Cat From The Mat

Healthy Boundaries, Not Walls

There has recently been a lot of talk about walls.  Walls can be perceived as dividers, either to contain something in or to keep something out.  This vertical surface can be a structure to climb, a surrounding layer, or a strategy for emotional protection.  In any case, a separating wall is not often designed to be porous.  In an effort to encourage both global and local understanding, I would like to make a case for healthy boundaries instead of walls.

A cell is the smallest structural unit of life that can replicate itself.  It is surrounded by a permeable membrane that acts as a gatekeeper of what to let in and out, like the simple exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide.  A cellular membrane is a boundary that has agency, acting on behalf of its cell, neighboring cells, and the cellular matrix at large.  The body’s innate intelligence can determine just how permeable this barrier needs to be for survival.

Emotional intelligence is the capacity of using the clever mind to make healthy choices. In my recent studies of relationships, I have been learning about ways in which we humans might put up psychological partitions, such as a wall of anger, of fear, of silence, or of words.   When excavating the common emotions of anger or fear, there might be feelings of sadness or self-alienation lurking below.  Too many unedited projected words can be harmful while too little can send a message of not caring. Although a person might feel safer within this chosen refuge, overtime this façade of security can become disconnecting and even imprisoning.  Walls are helpful in the short-term to pause and reorganize within, but they might not be sustainable in the long run.

When I have defined boundaries, I can be more self-honoring and compassionate by taking accountability for my two-way participation in interactions.  Just like a cell adjusting based on circumstances, I would like to become more self-regulating in how I interact concurrently with my inner and outer worlds.  I like to think that how I am anywhere, is how I am everywhere. 

I travel quite a bit to teach, so my outer terrain is in a constant state of flux.  If context impacts my behavior, then my challenge is to adapt and accommodate without losing my sense of “cellf.”  My hope is to be true and versatile, in relationship to any given situation.  This is my constant quest as a yogin.

Yoga is defined as “skill in action.”  It is a practice of being flexible (on physical, mental, and emotional levels) and adept in assuming many perspectives.  It’s the ongoing ancient conversation of how to live in the world. Becoming more of who I am while being a part of the bigger picture, takes discipline and trust over time.  This balance requires establishing supple boundaries that can be as impervious as concrete or as penetrable as a sponge. 

Why are we focusing on outer barriers when we might first need to tear them down inside?  As I break down any inner walls brick by brick, I can build discernable boundaries, breath by breath.  A more resilient enclosure provides a supportive environment in which to choose what and how to receive and thus offer back.  With self-care and self-connection, I am more curious about how to relate with another.  There’s a lot waiting on the other side of the wall! 

Happy “rechoicing” this Easter, Passover, and Springtime!

Cat From The Mat

April 2017 

Post-Truth Be Told

"I sit in one of the dives on Fifty-second Street, uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire, of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear circulate over the bright 
And darkened lands of the earth, obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odor of death offends the September night."
-W.H Auden

This excerpt from Auden’s poem September 1, 1939 was written at the onset of WW2.  As dark and defeated as it begins, it ends up inciting a call to action.  It focuses on the need to make a difference and to step up in ways to be a shining light amidst unsure times, not unlike 2017.

The need to be heard is a common human trait.  When I feel heard, I feel understood.  When I feel understood, then I connect more to others, which can affirm a sense of mutuality and community.  Being heard opens up my ears to listen to the sentiment deeply embedded in the sharing of any story, one’s personal narrative.

A filmmaker, I love exploring stories about what connects us all.  In fictional works, conflict is fertile fodder for character development, where transformation can be uncomfortable.  And even though non-fiction is focused on documenting a theme, the final edit completes a process of interpretation.  Neither movie characters nor filmmakers have objectivity; rather there’s relative subjectivity always at play.

Films are modern day myths.  As children, we learn that fables are imaginary, told in service of a greater truth.  But what is true for one person isn’t necessarily the same for another.  This is why I prefer to rely upon facts and not infer that there’s one absolute Truth.  And as we have seen in recent political debates, the facts have been ignored, discounted, or spun as a way to rewrite the script. There’s been no room for conversation.

We are currently experiencing quandary of TTNR: Two Transmitters, No Receivers.   The loudest shouter might get the attention, but no one actually feels heard or understood.  As anger escalates, attention diverts away from the unaddressed fear, sadness, or pain beneath said frustration.  We are left trying to get anchored in some type of shared reality amidst the ether of a “post-truth era.”  This is where the practice of empathy performs a radical role.

I was not taught the art of listening, but I have learned to attune my ears and eyes to the messages woven into the energies, words, and actions of others.  Understanding does not imply agreement. However, being open to another’s perspective expands the dialogue, while two competing monologues get nowhere.  My attention is my greatest currency.

Author of my own life, I rewrite my narrative daily.  My core belief systems are also tales that I tell myself, which are subject to change.  Why are beliefs so hard to recast?  Like a fish swimming in water that doesn’t even notice the surrounding liquid, we can be unaware of how stuck we are in selective perceptions.  It might be entertaining to live out your reality show, but are you glued to watching your own reruns? Are you also interested in learning about other people’s shows or even switching channels?

Yoga is a practice of self-connection and internal coherence.  A stronger sense of self means less need for boundaries and more room for the unfamiliar.  When I translate my judgments, I cultivate compassion for myself and for others. I begin to see beyond only what I want to see and become open to learning about my blind spots.  This is how I grow and contribute to the world at large.

Yoga is also defined as “skill in action.”  Empathy is just that: holding a space for all voices to be heard.  Personal accounts can illuminate what we value.  Maybe we can even create a shared narrative and increase our elasticity as relational human beings.

"Defenseless under the night our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere, ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame."

In his wise words, poet Auden urges us all to be vigilant, discerning, and aware.  In an atmosphere of “truthiness,” you are invited to be a bright force that guides others who cannot see in the dark.  This to me is way to bridge the gap, post-truth be told.  So let’s get to work and lead the way, one exchange at a time!

Happy lucid, active, and expansive New Year!

Cat From The Mat

January 2017


(* Link to the entire September 1, 1939 poem)

The Urge to Purge, Shred, and Shed

The first of November signifies the Celtic New Year called Samhain (summer's end).  Besides honoring how one's lineage has brought you to where you are now, it is also time to clear out the old and bring in the new.  The deciduous trees are shedding their leaves, releasing that which is vital to replenish the next growth cycle.  In the northern hemisphere, this type of "fall cleaning" is a strategy to appreciate that which you have been given, that which you want to keep, and that which you wish to release.  

My spring into summer into fall purge has been long overdue.  Like shifting tectonic plates that create friction while resetting any foundation, I have been reorganizing my space, my schedule, my beliefs, my expectations, to name a few.  In shredding over two decades of filed tax papers and documents that I didn't realize I had been storing, some questions have been raised.

How is it that I have been holding on to so much without even knowing it?   In what ways might I still be clinging to the past that prevents me from moving forward into the future?  Which aspects of my history are a significant part of my identity and which parts are holding back who I wish to become? 

Yoga is the practice of becoming adaptable.  It's an invitation to loosen up my tight grip while finding compassionate ways to move around obstacles.  Yet, after 20+ years of practice, I still find myself in moments of being so attached that I can get stuck. If only I could feed my self-limiting ideas through the cross-cutting shredder to lighten my load.

In the physical body, we experience similar stagnation.  Within our Central Nervous System, there are two branches commonly known as Fight & Flight (sympathetic response) and Rest & Digest (parasympathetic response).  However, there's a third component that connects both, which is Freeze.  When an animal is attacked by a predator and is unable to fight or flee, he/she can feign death and freeze. Once the attacker leaves the frozen prey, the defrosting can begin to shake the event memory out of its body, known as a discharge.

People often respond to situations by doing a mix of flight, flight, and freeze.  I once had my latest iPhone taken out of my purse while getting onto the subway.  I noticed immediately and without thinking, I went straight into Fight mode.  I followed the perpetrator out of one subway car into the next yelling at him to give me back my phone.  Luckily, he did not put up a fight, dropped my cell phone, and fled the scene.  For about fifteen minutes after the event, I was vibrating with all the life force that I mustered up for self-protection.  This expulsion was the discharge of the memory, which could only happen when I returned back to a feeling of safety.

When we human choose to freeze as a protective maneuver, there is suppressed energy.  If feeling under attack, we might brace ourselves to endure the experience by stopping dead in our tracks.  However, it's vital that it is followed by the thawing release.  Otherwise, it might take up residency in the body and become an eventual habitual issue. 

I invite you to inquire about any holding patterns you might be clenching, out of familiarity or familial obligation.  Besides your own coping mechanisms, your ancestors have passed on emotional DNA through generations.  Perhaps these patterns have been squatting in the building of your body, not paying rent, and even preventing more current habitants of moving in.  

Bracing doesn't imply support.  So dismiss any belief systems that no longer serve you, whether yours or inherited.  Remove any outmoded expectations that might free up the flow, under honorable discharge.  In the words of author Alan Cohen, "It takes a lot of courage to release the familiar and seemingly secure, to embrace the new.  But there is no real security in what is no longer meaningful."  At this time of Hallowmas, find the significance in all that you choose to remove and remain.  It just might shed some light.








Cat From The Mat blog

November 2016