Category Archives: human evolution

Wherever you go, there you are … and we’re still here!

So the Great Winter Solstice of 2012 came and went with little more than a sigh, and La Nueva Era (the new era) was celebrated with vigor in New Age circles around the globe (including in spots around Xichén Itzá, a truly fascinating people-watching experience), and much more modestly in the Mayan World.

Wearing my new white hipil, gorgeously embroided by a local Maya woman (and me wondering whether wearing it would even be appropriate) I kicked off the new baktun cycle at a midnight ceremony that was as much Catholic mass as ancient rite, at the ancient Zací cenote (huge sinkhole is the closest translation) in the heart of prehispanic Valladolid, Yucatán.  I and the 100 or so other attendees — Mexicans as well as some young European tourists — got to see flowers and Maya wine (balché) being blessed and offered to the cenote, say about 30 Hail Marys, enjoy Maya ceremonial music and dancing, watch three young men take the high dive into the dark cenote, have some Mayan communion (!) and be sprinkled with holy water and have blessed bougainvilleas thrown at my head and into my lap.

I must admit I’m not surprised there was no Big Huge Deal on Friday, but I must also admit I’m slightly disappointed.  Much in the way I felt hope and some antisocial excitement on the morning of 9/11/01 when I turned on the TV and saw a major US city in smoke and flames, the part of me that sits on Mount Olympus looking down on mortal humans in judgement, mocking their foibles, hoped some mindblowing disaster would strike to get people to wake up and smell some kind of evolutionary coffee — along the lines of “oh yeah?  Well this‘ll teach ya!”

But no such luck, and we are left to face something even more disturbing — ourselves, and the status quo.  So many people (myself included on bad days in the last few months) put a lot of stock in something big happening so “things” would start to change.  And yet here we are.  And I embarked on a long vacation to commune with my Authentic Self, relax, disconnect, and reconnect — things I struggle to do when I’m home.  And yet here I am.

Despite what we tell ourselves, and what clever advertising tells us, going away doesn’t change who we are.  Not by itself anyway.  Like with relationships, we exchange one set of problems for another.  For instance, here in southern Mexico I am no longer freezing like I would be at home, but now I’m dealing with sunburn and nasty mosquitoe bites.  I no longer have to cook for myself multiple times every day, but I do have to spend more money and find someplace to eat that’s tasty and meets my body’s needs — multiple times every day.  Ways that I tend to be anxious or rigid manifest differently when I travel, but they’re still there.

Of course, there is something to be said for a good fit.  Also like relationships, there are certain sets of costs and benefits that suit us better than others.  Being out of my normal comfort zone to some degree, without the normal list of distractions, I can take time to explore and notice things in a different way than I might back home.  I’ve realized for example — after 22 years of traveling! — that my first response to an unfamiliar place is to get oriented and get to know the place physically and geographically as thoroughly and quickly as possible.  I’ve realized that some things that used to delight or intrigue me many years ago now annoy or even anger me.  In some ways I’m only now getting to know the way I’ve always been, and in other ways I’m changing.

One of those changes is that at some point I became middle aged.  I’m now referred to as a señora (Mrs.) much more than I used to be, even though I wear no wedding band and I’m travelling unaccompanied.  I’ve only seen one solo female traveler and she was much younger than me.  The folks my age are in couples and have children in tow.  The adventurous-looking ones are young enough to be my children now and not only are they not interested in me, I’m no longer interested in them!

Not only that, I’ve actually thought more than once that I’m geting too old for this s**t!  Parts of traveling are just no longer recreational for me.  I’m sort of over the excitement of trying to flag down buses on long highways to get back into town, putting up with those long tedious busrides and dubbed B movies blaring in the dark, carrying my entire luggage on my back, washing my panties and t-shirts in the sink, getting blisters from all the walking, and trying to sleep decently in a new place every couple nights.  I’m even having some surprisingly negative thoughts about my Beloved Mexico and shockingly positive ones about USians and foreigners.  Places are even starting to look the same!

What the hell is happening to me? Am I bored?  Am I growing up?  I do seem to be a bit more myself than just my Wise Rugged Diane Fossey/Indiana Jones Lady persona or my Flirtacious Daring Cougar On Vacation persona. But when did I become some boring elitist who just wants to be promenaded around some tropical islands on some ostentatious ecologically disastrous cruise ship, or vegetate on a quiet beach under a crisp white canopy for hours having my drinks and exquisite meals brought to me … and my laundry done and folded, and my massage and whirlpool hottub waiting at the end of the day?

I don’t know, but whether or not it’s true that some kind of broader cosmic/economic/sociopolitical/spiritual Shift is afoot (which I still believe there is, particularly in the U.S.), I definitely feel myself shifting.  While I find myself feeling more more confident and secure than ever in strange places, I also feel the profound pain that my mistrust of people and fear costs me back home.  I notice the little guilt I feel about a few things I’ve done in my life that didn’t align with my word or intentions.  I notice the tremendous shame I feel about things I can’t control — past hurts, traumas, betrayals, and my lifelong challenges with a particular set of psychological health challenges.  I wonder why I am so hard on my body — a body that has given so much and generously supported me, like a horse I’ve run hard over mountains and plains for weeks, day and night, with barely enough food and water.  A body so many women would love to have, and great DNA to boot, and yet I direct nasty thoughts and shame at my thighs and belly, and tolerate excruciating exercises to try to shape and control them.

And I notice how my DNA affects me in other ways.  How I inherited the gift of words, the gift of music, sensitivity and romanticism of my father.  How I inherited the resourcefulness and ingenuity of my mother, as well as her sunny smile and ready laugh in public.  How I inherited brains, humor and great health from both. How I also inherited the bouts of depression of my father, as well as his narcissism and grandiosity, his isolation, his tendency to go up into his head under stress, and his naivete.  And I inherited my mother’s self-doubt, discomfort with her femaleness, resentment, constant doing, ambivalence about people, and sense of not-enoughness.

Wherever I go, there I am. Quitting my toxic job didn’t remove stress or constant work from my life. I am the one not managing my time, maintaining boundaries, saying no, or deciding not to check my iPhone at red lights.  Being single and childfree has not isolated me from loss.  It does free me from certain kinds of loneliness, but even though I’m better friends with Me Myself and I than I’ve ever been, after a week I’m definitely over the novelty of traveling alone.

It can be an advantage to grow up in a family where you’ve been taught you’re different.  I’ve been much more apt to take certain kinds of risks and take certain kinds of stands, especially as a female, than I would had I been taught to fit in and be “normal” (not that I didn’t desperately want to, but just couldn’t seem to).  But it also has its price.  42-year-old women don’t typically travel alone, nor have tattoos on their forearms or a nostril piercing.  As I try to connect and fit in, while constantly discovering and manifesting Me, I sometimes make choices that marginalize me.

And yet the ability to do such things — much less have the time to ponder and reflect on them — is a result of my tremendous privilege.  I have a life — partially by design, partially by circumstance — that affords me more freedom of thought, time, experience and movement than women have ever had.  My days are not taken up by the frenetic tasks of routine or necessity — the spouse, the children, the shopping, the cooking, the washing, the cleaning, the organizing or chauffeuring.  Or such services provided to other families.  Or the ordered, quiet life of a nun/priestess or duty-bound tedium of a royal.  I get to think about things most of us don’t think about.

Whether or not I should is perhaps another question.  It’s not fun to stare your life in its face, especially as it ages.  I’m also aware of a sort of pressure of expectations I tell myself is coming from others.  I get to go off on these adventures that others get excited about and experience vicariously through my photos and stories.  I therefore feel obliged to have a screamingly fabulous time, or experience some life changing realization.  Maybe this would make the trip worth it.  Maybe this would make it worth it for others at least, and justify the fact that they can neither go away nor have these realizations.  Imagine if Columbus or Marco Polo or Lewis & Clark came back from their epic journeys with a mere shrug and “meh!” to show for their adventures.  Not acceptable!

But as I become less of an extremist, I hope to allow some osmosis to occur among the various facets of my life.  Instead of mad long bouts of frenzied working punctuated with sparse periods of complete catatonic sloth, perhaps I can enjoy a dose of each every day?  Perhaps I can become more realistic about the miracles and joys and struggles and annoyances — of every day no matter where I am and what I’m doing?  Maybe I can learn to let my shame go, feel less fear, more vulnerability, more trust, and more joy?  Maybe I can learn to love my body and my life, regardless of what it’s doing, facing the reality that the losses will continue to increase and the control will continue to decrease if I allow myself to go gently and gracefully?

Because ultimately al fin de cuentas — in the end — wherever you go, and whenever you go, there you are.

[Epilogue: The above was written on December 22nd, and on December 23rd I spent most of the day with a twenty-year-old discovering an amazing ancient site together, and talking about a variety of subjects.  Not only was he delightful, he seemed to be enjoying himself with me as well!  More lovely people and animals have been crossing my path in the last two days.  There’s nothing like connection — however fleeting — to inject perspective, meaning, hope and contentment into my ongoing dialogue with myself. What’s your experience with this? Do people take us out of our heads in a good way, or are they mere distractions from necessary personal work? 🙂 ]

In lak ech,

Jaxsine

Advertisements

The End … and the Beginning …

I would be remiss to not post on 12-21-12, given that the title of my blog is Evolving 2012.  So hello from Valladolid, Yucatán, México and the heart of the “mundo maya”– the Mayan World! And Happy Solstice!

You may or may not be aware that the Maya never disappeared from this land.  In fact, there are more living right now than at the height of the “Classic” period over 1000 years ago.  I was reminded of this yesterday as I roamed the streets of Valladolid.  I heard some form of Maya being spoken in the street almost as often as Spanish.  Few of the men are my height — I’m 5’5″ — and the women are shorter than the men.  A large percentage of those women — especially in their 30s and over — were wearing hipiles (seems the spelling is no longer “huipiles”)  as they went about their day, and not just selling items to tourists, but also picking up kids from school and taking care of cell phone business at the Telcel office! Of course there were also a number wearing tops and short pants — or four-inch stilettos and skinny jeans! — and the men dressed in anything from guayaberas and dark pants to (for the younger ones) long shorts and t-shirts like in any U.S. city.  The difference is that — with startling frequency — the brown faces above the outfits look like they could have jumped right off a carved stone relief at Chichén Itzá or Palenque carved centuries ago.

Even many of the Spanish speakers speak Spanish with an “accent” similar to the “accent” that many “Indians” back home in the U.S. have when speaking English.  Sounds made in Mayan languages seem more similar to sounds in the Diné (Navajo) and Pueblo languages spoken in my home of New Mexico than English.  And I was reminded there are more pan continental similarities.  The music full of drums and flutes and various percussion instruments made from natural materials.  The foods, based on corn and various local meats and local plants.  And the ceremonies, honoring life’s transitions, the circle, the cycle of life, the community, sharing, and taking a moment to appreciate and ask for help.

I got to witness such a ceremony last night in the main plaza — “hetz mek.” Done for male babies at 4 months and female babies at 3 months, the family members go around the table 13 times for boys, 9 times for girls, say prayers (from what I gathered) to desire a straight path in life for the child, and then share various foods.  I was offered some pepitas, some kind of thick tortilla, and a honey based sweet.  There was a little boy in the ceremony, but the purpose was also symbolic.  It was a ceremony for a new era, for baby humanity, for the Shift.

And it was a part of a week-long “festival de la cultura maya“(Festival of Maya Culture) which goes through Sunday.  I guess the Maya don’t expect the world to end.

All kidding aside about the end of the world happening today, the mood around today’s historic solstice is decidedly anticlimactic.  In a culture that has been around for thousands of years and lives in a cyclical reality, it’s only the linear gringos who seem to fear we’re falling off some kind of cliff (fiscal or otherwise!).

In fact, in quintessential Mexican tongue-in-cheek, creatively-capitalizing-on-the-moment, laughing-at-death, living-in-the-now fashion, the only signs I saw that anything might be different this December were literally written on the walls.  It’s significant that these walls were in Playa del Carmen (a very touristy area) and that the writing is in English.

Here’s one, advertising a cool “Day Zero” concert festival on the 21st (mostly techno music I gather):

Playa del Carmen, Mexico, 12-18-12.

And another:

023

This “Time and Space 2012 Countdown Festival” boasts 3 days, 90 artists (more techno it seems), 48 hours of nonstop music on 2 stages in Tulúm and live painting by metaphysical artist Alex Gray:

Time and Space 2012 Countdown

Here were some cool t-shirts for sale (the top one says “awakening” and “awareness” …

024

…and a festive holiday wish:

Happy New Age

In all of Valldolid, there was no reference to the Solstice (I actually had to ask around about events!) other than this one low-key sign in the Valladolid bus station, in Spanish:

ADO Valldolid

Its headline is “We’ll take you even to the end of the world” and announces extra buses between Valladolid and Chichén Itzá (which is being spelled “Xichén” more often now).

Speaking of which, as you read this I am on my way to Xichén to hang out with 5,000 to 200,000 (yes, that is the range of estimates) of folks, mostly foreigners I’m guessing (although I don’t know where they’re hiding because Valladolid — the closest town/city to Xichén — is definitely not teeming with tourists nor feeling like a woo-woo mecca nor a party waiting to happen nor a hippie hang out nor a doomsday hideout).

I’m not sure what today holds.  I don’t know if it’s true that we will be experiencing a celestial alignment that happens every 584, 283 years.  I don’t know if the aliens are going to land.  I don’t know if the world financial system or the U.S. government are going to collapse.  I can tell you with some certainty that the sun will continue to rise, a 5200-year cycle of time predicted by one of the most advanced civilizations of its time will end, and it is the Solstice — the darkest day of the year, which also signifies the return of the light.

That’s my favorite part of the Winter Solstice – the darkest day is the return of the light.  This is so profound and hopeful.  I prefer the pagan seasonal calendar which marks the seasons on cross-quarters, which means winter began in early November and ends in early February.  If you pay attention to the sunlight, the weather, and plant cycles, this actually makes more sense than the idea winter starts today.  [Although you wouldn’t know it’s winter at all here in the Yucatán with its 80+ degree heat, intense sunlight, humidity and mosquitoes!]

Regardless of what does or doesn’t happen, or what is supposed to happen or should, I see today as the Return of the Light — and possibly a brighter one than in Winter Solstices past.  I will be taking my own prayers and others’, and a few special objects (one of which was entrusted to me) to Xichén tomorrow.  I will express gratitude for all the blessings of life, for the learnings of 2012, and for this opportunity for humanity to grow, learn, and progress in a way that brings us back to our humanity, to love, to our femininity, to our collective caring for each other and other lifeforms, and to the earth.

In Lak Ech — tú eres mi otro yo — you are my other me…

2012 and beyond!

~Jaxsine

Sense and Sensibility: The Newtown Massacre

It’s happened again.  For the second time in a year, I’m blogging about a mass shooting.  For the fourth time in his presidency, Obama travelled today to a city to grieve with families after another bout of senseless violence.

And I am weary of hearing these incidents referred to as “senseless”.  From the principal of Columbine High School to the prime minister of Australia to news anchors and my Facebook friends, one of the most common words I hear is “senseless.”  But to me, it makes perfect sense.

In fact, I’m surprised it doesn’t happen more often.  When you take a society that values money and material things over people and relationships, add social isolation and lack of true community (like Adam Lanza’s upscale neighborhood where he occupied two bedrooms in his mother’s spacious home and some neighbors didn’t even know them), leave out critical education about mental and emotional health (as well as resources to identify and treat those with these challenges), leave out education about healthy communciation and anger/conflict management, and add a healthy dose of easy access to guns, you have situations like Newtown waiting to happen all over this country — a country where there are as many guns as people (300 million) and, compared to most other industrialized countries, a very high percentage of people experiencing mental and emotional illness, excess stress levels, and a lack of healthy coping skills or social support.

This is not meant as an indictment of the Lanza family or of Newtown, but a plea for us to look at the bigger picture,  We are all connected.  We can’t tolerate institutions that oppress and dehumanize us; an industrialized food system that not only does not nourish us but addicts our minds and weakens our bodies; a prison-industrial complex larger than any in the world; forms of entertainment that dehumanize us; a lifestyle that disconnects us from the earth, other lifeforms and spirit; a general disregard for the needs of women and children; a general lack of purpose, meaning, and love … and expect there to be no consequences.

Newtown is one of many consequences.

I’m grateful that this time around, there seems to be less usage of the word “evil” to describe these murders, as I decried in my post about the Aurora shooting, despite the fact that most of the Newtown dead were six-year-olds.  I can’t even imagine the horror of such a thing for a parent.

And yet we still need a responsibility check.  It’s not useful to decry such violence as senseless or incomprehensible, because it is neither.  Doing so absolves us of any responsibility, and makes us believe we are powerless.  We are not powerless.  The “society” we rail against is not an entity outside of us — it is something we each create each day with the jobs we choose to work in, the decisions we make, where we spend our money, what we eat, how we speak and think, and how we treat each other and ourselves.

And calling Adam Lanza — or James Holmes or any of the other recent perpetrators — “crazed” is also inaccurate and feeds into this kind of helpless thinking.  The folks who perpetrate these murders — who are typically young males, usually White — are methodical and deliberate, and take months to plan their attacks.  According to Jack Levin, a well-known professor of sociology and criminology, they don’t “go off” or “snap.”  What they do have is a sense of their problems being caused by other people — they blame everyone but themselves.  They too see themselves as powerless and unresponsible.

Levin also challenges the notion that these events are increasing.  On NPR the other day, he said that there are about 20 such mass murders per decade, with about 150 total victims.  In the meantime, he points out that there are about 15,000 individual homicides — per year.   However, Connecticut Senator John Larson said today that of the 12 worst mass shootings in our history, half have occurred in the last 5 years.

Regardless of who’s right, it seems most people feel things are coming to a head.  And solutions are already being proposed.  Paul Bennett, author of Glock: Rise of America’s Gun, said today that two short term solutions are (a) greater security in public places, and (b) better support and resources for people with mental and emotional illness.  Others are using Newtown to bolster the argument for gun control — I’ve already seen a couple online petitions to this effect.

And while gun control would certainly be a sane approach to the insane ease with which people can access deadly firearms in the U.S., it’s not the solution.  Guns are still tools used by people, and while limiting access can minimize the damage (there was an incident at a school in China on the same day as Newtown, and while the perpetrator, a man in his 30s, stabbed 22 children, none of them died), it doesn’t solve the problem of hurt people hurting people, and the epidemic of walking wounded in the U.S. and the world at large.

Much like I argued in my “Aurora, Anger, and Evil” post, the drama of the latest episode of mass violence in all its technicolor drama often obscures larger, more sinister problems and a bigger context.  It’s a symptom, not the problem per se.

Perhaps it’s helpful to think and talk about what is working.  Be humble and reflect on how there but for the grace of God go we.  How many of us, when we are being fully honest and self-aware, can’t think of a time we wouldn’t have liked to take out a bunch of fellow humans with an uzi?  Or take our own hopeless, miserable lives in some dramatic way?  Or feel like everything is someone else’s fault and someone has got to pay?

My hand goes up on all three of those.  It’s profound to think about the little things that stood in the way of me actually doing damage to others or myself in those moments.  Perhaps we can learn from this and not stop at celebrating the heroes of incidents like Newtown, like Dawn Hochsprung and Victoria Soto, but also try empathizing with and mourning the broken souls of young men like Adam Lanza.

We should grieve.  We should rage.  But we should NOT hide behind “hugging our children tighter” or stop our examination of the situation as “senseless” as if it were random and outside of our power.  The bigger context is that we need to see and own our power, and therefore our responsibility.

Lately I keep coming back to the Marianne Williamson quote: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us.”  I think owning our own power, and all that entails, is one of the invitations and challenges of humanity as we move farther into the shift.

I’m heartened that President Obama, and others, are talking about “meaningful action”.  I’m glad he said tonight in Newtown that we will have to change.   I’m grateful that he said,

“Can we say that we’re truly doing enough to give all the children of this country the chance they deserve to live out their lives in happiness and with purpose? I’ve been reflecting on this the last few days … If we’re honest without ourselves, the answer is no. And we will have to change.”

He continued:

 “Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard?”

And this, to me, is the key.  We are not powerless.   This violence isn’t senseless.  It isn’t incomprehensible.  In fact, it is in the comprehending, and in the activation of  our sensibilities — emotional capacity, responsiveness, and consciousness —  that we can make sense of this heartwrenching tragedy and take meaningful action in such a way that we take powerful responsibility for ourselves, those around us, our communities, and the “society” and country we all co-create, every day.

Que en paz descansen los muertos de Newtown y que duermen con los angelitos los sobrevivientes.

In lak ech.

Jaxsine

 

The real reason a vote for Obama is a vote for a better future

I voted over a week ago, and I voted for Obama.  You may think you know why, but you might be wrong.

Obama’s 2008 campaign for president was the first time I became active in a campaign.  I actually made cold phone calls from the headquarters here in town, and canvassed neighborhoods months before the election — alone.  I was energized by the potential Obama embodied — of creating structural changes in our country on a wave of tremendous popular support.  I was inspired by the profound significance of having an African American family in the White House.  The night of the election results, I celebrated with hundreds of strangers, exchanging hugs and tears ina ballroom where we watching history unfold.  There was elation in the street as well, which I enjoyed as I drove home.  Two months later, I watched the inauguration on TV and about lost it when Barack and Michelle danced to “At Last” sung live by Queen Beyoncé herself.

Like so many, I felt like I was finally a part of something great.  I was ready to get to work.  I was ready to receive my orders.  But none came.

Today in 2012, I am somewhat disillusioned with Obama, but less than many progressives.  I was concerned in the months leading up to Obama’s election that too many progressives viewed him as The Messiah.  I had a feeling that pedestal-pushing was going to backfire.  Like a love affair with someone who can do no wrong often ends in hatred, I saw and heard many progressives express almost as much disgust with Obama in the months following his inauguration as they had expressed toward John McCain in the months prior.  Damning McCain and exalting Obama never were healthy approaches to the real problems facing us, since this sort of good-and-evil rhetoric does the convenient job of excusing us from any responsibility.  More on that later.

There are things that Obama has done that I’m not happy with.  More undocumented immigrants have been deported on his watch than any other.  Drone strikes in the Middle East have become commonplace.  He has done nothing to roll back the excessive powers Bush placed in the Executive Branch.  He put banker Timothy Geithner in charge of reforming Wall Street, which is like putting a McDonald’s executive in charge of reforming our food industry.  He hasn’t taken advantage of key opportunities to bring up race or racism (see Ta-Nehisi Coates’s  excellent piece in The Atlantic). We continue to rapidly devolve into a Surveillance State with limited freedom and privacy (see Glenn Greewald’s writings and videos on this topic). We went into Pakistan, murdered Osama bin Laden in front of his wife, shamefully dumped his body in the sea, then celebrated our behavior as if such barbary were the righteous way to respond to the tragedy of 9/11.

But I still voted for Obama last week.  Not because his worldview and life experience is much more closely aligned with mine (and most of the country’s) than Romney’s.  Not because his Christianity threatens my rights and values less than Romney’s Mormonism.  Not because my access to contraception and abortion remain safe with him and Biden.  Not because he seems to genuinely care about the well-being of most people in the country.  Not because Europeans overhwelming favor Obama over Romney.  Not because he and Biden came out in favor of marriage equality.  Not because he allowed young, undocumented DREAMers to pursue their education unmolested.  Not because of the benefits I’m already enjoying under Healthcare Reform, or the promise of a slightly reduced unemployment rate.

All of these things definitely matter to me.  But the main reason I voted for Obama is the main reasons I voted for him in 2008.  He is the best person to most gently guide our nation into its decline.

Empires fall, and so will ours.  It already is.  For evidence, you need only look at our declining wages, declining health, declining standard of living, declining quality of products (clothing is where I see this the most), declining level of critical thinking and engagement, declining infrastructure, and declining institutions (educational, financial, healthcare, and political).  In fact, we’ve been able to prop up our economy for a few years with stopgap measures like the stimulus and auto and bank bailouts (funny how we decry socialism and then engage in socialism when capitalism leads to inevitable failures!).  But these only keep the illusion alive.

The truth is that our nation’s status quo is unsustainable.  Our level of consumption is outrageous and immoral (we’d need 6 more planets if every human consumed like the average American).  Our level of inequality is socially unstable.  Like Katrina, Hurricane Sandy once again uncovered the staggering inequities that we nonchalantly take for granted in this country.   The top fifth of New Yorkers makes 40 times more than the bottom fifth — a gap that’s not only growing, but rivaled only by a few developing nations in sub-Saharan Africa.

We keep wailing at our government to provide us with more jobs.  There are two problems with this.  One, there are less jobs today thanks to technology and outsourcing to locales where workers are not only cheaper, but often more competent than we are.  Two, we are expecting government to solve a problem for us, even when it means “creating jobs” at the expenses of the environment or any sustainable model of economic development.  We shouldn’t be struggling to revive a defective economy focusing only on growth and GDP, but create a new economy entirely, based on what Gus Speth calls “people, place and planet” in America the Possible.

I am no Libertarian.  Government is important and essential to do for us collectively what we cannot do ourselves.  But we’ve forgotten that we own the government — or we’re supposed to — and we have become lazy and complacent in solving our own problems creatively, in community.

Elected officials are always trying to get elected or hold onto their seats, so no politician is going to come clean with the U.S. public and say “look, we’re an empire in decline, there are no more jobs, we can’t keep consuming the way we have much less base our economy on our levels of consumption.  So let’s figure out a new game plan together.” Can you imagine?!

Actually, I can, which is why I’m more in alignment with the Justice Party or the Green Party.  However, I still voted for Obama because the risk of a Romney presidency is too great, and that risk is real if too many of us vote for “third parties” — here’s one perspective on that topic from LA Progressive.   The gross inequalities in France and the conspicuous consumption of its ruling elite right before the French Revolution keep coming to my mind these days — maybe because Les Miz is hitting the big screen this winter (coincidence or serendipity?) but also becuse I see parallels with the U.S. today.  A Romney presidency might push the rest of us 99% right over the ledge of complacency into all-out mutiny and revolution.

And maybe that would be the upside of a Romney election.  The potential of an Obama re-election is continued complacency among progressives.  In his brilliant piece on the “Empire State of Mind” that has shaped even Obama’s presidency — in which the super wealthy see themselves as super entitled and persecuted, and the rest of us accommodate, admire, and want to emulate them  — Imara Jones talks about the danger of the fantasy world all of us live in regarding wealth, and the danger this poses to democracy and our society.  He wonders if we’re ready to reconnect with reality, and so do I.

Still, Obama is the best person to continue to lower us gently into a decline that doesn’t have to lead to complete collapse or total destruction.  There are a few reasons I believe this, which have everything to do with the kind of person I believe Obama to be, and less about his policies.  First, everything I’ve read about Obama suggests a real person who is brilliant, willing to be vulnerable, genuinely caring, and even tempered  (see Michael Lewis’s recent Vanity Fair piece as an example).  Second, I believe Obama is in touch with his feminine side, witness his relationship and frequent mention of his two daughters, his relationship with his strong wife, and his politeness in the first presidential debate and respectful demeanor towards the moderators in all three (penis sword fighting with Romney in the second and third debates notwithstanding).

Third, Obama, and his family, are more similar in looks, life experience, and philosophy with the majority of the Earth, the majority of the U.S., and the future of both.  This can, and will, help ease our transition to being a participant in the world than its overlord.

This isn’t an easy transition for anyone to lead.  In fact, a recent study found negative attitudes towards African Americans — both implicit and explicit — are higher now than in 2008, and now held by a majority of U.S.ians (take that, “post-racial society” believers!).  Obama’s race is estimated to have cost him up to 5 percentage points in 2008.  But the fortitude, integrity and stamina required to face real, daily struggles of race, class, and privilege are the qualities we need in a leader.

My hope is that Obama’s second term is characterized by more boldness and real change.  Unencumbered by the need to campaign for a second term and forged in the fire of one, he may become the Democrats’ Reagan, as Andrew Sullivan outlined nicely in Newsweek.  My hope is also that more of us average Janes, Joes, Juanas, Josés, Jamals and Jamilas will wake up, hold Obama accountable to move real change forward, and take greater personal responsibility for embodying those changes and moving them forward in our lives, families, communities, and institutions.

Some of those changes might start with caps on campaign spending (imagine how those two billion dollars might have been better spent!) and reform of where those dollars come from.  From there, a reform of voter identification and where, when, and how we can vote.  A complete revolution of our consumption-and-inequality-based financial system starting with the repeal of Citizens United v. FEC.  An overhaul in the tax structure.  A huge increase in the minimum wage.  More collective bargaining and unions.  A complete revolution in quality education for all, and free healthcare for all.  A complete revolution in how we power and fuel our machines, and how we feed our bodies.  A reduction in the power of the executive branch and the level of surveillance in our lives.  A movement towards racial equity and reparations for Native American nations.  Full equality in pay and democratic representation for women in all spheres.  A lack of tolerance for violence against women and children.   Access to birth control and abortion at all times to everyone.  Marriage quality for all.  A commitment to integrity, people-centered values and community over profit and competition.  And a reasonably-sized lifestyle for everyone.

It IS possible, and only WE can make this happen — together.  No one is coming to save us from ourselves.

So VOTE!  And when you do, vote for people, place, and planet … not profit, plutocracy and powerlessness.  And regardless of the outcome of tomorrow’s election, continue every day after November 6th to stand up for people, place, and planet in your words, decisions, actions, and purchases.

Ometéotl!

~Jaxsine

On Wisdom and Uncertainty

A week ago I spoke at a conference where I anticipated running into some employees of my former organization — employees who used to report to me.  I was nervous about this, because I hadn’t been allowed to say goodbye to them properly before I left, and I didn’t know what they might have been told.  I figured some of them might be angry with me — some perhaps justified, others not.  I fear people being angry with me.

I went prepared to be professional and stay in the moment for whatever showed up.  I was pleasantly surprised that two of them ran up to me during the informal breakfast meeting to say hello.  One of these was no surprise, but the other…?  I had no reason to believe she lacked affection or respect for me, but she certainly wasn’t one I imagined would run up to me during a breakfast meeting to say hi!  I accompanied them to the large, round table where the rest of my former staff sat.  I was relaxed and met their kind, energetic gazes with the same.  I felt genuinely happy to see their bright faces, and hear them doing well.  I spent a moment with each one, reconnecting, complimenting and catching up.  I’d almost gotten to the end of the table when the last two got up and excused themselves.

Frankly, that wasn’t entirely a surprise, not from those two.  They were both excellent at their work, but had had some conflicts with others and with me.  Employee A had been aggressive with her coworkers, conniving, occasionally inappropriate, and an outright liar.  I had worked hard on our relationship, exerted effort to constantly question my interpretations of her behavior, and strove to openly dialogue with her, actively problem solve with her, and get her to consider other points of view.  I thought we’d made headway.  Employee C had been very cool and inaccessible at first, but after a few months seemed to warm up and trust me.  She was even friendly at times, and once brought a situation to my attention that painted her in an unflattering light.  She owned a mistake and allowed herself to be vulnerable with me when she could have easily chosen not to.

Seeing the way these two literally walked away from any contact with me hurt my feelings to an extent that it bothered me.  This caused me to wonder — Why did it bother me so?  Why was I angry?  What was I holding onto, or feeling insecure about?

I realized I felt like a fool.  I had given these ladies the benefit of the doubt, listened to them, shown willingness to question myself and consider other possibilities, engage with them, meet with them where they were, and treat them with respect and dignity.  They had not done the same.  I felt like a fool for trusting them, and for believing they could be different.

I felt like I’d known the truth from the get-go and didn’t listen.  Instinctually I’d suspected Employee A was bad news — dishonest, inauthentic, and backstabbing.  I suspected Employee C was possibly manipulative and a holder of grudges.  I was angry — with myself — for doubting my intuition and initial impressions.  Even though I will never know for sure how these two women really “are”, what they really think or feel about me, or whether their behavior has anything to do with me at all — I was angry at myself for being proven “right” about them in the end, and wasting all that time and energy trying to engage them.  My virtuous self-doubt had not been rewarded!

In my work, I believe — and teach others — that “instinct” and “intuition” are often constructed from falsehoods and impressions that say more about us than anything else.  However, as I get older, I think I’m learning what wisdom means, and I think instinct and intuition play a role.  Wisdom is a knowing that comes from experience.  It’s also a knowing that lives in the body and heart, not the mind.  The insights and sensations I experienced when my mother died suddenly, and when my beloved “baby” sister got married, went beyond any prior intellectual understanding of those events.

Throught the experience of events like death and rites of passage, wisdom can connect us in a new way with the broader experience of humanity — or a large segment of humanity like other women, in my case.  But I believe wisdom can also bestow us with a form of precognition.  We see the beginning of a story and already know how it’s going to end.

A dear friend once described it to me this way:

There is a hole in the sidewalk.  First, you don’t see the hole, you fall in, react with fear and bewilderment and frustration, you finally climb out.  Second, you’re walking down the same street, you don’t see the hole, you fall in, react with fear, etc., but get out faster.  Third, you go down same street, you don’t see the hole, you fall in, then say, hey, I’ve been here before, there’s no fear, bewilderment, or frustration, you just quickly get out.  Fourth, going down same street, you see the hole, you fall in anyway, but you get out right away.  Fifth, you see the hole and go around it.  Sixth, you completely avoid the hole by crossing to the other side of the street.  Seventh, you go down a different street.

This wisdom can be very useful. For me it’s most honed in my ability to determine whether or not a man is a good match for me.  This story has started and ended so many times in my life over the last 30 years that my clarity itself can be intimidating to menfolk! 🙂  But this wisdom allows me to be more efficient, more effective, more authentic, more fulfilled, saner, and safer when it comes to dating and romantic relationships.  Wisdom helps me eliminate doubts that used to drive me crazy or lead to injury.  Now I simply avoid the hole or go down an entirely different street.

At the same time, there is an important body of knowledge, including in my own professional work, suggesting that doubt is an important ingredient in boosting self-confidence, opening minds, experiencing intimacy, enriching spirituality, and even having breakthroughs in business.  Jonathan Fields talks at length in his book Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt into Fuel for Brilliance about how uncertainty is not only normal, it’s necessary for creativity and following your passion (and Lord knows we need more of both!).  He offers concrete ways to face and harness the Terror of the Unknown (my words and emphasis) to transport us to completely new realms of possibility and success.

In the July/August edition of the very cool Ode Magazine, Diana Rico authored an excellent piece called “Sure Enough”, which examines doubt — including its dark side and some of the brain science behind it.   She cites research demonstrating that when we hear statements that contradict our ethical beliefs, we react (to any doubts) within .25 seconds, and almost instantly stop listening.  She describes a study by Gal & Rucker (2010) which found that individuals who were injected with doubt became even fiercer advocates for their beliefs “as if they now had to try to convince themselves as well as others.”

To me this is an excellent reminder that much of the intense and polarized political rhetoric going on in our media, our various governing bodies, and our homes is a good sign.  It’s a mere backlash against the inexorable movement of history forward into greater equality, freedom, justice and higher evolution.  It’s the violent death throes of the ancient paradigms of “me first” and “you are not me” and “power over.”  If r/evolutionaries were not experiencing vehement opposition, it would mean real change was not taking place.  The loud, angry voices are just roadblocks erected by the fearful, trying to resist the tidal movement of a shift in consciousness.

Rico also talks about the light side of doubt — its benefits.  She cites the number of incarecerated people — disproportionately people of color and the young  — who have been exonerated of the crimes for which they were convicted, due to new DNA testing methods (and yet police and prosecutors insist they were right anyway!).  She examines the role that doubting what we think we can or cannot do or endure can lead us to tremendous breakthroughs and bursts of self-confidence.

Undoubtedly then 🙂 , injecting doubt into our lives and thoughts can lead to positive breakthroughs, realizations and achievements.  It can lead to truth and justice.  But it also triggers deep fears and defenses.  I think I understand better now why this is.

I’ve spent most of my life doubting.  I’ve made it a practice to constantly question.  “But how does the communion wafer turn into Jesus’s body in my mouth?” “How is rape only about power if it involves sex and penises?” “Do these pro-Affirmative Action people have an idea I should take seriously that is also fair?”  I’ve made it a practice to also give people the benefit of the — er — doubt: “Maybe he didn’t mean to hurt me, and is just damaged and doesn’t know better.”  “Maybe this time it will be different and she’ll do what she says.” “Maybe if I hang in there at this job people will change and things will get better.”

But doubt is exhausting.  It’s mentally and emotionally draining, especially for someone whose personality needs some degree or order, clarity, and an eventual decision.  Living in the ambiguity of a question is a limbo few of us can tolerate for long.  Besides, doubting and questions can lead to answers that can rock our entire worlds — the very foundation of our identities and lives!  Here are some of the ones I’m dealing with right now: “What do I do for exercise and meditation if I can no longer run (like I have for the last 30 years)?” “Who am I if my real purpose is not to be a world problem-solver and people-fixer?” “What can I do for work that doesn’t spring from the need to heal my own wounding?”

You know, little questions like those! 🙂

I feel empowered by my new wisdom — by the fact that often times I can see clearly into the future, a situation, or a person without spending hours mulling or months gathering data.  I think after 42 years of experience I have earned the right.  And yet I must hold this “wisdom” lightly.  As with most things, balance is the key.  For if I retreat into complete “knowingness” about everything, not only do I choke off invisible possibilities and opportunities for miracles, I constrict my life — and that of those around me.

So my recipe for today is:

  1. doubt in manageable doses, and
  2. wisdom with a grain of salt

What’s yours?

In lak ech,

~Jaxsine~

Aurora, Anger and Evil

I first heard about the shootings a week ago today as I was driving on the freeway en route to see the new Batman movie with a friend.  The radio DJ made a reference to the “horrible act” and gave some basic information which left me with some questions and curiosity, but no alarm.  At the theater, my friend filled me in, then we enjoyed the mindblowing phenomenon that is The Dark Knight Rises and went home.

I spent the next two days deeply angry.  I thought about blogging then — the artist in me wants to be fully present with and free to express my most intense emotions while they’re happening — but the scientist in me wants to be prudent and gather more data before publishing any findings.  The scientist won, although I did write an epically angry epic poem on Sunday.

You might assume I’m angry because of what the shooter did, killing 12 people and wounding 58.  That’s not why.  I became incensed because of what I saw and heard in the media, and how the event was instantly, and virally, constructed,  packaged, delivered, and received.  My déjà vu was intense and disturbing to me.

I have now lived long enough to see history repeat itself in my own lifetime.  One of the many beauties of being young is thinking the world is new because it’s new to us.  At a deep level, we often have a hard time believing older folks, because our incompletely developed neocortex thinks this time is different, I’m different than anyone before, this is all new, and history just started.  In some ways this is true and at best delightfully refreshing and inspiring.  At worst, it is insulting and myopic or even blind.

I was in my native Los Angeles in April of 1992 during the L.A. Riots/Uprising, which occurred after a jury acquitted the four White male police officers accused of beating Rodney King.  Twenty years later, I saw a media story describing the riots as happening after King, who died this summer, was brutalized.  Not true.  The riots occurred when justice did not, and for an act that was caught on tape no less.

And also twenty years later, not blocks from where a White policeman pulled a gun on a group of us UCLA students protesting police brutality down the street from south central L.A. as it burned, an eminent African American surgeon is humiliated, minimized and silenced when faced with persistent discrimination and outrageously prejudiced treatment.  The case of Dr. Christian Head is disturbing in itself, but that it is happening at my alma mater in the same city as the King beating and L.A. riots, is downright depressing.

Why?  Why haven’t we learned?

On July 1st, citizens of my beloved Mexico went to the ballot box and the man who emerged triumphant is a man not a single one of my many mexicano friends from various walks of life and social classes voted for, nor any of their friends and family.  Amid widespread accusations of electoral fraud and vote buying, Peña Nieto and his PRI party were declared winners, not 12 years after the PRI was jubilantly ousted after 70 years of de facto dictatorship.

Why haven’t we learned?

Now we have a mass shooting, 13 years after the Columbine massacre, which occurred when James Eagan Holmes was 9 years old.  How is it that we allowed one more young man in our country to grow up in such a way that he saw  murderous behavior as his only option — or as an option at all?

I don’t profess to know anything about Holmes’ heart or mind — the evidence points towards him being very smart, very deliberate in his planning of the attack, and an unhappy person — and in truth none of us may ever know.  But where is the introspection and the conversation about how WE contributed, and how WE let this happen?  Again?

I had high hopes eleven years ago when 9/11 happened.  When I turned on the TV that morning and saw the destruction, one of my first thoughts was “maybe this will finally make a difference.”  I hoped that more of us might be jolted awake, start to listen, start to reflect, and start to question our identity as an infallible hero nation. I hoped more of us would start to really examine what might make a person — or a people — do such a thing, and how we might see ourselves in those shoes, and then do our part to co-create a different kind of world.

Instead, we went shopping, we went to war, and we handed over our freedom and privacy to our government.  We didn’t learn.

And now, once again, I see little introspection.  Right after the Aurora shooting, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner separately denounced the event, and the actor, as “evil”.  Obama seemed to take a more measured approach, calling for “prayer and reflection” not only for those directly affected by the shooting, but also “for all the victims of the less-publicized acts of violence that plague our communities on a daily basis.”

Amen Brother Barack.  Preach!

But in doing more research, it seems Obama did, indeed, also use the e-word.  Why is this a problem?

This is a problem because first of all, not everyone agrees on what evil is, where it comes from, or even if it exists at all.  It’s simply strong, archetypal language meant to communicate that something or someone is really, really bad or wrong (in our eyes).  Second, and more importantly, calling something or someone “evil” allows us to dissociate and distance ourselves from the person or event.  They are evil … and we are not.

Such distancing is problematic and dangerous because it allows us to see the “evil” person as less than human, which justifies us doing violence back and treating him or her in other dehumanizing ways.  It prevents us from having empathy, seeing connection, or realizing “there but for the grace of God go I”, for truly none of us is all good or all evil — we are not the archetypal characters in movies like The Dark Knight Rises.

Distancing and dissociating also serves to absolve us of any responsibility.  Absolving ourselves of any responsibility for “evil” committed by other people is problematic and dangerous because it keeps us in victim mode.  If we believe there are evil people who do evil things, period, then we can’t do anything about evil when it shows up — other than pre-emptively identifying and neutralizing the “evil people”, perhaps, which opens up a whole Pandora’s box of fascist possibilities.

I’m not talking about blaming the victim, but seeing the bigger picture, and the way we are all connected.

Ultimately, absolving ourselves of any responsibility prevents us from actually solving the problem.  Peter Finocchiaro wrote in the Huffington Post that the “evil” position is “fatalistic, counterproductive”, and “intellectually lazy”.  As Gawker’s Max Read put it: “James Holmes did not materialize in a movie theater in Aurora … free of any relationship to law and authority and the structures of power in this country.”  These events take place in a context.  We all contribute to, and participate in, that context.  We breathe it into being and keep it alive.  But because we do, each of us therefore has the power to change it, by shaping the behaviors, values, conversations and decisions that create that context by making new choices about our own.

One of my favorite new quotes is from Boston College professor Bill Tolbert (as quoted by international organizer/facilitator Adam Kahane): “If you’re not part of the problem, you can’t be part of the solution.”  To me this is the core of so many matters — we need to figure out how we are part of the problem, and work on changing that, instead of distancing and dictating.

We contribute and we co-create, we are rarely innocent victims in The Big Picture.  It’s ludicrous to describe something like the Aurora shootings, or 9/11 for that matter, as “senseless”, “”unthinkable”, “unimaginable” and “inexplicable” (some of the words used by politicians in the media).  It’s precisely because they are thinkable and imaginable, that Holmes was able to do them, and why such incidents occur with some regularity — 14 times in the past 5 years, in fact (take a look at this analysis by the Pew Research Center  on what has captured our attention to media).   Just look at the scenes in any of The Dark Knight movies Holmes seems to have been reenacting as a case in point of the imaginability of such scenarios in real life.  Dismissing them as senseless and inexplicable keeps us from taking responsibility, getting at the root cause, identifying the contributing factors, and making new decisions and taking new actions to reduce the possibility of them ever happening again.

But apparently we aren’t learning.  Or perhaps some interest is served by us not learning?

This brings me to another reason I was angry (and am again, now that I write).  Out of the many horrors we humans perpetrate on each other, or willfully ignore, why is THIS type of incident the one that gets all the attention?

Let me give you some examples of other horrors deserving of attention and outrage, off the top of my head:

  • 46,800 people die each year in the U.S. from traffic accidents (by comparison, 18,300 from homicide)
  • Sleepy (often overworked and stressed out) drivers kill 1,500 people and injure 40,000 in the U.S. each year
  • Drunk drivers kill 10,300 people per year in the U.S.
  • One of my favorites: 90,000 people are killed each year in hospitals either through preventable medical error or hospital-acquired infections.  That’s the conservative estimate (I’ve seen numbers up to 178,000).  This is the equivalent of 9/11 happening 32 times each year!
  • 50,000 people have been killed in Mexico since 2006 in the drug wars there, largely fueled by U.S. Americans’ demand for drugs.
  • 5-15 million children die of starvation each year on Earth, a planet fully capable of feeding everyone, but whose human inhabitants create tremendous disparities in the distribution of its resources (we’d need 5-6 more Earths to support every human living like a U.S. American, for instance).

Evil you say?  I think some of these qualify.  So why isn’t anyone clamoring to get rid of cars, or to redistribute wealth so not one more child starves?  What about a real uprising about the immorality of our healthcare system, or widespread alarm about all the Mexicans we are murdering and torturing with our drug use (not to mention the damage we are doing to ourselves)?

And hey while we’re at it, what about a media firestorm, personal presidential visits, and demands for justice about Enron’s implosion, Bernie Madoff’s crimes, or the subprime loan fiasco?  These kinds of “white collar crimes” have affected millions of people in ways their descendants will feel for generations, and defunded incredible, creative, world changing projects.

Or how about about some outrage over the multiple U.S. citizens whose lives and families have been destroyed by them being targeted by our government, imprisoned in a secret location, abused, and finally released with no charges filed?  Or the murder of 17 Iraqi civilians by Blackwater?   That’s more people than James Holmes took out, and far more sinister.

We still need to be introspective and take responsibility for these situations too, but at the risk of sounding heartless, any of these examples strike me as far more evil and destructive to humanity than 12 folks shot dead in a movie theater by one unhappy, damaged man.  Sure, events like Aurora traumatize us, and a movie premier shooting might feel more personal and more visceral than the other examples, but I believe that in The Big Picture such things actually affect us less in the long run.

In doing my own introspection, I have been looking at my anger.  I am learning from my reflection and research (the scientist again) that anger is a secondary emotion that can serve to camouflage or control another emotion, particularly fear.  It can serve a coping, self-soothing, analgesic function which numbs pain and allows vulnerable people to survive destructive or dangerous situations.  Anger can alert us to attack, which I already knew, but what I didn’t know is that it can also alert us to a “something is terribly wrong” situation.

Perhaps I’m angry because I believe there are many things terribly wrong in the world, and since I’m afraid we aren’t going to be able to turn things around in time, I numb myself and maintain some sense of control by getting angry.

I still hope and believe we can solve the problem — if enough of us get crackin’ quickly enough.  Interestingly, the “defeat the enemy” neural pathway and the “solve the problem” pathway are close together in the brain, but “defeat the enemy” actually neutralizes our problem solving ability.  Maybe this is the subtle, and profound shift that we all need to focus on.

So why haven’t we learned yet?  Maybe that is also a key to the shift. And is it that we haven’t learned … or are there interests being served in keeping us from learning?  Are there interests served in the way events like Aurora are framed?  And in the way our attention and outrage is focused?

Answering these questions might get us closer to a more important question: Will we learn? And if so, how do we make different choices and take different actions based on our learning?

Answers and hope continue to be my quest.  What about you?

In Lak Ech,

~Jaxsine~

Pain as an Unexpected Teacher

This past week, I finished a 12-week fitness challenge I entered into with a collection of other people at one of the places I work out.  At the celebration on Thursday, we partied and learned who won (the two who won “most pounds lost” and “most inches lost” were truly deserving and inspiring) and cheered each other on one last time.  It was nice to see everyone all fresh, clean, and dressed up!

I was pleased with how I did — I am definitely making progress towards my goals around muscle strength and definition — but finishing the challenge isn’t what I’m writing about today.  It’s about something I learned towards the beginning.

I started going to this new gym/studio in January after running into my former boss from my days teaching cardio kickboxing.  She looked great and was really happy with her new gig teaching fitness at this other place, so I decided to check it out.

I took her “barrefusion” class.  Barrefusion is a combination of ballet barre work, Pilates, callanetics, and the best torture methods invented by the CIA to make people talk.  I’m kidding only a little here. Using just our own body weight (or 1-2 pound weights for arms) we pushed every major muscle group to the point of burning, shaking fatigue … over and over … for an hour.  I thought I was in great shape before I took this class, taking smug satisfaction from regularly beating out people 20 years younger than me — of both sexes — in various athletic endeavors.  Now I was the one quivering, sweating, and grunting to hold a half pushup — after holding a plank for at least a minute, then going into pushups, then pulsing at another half pushup for ten reps.  I had discovered the unknown territory of “can’t”, my triceps on fire.  Meanwhile, the well-toned, well-off women around me  — some much older — were holding their own.

I have never been in so much pain voluntarily as I have in barrefusion class.  Not when running races, not when boxing, not when lifting weights, not when doing yoga, not when dancing (even when I injured myself) and not even when doing “no pain no gain” high-impact aerobics in the 80s.  Even some of my experiences with involuntary pain –a severely spasmed colon in high school comes to mind — pale in comparison to barrefusion.  Especially when it comes to working the quad muscles of the thighs in barrefusion, I have never felt such searing fire in my body.

And this is how pain came to teach me.  One day in class — yes, I kept going to barrefusion and even paid good money to do so! — we were working on our quads.  I was trying to manage going from a position where I hung from the barre in front of me, my legs at right angles with thighs perpendicular to the floor, then taking my seat all the way to the floor, then back to a right angle multiple times, then repeatedly pushing my pelvis and thighs up and forward to the barre while also raising my heels off the floor. I became fascinated by my pain.  I began to wonder why it was so awful.  Was my body giving me a message I needed to heed about my tissues getting ready to burst or tear?  Was my body in danger?  Was any part of me?

I suddenly realized I was not in danger.  I realized that the pain was so awful not only because of the physical sensation, but because I was afraid of it.  I was afraid (at an instinctual level) that my body was in danger.  I was also afraid of the damage I was doing to myself — that I would be so sore the next day I’d be unable to walk.  And I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to make it through the pain.  I was afraid I couldn’t do it.

Suddenly the pain shifted.  I realized the physical pain was being fueled by fear — including fear about a future that didn’t exist!  I found myself able to endure more than I thought I would, just by this realization.  And the next day I wasn’t even that sore.  My fears had been in vain.

I read about another woman’s similar experience with pain in a profound book by psychologist Kathleen Noble called The Sound of a Silver Horn: Reclaiming the Heroism in Contemporary Womens’ Lives.  One of the women profiled in the book, Melia, talks about the transformative power of pain she experienced during childbirth:

My first child was born without anesthesia…and there is a stage called transition in which you just think you’re going to lose it or die or something…The pain is so tremendous.  I remember feeling like I would snap or just start breaking things, or if I had a gun I would start shooting people because the pain was so intense.  I’d never felt that way before. But just when I thought I was snapping from the tremendous pain I switched to floating; I detached from the pain, I dissociated. It was a decision. It’s hard to remember when you’re in tremendous pain the power you have in just making the decision ‘I cannot take this anymore; I have to do something now to survive.’ … This didn’t involve the intellect … It involved the ability to make a decision…I was able to do this, to change an extremely negative experience into something very spiritual and empowering.  I really felt heroic afterward.  All my inferiority because I’m a woman left.  I could do this, I did this, I gave birth…Really, for the first time ever I felt equal  with [my husband].  Before, he was the doctor and I was his little nurse.  He was the man.  Now I was his equal.  It was really powerful. I always use that as my model now.  I know that everything I’m doing now is difficult, but not like childbirth.  Nothing. Everything else is minor to me.

I can relate.  I remember vividly how one of our challenge coaches, Lea — who has her own super-inspiring story about how she changed her health and life for the better — shouted at us one night during a grueling spinning (stationary biking) routine: “This is about being OK with suffering! It makes you stronger AND it gives you confidence from knowing that you CAN!”

Amen.  And yet we are usually given an opposite message, to the tune of: “This hurts! Make it stop! RIGHT! NOW!”  We are encouraged to end pain as quickly as possible — others’ as well as our own.  There’s a reason why; our reptilian brains are wired to pay acute attention to pain and resolve the problem as quickly as possible, which is a good, and evolutionarily advantageous response when it comes to physiological distress.  But perhaps not so advantageous when the situation goes beyond physiology.  Culturally we are encouraged to be comfortable and happy all the time.  While visiting the Labor and Delivery unit in the hospital where I work, I once remarked to the nursing manager about how suprisingly quiet it was, even though every bed was full.  Her response: “We do a very good job of pain management here.”

Removing all pain from our lives removes opportunities to grow, to triumph, to learn of what we are capable, and to find our inner s/hero.  In fact, pain is a feature of what author Dan Pink calls the drive to mastery.  In his eye-opening book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Pink identifies mastery —  the desire to get better and better at something that matters — as one of the three key elements of intrinsic motivation.  And, as he puts it, “mastery is a pain.”  He writes. “Mastery — of sports, music, business — requires effort (difficult, painful, excruciating, all-consuming effort) over a long time (not a week or a month, but a decade).”  And, he continues, effort gives meaning to life.

Once again I realize I have been lazy and didn’t know it.  One of the weaknesses of being better than average (smarter, stronger, healthier, richer etc.) is that we don’t often learn how to learn.  We don’t learn about the payoff involved in sustained effort because so many things come easy.  I realized I have been singing the same tune I sometimes criticize others for singing — “I can’t because of my DNA”, or “it just doesn’t work for me”, or “I’m different”.  I was wrong.  I have been humbled by people like my friend “M” whose fierce commitment and tremendous discipline, even in the face of negative family pressure and financial limitations, have enabled her to completely transform her diet and her body in the last eight months to the point of being ready to run a 5K race with me in two weeks.  And now I, too, am seeing the results of my pain  — muscles I believed were just genetically weak or getting old are now much stronger, and visibly larger.  And all because I worked at it — really hard.

I was telling a work colleague some weeks ago about participating in the challenge and about how excruciatingly painful some of my workouts were.  Over her salad and stuffed halibut she leaned towards me and asked, “Well, why the heck do you do it, then?” I paused in my reply then, but now can say with more confidence that it helps me grow, it gets results, and it teaches me important lessons about life and about myself.

It’s worth mentioning, however, that not all pain is equal and that pain can also teach the power of discernment.  The pain of bone cancer is not the same as the pain of childbirth.  The pain of someone sawing off my leg to torture me is not the same as someone sawing off my leg to remove life-threatening infection and gangrene.  Perhaps one might approach them similarly from a spiritual perspective, but the different contexts might call for different responses.

Spiritual teacher Thomas Hübl talks about the difference between “creative friction”, which pushes us to our limits and allows us to take a step and grow, and “destructive friction” which is stuck, heavy, and limiting, like a swamp:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vCsBeVVshFU

I believe friction is a form of pain, and gaining the ability to discern whether a certain discomfort (friction, pain, etc.) has creative, generative power or destructive power is essential to growth and happiness.  Some of us shun all pain entirely while some of us seem to be addicted to it.  I have shunned most physical pain until now, but in the past I was addicted to emotional pain.  I equated emotional pain of any kind as normal, necessary, or adding value to a relationship.  I no longer believe this to be true, as I now recognize the difference between the not-OK pain of hearing abusive belittling and the OK discomfort involved in receiving loving feedback, for example.

Discerning between generative pain and destructive pain is as important to living a rich life and fulfilling one’s potential, as learning to endure generative pain.   As the saying “your current safe boundaries were once unknown frontiers” implies, growth requires courage — and pain.  But knowing one’s limits and being self-compassionate is vital as well.  I am a much tougher cookie now than when I started the fitness challenge in January, but there are days when my quads just need me to back off a little.  I listen.  After all, I’m in this for the long haul and I need to nurture my relationship with my one constant companion – me!

Find a place inside where there’s joy, and the joy will burn out the pain. ~Joseph Campbell~

What has pain taught you?  Please share a comment below!

In lak ech!

~Jaxsine!

The Meaning of Life

Who would you be today if you had not been wounded?

This is one of the questions posted on my bedroom wall by the door on one of many pieces of paper taped around my house in strategic locations to help me with my ongoing visioning.  This question came to me when I realized a few weeks ago with a start that my entire professional life is founded on my wounding.  I have dedicated well over 20 years to helping others deal more effectively and kindly with diversity, difference, oppression, and marginalization — the various “isms”.  I have spent countless hours learning how to communicate more effectively — and not only in English — and teaching others to do the same.

All of this is rooted in my own early childhood — and ongoing — wounding.  I now have a word for this wounding, thanks to a new therapist gifted in the somatic healing arts and brain science.  The word is “relational trauma.”  I made the connection that my gifts of communication, empathy, relating across differences and sensitivity to oppression stem from my experiences as an unloved, misunderstood child trying to navigate extremely challenging situations on her own.  And they stem from continuing to attract people and situations that reinforce this trauma, and my false beliefs around being unlovable in a dangerous world of unreliable or incompetent people.  These gifts are beautiful scars — talents and abilities I developed to survive my wounding.  I relate to the oppressed and disenfranchised because I know the pain and injustice of marginalization personally.  And my passion for inclusion, justice, and diversity come from a commitment to preventing others from being traumatized like I was.

So now I wonder — who would I be today if I had not been wounded?  Which parts of me are not beautiful scars?  Without my wounding, I would still be smart.  I would still be musically gifted.  I would still be funny.  I would still be talented with words.

But perhaps I would also be be more self-centered and less empathetic?  Maybe my wounding has helped me be more human, more sensitive, more connected?  In truth, I shudder to think of the chronically narcissistic, impatient, narrow person I might be if my life had been easier.  Perhaps I would be a highly successful yet destructive musician, or a cutthroat executive in some powerful, well-monied industry.

Or maybe I would be a better version of the Self I know today, but happier, less conflicted, less fearful, and more satisfied with her relationships.

The question about my wounding may seem moot, since it is what it is and I am who I am.  Perhaps the best response is to notice, be grateful, and contemplate the awe of it all.  But I think becoming aware of our essence, combined with our wounding, might be a key step in fully realizing who we truly are.  My wounding has allowed me to suffer, to be more aware, to heal myself and others, and to midwife others’ journeys of (re)discovery.  But becoming aware of the impact of this wounding on my life at this point on my path might be an important step towards freedom and a more fully integrated, authentic self.  In becoming more aware, I can make new and different choices, and I can choose to be grateful to my wounds, but no longer defined by them.

In fact, my wounds are now interfering with the next stage of my development.  My history of relational trauma makes me mistrustful and fearful of other people, while also harboring a deep need to connect, be vulnerable and have greater intimacy in my life.  This affects the health and quality of my relationships.  My history of relational trauma also makes me want to cling to a professional commitment to diversity and healing the “isms” that may actually be weighing me down as I grow.  A part of me doesn’t want to heal or stop until everyone is healed — but this is a futile and counterproductive orientation.  Healing myself heals others, and healing myself might just be my most important work.

I believe the meaning of human life is to continue our long history of evolution.  We are here to learn, to grow, to improve, to stretch, and to experience all that life has to offer.  We are the embodiment of the Universe coming to know itself.  Therefore, we have a responsibility to grow our consciousness.

The truth is that I’m not entirely sure who or what I would be today without my wounding.   Another truth is that I don’t know for sure what the meaning of life is (or even if such a thing exists!).  However, asking and pondering such questions allows me to evolve, and to grow my consciousness.  It therefore has meaning to my life and my happiness, and, hopefully, to yours too.

So, who would you be today if you had not been wounded? And who are you today because of it?

In lak ech!

~Jaxsine

On commitment

I am lazy and a commitment-phobe.  There, I said it.

You may find this hard to believe.  After all, I eat better than most, I work out hard 4-6 times most weeks, I work long hours in a demanding job, and I always go above and beyond in whatever projects I take on.  My last few boyfriends broke up with me.  I have a mortgage, an ex-husband, and a graduate degree.  I pay my bills on time, throw parties and remember my friends’ birthdays.

Blah blah blah.

I first began to suspect my laziness and commitment phobia in a weight training class.  I have long gotten an ego boost from looking — and being — fitter and stronger than most people much younger than me, even men.  However, in this class I have struggled with lunges, triceps, and chest presses.  Not only have I been unable to do much more than puny weight loads, the exercises have made me very sore the next couple days and contributed to a troubling pain in my right shoulder.  Never mind that I can do biceps, abs, squats, shoulders and back — especially back  — like the champ I believe myself to be; my wimpiness with regards to lunges, triceps and chest presses has been frustrating, almost humilliating.

I’ve found myself wanting to quit.  Maybe this weight thing isn’t for me.  Wait a minute — quit?  Why would some completely logical weaknesses in three muscle groups make me want to whine, pout and drop out?  Or here’s a better question from another angle — how is it that a petite over-40 woman can easily lift so much with her back and shoulder muscles?

The answer is boxing.  Almost 12 years of it, in fact.  As a child I had chronic bronchitis and couldn’t do a sit up in fourth grade to save my life and pass the Presidential Fitness test.  My classmates thought I was pretending. I wasn’t.  I was good at running, so I started doing that at age 10 — competing and earning medals fairly easily.  I loved dancing, which I discovered as a teen, but quit when it became more hard work than fun.  Despite being moderately talented, I was intimidated by all the turns I had to do (which I did poorly), by the sweaty rooms in big-city dance studios full of accomplished dancers twirling across the floor, and by the competition.  I gave up halfway through my last audition at age 20.  I was relieved when I was cut, but I suppose I maintained my dignity by not really giving it my best in the first place.

So I have strong back, shoulder, and bicep muscles because I worked at it.  For years.  Same with my flexibility.  I have my father’s genes, and because of this, I should not be able to touch my toes, let alone put my palms flat on the floor in front of me, with my legs straight.  I am able to do this because I worked at it, gradually over time.

I worked at it, and now I have this ability to rely on and enjoy.  I have set precedent.  So why am I a lazy commitment-phobe?  Why do I want to give up on chest presses and lunges?

I think it’s because they hurt.  They’re hard.  And I don’t see the benefit (yet).  I appear on the outside to be a non-lazy committed person because most of what I do in life is actually easy.  Maybe not easy for many people, but easy for me.  But isn’t the point to compare our current selves to our best possible selves, and not to others?  Is it perhaps that doing so would challenge my identity of being superior to others (ah ha!)?

Apparently one of the curses of the gifted is we don’t learn how to learn.  Things come so easy to us in so many ways that we get discouraged at the slightest challenge or perceived failure.  It threatens our identity.  For instance, even though I am a slim person, I have often been slightly jealous of people much heavier than me who are able to lose several pounds.  The reason is I don’t know if I could do what they did!

In fact, I haven’t yet lost the 8 pounds I gained this time last year.  And the truth is I haven’t tried very hard.  I am so unwilling to make the necessary sacrifices, to experience discomfort, to make the changes necessary to live a truly healthy life in a healthy body.  Nor do I seem to be able to do that which I know I must do to maintain a healthy mind and happy emotional life.  I know I need to get more sleep, to read more, to make music, to not self-abandon, to listen to my deeper knowing, and to not allow anyone — including me — to treat me poorly.

But I don’t always do these things.  I am a poor parent to my own Self, alternately neglectful and indulgent, punctuated by short bouts of inflexible tyranny.  Why? Is my laziness and commitment-phobia my rebelling against controlling parents who have not exerted actual control over me for 24 years?  Is it fear?  Is it lack of self-esteem and confidence?  Or am I unable to imagine the ultimate benefits of the hard work, or perceive their worth?

The New Year is always a time of deep reflection for me.  The Holy-days, my birthday, and the New Year all happen in quick succession, and during a dark, quiet time of year (at least in the natural world) which lends itself to going within.  I recently happened across some old writings and notes to myself.  I was surprised and a bit disturbed that some of the sentiments expressed were about commitments I have still not owned — to living my dreams, to being as healthy as possible, to putting my own needs first and taking a stand for my worthiness.

Am I not making progress?  Am I going in circles or staying in one place?  Is life the way my mother described it — “you spend your whole life polishing a brass faucet and the day after you die it’s green.”  Or am I experiencing natural macro cycles on a micro level; a more indigenous, non-linear way of seeing time and progress, in which el futuro es sólo un reflejo del pasado conocido (the future is only a reflection of the known past)?  I prefer to see it as the latter, and that I have reached a deeper layer of the onion that is my growth and development.

So now what?

A teacher I deeply resonate with once described the Religion of Radical Responsibility — at least that’s how I remember it…I figured that was a doctrine I could get on board with!  But easier said than done.  It means that I have to take responsibility for everything — for my choices, for my decisions, for my actions, for my part in co-creating the “bad things” that people “do to” me or that “happen” to me.  It means I have to recognize that no one — no one — will, or can, love and protect me the way I can.  This is quite a sobering realization for a woman especially, steeped in a culture rife with images of the knight on a steed coming to our rescue as we swoon in our distress and helplessness.

No one is coming indeed.  2012 is definitely a year of profound changes that are already in the works.  But as Tiokasin Ghosthorse says in the film “2012: A Time for Change” [highly recommended, by the way!], a messianic “salvation point mentality” is really a symptom of us shirking our personal responsibility and giving away our “personal sovereignty” (extra delicious that a Native American would word things this way!).  It’s us giving our power away to a person or system to take care of us or fix things, which is spiritually lazy, he says.

Amen Brother Ghosthorse.  But wait a minute — does this mean I need to stop waiting around for the aliens or Jesus or the apocalypse to arrive, to finally separate the wheat from the chaff, rapture us righteous folks away, or plunge the world into so much chaos hopefully folks will wake up?

Yes it does.  I make a difference.  I can help decide whether we have armaggedon or dharmaggedon.  Instead of waiting for permission to be myself at work, I can just be myself at work and run the risk of marginalization or painful consequences.  Maybe being the change I wish to be in the world means I need to find a way to be love, joy, humor, creativity, flexibility and compassion — by any means necessary — instead of walking around full of fear, anger, resentment, tension and overwhelm because I am not allowed to be love, joy, and compassion by someone else, or by the system.  Radical notion indeed!

Once again, I find that despite my many strengths, I created my own prison.  I have been lazy.  I went to sleep.

And speaking of work, perhaps it’s my commitment phobia that has contributed to my current misery.  Creating change in large institutions is not an instant process.  Learning to manage 20 people is not easy.  Building trust does not happen overnight.  I am trying to do chest presses here, getting frustrated and wanting to throw the weight bar across the room.  My fickle ego — “today I ROCK, I am The (Wo)Man and a BadASS” … “today I SUCK, I hate everyone, and peace out, lower lifeforms!” — is not a reliable compass for decision making or deep knowing.  It rejoices and doubts.  It is moody.

So part of the solution is growing up, taking responsibility and making commitments.  Of course, commitment to anything or anyone is not the answer, it must be entered into mindfully and with adequate clarity.  But what is commitment?  One of my favorite people, my sister, once described it as a daily decision.  It’s being able to negotiate the ups and downs with the knowledge that the long term result meets my goals and needs. It’s putting energy into what has pay off, not getting a brand new toy because I’m not getting what I want right now.   It is not blind faith, but a faith based on past experience. It’s a constant inquiry about whether something is a deal breaker or not.  It’s the ability to discern between what’s worth letting go and what’s not, through self knowledge which allows us to assess whether a problem or crisis is due to the situation, or me, or something external.

In short, commitment requires self-knowledge, clarity, presence, and discipline.  No small task.  But if we, our lives, each other, and our world, are relying on us to “be the change” and create dharmageddon, it is a worthy task with huge payoff.

After all, no one is coming.  We must be our own heroes and heroines and slay our dragons.  We are the ones we have been waiting for. Genius designer Buckminster Fuller, who was decades ahead of his time, said:

“I have to say, I think that we are in some kind of final examination as to whether human beings now, with this capability to acquire information and to communicate, whether we’re really qualified to take on the responsibility we’re designed to be entrusted with. And this is not a matter of an examination of the types of governments, nothing to do with politics, nothing to do with economic systems. It has to do with the individual. Does the individual have the courage to really go along with the truth?”

That, my friends, is the question, and in 2012 I am committed to further discovering my Truth and living in disciplined alignment with that as priority number one.

What about you?

Happy New Year!

Ometeotl … In Lak Ech…

Jaxsine

M.I.C. check … 1-2, 1-2 … is this thing on?

Have you ever seen a dinosaur in its death throes?

Of course you haven’t, but can you imagine it?  I can, because  I see it every day.  I work in an organization and an industry functioning within a paradigm that is dying:  Health care — or “healthcare” as we call it.  But it’s not alone.  Government, industry, education, even institutions like the family, religion, political processes, and public services are all dying as we know them, and if you have ever had any experience with dying things, you know how they fight to survive, even when there’s no hope.

The myth of 2012 is real.  Whether the end of the long count of the Mayan calendar really indicates the “end of the world” or just the idea of this is freaking people out, it doesn’t matter.  Whether you believe the amazing astromical shifts due to take place in December 2012 will have a profound impact on Earth and humanity or none at all, it doesn’t matter.  Whether we are responding to changes around us, or manifesting the changes ourselves, it doesn’t matter.  Something is happening, and I think most of us sense it.

And it’s about damn time.   If you pay attention, you notice the signs everywhere that things can no longer continue as they are.  I have felt for some time now that I go to work every day, sometimes up to 60 hours a week, in a building that is on fire and falling to pieces around me — but I’m the only one who smells smoke.  I see a couple folks fleeing the building with wet hankies over their nose and mouth.  I see hundreds putting on gas masks, protective goggles and headphones and going on about their business as usual.  And I see many dashing about blindly in fear and/or anger, with the vague sense that something isn’t right, but unsure what it is, much less what to do about it.

Putting bandaids on broken bones and waving the smoke away are not enough.  I have been trying to decide for some months now whether to flee the building myself, or stay in and try to hold up a corner of a room somewhere and save a few folks when it all collapses.  In the meantime, I have been trying to let people know the building is on fire and getting ready to fall down.  Most ignore me, some continue their flailing, and others attack me for sounding the alarm.

This week I decided to flee the building.  In my personal life, I had finally learned the lesson of not trying to change people who aren’t ready, willing or able, but apparently I hadn’t quite learned that lesson in my professional life.  Now I am listening.

Not a thing is different on the outside, but on the inside I am changing.  I am outside the building now in my heart, mind, and spirit.  I can breathe.  I feel the sun on my face and even welcome the winter chill.  I hear bird sounds as they rustle around in the trees, attending to tasks that really matter.

I believe now that I am not meant to be miserable and fighting all the time, and that suffering in order to supposedly help others diminishes my light and theirs too.  Waiting for external validation for my efforts is not how I want to live.  Casting the pearls of my gifts before swine is no virtue on my part, it is an irresponsible waste.  Staying out of loyalty to one or two leaders who are the exeption instead of the rule is not honoring of them, or me.  Fearing change because I cling to my generous paycheck is not consistent with my values – it is slavery.

I can no longer ignore the fact I don’t fit in, but I do not accept the idea I am alone, crazy, or naive in believing that people are essentially good and work is supposed to be joyful and meaningful.  I realize now that staying in the building not only prolongs the inevitable, it is dangerous for me.

The world doesn’t need any more apathy, anger or anxiety.  It needs creativity, compassion, love, inspiration, connection, community, and meaning.  I have faced my own inconvenient truth that I cannot “be the change I wish to see in the world” in my current environment.

So! I didn’t know I would be making this decision now, and while I had pondered starting a blog as a creative outlet for a few weeks, I hadn’t intended to start it until next month after the new year and my 42nd birthday!  But I felt called to start it now, and since I am doing better at listening these days, I am heeding this call.   Tonight it was a full moon, which is a time of letting go.  When I started this project it was 12-10-11 and now it is 12-11-11, which are cool dates with lots of powerful 1s and 2s.  We are just 11 days from the Solstice which not only is the darkest day, it marks the return of the Light.  And we celebrate La Virgen de Guadalupe, Earth Mother of this continent, on Monday – moon day.  It feels right.

This is a new leg of my journey, and I hope to share it with you that we may support, inspire and encourage each other during the difficult challenges we face.  This is a M.I.C. check — a checklist, check-in and self payment — of Meaning, Inspiration, and Creativity.

M.I.C check … any fellow (r)evolutionaries out there ready to change their world too? It is time!

Paz, amor, vida y fuerza …

Jaxsine