Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Is it spirit, or what?

The Sweet Medicine SunDance Path is one in which we don't separate spirit from body, or from emotions, or from our sexuality.  It is all part of our desire for and path to growth.

In the first year of the Red Lodge Longhouse, we look at our 5 aspects, and what we call "proper choreography."  In other words, what do we do with our physical body?  Do we determine with it - e.g., the strongest person gets to be the boss?  Or do we give with it - e.g., taking care of everyone else's needs while our own go neglected?  What do we do with our emotions?  Do we determine with them - e.g., the person who screams the loudest or cries the longest wins?

How we coordinate our spirit with our bodies, our emotions, our thoughts, our sexuality, is an important part of spiritual growth as we speak of it on this path.

Some traditions, in some periods of time, have a perception of the body as evil :
"For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live."  The King James Bible,  Romans 8:13

That is not the case in the Sweet Medicine SunDance Path.  We ask, what have we come into human form to learn?  What is our spirit, our soul, demanding in this lifetime?  And so every part of us contributes to our spiritual growth.

How does your spiritual tradition work?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Again, Ceremony: the Gateway Process

I just have to say that the SMSD gateway process is, for me, a continually surprisingly effective path of self-growth.

You know how, when climbing up a mountain, you stop at various turnings and look down, and are struck by how far you've climbed?  That's what the gateway process is like for me.  I know I'm climbing, but only realize how far when I stop for a moment to look back.  And, looking back, I can also see how the path has been constructed in such a way that it is possible - rather than impossible - for me to climb.

I'm grateful.  That's all.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Hard Worker and the Free Gift

I spend a lot of time and effort trying to make things happen; so much so I can wear myself out and everyone around me. It's easy to feel utterly justified in this - there are so many things that need attention, so many problems to fix. In arenas where I feel like I have something on the line, or some expertise, or I've put some time in, well, I have to admit: I get invested. And much too often, I call that being a hard worker.

You can see the slippery slope, can't you? If I'm working so hard, well I better be appreciated! It's so easy to lose sight of that investment piece - which, by the way, is really only my own personal version of how I think reality should be. It's a neat little package: I take my diagnosis of what's wrong, apply my solution of how to fix it, justify it with my blood, sweat, and tears, and viola! Applause, please, and flowers, and a raise, and a little undying gratitude wouldn't hurt either.

There's a teaching in the Sweet Medicine SunDance Path about the 5 huaquas: happiness, health, humor, hope, and harmony. Harmony is the one in the center, the quality from which all the others arise. And here's the thing about harmony: we can't make it happen. There's no way to get to harmony by focusing first on where it is not and trying to create it from there. Harmony is what we get when we are are present with the reality that is. Harmony is a blessing, a free gift. The one we get for just showing up.

When the Hard Worker in me looks at that, she throws a little tantrum. How can I accept reality given all that's wrong with it? And how come harmony, which I think of as a pretty nice feeling, is what you get when you cop out? That's not fair! What about all my hard work?!?

The reality is, though, that the Hard Worker is not really doing the hard work. Doing just what I know how to do, my way, on my terms - that's the easy way. Showing up and participating in the reality that is, and meeting other humans there on their terms, and creating something together...that takes some guts.

No wonder there's an incentive system.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

After the Ecstasy, The Laundry

I love Woman of the World’s view of pre-ceremonial jitters.  It was an excellent reminder that it is often hard to interpret exactly what is going on with me, especially right before ceremony.  It is good to remember that what I call jitters might just be excitement, or expansion, or any number of other positive states.

I’m now on the completion side of the two ceremonial experiences that I mentioned in my last post.  As I think back on them I feel just as jittery although this time that might be anything from lack of sleep to expanded awareness.  (One of the experiences that just ended took place over two weeks.  I didn’t get much sleep during that time.)

I am now being gentle with myself as I move back into the fullness of my regular day to day life and catch up on tasks that accumulated while I was away.

As Jack Kornfield, a well know Buddhist teacher says, “After the ecstasy, the laundry.”

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Ceremonial Jitters, Redux

Like Ms. Morganstern, I recently had the opportunity to experience ceremonial jitters.  Or, was it emotional jitters?  Or was it excitement?  Or was it a cold coming on?  It was really hard to tell! 

It was hard to tell in part because the upcoming ceremony touched many parts of my life, in addition to being a training for me. 

It was also hard to tell because the physical feelings were much like those I've experienced in a variety of situations.

I've noticed that there are some physical feelings, ones which I associate with emotions, that could actually be tagged in a variety of ways.  That is, I could attribute my feeling of nausea to an unpleasant encounter I had yesterday, or to nervousness about something coming up, or to the fact that I did a vigorous workout too soon after eating.  If I'm not careful, I can easily attribute it to the wrong thing, and end up taking that thing much more seriously than it deserves. 

In this case, I decided to become an observer of myself: to observe what was happening when the feelings came up, how they affected me, how long they lasted.  I learned something valuable to take into the upcoming ceremony: namely, that it was nothing more or less than a movement of my energy, which I could handle in whatever way I chose.

In some ways, this is a basic Red Lodge Year 1 teaching: balanced choreography. And in another way, it is more related to my condition of bodily appearance: how I am in my body, how I handle myself, how well I know myself.  And in yet another way, it's really all about maturity: do I have the self-awareness and self-control to stop myself from going into an unproductive reaction, and just see what's really there in this specific circumstance? 

It's a bit like my experience of performing.  When I first started, I was so nervous I could hardly do anything, and afterward I was totally (and destructively) focused on the mistakes I made.  My reactions were controlling me.  But as I did it more, and worked with those reactions, I became much more able to see them for what they were - energy, nervous energy, fear - and give them their own place at the table for what they brought, without projecting what that might be.  In particular, I was able to turn my attention away from the focus on mistakes.  That made it much easier to keep from making mistakes.  It also made performing much more pleasant, and also usually meant I would learn something from it and come out of it a better performer rather than a more fearful one.

In other words, having those feelings or not was really not important.  What was important was what I did with them.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Pre-Ceremonial Jitters

Next week I am taking two big steps in my “medicine training.”  Either one alone would be enough to give me pre-ceremonial jitters.  Having them scheduled back to back is giving me a chance to experience outright anxiety.

My teacher Harley Swiftdeer Reagan says that fear as a teacher teaches us to make the unknown known.  There will certainly be plenty of opportunity to do that.  

I’m glad I have been on a path of self growth and development long enough to know that I experience the jitters (as well as anger, resistance, negativity, fear, etc.) right before I take most any big step forward. 

That makes is easier to remember that it isn’t a problem that I am about to do ceremony that will require me to become more that who I already am.  It also isn’t a problem that I am reacting in uncomfortable ways to the thought of the upcoming challenges.  That is about as predicable as the sun rising and setting. 

At whatever stage of maturity I am at, that is just how I react.  Luckily, I still get to do the ceremonies, and I will likely grow and change for the better, no matter what, as long as I keep scheduling and showing up to these types of challenges that help me transform into something more and better.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Karma, Dharma, and The Miracle Worker

Almost against my will, I was drawn into the movie The Miracle Worker a few days ago.  I flipped it on out of curiosity - what did Patty Duke look like at that time?  Anne Bancroft?  I already knew the story, of course, so that wasn't the draw.  (In case you don't, it is story of Anne Sullivan's struggle to teach the blind and deaf Helen Keller how to communicate.)

But I became fascinated with the process of resistance and learning - and I recognized it in myself.  Helen had lived her first however many years with certain rules, e.g., she could walk around the table, take food off anyone's plate and eat it.  When Anne took over her education, suddenly that was not permitted anymore.  Helen resisted that change with - ah - alarming vigor.  But sometimes changes come whether we want them or not.

As I watched, I saw the concepts of karma and dharma (as they are understood in the Sweet Medicine SunDance paradigm) dramatically played out.  Briefly, there are certain lessons we must learn in our time here.  When we are still in the process of learning these specific lessons, we are said to be in karma.  One of the key features of these lessons is this: if we don't get the lesson in one form, it will come to us in another, more forceful form, then another yet more forceful, and so on, until we finally get it.  Once we learn all of those specific things, we move into dharma, where we choose what we desire to learn.  In dharma we may succeed or fail at our learning, but we are at choice - no longer forced to "get it."

I saw this in The Miracle Worker as Annie tried, over and over, in many different ways, some gentle and some quite rough, to teach Helen that the hand movements (sign language) meant specific things in her life.  Imagine the difficulty of conveying this concept to someone who can neither see nor hear, has no idea of language - imagine the difficulty of grasping that concept without the visual and verbal prompts most of us had!  It's really quite a big leap. 

It must have seemed to Helen through most of that that some outside force was arbitrarily forcing her to do things that made no sense, and preventing her from having what she wanted and needed to live.  And yet, as soon as she got that one concept, that one lesson, a whole new world was opened up to her.  In this world, she could ask for what she wanted - we see her demanding the signs for ground, mother, I forget what all - but clearly at that point she had taken significant control over what she was learning, what she wanted to learn. 

Sometimes, there's just that one click, that one little thing, that takes us from totally resisting change to understanding the meaning and direction of it, and what it means for us, and the willingness (even eagerness) to go with it.  For myself, I pray that I may just notice when I am resisting change, and look for the piece, the concept, the different perspective, that will let me see the possibilities it brings and how to move into it.

Monday, July 19, 2010

My experience with Harley SwiftDeer Reagan

Harley Reagan, also called SwiftDeer - he's a controversial guy.  If you've ever Googled him, you may have found some pretty derogatory stuff, along with the good stuff.  I've had the opportunity to work with him in several arenas over the last few years, and here's what I know.

He is undoubtedly an experienced and skilled martial artist.  I know this because I have been on the receiving end (in teaching moments) of some of his seemingly effortless but stunningly effective techniques.  I have also seen him work with high-level black belts from other disciplines, and have observed the respect they give him.  I can only imagine that the folks who doubt his skills have never visited him in his dojo.

The man loves to shoot.  The Deer Tribe Gun Club, which he founded, holds all-steel matches every month, and has been doing so since before 2000 (when I first learned about it).  Harley Reagan is an NRA training counselor, and runs NRA classes throughout the year.  That takes dedication, and to more than just shooting: to learning and passing on the art and science of safe and skilled gun handling.

His curiosity is boundless.  I don't know many people who read as much or as widely as he does (nor who encourage others to do so much as he does).  His knowledge base is really quite impressive.

He is extremely generous in private arenas, and often (though not always!) compassionate in a grandfatherly way.

His teachings in spirituality are both broad and deep, and useful in practical ways.  The body of knowledge and ceremony that is the Sweet Medicine SunDance Path (at least, the parts of it I've seen) is profound.

And, on top of all that, it is absolutely impossible to lose sight of the fact that SwiftDeer is human.  He's just a guy.  Anyone who forgets that (that is, who tries to see him as a "guru") is quickly reminded of his human-ness as soon as they spend a little time in his presence.  He can be cranky, obtuse, opinionated, stubborn, frustrating, and funny as hell.  And, like any teacher, you can't take everything he says at face value.  You are responsible for what you do with what he says.  But he, at least, is completely up-front about that.  Anyone who has heard him teach has almost certainly heard him say, "Don't believe anything I say.  Validate it for yourself."

That's something I appreciate in a teacher.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Being of Service

Recently I've devoted a significant amount of my time to volunteering - a richly rewarding activity that, with inattention, can become a hungry monster eager to devour as much time as I'm willing to give it. In order to take better care with myself, and bring more integrity to the time I do volunteer, I've had to look more closely at the notion of service.

At first I looked at it all pretty practically, setting a specific number of hours per week that seemed reasonable. Time was a useful feedback system, but gave me no sense of how to set priorities. Indeed, there were some weeks when the priorities at play made time a meaningless measure - either because my work and personal life demanded all my attention, or the volunteer work rightfully compelled my attention beyond the allotted time.

Recently I had the opportunity to devote two weeks to being in service, volunteering my time and skills to an event that is precious and important to me. This experience turned time upside down, demanding more attention and less sleep than I even knew was possible.

Coming out of that experience, I wasn't quite sure what to make of it. My time bound mind was worried - had I gone too far? done too much? On a practical level, I've needed significant recovery time in the days after the event - physically, emotionally, mentally. In fact, it was a bit of a struggle to get back into the swing of my regular life.

Spiritually, though, I was elated. I had faced a big challenge - a whole series of them, in fact - and had brought my very best to the table: calling on all I had, putting as much beauty in the space as I knew how, making mistakes and not letting them stop me, learning new skills and ways of being, asking for help, taking care with what I needed and stalking in each moment how I might be fed by it, and continually connecting to the ways that my individual pieces were a part of something greater.

That's what the Sweet Medicine SunDance path teaches about service through the concept of maku. (Here's a full article on the topic, a message from the elder ThunderStrikes.)

From the article:
"Maku is not so much a sacrifice as it is a full offering of one’s self without expectation of return because to not do so is not an option."

Without the spiritual thread of my service experience, it would have been sacrifice (and even now I know I have more to learn about this difference so that these experiences are more maku, less sacrifice). Through spiritual determination, however, this service becomes a lesson in how to live my life.

It's not about how much time I give here, there, or the other place. It's about giving the time I'm giving in any moment because it is the best I have to bring to whatever is most needed, be it my dishes, a client's problem, a ceremony, or caressing a loved one. It's discerning what is true and real, within me and within the spaces I inhabit, and honoring what matters most.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

A Day with Shotguns

I spent yesterday on a gun range in an NRA shotgun class sponsored by the DTMMS Organization of Shootists. Having spent most of my life in a somewhat vague anti-gun stance (resembling "well, how could they be good?"), the classes I have taken through DTMMS have been eye-opening.

My friend Karen has written about this in one of the more thoughtful blog posts I've seen on this topic, with some useful training links - the main point being that education always trumps ignorance, and self-reflection and self-responsibility are what really make a life and death difference in our world.

Having now been introduced to shotguns, I can't say I'll be racing back out to shoot clays anytime soon. I was totally surprised to find that I loved rifle shooting, and becoming a decent shot with a pistol has been an intriguing and worthy challenge. But shotguns...I'm not there yet.

I did enjoy the sport - watching my friends succeed, learning how to align with their intent and feel what was about to happen, predicting with greater and greater accuracy whether the shooter at the line would hit their mark.

But my birdies? Let's just say that if I were suddenly forced to feed myself by shooting small game, it might be a good time to consider vegetarianism. I understand the theory, and I even had a few moments when my shot and the clay occupied the same place in space and time. (A very few...) I know what it feels like to stop trying, stop thinking, align with that target and actualize my intent.

And that's the reason that yesterday will not be the last day with a shotgun in hand. Frustration and bruises aside (and no, bruises are not inevitable - they're just the evidence of how much more I have to learn), that feeling is worth learning.

Ultimately, that's the biggest energy I've gained in meeting the challenge to learn to shoot: I've encountered no other experience that demonstrates so strongly and immediately what it feels like to intend and hold total responsibility for that intent. And a shotgun teaches how to do that in motion. Yes, indeedy - that's worth going back for.

Thursday, May 6, 2010


I'm traveling at the moment, and am presently in a very agreeable place: Ann Arbor, MI.  I spent a lot of my life in university environments because they are so stimulating: the university is dedicated to learning, and so is usually surrounded by a frenzy of learning opportunities, from the traditional bookish things to exotic and experimental foods to musical or theatrical experiences to community diversity, and more.  People in college towns carry an aura of energetic focus, of intensity and interest.  Ann Arbor is a great example of all those good things, and in addition is a lovely town; on top of all that, it's spring and gorgeous.  So, how happy can I stand to be? 

Well - pretty happy, as it turns out.  But on to the point of this blog.

I live in Arizona.  The culture clash between Arizonans (as represented by our legislature, for the purposes of this blog, which has just passed a permit-free concealed carry law as well as a very controversial immigration law) and the decidedly liberal university community in Ann Arbor is a little shocking.  In my conversations here I've encountered quite a few people who just refuse to consider the idea of even visiting Arizona (or are convinced their friends/family physically prevent them from going, for political reasons).  It's pretty clear from their conversation that they consider most Arizonans to be whacked-out Neanderthal right-wing-nuts, devoid of both compassion and intelligence.  I'm not exaggerating.  Do they see themselves ever taking the time, making the effort, to talk with any of them (always supposing, of course, that Arizonans can talk)?  No.  Decidedly not.  Most certainly not.  No.

It's a shame, because at least some Arizonans feel similarly about university liberal types.  (Well, Arizonans realize liberals can talk - in fact, they may be of the opinion that that's all liberals can do.)  And this means that all folks in either of those two groups know about the other will be the things that typically show up in the media: exaggerated, judgmental, hard-line opinions that serve to alienate rather than to engender understanding of the position. 

I'm not totally against political correctness" - as long as it is used to provoke thoughtful consideration of what one says or does.  But when it is used to justify shutting down particular kinds of thought, speech or action rather than to generate discussion and consideration - that's just wrong.  And separating from people that you don't even know, because you happen to dislike some of their reported opinions, without even entering into a discussion with them to understand why they might hold those opinions, falls into the latter category. Not only are you selling them short, you're also depriving yourself of an opportunity to learn something significantly  outside your own experience. 

I think of the university in general as one of our human manifestations of the value of statement, stand and stance one takes in relationship to general knowledge (one of the 7 Values of the Everything, from the Sweet Medicine SunDance path).  How do you get your knowledge? How to you test its validity?  How do you make sure you see multiple points of view?  How do you determine what you truly know?  And I want my university - my own internal one, at least - to be of the kind that is willing to hear other points of view, and to be equipped and willing to see where there is value there, so that I may grow.

Love ya, Ann Arbor and Arizona!  A3!!!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Fasting as a Spiritual Practice

Last night I had a serendipitous discovery when I turned to the Bible for a little late night reading before sleep.

I had been working late finishing a new video on how therapeutic fasting differs from religious or political fasting. The video emphasizes the critical details that are necessary to adhere to if a person has arthritis or another inflammatory condition, in order for that person to maintain the anti-inflammatory benefits of the fast long after the fast is over.

I admit that despite my Christian upbringing, I don’t read the Bible very often. I probably turned to the Bible last night because I was subconsciously wondering just what it had to say about religious fasting. However, I never expected to flip my Bible open to such a clear and inspiring answer.

To my amazement there is a whole chapter in Isaiah (Isaiah 58) dedicated to describing how to fast. I might have expected such a thing in Leviticus which lays out religious practice in detail. I might have expected such thing in Deuteronomy were the law is spelled out again. But Isaiah? He was one of the prophets.

Then it all started making sense. I have fasted many times in my life. I started fasting as a way to regain my health. It worked. Now I fast as part of my spiritual path. I love how much easier it is to hear, see, and feel spirit when I am several days into a fast. I am always a little sad to break a longer fast, because I find the more open and enhanced communion with spirit to be so deeply comforting and life affirming.

Prophets are the ones among us communing with God and communicating from that place to their people. It makes perfect sense is that Isaiah, one of greatest of the Hebrew prophets, would be the one to give such inspiring instructions on how to fast. It is clear from Isaiah 58 that he must have loved fasting very much for the ways it brought him and his people closer to God.

Every year I go out into the desert for a ceremony that, involves 4 days of fasting while singing, dancing and praying as a community.

Desert near Phoenix, AZ

Isaiah 58: 11-12

11: And the Lord shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water whose waters fail not.

12: And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places: thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called, The repairer of the breach, The restorer of paths to dwell in.

I give thanks to Harley Swiftdeer Reagan, for bringing ceremony to the people of the Deer Tribe Metis Medicine Society.

May the souls of all people be satisfied even in drought. May we, and all people seeking the light, be successful in repairing the breach and restoring the paths to dwell in.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Many Faces of Power

Wonder Woman talks about the beauty of people breaking through blocks to keeping themselves small.  Another aspect of the breaking through is just the realization that there might be a block - that some aspect of our own, well-known self might actually be powerful, and that we just have not recognized that yet.

I led a workshop the other day in which a woman came to realize that her well-known ability to make friends, to connect with people, might actually be power.  I'd say so!  What does that do for a person, though?

Well, there's the obvious: it's pleasant to have friends.  If you just look at that, though, it is a little hard to see how this could be called power.

Having friends also means having resources - if you're willing to call on them.  That's a little more like power.

On a deeper level, though, friends are reflections of us.  They can show us, directly or indirectly, things about ourselves that we might never learn without them.  They can show us our ability to love, our reactions to tragedy or good fortune, our generosity (or lack of it), where we easily stand strong, and where we are surprisingly weak.  Our choice of friends can show us the qualities we value, the qualities we have (whether we acknowledge them or not), the qualities we wish we had (that is, that we are working on developing).

More friends, more opportunities for all those learnings!  That's darned powerful.

In the SMSD teaching called the Seven Values of the Everything, the third value is the relationship one has to those in one's immediate everyday environment.  This speaks pretty directly to the richness friends bring to our lives, and to our own spiritual growth - but also shows us what we bring to them, and what our responsibilities are. 

With power comes responsibility.

The Honor of Being a Witness

Recently I had the privilege of assisting as an instructor at one of the DTMMS self defense programs. People came from all over (including Italy, Germany, and Australia!) to participate in this unique blend of training. Like martial arts training at its roots, we blended the dragon and the tiger, providing teachings about the spirit as well as the body.

Unlike more traditional martial arts training, we focused was on everyday self-defense scenarios, not tricky sword techniques or elaborate katas. It wasn't body as artform, but body as a real, precious, and powerful resource that is so worth protecting. And it wasn't spirit as you know in meditation or prayer. It was the human spirit, the will within each of us that is willing to face whatever it takes to live our lives well.

And that was my favorite part. Each individual who participated brought some kind of fear, some block, some reason to keep themselves small that they had carried for too long in their lives. And every single one of them confronted those fears and blocks and stepped into a new understanding of what and who they could be.

It's a honor to do this kind of teaching: to witness people both in their moments of doubt and in their moments of shining. I'm grateful for the opportunity and for all those shiny warriors that showed up and broke through.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

How Do You Develop Responsibility?

One of the things that bugs me about current US society is the urge that those who make the rules seem to feel to protect us all from ourselves.  Friends from overseas exclaim over all the fences and railings in our parks - designed to keep us from falling over the precipices (and then suing).  We have devices and services to help us prevent our children from seeing inappropriate things on tv or the internet.  We have warning labels on everything.  We have very specific rules about what kinds of weapons we can have or not (did you know that nunchuks are illegal in quite a few states?).  Oh - and motorcycle helmet laws!  And seatbelt laws.  And now, perhaps, we will have mandatory health insurance purchase (in many places auto insurance is already mandatory).

Part of the difficulty, I think, is that we are not willing to accept the consequences of our actions.  We want someone else to pay.  And if we insist that someone else pay, then perhaps someone else has the right to say, well, then maybe YOU shouldn't be doing that.

And what makes us willing to accept the consequences of our actions?  I guess it could be guilt, or a sense of obligation or inevitability.  Ha - just kidding.  Acutally, I think it's respect - primarily self-respect.  If we respect ourselves, we won't be making decisions with consequences we can't handle (in general - there are always potential exceptions).  And the only way we learn this is by practice - starting when we're young and our parents begin letting us do for ourselves, developing and expanding our responsibility as we mature.

Here's a breakdown of different kinds of respect, from the DTMMS site:

Does this make sense to you?  How have YOU gone about developing responsibility and maturity?  Who were/are your role models?  What was the hardest thing you've learned so far about maturity?

Monday, January 18, 2010

Cycles of Learning

I have been through many phases of learning. What I thought I was learning at the time, wasn’t always what in retrospect I now think of as the major learning.

High School and College

In high school and college I was doing many things right. I was passionate about what I was studying. I was learning a great deal of varied things (calculus, English, science, art, history, German, PE, sailing, social skills, leadership skills) in a way that was exciting and worked for me. At the time, I thought the details of what I was learning were the most important thing. In retrospect, I see that it was more about learning how to learn, learning how to establish life patterns that work well for me.

Graduate School

By the time I was in graduate school for a few years, I’d realized many important things that were harder to swallow.

One, intellectual freedom outside very narrowly confined subject areas wasn’t a priority there. Thinking and learning with a narrow field of specialization was the name of the game.

Two, much of my desire to excel was tied up in an unhealthy way with trying to please others.

Three, following my genuine passions and enthusiasms did little to please my thesis advisor, my professors, or anyone on my PhD committee. They were pleased by large amounts of narrowly focused work that would advance their own work. If it didn’t help get them grant money or more published papers, it wasn’t very exciting to them.

Four, if I wanted my life back, I needed to leave that system. The day I left was one of the best of my life. I felt so liberated. I was no longer an indentured intellectual servant, whose skills and brainpower were already spoken for.

Five, living passionately and in accordance with my own interests and values is critical to my health. I left graduate school because I developed a chronic debilitating illness that forced me to withdraw. Finding workable ways to live out my passions were critical to my recovery.

What I thought I was learning while in graduate school was a specific career. In retrospect, I was learning how to understand the primary medical literature and developing research skills and habits I would need to regain my health. That has lead to a career, but not at all the one I thought I was training for.

Post Graduate Education

Much of my post graduate education has been self study and learning at seminars, retreats and workshops. In some ways it isn’t that much different than graduate school, except that the subject matter is different, I have chosen it at my own pace, and each step of the way has been deeply aligned with my own interests. Because of this, it has been deeply healing on all levels, including physical.

In terms of content, first I spent many years in libraries researching what it would take to restore my health. Then for several years I learned mostly business skills through community college courses, The National Translators Association, Toastmasters, and the National Speakers Association. Then I spent many years going on many vipassana meditation retreats. Then I started doing ceremony and getting teachings through Harley Swift Deer Reagan and the Deer Tribe Metis Medicine Society (DTMMS). All of this was and still is interesting and precious to me.

I suppose what I thought I was learning was ways to make a living and better ways of living. Even in retrospect that still rings true. In retrospect, I’d also say the biggest lesson, in so many different ways, has been the healing power of accepting the past and forgiving.


I suppose on any longer journey there are many phases. After many years of focus on programs offered by many different organizations, I’m rediscovering how delicious it is to step back a bit and reconnect with other aspects of who I am.

I own a house, and I’m getting immense pleasure out of doing much of the necessary maintenance and repair work. It draws on skills I learned as a child. I’ve rediscovered some of my old college and grad school text books. It is so gratifying to be feeding those particular interests again through self-study, after many years away. I also own and operate a business. More than ever, I’m getting a big kick creating new products and showing up strongly to the work of improving every aspect of the business.

Perhaps the biggest lesson I’m learning now, is that I really do get to be captain of my own ship. I really do get to chart my own course. Life really does get to be this fantastic. Nothing has been lost. Everything I have learned and done so far in my life is a resource I can draw on. Not only do I get to say yes to great opportunities, I also get to say no to great opportunities that are not likely to take me where I most want to go. My own inner compass is a darn good guide, even when it conflicts with the desires of my family, teachers or mentors. Not everything needs to be pursued at full intensity all the time. I get to have balance in my life, including downtime.

In five or ten years, who can say what I will think have really been the most important lessons of this phase. I’m curious, but since to everything there is a season, the wheel of time will have to turn a little further before I have that answer.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

How Martial Arts Helped Me Express Love and Caring for My Brother, the Felon

have a brother who is in jail.  He has been in and out of jail and prison for several years now. 

My brother is an angry, obsessive and sometimes violent man.  I have very little contact with him.

Last week I visited him in jail for the first time ever.

This all started because last fall I heard myself tell a friend that there was nothing I could do for my brother except pray. I realized after I said it, that that wasn’t true.  I decided to do more.

I have studied Kenpo Karate for several years with Harley Swiftdeer Reagan and the Deer Tribe Metis Medicine Society dojo.

In deciding to "do more" for my brother, I kept three martial arts principles in mind:

1) Never focus on moving your opponent, only ever focus on moving yourself.

2) Your opponent is never the other person, it is merely patterns that are out of integrity.

3) It is only possible to perceive something outside of yourself that you already have inside of yourself.

What I decided to do was EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) that uses accupressure points and body awareness of physical and emotional pain, in order to release dysfunctional and entrenched emotional patterns.  It is possible to do this remotely for another person.  For about six weeks I spent a little time each day doing surrogate EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) for him.

I found this practice resulted in healing for me, and probably for him as well.

From what my parents said, at the time it had a surprising and noticeable effect on his behavior for the better. My guess is that whatever benefits he got are still there, but mostly hidden by other problematic layers that are still present.

However that might be, for me the surrogate EFT work was profound. In my willingness to touch into whatever was going on with him in the moment (for a couple weeks it was primarily anger and hatred and then for about a month it was despair), I touched into some deep pockets of my own that I had been carrying as pain in my head for as long as I can remember.

It is amazing to have been able to tap into my pain and release it. It is amazing to have a tool so readily available for releasing each new layer of pain I discover. It is also amazing to be able to tap into places within myself that are largely hidden from myself, using someone else’s more obvious (to me at least) stuck places as a more readily accessible point into that feeling tone.

Once I connect to a feeling tone, I can feel the resonance in me where I also hold that pattern. It is quite a turnaround for me to feel so grateful to my brother for making my own healing easier.

Lately it seems like the best way to proceed with external problems is to look for how I carry, contribute, or help hold in place those problems and then do whatever I know to release my contribution.

These three martial arts principles have made me more aware of how I can still love my brother and express care for him, even though I have stopped wasting my energy attempting to remedy his external situation.  My guess is that until he releases some more of his internal demons, he will continue to recreate the problems he is experiencing.

Even though releasing his internal demons is still his responsibility, because I love him I am willing to pitch in now and again to do what I know to make it a little easier for him to release them.  I also stay humbly aware based on martial arts principle three, that since I can percieve these demons outside of myself (in him), I have them inside of me.  Any aid I render must, first and foremost, begin with me taking personal responsibily for releasing my own version of these demons.

Mainly, I do what I need to do to take care of myself and stay physically safe.  Almost anything else seems like a such a waste of time and life force. 

The more I study martial arts, the more deeply I know that it really is most effective to focus on moving myself, not my opponent.  If I do that well, my opponent has very little choice but to move.

And since my opponent is not a person but patterns that are out of integrity, when I take responsibility for moving myself, my movements are really about bringing myself into greater integrity.  The more effectively I can do this for myself, the more impact I have. 

Indeed, the steps I have taken to heal myself, seem to be the only ones that result in any healing whatsoever for my brother and his situation.

I can only give what I already have.