Cat From The Mat

Secure Your Valuables

 "We spend January 1 walking through our lives, room by room, drawing up a list of work to be done, cracks to be patched.  Maybe this year, to balance the list, we ought to walk through the rooms of our lives…not looking for flaws, but for potential.”  ~ Ellen Goodman  

We are encouraged to focus on what we want to accomplish in the New Year.  This can set up disappointment, since putting the attention on the outcome can overshadow the intention embedded within any desired resolution.  Before looking at any strategy of doing, it’s first helpful to focus on one’s quality of being, which might determine how actions unfold. What do you value moving forward?

After a dark and tumultuous 2018 full of illness, death, and grief, I am embracing this new year with radical self-trust.  So for the first time ever, I chose to spend New Year’s Eve/Day quietly alone and in silence.  I am starting to find solace in the peace and quiet, as I mourn. 

In the fall, I attended my first silent meditation retreat.  Amidst the sunny and temperate desert environs of Joshua Tree, CA, I immersed myself in silence, known as “mouna” in Sanskrit.  I was worried that I might be uncomfortable within the quiet boundaries set.  And surprisingly, I took to it like a duck in water.  I appreciated the luxury of quietude, while I focused on my inner more subtle experience.  In fact, I felt somewhat resentful once the silence was lifted as I flew back home to the very noisy environs of New York City. 

Since the age of three, I have been fortunate to explore the world.  When I carried out my Fulbright scholarship in 1991, I traveled extensively around Europe.  As a Eurailpass holder, I slept on overnight trains.  To protect myself from unwanted thieves, I would sleep with my passport and money tucked on the inside of my clothing while embracing my backpack. The concept of “better to be safe than sorry” provided some ease.  However, it also set up a climate of attachment and mistrust.  This scarcity sentiment continued through my life as my housing upgraded from moving trains to hostels to hotels with lockable safes.

The meditation retreat housing not only lacked any safes but there were no keys to lock any of the doors.  At first, I decided that I could acquire peace of mind by stashing my “valuables” in my suitcase and secured TSA lock.  After a day or two of constant meditation, my anxious attitude began to loosen its grip and slowly my need to protect my belongings lifted.  As I got deeper into my practice, I had the epiphany that what I truly value can never be stolen.  

Circumstances can change.  Our homes might be engulfed in a fire or drowned in a flood.  Relationships may fade.  Someone might abscond with another's cell phone, wallet, or sentimental items.  The body breaks down as we age and eventually decomposes.  What is left is one’s spirit, which is not measurable and also cannot be taken away. 

Some of my “valuables” are dignity, integrity, and authenticity.  The only way that I can be robbed of my values is if I give them away at my own expense.  My qualities reside deeply inside and are not determined by others or external factors.  

In this new year, I encourage you to identify what it is that you value about yourself.  Starting from that vantage point, how you choose to express your attributes will show up in any and all resolutions.  Your valuables are therefore always safe, whether under lock and key or being generously shared with the world.  

To a happy, healthy, and humorous 2019…cheers!

Cat From the Mat

January 2019

Fahgetaboutit!


I seem to be losing all sorts of things these days…my mother, body parts, words, patience, and belongings.  About ten years ago, I bought a Prana black denim jacket.  I loved wearing it when biking.  It had the perfect inside pockets for my keys and phone.   However, recently I misplaced it. This is unusual and rather unlike me, as I still have souvenirs from childhood and clothing from high school. It’s a bummer to have lost this item of clothing.  But things come and go.  What's more upsetting is the reality that I have the capacity to mislay something, mumbles the recovering perfectionist under her breath.

As I acclimate to my new normal of life with estrogen and progesterone positive breast cancer, I am under the treatment of hormone blocking systemic therapy.  Thus, I have been propelled into menopause at age 50.   This means that I now have constant fluctuations of hot flashes, irritability, and if I can find the right word...forgetfulness.

Unlike my mum who could recollect everything with specificity, I never have had a great memory, as far as recalling the past.  I once asked my philosophy teacher Dr. Douglas Brooks about this topic.  He said that as we age, we have so much in our memory bank that we cannot possibly retrieve it all at once.  I like his perspective on forgetting, since it offers self-compassion and appreciation for the vast breadth and depth of being chronologically-gifted.   I attribute this loss of memory to also having the ability to process things and move on, so that the past no longer overshadows the present.  

In 2005, I was back in my hometown of New Orleans, helping out with the post-Katrina efforts.  When riding my bike one December day in the park (sans helmet…yes, I have since learned my lesson), I collided with another cyclist.  I was thrown from my bike, landed on my head, and incurred a concussion.  I woke up in the trauma bay, with no memory of the accident.  There were bystanders who later filled me on the details, and to this day, I still do not remember a thing.  

I was told later that during my concussion, I did not know my age or the present year.  But somewhere in the depths of my mind, I could recite my childhood home’s telephone number without hesitation.  I find this intriguing.  Could it be that the inability to remember is a built-in mechanism of self-protection from a physical trauma?

Earlier this year, I was again under general anesthesia as a follow-up surgery to my double mastectomy.   Being “put under” is an intentional choice of not experiencing such an invasive operation. And yet, in not knowing what is occurring for several hours, does this help or hinder the grieving process of losing a part of myself?  Some things might be best forgotten.  But does our body truly forget if the mind is not involved?

I have just returned from teaching empathy trainings and yoga workshops in Japan.  It had been a while since I was been back in the country.  Over my past two visits, I learned just enough Japanese to get around and to be polite.  But without the constant practice, I was having to learn the language all over again.

Each morning, I would wake up with words or phrases in my head, which I had forgotten that I already knew.  For example, I awoke saying “Itadakimasu” which is Japanese for “let’s eat” or “bon appétit.”  Where was it hiding in my brain?  At what point did that memory decide to reveal itself?  How much information do I have stored in my body that I cannot retrieve…as of yet?

In Hindu mythology, the Ananda Tandava is known as Nataraja’s Dance of Bliss. Representing steadiness and movement, Nataraja dances upon the character Apasmara, whose name means “ignorance” or “forgetfulness.”  According to the story, we forget so that we can enjoy in the delight of remembering.  This play of concealment and revelation makes me wonder about my capacity to forget something as experience embodiment.  Yoga invites is to learn to playfully dance through life.

The next time you forget, please remember this: enjoy the game of hide and seek.    Or if memory doesn't serve, then just fahgetaboutit!  And I do hope that my jacket has found a new appreciative home.

Matane, (Japanese for “see you later”)

Cat 

Cat From the Mat
October 2018 blog

Belonging: An Inside Job


“The need to belong is who we are in our DNA.”

- Brené Brown 


The concept of belonging is a universal human experience. We are neurologically wired to belong, since it means survival. I remember feeling the peer pressure to “fit in” at school. Those moments fluctuated though, because it was dependent on what others thought of me, rather than on what I thought of myself. The school climate can be challenging, but what if you don’t feel like you belong at home?

Researcher and author Brené Brown explores this topic. She has interviewed kids about how tough it is to feel alienated among classmates. However, they all agreed that not being accepted by your family is a far more painful reality.

As babies, you are dependent on others to help meet your many needs, one of which is belonging. You want others around you to not only mirror who you are but to appreciate your contributing presence. It helps build a sense of self, which is why children must be self-centered as they develop. However, if this self-knowledge does not get established, it can lead to a pattern of people-pleasing or constant insecurity, both of which require external circumstances to dictate whether or not you are “acceptable.”

Brené makes the point that you cannot negotiate belonging outside of yourself. If you look externally for validation, then you become dependent on others to determine your self-worth. Belonging is truly an inside job.  

So how does one measure belonging within?  Is it the quality of self-trust?  Is it the ability to be authentic, regardless of circumstances?  Or is it a practice of knowing your essence with cultivated compassion to delve deeper into the unknown parts of self?

The world at the moment is full of people who are shouting, hoping to be heard. We seem to be splintered into factions unable to agree on what is a shared reality, which can breed metastasized fear. However, common enemy intimacy is not true belonging. It’s a false sense of connection. Sharing an ideological bunker is a superficial attempt to bond.

It takes courage to be vulnerable with someone with whom you disagree. Authenticity is the need to stand alone in your beliefs even if it means jeopardizing your connection with others. When you belong, you feel at ease, safe, and supported. This helps the nervous system stay in a healthy stress range. Feeling at home in your own skin, no matter where you go, is a self-generated process.

As we celebrate independence this month, I invite you to notice if and how you belong...to your community, your family, and most importantly to yourself. If you believe in yourself, then you can begin to identify with your relatives, friends, coworkers, and even angry strangers.  Perhaps freedom is that ability to be you, regardless of extrinsic pressures. Liberate your reliance on others first so that you can stay self-anchored, from which you might become more curious about understanding the outer world.

Happy Self-Belonging!

 

Cat From the Mat

July blog 2018