our body is doing one thing, our mind is doing many other things.  This disconnection makes us highly susceptible to physiological stress or sympathetic nervous system arousal.  That means our bodies are revving up to prepare for danger and emergency, its information is based on our conscious and unconscious thoughts and feelings, and in most cases there is no danger- the threat and thus the stress is in fact, unnecessary.  This unconscious and unnecessary ‘’revving” of our nervous system agitates, confuses, and exhausts us creating less productivity and more vulnerability to illness and accident.

The secondary limitation of our attention moving around constantly away from the present moment, is that we do not get to live our moments fully.  We in fact feel less because our senses are not activated and our emotions are not integrated into what we are doing.  While this can be a relief sometimes to just “do” life, if this doing prevails we are more prone to over-indulge the senses- which in turn exacerbates physiological stress, and we are easily overwhelmed by our feelings.

With the Mindfulness practices offered below, you can begin to gradually shift your attention back to the present moment reality.  This simple act of harnessing your attention, will help you develop your mind body connection, reduce and manage stress, and bring more beauty and balance to your life.  With practice, you will see that learning to attend to yourself is an act of intelligence and self-worth and that you are better able to attend gracefully to all that is needed in your life.

  1. Be aware of your breath.  Simply notice.  No thinking necessary.
  2. Be aware of your body sensations.  Simply notice.  No thinking necessary.
  3. Move your body mindfully, focusing on the experience of sensation. No thinking necessary.
  4. Shake.  Rattle.  Roll.  Rub.  Hop.  Yawn.  Sigh.  Stomp- whatever connects you to your body now.
  5. Be aware of raw feeling states.  The feeling of yes.  The feeling of no. The feeling of maybe-so.
  6. It doesn’t matter what you feel.  It does matter that you notice how you are feeling.
  7. Notice your thinking, imaging, inner dialogue.  Is it true?  Is it helpful?  Is it skillful?
  8. Notice that awareness- this faculty that can notice- is bigger than thinking.
  9. Sensations, emotions, thoughts drive impulses, actions, behaviors, consequences.
  10. The future is shaped moment by moment- be intentional and notice when you’re not.
  11. No judgment necessary.

I used to teach a lot of yoga, hours every day.  I joked that I was a marathon yoga teacher.  I taught different types of yoga practices in those many hours, it wasn’t all super physical.  It was also in one facility, so I didn’t have to drive hither and yon.  I loved what I did and I made a good living in the days when yoga teaching wasn’t really a profession.

It is said you teach what you most need to learn, maybe that is true.  I guess I needed to learn how to be in my body, how to be myself and connected to something more.  I also learned a lot about teaching, communicating, relating.  For me learning is primarily about self-awareness, and secondarily about information.  This is why I teach Yoga and not history, which was incidentally what I studied as an undergraduate.

For some reason, my desire to talk about the breath today brought me back to reflecting on these early days of marathon teaching.  I taught this morning, a short 75 minute class and everyone was very focused.  It felt like what it took me many years to learn were transmitted and absorbed by everyone in the room.  It was a bit of a time warp really, it felt like we must have practiced for hours to get that deep.  At the heart of this story is the breath.

If you have practiced yoga with me, you will know there is a special way that we breathe.  This comes from my teacher Rama and is the essence of her method, which she will not name.  She calls it Yoga.  There are lots of layers to this method, but in a nutshell it is a way of using the breath to create shifts and changes in our being without activating the ego or the will.  It is a way of working within the yoga poses that takes you into deep states of meditation where subtle conflict is resolved.  It is a way of converting the oxygen we breathe into the prana or energy we need to be both transformed and to maintain our integrity.

How does all this happen through breath?  I wish I could describe it here, I actually have been trying (and editing it out) but it is really something you have to experience.  For now I will simply say what I have said billions of time by now, breathe.