Cat From The Mat

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

Knee-Jerky and Trigger Happy

“People don’t make us angry. 
How we think makes us angry.” 
   -Marshall Rosenberg, NVC founder

What makes you angry? Who triggers you?  Do you know that moment your buttons are being pushed? Living in a constant stimulated state might be taking a toll on your nervous system and diminishing your life energy.  So why do it?  What does it all mean?

When triggered, my knee-jerk reactions surface.  This leads me down a path of frustration, irritation, and confusion.  Some people project anger onto others, placing accountability outside of oneself.  Others, like myself, operate by instilling guilt within.  “What did I do to warrant such behavior?” I ask myself.  Either way, it’s perpetuating a culture of shame and blame conditioning.

Somewhere along the way, I learned that it’s better to give myself a hard time in lieu of condemning others.  When I get upset and hold it in, it eats away at me, like a hollowing tree.  This unfortunately builds resentment, creating a further disconnect to myself and to others. 

Regardless of where the fault is placed, there is an assumption that someone is doing something TO me.  This immediately places the power outside of myself.  However, what if my triggers have little to do with another’s behavior.   Rather, the situation is a red flag letting me know that something inside of me is being ignited.  The other person just happens to be the messenger, reminding me that I have an intrinsic issue to sort out.

My training in Non-Violent Communication (NVC) has given me the tools to identify a stimulus from its cause.  My “buttons” are alive and well, already installed within.  When said are buttons getting pushed, it’s easy to confuse that stimulant person with the root of my emotional response.

Once able to keep those two distinct, I can choose to do the following steps:

1) I notice that I am irked and ask myself “What is that?”  This slows things down and allows me to pause.

2) I connect my identified, familiar feeling with what I am needing when I feel that way.  This gives me more understanding about what I value and ascertain whether a desired need is present or absent in this interaction.  Instead of getting stuck in the belief  “that person pissed me off,” maybe my anger is telling me that I need more consideration or care.

3) Once I get more clear and self-connected, I might genuinely become curious enough to hear what the other person is saying, without receiving any projections personally.  When I listen from that place, I can gather information and glean more compassion.   Easier said than done. 

Yoga is about relationship.  The quality with which you navigate your inner terrain can improve your engagement in the world.  Learning to translate judgments is a muscle that needs ongoing practice. 

Life offers many opportunities to decode your conditioning and update your previously helpful coping mechanisms.  At a time when more and more anger is being expressed (which might indicate an underlying fear, sadness, or anxiety), I invite you to excavate deeper with empathic ears. “Blame on you, shame on me” thinking can therefore become a new gateway back to yourself.  You might just find the gold in your familiar stimulus package.

Happy Septembering!

Cat From The Mat
September 2016