We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.
Ancient societies placed great emphasis on dreams, and no major decisions were made without first consulting them. Contrast that with many modern cultural paradigms.
In the film The Neverending Story, a little boy whose mother has recently died is repeatedly told by his father to get his head out of the clouds and put his feet on the ground. Many of us have heard the same thing while growing up. Then we internalize that voice as if it were our own.
This movie’s theme is based on a book the boy finds when he ducks into a small bookshop, in order to avoid three tormenting classmates. The bookstore owner warns Sebastian away from the tome, saying it will involve the boy more than he would want. Sebastian does indeed become part of the story, journeying through a vanishing world called Fantasia. His struggle between doing what his father requires of him and doing what he dreams is a struggle many of us can identify with. We’ve all been conditioned to follow rules imposed by others. Learning to find our way out of this jungle of confusion is the journey we take when we decide to follow the dictates of the creative source deep within.
Fantasia is the realm created by human imagination, not so different from the one in which we live. What we believe, individually as well as collectively, becomes our experience of the world. When we lose the ability to dream, our creative expression is greatly diminished. This industrial age demands, to some extent, that we file in line and shuffle off to work to keep the consumer machine oiled and running. It’s easy to forget there are choices. When things appear stalemated, however – when we feel stuck and hopeless – we can turn back to the dream. Initially it might take time to get the imagination primed and running. But the world is bound to be enriched through our courage to contemplate.
Inspiration requires reflection, hence the ability to dream at night while sleeping. It is in such incubative spaces that it encourages us to try something different or new. During reflection, intuition opens up. Along this stream of awareness, we are carried into a place of immense possibility. Daring to dream gives us permission to invite magic back into our lives.
The death of imagination is a terrible thing. It is the destruction of Fantasia, a world rich with images, creation and food for the senses. To reactivate participation in this magical world, one only has to begin anew. The potential to create afresh exists within each one of us.
Dare to dream, and watch your world transform through the creative power that is within you!
Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.
Writers write, preaches teacher Larry Donner (portrayed by comedian Billy Crystal) in Throw Momma From the Train. Most of us do, in one way or another. I set aside every Tuesday and Wednesday to hammer out blog posts, though if I felt inspired on a Sunday, Monday or Thursday, I certainly follow that muse. It turns out for Larry, however, that he is struck with writer’s block, blamed on his ex-wife who becomes a best-selling author by revealing issues that plagued their marriage. This blow to his ego is understandably crippling, but he can’t seem to pull free from the paralysis of cynicism and self pity. Not until he reclaims his passion for living does he discover a renewed vigor, spurred on by his mischievous student Owen (played by Danny de Vito).
Though annoyed throughout the film by it, Larry desperately needs Owen’s zany Trickster energy to spark his creative buzz, though it certainly takes awhile for him to recognize this. He hobbles along as though mortally wounded, offering half-hearted advice to his students and clearly suffering the daily grind of living. Even when he allots time each day for inspiration, the fact eludes him that he is sacrificing not only his pride, but spontaneity and gusto for life, itself. His raison d-etre for so long has been demonizing his ex, and it’s sapping all his vital energy. Owen provides a catalyst to snap Larry out of it by hatching a plot to kill his own mother (played brilliantly by the character actor Anne Ramsey) for her venomous son-bashing. Owen’s idea is after all serious, making it more diabolical than Larry’s ongoing fantasy of killing his ex-wife. Intrigued, Larry agrees to Owen’s harebrained scheme to swap murders, Owen killing Larry’s ex and Larry killing Owen’s momma. (Owen hatches this idea by watching and re-watching an old Hitchcock classic.)
What unravels is the stuff of a well-woven humorous plot, and this unlikely friendship establishes the fertile ground in which Larry finds himself thriving – reenergized, reinvigorated and, finally, writing, once again. Like his former wife, Larry winds up succeeding after writing about felt experience – his convoluted journey with Owen. And the surprise is that Owen, in his own inimitable fashion, reaps a fortune by writing a children’s book about the same adventures from a wholly unique perspective!
Every week I wonder if I have two more posts inside of me. And then I get out on my bike and, working up a sweat, survey ideas and concepts as they shape, snap and sizzle in my mind. My eyes drink in nature and fellow creatures and a virtual lifetime of experience and pondering percolates up and into my frontal lobe where I am able to begin crafting these observations into story lines. If I don’t allow fear or negativity to creep into that creative space, I am ever rewarded with a plethora of viewpoints from which to glean offerings.
Factual as well as fantastical creativity feeds from the stuff of which life is made. Unlike Larry, I have never experienced blockages to doing what I love – only that which I deem distasteful brings about that kind of resistance. Feeling stifled is a terrible thing. I often ponder the meaning of words, and inspiration is one of them: to breathe is to inspire. Maybe that’s why I find physical movement helpful in dislodging nuggets from my sluggish brain. That and the knowledge that we can never really run out of ideas. Repeating themes run like veins throughout history. Yet nobody can convey a story quite like you or me. It’s our voice that is unique in the telling.
I committed this little ditty to paper shortly after returning home from a Solstice ceremony led by a man of mixed Hawaiian descent. In the interceding years since that event, I have been privileged to call M. Kalani Souza friend. He remains one of the wisest and most engaging men I have know.
During that ceremony several years ago, Kalani spoke and sang in simple yet profound phrases that created openings for people to think, if they wanted to. Huddled together with folks mostly unknown to us, we gathered in the damp and drizzle of a verdant hillside on the northeast face of Hawaii island. It was the first ceremony my husband and I had attended since our recent move back to these islands after a twenty-year absence.
Contained in a circle of stones, flames arched and crackled into inky heavens above, while Kalani danced in the shadows – long hair spinning in the wind like some shaman in a trance. The small crowd gazed spellbound, as he freely cast his particular brand of magic like seeds among us; seeds that were free to germinate or not, depending on the willingness of minds to provide a fertile medium. Stories related were heard through a child’s ears while growing up on these islands – tales told by grandparents, by wise elders.
The word huli, when used as a verb, means to flip or turn over. It is also used as an adjective, as in “I got huli stomach.”
If the young boy Kalani came home disgruntled, agitated by some of life’s less predictable people and circumstances, Grandmother used to tell her grandson to huli the bowl. At the same time, she motioned with her hands, as if emptying a bowl of water onto the ground. She explained that we are all born with empty bowls. When judgments are cast upon us, we carry that hurt in our hearts. In goes a stone. Pretty soon we are carrying a bowl full of stones around, and it gets to be a burden.
What Grandmother encouraged, and at times demanded, was to empty the bowl at the end of every day, just as the sun sets over the water. That way, tomorrow’s another day we reclaim for ourselves – another clean slate.
My neighbor is leaving tomorrow for Vietnam and Cambodia, then he is headed for the continental expanse that is China. This is the same generous soul who has gifted me with two good sized pots of rare bamboo. The same one who flagged me down on our small street to share Howard Zinn’s You Can’t Stay Neutral on a Moving Train. A People’s History of the United States. Rare footage of Hendrix and Woodstock. A photo CD of his last journey to Cambodia. I share bananas. Tangerines. Massage his injured leg. We feel familiar to one another, as though we are siblings.
This is the third time he has departed for Asian shores since I’ve known him, and three times ago, it was the first he had journeyed there since the ‘sixties. This man is strong and vulnerable all at once – complex in his demeanor, straight-up in his motivation. A man of secrets – and Lord knows there are more than a few he doubtless has good reason to keep – he is a trustworthy soul and one I am honored to know.
Once a soldier, my friend has physical conditions brought about by endlessly tromping through the wet jungles of Southeast Asia during the Vietnam war. As with so many war-related conditions, there is no cure, only endless frustrating forays to the VA. Yet he felt drawn to those faraway shores, once again – as if healing would transpire on that ground and nowhere else. Each time he returns, it is with renewed vigor and greater light in his eyes. His love for the people and the place is obvious. About my age, he is done with the bullshit. Death is in his sights, as it resides in mine at this life juncture. No time for waffling, we do what we must because a sense of urgency compels us.
He is glowing while relating his plans for departure. I’ve known him for five years and he’s never looked so radiant. I’m on my bicycle when we meet in the middle of the road, as folks do around here. Stop. “Talk story.” I peer inside the cab of his small truck. To my utter amazement, the strangled purple of stagnant blood in his lower legs has drained into a lovely neutral, matching the rest of his skin. And though he is presently unwilling to expatriate himself completely, this trip will be nine months’ duration – each span of away time is more prolonged than that which came before. Nine months allotted to birth the upcoming transformation that is no doubt impending.
Can one with an orientation toward fullness ever become acclimated to sparse? How might we go gently into winter, ineluctable as night rolling over onto the prostrate body of day?
Far beyond my gaze stretch fields parched by drying winds and unrelenting sun. And although we have reveled in unusually abundant rainfall all the summer long, a quiet parenthesis of fallow creeps into the air. Grasses rasp and angle toward one another, their fragile stalks rooted in baked soil like long head hairs of very old creatures.
This is how to determine the change of season here in Hawaii, though a better indicator lies further out on the sub-horizon of indigo – Mother Ocean. Ancient Polynesians knew to study this blue road, the most traveled avenue linking north to south, island to island. Pile a crew of seven-foot tall men accustomed to shaping mountains of rock into giant heiaus into an outrigger canoe, and distances shrivel.
All a person required lay in the ahupua’a, slices of varied terrain stretching mauka to makai, mountain to seashore like fingers to the ocean’s hand. These primitive counties were conceived by wise kings to assure their subjects lived in plenty. From forest elevation lumber to fish from the channels and drinking water captured in gourds from abundant springs bubbling from the ocean floor; from wild boar with abundant fodder patchworked against rich taro fields and tree bark purposed as tapa for clothing – the ancients lived, multiplied, warred, died.
And though we live in modern times, it is foolhardy to ignore stifled tradewinds, silent flocks of mynah birds, fewer doves on the wing. Enter silty surf at your peril; rather wait upon the goddess of volcanoes and the waxing of the moon to know it won’t be long until once again we may marvel at the variegated hues in the skin and scales of reef fish and float, transfixed – underwater ears trained upon the haunting cries of humpback whales in the surge of winter currents.
Having not seen Moloka’i in almost twenty years, we went back in October of 2006 to visit during what turned out to be the earthquake of the century here in Kohala on the Big Island of Hawaii.
It was a strange reunion, memory serving only as well as imagination could vivify. The town of Maunaloa where we lived was completely altered. Gone were the funky plantation houses left over from pineapple days, with their termite-eaten walls and disintegrating iron plumbing. Moloka’i Ranch, savior or demon depending on your viewpoint (and ours skewed in favor of the demonic) had promised residents that they could purchase their homes back in the early ’90’s for a reasonable price, thus absolving the ranch of their responsibility in maintaining said dwellings. The locals saw it differently, as families could at long last possess a sort of pride in ownership.
Many plantations such as Surety here in Kohala simply gave former workers homes, leaving it up to them to move the buildings where they may. Slavery was illegal after all, but in all ways save in name, these folks were indentured to the plantation. From the company store to cramped living quarters, those who toiled while pineapple and sugar giants made untold millions deserved this, at least. Yet on Moloka’i things remained much the same. Conditions had not improved much since those corporate halcyon days. Promises made were rarely, if ever, kept. Some things never change.
Our return to “The Friendly Isle” was shocking. What was once the Sheraton’s west-end resort, replete with lush landscaping and shops such as The Laughing Gecko and Liberty House was now a rubbish-strewn ghost town. The swimming pool we once sat around watching Chris Isaak mix it up with a few local musicians brimmed with murky water. Signs were crudely stabbed into withering grass: CAUTION: NO LIFEGUARD ON DUTY. POOL FOR USE OF CONDO/VILLA OWNERS/RENTERS ONLY. We pitied those who purchased these high priced units, once the envy of mainland townies such as ourselves. Buildings were decrepit with chipped paint and obvious structural damage.
Maunaloa, once our eclectic red-dirt encrusted home town, had been bulldozed. In its place were several restaurants which had closed down, a movie theater (a movie theater?!), a slightly improved general store, and a smattering of Adventureland knockoff plantation houses, painted in three coordinated pastel shades. Rounding the bend into town, there rose a massive hotel and resort complex, the sole employer of most of the home ownership-deprived townspeople.
Absent were hordes of kids playing in the street. Gone were the carefully tended yards, backyard gardens, pigs in sheds and numerous mature trees laden with seasonal fruit. Only phantom traces remained of old men clutching their prized fighting roosters while playing cards in the pergola next to the tiny post office. Vanished too were hordes of stray and pregnant dogs of questionable breed. Maunaloa had been cleaned up.
Two years later, Moloka’i Ranch, to spite the vocal majority who gathered and marched in disagreement with their plan to develop the west end’s sacred La’au Point, shut down the resort. They closed the theater. In effect, Moloka’i Ranch did what it could to bully the local population and to flex their proverbial muscle: they shut down the town.
A few months back, an associate asked to interview me on radio in order to share my thoughts on “food and the body.” I came up with the following notes, some which never made it into that dialogue, as we ran out of time.
The older I become, the less certain I am of anything. I discover truth in paradox, wisdom in metaphor. Living in the body as fully as we are able however, seems fundamental to sustaining wholeness in our brief walk on this precious earth. I might even go so far as to say it is a valuable key to enlightenment.
One of the unchanging constants and, at times, one of the most difficult to practice, embodiment, especially in the face of adversity, marks the measure of our progress as souls. It is in the spirit of this knowing that I offer six steps to help us to remain embodied, even in the most stressful of times:
EMBRACE THE PROCESS
It is true that life is a journey, not a destination. We are here to mature as souls in an adversarial, polarized environment. Without day there cannot be night. Without struggle we cease to recognize abundant joy. We may not like or admit this to ourselves, but humans are basically a lazy species – if we all were given our idea of heaven here on earth, likely we would collapse into paradise and advance very little in a spiritual sense. As it is, we have countless opportunities for growth through the medium of adversity, whereby we are able to explore our sharp corners and polish ourselves along the way. Eventually we learn that what we resist, persists. Surrender is tempered with discernment as we deepen our awareness of what lies in common between us; of how we fit into the scheme of Creation.
What we do here matters, but how we learn to be in conflict, in adversity, while maintaining our will toward vibrancy and living to the fullest is a measure of that growth, that maturity. And adversity means different things to different people. Some of us are introverted and back away from any kind of conflict or we internalize it. Others of us are extroverted, openly facing adversity and attempting to resolve it. Neither is right or wrong, we all learn in different ways. Inwardly or outwardly, all of us face the same kinds of adversarial challenges. How we deal with them is often an indication of our spiritual maturity, but this is not meant to quantify or judge another’s spiritual evolution.
We are not bodies having a spiritual experience, rather we are spirits having a physical experience, and unless we embrace that knowledge at some point, we suffer. And we spread that suffering to others, knowingly or at times unknowingly. And of course we are all learning along the way – nobody is perfect, or likely we wouldn’t be here on earth! Even the Dalai Lama admits to having anger, though what he does with that anger is likely different from most of the rest of us.
And so we learn kindness towards ourselves in life’s process, as we understand how truly challenging it is to be human. We simply strive to remain as awake and aware as we are able to in each moment. And then things knock us off-course as invariably happens, and we have to learn how best to deal with adversity as it comes in the most respectful way, both to ourselves as well as others.
Now I’m not talking about a mandate here for all human beings – one must feel the call to awakening in this way – it must be a choice. Or another way to put it: we suffer long and hard enough that life brings us to our knees. We then begin looking for answers, for different ways to relate to ourselves and the world. We cannot escape our bodies except through death, so the presumption is that these bodies have much to teach us about ourselves on some profound level. Being in the body, really being in it and with it, requires an attention many of us need to cultivate, me included! We can be so very much in our heads in this day and age – it really behooves us to get out in nature as much as possible, to get our feet onto the ground, out into the grasses and the trees and to hear nature’s sounds, from the rush of water to the call of birds to the sound of the wind; to observe the activity of creatures, to interact with them where it is possible and respectful. We can watch the changing skies, make connections between what happens in nature and what is happening in our bodies. Our ancestors relied upon these kinds of things for survival a mere 150 years ago! Many in the world still do. To maintain balance, attuning ourselves with the natural world seems crucial.
If we spend our lives in a high-rise at work and at home and never go outside a city, well, it’s one way to live – but I’m not sure it connects us to the real issues we face in the world today. Television and newspapers are reported to us yet remove us from direct experience and connection. And so, like children, we go out and explore and discover, perhaps for the first time, a real connection with the earth and her inhabitants. Animals and other living creatures are living life, and we humans are the only species who reflect and think about it and decide whether or not to participate. It’s kind of funny when you stop and think about it.
Which means to stay in our bodies, to respect them for the intuitive wisdom they contain as guides through the physical universe. I know, this sounds funny to some people – stay in your body! (Sounds like stay in your room!) But honestly, I think we can all relate to experiences whereby we are driving from point A to point B and don’t remember how we even got there. Or we can remember when a moment of inattention almost got us hit by a car, or we stubbed our toe or almost fell off our bike. These brief moments of inattention are what I mean by not staying in the body. And of course the body can hold pain, and pain makes us want to leave, even if that translates to a desire to get intoxicated or escape into fantasy. Some of these escape mechanisms can actually put us in danger, such as drinking and then driving. Or they contribute to making bad decisions for ourselves. Then there are harmless forays into fantasy, like watching a movie or listening to a symphony. It’s not all bad, but most of us need discernment.
If we cannot function without constant background noise – and if some of that noise includes disrespectful feedback like listening to certain song lyrics that reinforce negative stereotypes or connotations – we might consider changing that music, sometimes altogether. Generally speaking, most of us need to remember to be more present to ourselves in a physical, self respectful way. Being in nature reminds us of our solidarity and our vulnerability at the same time. And so part of being in the body and staying awake is taking care of it in a respectful manner. Physical activity almost always helps with this alertness and awareness. Of course it gets the blood flowing into our brains and eyes, but it also grounds us into the body. The kinds of activities we are able to engage in may change as we go through life, and aging brings this more clearly into focus. If we always played an hour of tennis or ran 10 miles a day, we can give ourselves permission to do something gentler, something different. It doesn’t have to mean we vegetate, and many find that exercises such as yoga can accomplish quite a bit while being gentler to the body. Or we can go to lower impact exercises like swimming or bicycling.
In the case of those of us who have never really been active or in shape, it may seem overwhelming when we get a test back which says we have high blood pressure or high cholesterol and the doctor says we need to lose weight or start exercising. It can seem pretty overwhelming. At some point, not caring for our bodies when we are younger does tend to catch up with most of us. But this doesn’t have to be a bad thing – we always have something to learn from our bodies! We can be with ourselves, sit with this for awhile, remember what we loved doing as kids and discovering that maybe this will work for us now. If we loved to wiggle and move, there are several ways to do this, including the new wave of Zumba and Nia. If we liked riding our bikes but have forgotten how, we can start at the gym and work into getting back in the saddle again.
As for the dietary part, we are not really taught in this culture to view food as medicine. Rather we view food as substance to satisfy hunger, cravings, and desire. And if you doubt this, put yourself across the table from the most scrumptious meal you can imagine and note your body’s response to it, your desire for it. Many of us eat for pleasure, and this can lead to ignoring the body’s call to stop at a reasonable place where we are comfortably full. I would almost venture to say that most westerners overeat, and eat poorly combined food choices, meaning what we eat is not always easy to digest, thus the pounds pile on.
We are also conditioned to consume through various influences, including and perhaps most pointedly by our media. This begins at a very young age for most of us. Our economy, really in the spotlight these days, depends on our consumption. And of course we have a disproportionately obese population. Even thin people can have eating disorders, so we’re not just talking about obesity. I think it’s safe to say that we definitely have issues as a culture around food. Being aware and present to the body, to our old thoughts and feelings which keep us on the wheel of consumerism, can be enlightening. When we focus this awareness onto the food we eat, onto our choices around those foods, we can learn a lot about our cravings and what they are really about. Which leads me to my next point:
MONITOR YOUR THOUGHTS
If we don’t obsess over this monitoring yet not just let the mind ramble on, we increase the potential for peace of mind. Our thoughts have power, including power over our best intentions. Remaining aware of our creative ability is part of this: we do, in a very new age sense, contribute mightily to creating our own reality. Every moment we make choices and react to what life puts in our path.
Be mindfully aware of self sabotage. We are all prone to this pitfall, as Medical Intuitive Carolyn Myss confirms in Sacred Contracts. We say we want something, and most of us really do. But we have to be aware how, on some deeper level, we either don’t feel worthy to accept what we’re asking for or we are not ready to receive it. Discovering our hidden saboteur enriches and deepens our awareness of the nature of existence.
We all judge, it’s part of our nature as human beings. If we did not judge, our ancestors could not have discriminated between a toxic weed and a nourishing herb. Some of us have taken this to extremes however, judging anything outside our familiar as threatening, to be avoided and/or condemned. Recognizing when we do this, being honest with ourselves, seeing ourselves for who we truly are, can be quite enlightening. It also allows us to drop judgments more and more over time, including and perhaps most importantly self judgments.
Self criticism holds us back from blossoming into the creative, supportive, loving beings we otherwise could be. And this brings up another point to reiterate from the beginning of this discourse: all change begins in the self. It is the one thing we have absolute power over.
RECOGNIZE THE MIRRORS IN YOUR LIFE
Recognize when your needs from another are more about what you need to give yourself than it is about them. Understand and remind yourself daily that nobody can give you what it is you really need and/or desire: no person – even if you do marry a millionaire; no food – even if it has the best quality chocolate and you drool when thinking about it; no substance – even if it is the best single malt whiskey since your trip to Scotland in 1963.
There are no substitutes for giving ourselves nurturing, love, understanding, generosity and caring. We can and we must grant these things to ourselves, even if the media keeps reinforcing that we will only be happy when we take a vacation we can’t afford to some exotic tropical locale, or if we eat truffles from France or if we buy a Lexus.
Also in the mirroring department is the tendency to project our needs onto another to such a degree that we are convinced that, if we can get this person to change, we ourselves will feel a whole lot better! If only they would earn more money, make love to us more often, cook us dinner every night or take us away from our misery, we could love them more. A satisfactory existence ultimately isn’t about any of these, if we get right down to it. If we are unhappy, we have only to work on our own lack of happiness. We do have the power to change, though sometimes it doesn’t feel like it when we are deep in our stuff. Yet take this example to heart: the only change any of us can make is within ourselves. And we know how hard a job that can be, so how could we possibly ever change another person? It takes a lifetime to effect lasting, deep changes just within the self.
PRACTICE UNREMITTING FORGIVENESS
Let others be who they are. There is nothing we can do to change another anyway, as we now know. When we hold resentments, we are in effect keeping toxic energy alive between us and another. I’d even go so far as to say that we are giving them power over us in doing so. If our ultimate goal is to reclaim peace and love toward ourselves and others, a) we are defeating this objective, and b) we are truly hurting ourselves. The only answer is to learn to forgive, which, in some cases can be really hard. But we must do it to free ourselves, to make 100% of our energy useful and viable.
Sometimes we need distance in order to accomplish forgiveness toward some people. There are certain people that may come into our lives who are simply too volatile or set in rigid patterns of denial and fear – and these people are not only uncomfortable to be around, but can actually attack or deflate our sense of self. Some can actually be abusive, and we don’t want to subject ourselves to that kind of thing if it can be helped. And so we pray for them, we open our hearts in the sanctity of our own space where we are able to relax and reach in, accessing our deepest heart’s compassion and unconditional love for another’s woundedness. We can then transmit this love through the spirit of forgiveness. Sometimes this is the only way, but we may be surprised to find that it is only a start: that we make inroads into discovering not only something profoundly loving within ourselves, but often we find this deep caring returning to us at some unknown point and time from another person altogether. We just can never know or necessarily even track the results of our heartfelt acts of kindness and forgiveness. And so we just do it.