More YOGA: Ahimsa or At Least I Crack Myself Up


Ahimsa, is the first of the yamas of yoga and Hinduism (rules for ethical conduct) and it means non-violence.

I took my first yoga class with Patricia Walden in Cambridge a couple weeks ago, and she was leading off the class with a discussion of the yamas.  The class was on satya, the second yama (truth or honesty), but she mentioned ahimsa and off I went.

Ahimsa is the building block for all ethics, of course, and perhaps because of that the most difficult to practice.  Oh, I know, it’s easy to have some basic level of decency and then not question.  Or at least, it must be easy for someone, somewhere, as long as that person isn’t me.  On one hand, no one will ever accuse me of not examining my life.  On the other, on the list of the 5 hindrances to enlightenment in Buddhism is doubt, and questioning too far, too much, too often, questioning everything, all the time, does add up to doubt.

And, on the 7 deadly sin list is pride, which I use to counter doubt, telling myself, and everyone who will listen, how I’m smarter than pretty much anyone.

Religion.  Gets you whether you’re coming or going.  Or even just standing still.

Anyhow, ahimsa.  And, watch me, here I go with the pride thing.  I am going to marry yogic principles, Buddhism and couples therapy.  Let’s see if I can do it in one sentence.

I’ve been thinking about ahimsa because in couples therapy my partner and I complain about each other’s angry energy, showing (yogic principles) that we are both sitting somewhere between the 3rd (dvesa: aversion to old bad experiences) and 4th (abhinivesa: fear) branches of avidya (bad perception) and that we possess no real equanimity (upekkha–Buddhism).

A long sentence, but there you have it.

In therapy terms, we have intimacy and attachment issues with some boundary problems thrown in.

Or, in Lyralen language, we are just gloriously f%$#ed up like the rest of the human race, scared of each other on a good day, and likely to blame each other because that’s what people do and also because growing up just isn’t on the agenda.

AHIMSA.  Really, I should just start this topic with how hard it is to treat myself really well.  I run into it on the mat all the time, as I push to do perfect asanas, and then catch myself and slow it down.  “Forget all the skinny bendy young things,” I tell myself.  “Never been there, never done that.  Think acceptance for tight hamstrings and an athletic competitive family and think of the joy of this tense, stretching, living body.  Think peace.”

For me, non-violence starts with letting go of ambition, competition, striving, stress.  I have this secret joke with myself that I get up to lie down.  Many mornings I get up and then do restorative yoga, which is basically lying down in different positions.  I often fall asleep again.

I do not think of my German mother or competitive athletic Irish father.  Well, maybe I do.  Because there is no rebellion like lying down as soon as you get up.  I mean, who does that?  I’m not even trying to meditate.  I’m not trying to do anything.

I could go on…the tiny violent things, like do you tear a brush through your hair or do it gently?  The antidote comes down to Buddhist mindfulness, but frankly, trying to be perfectly mindful is another trap for doing violence to yourself and I should know.  (Plus, you should watch all the people mindfully eating breakfast in slow motion at the Buddhist 10 day silent meditation retreats.  It’s enough to drive you out of your mind.  Permanently.)

Anyhow, I figure going around saying that I’m f$%#ed up and so is everyone else is a pretty good practice of acceptance and imperfection.  You know, like I’ll be mindful, but in a relaxed way, when it’s not too much trouble.

I would be a bad Buddhist if in fact I had signed on, which, of course, I haven’t, because I am too much of a nonconformist to even sign on for nonconformist Buddhism.

Anyhow, the point of this blog, now 649 words in, is the whole couples therapy ahimsa thing.  I have worked hard, all my life, to be contained and dignified.  I know, reading this thing, you won’t believe me, but it’s true.  I have rules for my behavior off the page (and even on the page…notice, I don’t say my partner’s name or tell any of the personal details of our fights or blame her on the world wide web even though she drives me crazy and everything is her fault) (okay, I don’t blame her by building a case with details).  I try very hard not to lose my temper or be disrespectful of other people, and, as you’ve no doubt noticed, since I can be a bit of a hothead when I’m not meditating and doing yoga, this is no small feat.

But in the last theatre production, I was so angry when people didn’t do their jobs, and so stressed with picking up slack everywhere, I know I exuded misery and anger and stress.  And here is where ahimsa becomes so difficult to practice.  I don’t yell, or swear or name call, but I know from my own relationships that sometimes that almost doesn’t matter.  You can’t claim virtue because you don’t speak when your energy speaks for you.  People know when someone is unhappy, or judging, or criticizing silently.

This is what both my partner and I find so troublesome in each other.  Plus, we’ve known each other for 29 years now (our 25th anniversary is in June), so it’s not like there are any secrets.

When I was going on and on about keeping my mouth shut the first week of yoga teacher training, what I was really, on a serious level, worried about, was ahimsa.  I was worried about containing my energy, because, let me belabor the point again, I am grieving, and grief is painful and dark, and it feels isolating, so spending 14 hours with a group of people I didn’t know scared me.  I was afraid of not being able to be centered; I was afraid of going somewhere dark in my own energy and being energetically incapable of practicing ahimsa.

Pia Melody (who I often hate and am embarrassed to admit I have read) says that energetic boundaries are a key area of safety in a marriage.  If you get really angry, you have to first put physical distance between yourself and your partner, and then you need to contain the energy itself.  This isn’t because we might hit each other, it’s because the energy feels very threatening, and you have to indicate you’re in control enough to practice love.

This makes me wonder if getting angry is seen as one of the 7 deadly sins of psychotherapeutic culture.  It’s definitely listed as one of the 5 hindrances.  But get this–swallowing anger, taking it into your body, repressing it, leads to self-violence, or, as John Sarno would say, lots of back pain.

Ethics.

I don’t know the answer to these questions, but I know that anger is a force that can be used for good, and I know I don’t want to scare my partner with my critical or angry energy, and I also know that with a German mother (repress everything) and an impulse-driven Irish father (why bother), I can only look at all the craziness and say, well, I definitely do know we’re all crazy.

Ahimsa.

I love the word, I have to say.  I’ve been a pacifist my whole life, but I do hate mosquitoes and kill them with relish.

In other words, as I said in the title, at least I crack myself up.  As I try to understand the nature of existence, as I tell the truth about some things if not everything, as I come back, over and over again, to the existence of human insanity, I find that humor is often the only answer.

That or homicide.  But, since I am contemplating and trying to practice ahimsa, I guess homicide is pretty much off the table.

Inventing a Self


Sometimes I have so many conflicting thoughts simultaneously I find it completely overwhelming to develop an actual train of thought.  That’s what this subject is like.

So, train #1.  I was doing this grief thing yesterday, and I ended up thinking about the self I invented, the one I wanted, dreamed of, put all my heart into making.

It goes like this: When I was almost 12 years old, my parents moved to a new neighborhood.  I had been bullied badly at the first school, and ended up being bullied as badly or worse at the 2nd school.  But across the street lived another 12 year old girl, another tomboy, and she became my first real friend.  My first best friend.  We went to different schools and the minute I got off the bus she was at my house or I was at hers.  I had failed at inventing a popular self at my new school, so inventing a self was a dream saved for adulthood.  But my friend–her name was Judy–started demanding to know why I looked so sad when I got off the bus, why I hung my head.  “What’s the matter?” she asked over and over again.  “Nothing,” I’d say, afraid if she knew she wouldn’t like me either.

But, she wouldn’t let up.  Did I mention we had certain character traits in common?  “What’s the matter, come on, I know it’s something, what’s going on,” over and over and over and over.  Finally I told her.  She said, “Oh, we can fix that.”  Then she told me my clothes were totally uncool.  I knew this, because my mother picked all my clothes and wouldn’t let me own a pair of jeans.  My friend came with us shopping the next time my mother took me, and she confronted my mother in the store.  “Maybe she wouldn’t get mocked out so much if she had some cool clothes,” she said to my mother.  Who stood there, mouth agape, realizing, for the first time, I imagine, that she might have something to do with her daughter’s suffering.

I got the clothes.

Then my friend made me tell her what happened in school each day.  Who hung what sign on my back, who shot spitballs at me, who pulled on my skirt, who rolled their eyes.  And get this, she told me to make one friend.  Not to try to get popular, but to pay attention to who might not hate me, and be nice to them (without being needy).  I swear, if she ever ran for president, I’d stop my life and work for her.  She was twelve.

She taught me that I could invent my self again, even with people who already knew me.  She taught me that cruelty could end, that even when you feel the most powerless, there is something you can do, or something someone can do to help you.

I didn’t like being bullied.  But what I hated most was how I saw myself–as a victim, as powerless, as incapable of building and sustaining a daily life.

I was very lucky to meet this incredibly precocious 12 year old girl.

I built a self from what she taught me.  I wanted to be strong, independent, I wanted to be different in the best possible way, I didn’t want to conform, I wanted things on my own terms.  I put myself through college, I rode a motorcycle, I had lovers of both genders, I traveled the world, often alone, I hitchhiked across Spain and Portugal, I worked in Japan.  Inventing, from what I’d read as a girl, an unconventional woman strong enough to decide her own life.

And I wrote.

Doing the grief thing, yesterday, I realized that in my life I have loved nothing more than this invention, this creation, this very careful building of life experience, of adventure, creativity, strength.  And I have hated any job, any person, any experience that yanked me back to pre-twelve, when inventing a decent daily life seemed impossible, and only the future held possibility.

Grief makes the chaff fall away, and you look into the center of yourself, your life.  I am my own creation and I am also that bullied girl who doesn’t know the way out.  I am both.  I have loved nothing as much as getting to live what I wanted, what I could make, experience, be present for.  But feelings of powerlessness and doubt are inevitable, and the whole point of growing as a person is to let them come, to know yourself as a part of a humanity that fails, that fears, that falls down and does not know, all too often, how to get back up again.

I cannot so love what I have been able to make of myself that I forget what life has made of me.

And so ends train of thought #1.

#2:  Who cares about inventing a self in the first place?  My thoughts on this subject are entirely derived from my obsessive reading about Buddhism, not to mention the 10 day silent meditation retreat last June.  In Buddhism there is the concept of no self, that self itself is a construct.  So when I was getting all serious about how in love with me I am, and how no one better f*&^ with me and try to make me less, etc, the thought floats in that I really kind of don’t exist at all.

I don’t mean that literally.  It’s just that sometimes, the construct of personality falls away, and there’s just life, unadorned, at the center of me.  Until yesterday, I really kind of hated the Buddhist no self thing, and didn’t get it, but suddenly it came clear.  It doesn’t feel bad, when there’s just life.  It actually feels…neutral.  Perfect.

Like, if it’s true that when we die, personality dies with us, the constructs of our lives fall away, then what is left is just energy.  Life.  What religion calls soul.

I am truly in love with my own constructs and creations, because, well, I am a human being.  But they’re really just here to protect life from the dangers, challenges and hardships of experience.  You take them away, and there’s just a light.  Doing nothing but being a light.

It’s hard to come up with 60 million attachments, cravings, aversions and obsessions with that.  It just is.

No self.

Life.

Light.

Nothing we can do about it.  Nothing to invent.

It just is.

Yoga, Yoga, Yoga and More Yoga or What Am I Doing?


I think it was in 1988 that I decided to listen to my gut.  Not for the first time, but I had a therapist, who was, get this, a yoga instructor, and all I did in therapy with her was learn how my intuition revealed itself and then how to listen to it instead of all the other thoughts/voices whatever.  (This was, by the way, the only therapy I’ve ever really liked.)  It seemed since I spent a year learning this thing, I might as well use it.  So I replaced my five and ten year plans with intuition.  (I was in my twenties at the time.  Are only 20 somethings dumb enough to have five and ten year plans?)

Anyhow, I’d lived in Spain and Japan by then, so being un-American enough to give up the relentless goals of those plans was almost perfectly fine with me.

Thing is, living by intuition means that I know I have no f&*#ing clue what I’m doing.  I just get an intuitive feeling about something, I do it, and then hopefully I figure out later why I did it.  (Or I invent something to make myself feel better.)

It’s a more interesting way to live, a more adventurous way, unless it’s totally insane, which is always possible.  I mean, think of the Buddhist construct theory.  Was it even an intuition?  Does intuition exist?  Is my insane mind even capable of discerning intuition from, say, compulsion or addiction? Probably not.

But, I figure, who else gets a solid year of training in intuition?  So, insane or not, whether intuition or me or anything exists or not, I spent all that money, back in 1988, so I’m going to listen to my intuition and see what happens.

So I intuitively decided to do the latest endeavor, yoga teacher training.  I’d been studying yoga with the teacher for maybe a month, so it wasn’t like I didn’t know what I was getting into (it does not take me a month to figure out another teacher’s style, talents and weak points…more like an hour, if that, because I am intuitive).  At the same time, I can’t really see myself teaching yoga.  I LOVE doing yoga, and I like making it part of acting classes because opening up the body for actors is invaluable, but just teaching asanas (postures) doesn’t feel like something I would ever want to do.

And the training is expensive, so doing it for the hell of it, or simply for self-improvement, considering my income, seems…well, insane.

Living the intuitive life.  Having no idea what I’m doing.  Humility, anyone?

So, my worst case scenario for this class is that I would re-activate an area of pain (I can’t say injury, in spite of being in 4 car accidents, because I’m still on the John Sarno back-pain-is-caused-by-unconscious-rage plan) and wouldn’t be able to do the very strenuous physical part of the training.  And it is STRENUOUS.  The teacher is brilliant, she has good time management, great classroom management, incredible skill in teaching alignment and the correct way to do postures.  But we also hold Plank for about 3 millenium, not to mention Up Dog.  It’s harder than any normal flow you could ever do.

Of course, my life has been on a worst case scenario track for some time now, so it should come as no surprise that I re-activated my lower right back issue on the first weekend.  Because of John Sarno, I have had to examine my unconscious rage.  The interesting thing is that of course there was some–this is ME, remember?  I am homicidal on my best days.  But the new thing from my more recent Sarno readings is that there’s an extra step.  You don’t have to just examine your unconscious rage you have to DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.  Like, change your life.

I have been thinking about ahimsa.  It’s the ethical foundation of yogic philosophy, and it means non-harming.  In other words, don’t do the strenuous yoga class like a big go-getter raised by a competitive Irish father (who was offered a football scholarship to Notre Dame and played halfback until he blew out his knee).  Don’t keep putting tension into your body to “get it right.”  In other words, yoga is about ahimsa, starting with self.

Today I was thinking about a very simple thing–do people who are not f-ed up investigate yoga, Eastern philosophy, meditation, Joseph Campbell, couples therapy (ala Christopher Durang or not, with a Stork or not), etc.  It’s not like I’m uncomfortable saying that I’m screwed up.  I am gloriously screwed up, fascinatingly screwed up (at least to myself), charismatically screwed up.  And it’s not really a question of whether there exist people who are less screwed up than I am.  I have a friend who has many of my personal strengths–compassion, commitment to social justice, integrity, decency, kindness, honesty (those are for you, Karen…see, I can say my good points!), but who significantly lacks my capacity for drama and taking things personally.  She’s not an artist, so I can love her even while she holds up this mirror of good points minus worst flaws, because I get to add unbridled creativity to my side of the scale.

Anyhow, the point of this is that clearly there are less screwed up people.  But my friend is screwed up.  This makes me happy.  Because I can live in world of less screwed up people, but not in a world in which there are people who aren’t screwed up at all.  Which is good, because I haven’t met any of those people and I’m sure my capacity for drama would amplify around them.

Anyhow.  Ahimsa.  Non-harming.  Even though I’m still grieving, I have been working with my worst case scenario.  For one thing, we had endless anatomy this weekend in the training (I remain the typical gifted child, who only wants to learn what interests her, which has never included science), and we went around and looked at injuries and how to modify yoga to practice ahimsa.

Here’s my thing–I can’t do Virabadrasana I (warrior 1) without weeks of pain.  I’ve asked teachers I really respect to modify the pose to no avail.  It might seem like common sense to just not do Vira I, but I have never claimed to have common sense and I’m not starting now.  But, when 20 other yoga teachers in training answer the question, “What would you tell a student with this problem?” with a simple, “I’d tell her not to do the pose,” even I have to wake up to the great need for ahimsa in my life.

Good-bye lessons of the ex-halfback of Notre Dame.  It becomes clearer by the moment that my Irish father’s lessons were no better than my German mother’s.

Maybe I am taking the yoga teacher training to learn ahimsa.  Because the fact is, while I love yoga, I can’t do it as my solo exercise because when I do I’m always in pain.  I have to mix it up with weight-lifting, which is terribly non-yogic.

And I find, that while I still don’t know why I’m doing this thing, I’m getting super interested in the differences between people’s bodies.  For example, I realize that I know exactly which poses really help my body, in alignment, in stability, in strength, in opening.  And I also know that there are some poses that just suck for me.  I am getting interested in doing only the poses that I know make me feel great and seeing what happens.  Like, healing, I bet.  And what if I could do this for other people?  The great yogis did this–individual prescriptions, sometimes asanas, sometimes meditation, sometimes ayurveda.

I’m interested.  I’m curious.  In the middle of grief.  Something to be grateful for.  Something to recognize as grace.

Plus, I went to an easier class today, which was AWESOME and made me very happy because I can now do handstand against the wall.  Which is very cool.  I can almost do headstand.  These asanas don’t hurt me, and they’re fun, and I get to show off to my non-yogic friends which is very unenlightened of me.  The showing off.

The great thing about being screwed up?  Getting to enjoy things like showing off.  And as long as I’m going around telling everyone how screwed up I am, I can keep right on showing off.

I am too cool for words.  And smart, too.

If not very yogic.

Procrastination and Yoga


I am right now procrastinating about doing my homework for yoga teacher training.  I mean, it’s anatomy.  I am an artist.  I am offended by details of the physical world.  Though it is neither yogic or spiritual, I am likely to keep not paying attention.

I would like to state, for the record, that I failed biology in high school.  I had it 7th period, and I got stoned every day before school sophomore year, so in 7th period I usually fell asleep.  The teacher let me, because consider the alternative.  A 16 year old me, awake and looking for trouble, defying the nearest authority figure whenever possible.  Believe me, she let me sleep.

Further pissing her off, I taught myself the year’s work in the last week of school and aced the final exam so she couldn’t ruin my summer by sending me to summer school.

By the way, I do remember that fallopian tubes exist.  I do remember the diagram of a woman’s reproductive organs.  Do I need to explain why that remains?  (Consider the word lesbian.  Or at least bi-sexual.  I am always interested in what is immediately relevant to me.)  I also remember dissecting a sheep’s eye.  Or starting to dissect it, and trying to find an empty desk to go back to sleep because it was pretty gross.

Anyhow, I am procrastinating about learning anatomy.  Though I have to admit, when I have overcome my procrastination (as in, studying with the lovely Elizabeth after class yesterday), I have found myself interested in the parts of my body that hurt (now that I am no longer 16) and trying to figure out what hurts when, all of which is in direct contradiction to the mind/body system of John Sarno.  I consider myself in a relapse from Sarno’s mind/body program and I am currently procrastinating about going back to writing about my unconscious rage.

Instead, I am watching a lot of television.

And doing the Grief Recovery Workbook, though I am also procrastinating, today, about looking at that some more.

It’s a nice day.  I sat outside in the sun for a while.

I think I probably have enough homework done to get by.

I also think that as a teenager, from 14-17, my innate, German mother-derived perfectionism and type A sense of responsibility had gone very dormant.

Grief makes perfectionism and type A responsibility look entirely ridiculous.  I mean, who has time for that?

Sitting in the sun it is.

PS–I no longer smoke pot.  Or drink alcohol.  Or coffee.  I don’t eat sugar or gluten or chocolate.  In fact, I don’t do so many things that procrastinating may be all I have left.  And causing trouble.  That, I think, I will never give up.

The Stork Returns


So, I’d pretty much wound myself up to fire the Stork (our couples therapist).  I was ready.  I was like, okay, enough with you trying to do your agenda.  I’m paying.  It’s my agenda.  (And occasionally my partner’s, though as you can imagine, it’s like, good luck to you with that, up against Lyralen’s agenda.)

We go in.  My partner tells him that he talks too much, and he keeps interrupting when we’re talking to each other, and she’s really frustrated with him bringing up the, “I don’t know what my role is here,” thing.  And he says, “You’re right.  When you two are just talking I start to feel like I should be doing something and I get anxious and interrupt.”  And my partner’s like, “Take care of that.”  And he’s like, “Okay.”

It’s kind of hard to fire someone after that.

But I did do a soliloquy on how everything he does scares me and how he doesn’t get me and he’s like, “You’re right, I didn’t know you felt like that.  You’re always so articulate about what you think and feel.”

I’m like, “Really?  You actually buy this act?”  Then I mention that I think couples therapy is a power struggle between him and me about who is going to control the therapy.  And I say, “I’m never going to let you control the therapy.”  He’s like, “I get that.”  I did another soliloquy on feminist theory and patriarchal models at that point.  It was very impressive, but it all added up to, “If you tell me what to do, you’re in big trouble.”

I am a teenager at heart.  I may be a teenager in everything except body.  My body keeps aging even though I remain relentlessly immature.

Then he says, “Sometimes I’m scared to say what I think.”

He’s looking right at me when he says it.  I know where he’s going, so I say, “You mean you’re scared of me.”

He’s like, “I’m scared I’ll upset you or make you angry.”

My partner, not to be left out of the discussion, says, “I get angry, too.”

He’s like, “You get frustrated and angry and irritated, but I know you’ll talk about it and let me know I’m out of line.  But Lyralen might abandon me.”

WHAT THE F!

I’m like, “That’s way too personal.  I mean, really.  I don’t want to hear about it.”

He’s like, “I have abandonment issues.”

I’m like, “Who’s in therapy here?  Could you just deal with yourself?”

Which effectively changes the subject, thank whatever/whoever.

Then there’s all this discussion about creating a framework and saying all our feelings when we first walk in the door.  I’m like, “I’ll have to say all my feelings about having to say all my feelings.  It will take FOREVER.  I don’t want to say my feelings.”

Showing that I have regressed from adolescence to early childhood.

He’s like, “What should we do about this?”

I say, “I’m going to die.”  Then I throw myself over the arms of my chair and hang my head down dramatically.

He says, “We’re all going to die.”

And I say, “I mean I’m going to die right now.  Couples therapy is killing me.”

My partner, of course, is laughing her head off.

He’s like, “I think time is up.”

So you can understand that I am now, again, feeling like I’m in a Christopher Durang play.  Beyond Therapy.  Our couples therapist is like Mrs. Wallace, who continually talks to a stuffed Snoopy, who keeps forgetting the names of her clients, who keeps forgetting words, and who encourages homicide as a great way to express feelings.  I think I may bring the Stork a Snoopy.  Or else I’ll abandon him.  Dramatically.  I will make an announcement, “I am now officially abandoning you.  You can join the long list of therapists I have abandoned.  But the good news is that I hear they’re forming a 12 step group:  I’m powerless over being abandoned by Lyralen.  You are now eligible.”

Really?  Hello!  Does anyone else out there have to hear about their couples therapist’s abandonment issues?  I mean, if you do, I really want to know.

Death by Couples Therapy.  It’s the title of my 2nd memoir.

Eckhart Tolle or Give Me a Break New Age Everything


Today I woke up with some minor ambition to organize my books.  Meaning, since there are books piled in corners of my bedroom, my office, the living room, on the living room table, etc, I thought I’d move them around some just to make myself feel better.

And, as usually happens, I decided to look at one of the ones I haven’t read, and then I sat down and started reading and interrupted the moving around of books and they are now only half in new piles in all the same rooms they were in originally and half sitting where I left them when I got absorbed in reading.

Did I mention I like to read?  Along with my upcoming membership in the Just-Don’t-Produce-Theatre-One-Day-at-a-Time 12 step program, is another looming membership called Readers Anonymous.  (To be really honest, Netflix Anonymous is probably first, because since the theatre production ended I have watched entire seasons of Downton Abbey , Breakout Kings, Luther (Season 1 is fab and I love the character Alice Morgan so deeply, deeply, deeply), Grey’s Anatomy and a bunch of stuff on Hulu.  I mean, I am TIRED.)

Back to my subject.  The book I decided to look at was The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, recommended by the Stork (our couples therapist) and lent to me by my student Katie after she read a blog making fun of the Stork and his book recommendations and a comment I made that my friend Don who died loved that book so I might have to read it after all.

So.  I got kind of interested in the part about relationships, so I called my partner out onto the deck and we argued about the nature of evil for a couple hours.  It was really an argument about nature vs. nurture or free will vs. determinism, but it wasn’t a couples fight.  I sort of won the intellectual points, but then she sort of won the awareness of the emotional underpinnings of the intellectual points, so it was the usual draw with us both playing to our strengths.

Then the argument landed in a discussion about whether the saying, “My parents did the best they could with what they had,” is valid or just something people say to fake enlightenment and forgiveness. This discussion had its origin in the free will argument–in other words, did our parents’ social and familial conditioning, historical period (pre-feminism in their early adulthood), education, etc. make them such neurotic and psychotic messes or did they have a choice about it?  I have often argued that conditioning outweighs everything else, but this morning I flip-flopped and argued that they had a choice.  I said that just as we are all capable of the most profound evil, if any one of us is capable of redemption and enlightenment, then we all are.  In other words, our parents have responsibility in being who they are or were.  AND, more importantly, give me some credit here for not being as crazy as they were.

My partner started off talking about determinism (not the word, but the gist of the philosophy).  She’s always been super-smart about social/political/cultural influences and now she’s talking about how one takes responsibility for having a dark side (which is a result, she says, of conditioning).  She told me she learned the whole dark side thing from me.  (I call this unfair fighting.  I am allowed to disagree with my own ideas and prove myself newly right on the other side of the argument.)

We have, believe it or not, decided that since we’ve given up on the UU Church, we’re going to have these discussions regularly on Sunday mornings.  We consider ourselves very spiritual when we’re arguing about whether our dark sides are our fault or our parents’.

Clearly there’s a reason we go to couples therapy, even if the therapy itself is completely ineffective.  (It’s not ineffective when the Stork shuts up and lets us talk to each other.  It’s just ineffective when he tries to tell us what to do.)

Anyhow, neither of us could take more than 5 pages of Mr. Tolle and his oversimplified explanation of how to avoid couples dysfunction.  I’m beginning to consider developing our own couples therapy method.  I mean, it can’t be any worse than the bullshit we find everywhere else.  I was thinking it should contain chapters like, Find a Common Enemy–The Best Way to Be on Each Other’s Side and Light Matches in the Bathroom if Your Partner Is Taking a Shower when You Have to Go.

What do you think?

I just can’t seem to seriously stick to my subject about The Power of Now.  That’s probably because of all the stuff about the pain-body (your emotional pain as described by Tolle).  About 7 years ago a body worker told me to read this very book because I stupidly told her the truth about the large amount of loss in my life.  She was basically like, go read this book so you won’t be in pain any more.  And Tolle asserts that pain and suffering are optional, and that if you get into the now, the right here, and just pay attention, it will dissipate and you will be unattached, free, enlightened and without suffering.

I could see that.  I mean, my suffering dissipates as I focus on wanting to kill him for his stupidity.

Truly, I have visited the NOW.  I became an actor in order to find it.  A Meisner actor at that, one who lives the story rather than performing it.  And when I’ve been present, acting, I truly feel the grief, joy, rage, desire, lust, silliness, fear, etc of my character, while, at the same time, having a still place where I am me.  I feel these things, but they don’t touch the essential intactness of my own self experience…while, paradoxically, expressing that experience.

I’m an artist.  It’s just like this, all the time, making art.

But, when I wake up missing my friend, knowing I’ll never see him again, and I start to sob, I don’t have that detachment.  It just hurts.

What I hate about ideas of enlightenment is the judgment implied–if only you were enlightened you wouldn’t grieve, you’d be a better human, you wouldn’t be creating the illusion that is your own pain.

Last year, when I meditated for 10 days straight, I found the way emotions begin, bloom, then fade and leave you at peace…until the next one comes.  That is Buddhism…watching it, the peace in being able to watch it and do nothing but watch.  But when it blooms, you have to be with it then…and when loss is fresh, or unhealed and unresolved, it comes back over and over again…or sometimes, it just takes up residence and peace is really hard to find.

I really do want to synchronize what I know about healing and spirituality, about the times when the Power of Now is not enough, when you need Joseph Campbell’s sense of meaning and narrative.  The Power of Now and the Power of Myth.  We do need some archetype, some language, as well as the mat, the cushion, the prayer beads.

I know that Eckart Tolle’s writing about dysfunction in relationships is fairly accurate, and his writing about the openness of love has value, too.  But the way in…my partner and I have been doing this thing, not from couples therapy.  I call it Eyes on the Prize, but it’s more like Eyes on the Truth.  I can’t do the “I” statements and the communication method stuff without wanting to puke, but I can be honest.  I can work to say more about what I feel, what’s happening in the soft underbelly I want to hide.  It’s not about who says what to whom or who blames whom or who needs to learn what.  It’s about the fear of being known and the longing for it.  It’s about our deepest experience of being on this planet, it’s about looking and seeing and sitting in the fire of whatever that looking and seeing might be.  Not this theory or that theory.  Here you are.  I’m terrified of you knowing me.  And I’m going to let you.  I’m terrified of knowing you and loving you.  And I’m going to anyhow.

Volition.  Free will.  The moment of choice, in which you see clearly, for no reason you can possibly explain.  There is a door.  And the courage to walk through.

How beautiful, when she is walking toward you through the same door.

The Stork Bites Back OR Winning at Couples Therapy, Part 2


Here is some salient advice:  Don’t write a blog about couples therapy right before you go to couples therapy.  It’s bad karma.  Or maybe your couples therapist reads your blog.  I mean, who knows.

Here is some more salient advice (for the therapist):  Don’t assume you are smarter than your client.  You’re probably not.  Therapy is a business of hope–and dealing in hope requires some real self-deception, because, face it, sometimes life is just nihilistic.

In other words, aren’t I in a good mood today.

Fact is, every time I get things just about where I want them, some human being or another comes along and wants something diametrically opposed to what I want and screws up all my plans.  Which is really annoying.

In this case, the couples therapist (alias: Stork) decided he wanted to direct the therapy.  Hello!  This is never going to happen.  I mean, he comes in, tells us he’s double-booked the session after us and needs to go to his computer to email people so they don’t all show up at the same time (he’s double-booked us twice), and then, when he comes back, decides he’s going to start this discussion about what we said in the first 5 minutes of phone interview and can’t we go back to that.  In other words, he’s having control issues.  He is, as my partner would say, talking too much again.

I’m grateful for his unusual level of flightiness, because it just reinforces that there’s no reason to give him any more power than we absolutely have to.  He’s always like, “Maybe, Lyralen, some day you’ll trust me enough to let me do IFS therapy with you.”

NOT!  NEVER!  ARE YOU F-ING KIDDING?

I’m like, “I wouldn’t hold my breath if I were you.”  (Yes, I really do say these things.)

I think my partner just sits back and enjoys the show, silently thinking, “Now you see what I have to go through on a daily basis.”  She also thinks I’m funny even when I’m saying these things to her, which I believe is called love.

I have learned this year that couples therapy, unlike individual, is completely therapist-centric.  They sit at the center, they tell you when you and your partner can talk, they correct your communication, they give you orders, they educate (supposedly), and you are supposed to sit there and receive their feedback, try to meet their standards, accept their definitions.

NOT!  Doing this for even 5 minutes makes me insane!

I know, I know, I am a recalcitrant and rebellious client, otherwise known as a High-Maintenance-Pain-in-the-Ass.  But really, why did I spend 2/3 of my life reclaiming my voice, learning feminist empowerment, getting assertive, etc, if I was going to roll over and play dead in couples therapy?

I had an individual therapist (who’s quite well known) who told me that couples therapy is in its most primitive stages and that it didn’t work.  All the interruptions and communication corrections made couples dependent on the couples therapist and once therapy was over, couples split up.  She believe Imago therapy to be the exception.  Some people believe David Schnarch’s Passionate Marriage theories to be the exception.  Our couples therapist believes IFS to be the exception.  There is no proof for any of these beliefs.  It’s kind of like trying to prove there’s a god.

Personally, I’ve found if the couples therapist just shuts up and lets my partner and I talk to each other, we mostly get 50 minutes of real clarity.  And if we screw up and stop hearing each other, then the therapist can be useful.  Maybe.  (The Stork is useful about 50% of the time.  He’s either really present or out to lunch.  This, in my experience, isn’t that bad for a therapist.)

The therapist shutting up also allows me to be much more the center of attention, which I prefer at least 50% of the time in general, and much more of the time in couples therapy.

The Stork, of course, isn’t quite as on board for this theory as I’d hoped.  But that’s okay.  I can either 1) spin some more ridiculous bullshit or 2) state the obvious or 3) turn it back on him.  My favorite tactic is to turn it back on him, because why not give therapists a taste of their own medicine whenever possible?

Here is my plan.  I will say, “I’m hearing, Mr. Stork, that you’re uncomfortable with couples therapy.  I wonder if you might take a week to think about whether you bring up this subject repeatedly in order to deal with your control issues?”

I really am a total brat.  But to be fair, I don’t double book clients, forget what they’ve said, send the insurance forms to the wrong address, or overcharge.

In other words, he’s as f-ed up as everyone else.  That’s the issue–education aside, how do you trust someone who is no more enlightened than you are?  And who, considering the choice of profession, is probably way more into self-deception?

My answer:  when all else fails, you play chess.  If the Stork bites back, you sit on him.  At least, that’s what I plan to do.