Category: Living Outside the Lines (Page 2 of 4)

Patience with meditation practice pays off

I started a meditation practice during my teens. It wasn’t (initially) a way to connect with my mind. It was a novel opportunity. Then I learned how powerful meditation can be.

I was seventeen, going to school in Germany, and the opportunity to take a field trip to a monastery came up. The student trip was billed as a meditation retreat. I thought, “Wow! A real LIVE monastery with monks and all!” The surface level excitement drove me to take the field trip to a place where a bunch of doods in robes chanted and had beautiful, ornate, jewel-covered statuary. The monks followed a strict routine of mass, contemplation, and service-work. “Who does that?” I remember thinking. “Isn’t that a boring life?” I expected to show up, chill out, and get some good pictures, that was it.

Little did I know just how much the trip would change my life.

I went, and I got sick. I mean, puking my guts out sick. Any time I closed my eyes, drew attention to my mind, I had a cacaphony of images rush in. Dizzying influx of mental information. My first day of contemplative meditation led to fits of vomiting throughout the night, and a general malaise for the rest of the trip. It felt like my insides were coming out. It seemed like if I tried to get off the dizzying thought train, my physical body went off the rails. I didn’t understand. The other students weren’t having the same reaction. Was it the food? No one else got sick. Was it the intention? I showed up with a superficial appreciation for the powerful technique. What about what everyone else was doing? My classmates were reaching a zen-like state of chill, and I was getting sick.

While I was self-conscious about my physical experience with meditation, something really moved my spirit. I felt a call. When I left the monastery, I vowed to keep at the meditation practice (even if my body went puke wild).  I was so intrigued at the experience I had with my mind that I resolved to keep at it. I wanted to reach that zen-like state that I saw others achieve, that the monks created in their routine of mass, contemplation, and service-work.

That was twenty years ago.

I’ve since started studying Ayurveda, the divine teachings from Vedic culture, aka the way to looks at individuals as individuals. We are different combinations of humors, energies, materials. Ayurveda also teaches the mind is a sensory organ, a part of the body-physical experience that acts as a sort of extension of the central nervous system. I’ve learned that spiritual practices have effects based on the individual person, not the expectation of what would happen. Information goes in. Brain gets input. Body acts.  It’s just like your ears, eyes, skin, mouth and nose—think of all the things those organs do! Now cc: your mind.

The lingering memory of the experience of the experience at the monastery, plus the information from Ayurveda (which freed me from the comparison and empowered me with the consideration that I reacted in a different way to the practice, not bad and not good), started to shift my thinking to recognize that my mind was capable of creating physical reactions. It’s an experiment. How do you react to practices?  I learned that the mind expels toxins just as real and tangible as toxic thoughts. (Yeah, I’m no stranger to negative thinking. I can think of a lot that needed to purge.)

I kept at the meditation practice, although it admittedly wavered in strength and duration over the years. My practice depended on my motivation, my ability to sit still, and my ability to show up despite so many perceived reasons not to (show up). I thought of the monks often, those men who dedicated their lives to showing up, contemplation, and service work.

There was one day not too long ago (and keep in mind that it’s been nearly twenty years of meditation PRACTICE) that I was sitting at my desk in my home office and an odd feeling descending in my mind. Not in my brain, not in my body, not in my physical space, not in my “being,” but in my mind. It was a feeling in the filter, as if I had put on rose-colored glasses. Things felt different, like I was receiving them (in my mind) in a way that was new and novel. That’s actually what made me realize the shift—I looked up from my desk, noticed Post-its stuck on the file cabinet immediately next to me, the evening light coming in the window, the disarray of papers and craft supplies. I looked at them and I felt calm in the way that I received the image of them. The sight of that stuff usually triggered mental to-do lists, and inner critique about having stuff everywhere, and resignation that it was the end of the day and not the beginning.

I finally had a moment of zen. I experienced that chill state.

Just as soon as it came, it left. It was at that moment I felt validated, that my long-term meditation practice really got me out of my mind enough to create real change in it. Remove some baseline negative patterning. Let me feel soft in my mind.

I’ve learned that clearing your mind needs to happen before you actually feel your mind. I’m big on experiencing the mind, encouraging you to become really aware of it, especially during self care. (It’s part of cultivating The Witness, but that’s another post.)

When I started my meditation practice, I wasn’t even aware of how much there was to clear. And there’s still more! But consistent meditation practice has helped me feel the softness in my mind, and that softness feels like zen (right now). Cheers to patience and persistence!

Solopreneurship is resistance

Some background into the way I run my life, how I think, and why, especially in this cultural-political climate, my reasoning won’t change: I have made the pursuit of continual personal evolution my lifestyle–explore what is in me, and evolve toward the highest version of my being, and keep learning from the world around me. I need freedom to do that. I need to manage my time and resources well. I leverage microbusiness as a way to create the schedule and opportunities I want.

My DIY lifestyle is expansive: create-my-occupation, create-my-interaction, create-my-space in the world.

I’m self-employed, and I’ve been self-employed for most of my professional life. I have a solopreneur ecosystem, that is, a single-person entrepreneur. I am in the business of creating income streams for myself.  I have an established niche as an independent creative writer and energy healer, and I also do corporate writing and editing work. This combination is a juxtaposition of sorts, I know, but I feel that it works for what I need out of this life. I stay outside some lines—economic, educational, status—and inside others—the New Age subculture—and the cocktail is just right. I wouldn’t have my lifestyle any other way. My goals wouldn’t be met in any other way.

A few months ago, after I sent a bill to a corporate editorial client, I had a conversation with a person from the company and it went something like this:

“The venture capitalists want you to bill differently. They are using a different business model that you must fit.”
“Excuse me?” I firmly said, “But that’s not how I work.” This corporation doesn’t get to tell me how I run my business.

And it was at that moment that my business of one received a smack-down of vailidity, an action that I feel was incited by the actions of the current president. Corporations can do whatever they want to the people. At that moment, the president became “45.” If I am just a number to him and his corporations-turned-people eaters, then he was just a number to me, too. I knew, as soon as the election results were posted back in November 2016, the reckless, narcissistic business man named Donald Trump and his havoc-economics would significantly impact my financial status. What I didn’t know was how—until, slightly over one year into his presidency, this client raised concerns about my bill and essentially about being able to pay me because my way of working didn’t fit the corporation’s operating model. If I did things their way (which included being openly available but not being compensated for that open availability), I could continue to work for them.

I stopped working for the client immediately after the phone call. I told them I do not accept their rules and ways of doing things. So there went that contract, and it was an intense experience to watch the income stream disappear, but it was the right thing to do.

I’d like to bring up a few parameters of independent contractor solopreneurship. Solopreneurship is having a million and one different ways of making money as a single person. A solopreneur can be a microbusiness of one, and profits usually look more like a two-figure salary than anything in the millions (like a small business). It’s a fiscally risky way to live as a business of one. I am in the business of communication—I’m a writer and editor for hire with a roster of clients for whom I render work at will. I sign agreements that say my working contract can be terminated at any time. I’m not eligible for employer-based health insurance plans for companies because I am not regularly employed. United States legislation around independent contractors state that we work on our own schedule and own physical set-up—the situation gets blurry when a company says that we must be onsite at certain time over a duration of time (that starts to be permalancing and a whole other discussion). What that also means is that when projects suddenly change direction, or there’s a budget cut, or something somewhere happens, we are the first to be let go. We aren’t eligible for unemployment because we aren’t leaving permanent jobs. And, we pay self-employment tax on top of everything else.

We operate with a bunch of risk.

But we receive–when played well–complete validation of who we are through the work that we do.

I’m able to pursue fringe interests and offer energy work because I have financial and time flexibility. The trade-off (for me) is valid.

So when I think back to that conversation earlier in the year, how a new level of non-morality in big business has been greenlit (thanks, 45), I recognize how solopreneurship is my act of resistance to the creepy, crawly values of the current administration and the outdated patriarchal structures. I won’t step in line for a permanent, traditional, “safe” position for fear or want of a steady paycheck, or health insurance, or company culture. I won’t do what Big Corporation tells me to do. I will always choose the way of the individual, and take those professional risks.

May the resistance be DIY!

Pilgrimage to Ellis Island and beyond

I have had intermittent dreams that I’m on a boat—my awareness is on a boat—somewhere near the East River or Hudson River. I am flying over the bridges around Manhattan. I am hovering in the air around around Jersey City, distinct because of the oil tanks, piers, green land, and industrial structures built right onto the water. I lived in Jersey City for a few years, and I always attributed these dreams to the processing of fragments of memory and visual impressions during my residency. But when I recently went to Ellis Island (located just south of Manhattan, where the East River and Hudson River merge/diverge), I realized that those dreams might not entirely be what I thought they were. I shelved the impressions in the back of my mind, but later, when I had some free time during a recent trip to New York City, and I decided it was time to understand my impressions. I turned it into an intentional trip, lineage research, a pilgrimage to Ellis Island.

Strange physical sensations began as soon as the cruise-ferry left Battery Park in Manhattan. Somewhere between South Ferry and Liberty Island, the concrete and glass, modern city-scape dimmed. The sounds of French and Asian languages, British English and New Yawker slang got quieter. The cell phones and digital cameras and headphones appeared sci fi-ish, garish and way too “new.”

And then the muted sensation experience passed.

It came back when I entered the hall of the main building of Ellis Island—the main hallway of the gingerbread-house look-alike building. The singular color of the brown, and the piping of white through details in the stone held my vision. When I went inside, the cavernous lobby and ascerbic white, honey-comb tile and hundreds of people walking around in incongruous lines, held my being. I felt—imagined people who were laden with luggage and heavy sea legs and other physical effect of the Transatlantic journey. I felt the hairs on my arms stand up, as I thought, “I have been here before.”

I intuited a call to go to the hallway on my left, a passage that led into the modern stations of computers and chairs, places to access passenger lists and genealogy records. I focused on my matriarchal lineage, so I researched the names “Guzior” and “Dudovich.” I was shocked to see that 20 people had passed through these halls between 1880 and 1950—people who had those surnames.

I was real-time texting my mom throughout the search process. While I didn’t find exact names of my family members, I found similar and partial names. My mom noted the possibilities of misspellings and mis-literations. After all, part of my matriarchal side has gnarly family names, like “Trzeciakiewicz”—a jumble of letters that is pretty easy to mix up. There were several people named “Yadwiga”—and I have several Hedwigs on my mom’s side—the Americanized equivalent of Polish names.

I left the research hall in more of a mental fuzz than I had arrived. There were some connections being made in the process, more validation, and less literal answers. My mom mentioned that my maternal grandfather’s mom was a mail order bride. I had never understood what that meant, but just as I thought that, I walked into a room of the Ellis Island museum that contained pictures and manifestos from ships that carried hundreds of picture brides—women who were requested and sent for in the old country to marry men in America who wanted a similar culture.

I was shocked. Every hair (that wasn’t already standing) on my body stood up. The room around me spun. I felt like I had understood why the experience was so inside me—Ellis Island was a sort of homecoming for my physical body. The experience of time shifted completely. The pieces felt alive inside of me in my waking state—I was partly in my dreams, partly in the space of hyperawareness in the present moment. I believe the memories of those who lived lives as part of my physical family—those I am related to through blood—are part of the cellular make-up of my body, hence in-body, and it’s as if they were the source of the memories and visual fragments. But I also knew that all the blanks in the story of my family and my matriarchal lineage were blanks because of trauma; of issues; of things that you didn’t talk about because culturally, there was no space. I felt called to acknowledge these unknown, known people.

I held the list of names that I had scribbled in my hand, and I went outside. I walked around the outer building, saying the names, saying that whatever business unresolved could be released, saying thank you for coming to America, saying thank you. I wondered out loud about the experience of being American –of having to arrive in a country where, despite pockets of a native ethnicity or culture (usually based on church), the secular cultural space took over.

Becoming American was the process of forgetting. I was at Ellis Island to remember.

When I felt like it was time to leave Ellis Island, I took the ferry to Liberty State Park, New Jersey, rather than back to Battery Park in New York. I walked the Jersey City waterfront all the way downtown, to Jersey Avenue, and I paused right where the street bisects Newark Avenue. Now, it’s a part-pedestrian zone that is lined with artisanal beer bars and baby shops.

I turned around and looked backward in the direction that I had just walked from. I thought back to when I too lived in this neighborhood. My chochi (aunt) had called me one day and asked if I knew where an address on Jersey Avenue was, and if it was close to my apartment where I was living on 2nd Street. It was indeed very close—only three blocks—and I asked why. She had found my dzadi’s (grandfather’s) driver’s license, dated to the 1940s, when he lived in Jersey City. I had incidentally and unknowingly moved back to where my family had, in part, been. From where I stood, lookingdown Jersey Avenue, to where dzadi had lived, knowing behind me was the way to the apartment that I had occupied.

Is that a metaphor or what?!

I had never felt as connected to my Polish-American heritage as I did that day. My body responded to it. The angst in my physical form responded to this (somehow) familiar place, and I allowed the acknowledgement as well as release of memories on the cellular level.

I’ve dubbed Ellis Island is the Akashic records hall of the late nineteenth, early twentieth century immigrant experience. What was not in my mind consciousness was in my body consciousness. And I felt that having the experience—and release—that I did helped me to evolve deeper into myself.

What does it mean to me to evolve on a spiritual level? What happens if I “evolve”? What will I find beyond the linear concept of time? It means that ordinary experiences have hella deep reverb for me, and I have to spend a lot of time making my own meanings for things. It means my perspective is enhanced by my ability to accept that somehow, these lives are in me, and intertwined, and that this one life has connections to so many others. I’m not sure of the why or how, but this experience gave me something powerful for the now.

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