January 1, 2016 § Leave a comment
In a world with so much lack, as we grapple with refugee crises and a myriad of other macro problems, the theme of nourishment continues to come up for me on a personal, everyday level.
Like too many of us, I was forced to deal with abandonment at an early age. Having lost my center of emotional and physical connection, I turned to other means in an attempt to nourish myself.
Fast forward forty or so years and I have become acutely aware of how I still attempt to ‘nourish’ myself with things that not only fail to serve that function but constrict my creativity and expansion.
However, before we can change how we try to nourish ourselves, we need to ask a simple question: what does it mean to nourish ourself?
I now have a 6 month-old baby, and the theme of nourishment could not be more clearly illuminated than in her daily reality. She turns to the most essential, fundamental nourishment: her mother’s breast. This nourishment goes beyond nutrition- it is holistic and complete, evidenced by how long she stays on the breast after she’s finished feeding.
But that fails to address the question raised above. What do we seek by nourishing ourselves? If hunger is sated, what then? We clearly seek nourishment in order to feel something. What do we wish to feel?
There is a wonderful TED Talk by Johann Hari about addiction, that culminates in the brilliant idea:
‘The opposite of addiction isn’t sobriety. The opposite of addiction is connection.‘
Isn’t connection the nourishment we are seeking when we rest, reflect or take action?
Isn’t that who we all are at our core? Beings that want to connect: with others, with ourselves, with nature and with the silence, within and without?
I have used all manner of artificial, non-sustainable things in an attempt to nourish myself and feel connected. If you’re wondering what they are, just look around at what our society generally offers us for nourishment and it shouldn’t be a mystery.
Many of these things entertain, divert and distract us, but do they nourish our spirit?
A definition of spirit: ‘
The vital principle in us, animating the body.
I like that phrase: the ‘vital principle’. The principle that is most alive, important, meaningful, life-filled. The principle that animates the body, where our spirit is housed. But I would add that this vital principle also animates our minds, and the essence that some might call our souls.
It is this, this spirit, this vital principle, that we seek to nourish. We seek to awaken or arouse it with stimulating experiences. We seek to give it peace and time to rest and reflect through comforting and soothing devices.
But what stimulating experiences? And what soothing devices?
Returning to babies for a moment, I find it interesting that we call artificial breast milk formula. Whether or not we are breast-fed as babies, so many of us go on in our lives to seek out other artificial formulae to nourish ourselves, bypassing the very real nourishment we need that is freely available.
To find this organic, sustainable and abundant resource of nourishment, we need only begin to ask simple questions.
What nourishes my spirit? What animates me on a fundamental level? What fosters meaning in my life? What enervates, stimulates, rejuvenates me? What soothes and heals me?
I can begin the process, right now.
A whole world opens up for me through three simple steps:
- Quietening my mind, opening my body and breathing into my core
- Asking myself, in this moment, without any thought of the future, what would most nourish my spirit
- Acting on whatever suggestion emerges from the silence
This is not to say that there isn’t a place for enjoyment of light, frivolous things. I love my dose of whatever shiny thing I happen to be attracted to in a given moment. But these are just formulas- interchangeable , ephemeral and rarely touching spirit.
I’m not usually a fan of mass-market, conventional things such as ‘New Year’s resolutions’ but today I’m prepared to make an exception. In 2016 I’m committing to replacing formulas with real nourishments that cultivate the vital principle, living inside me.
November 15, 2015 § 1 Comment
I’m sometimes vulnerable to an awful thought:
There’s nothing to look forward to.
The thought is awful both in its message and the state of being that usually accompanies it. Worse yet, it usually gives rise to another thought: not only is there nothing to look forward to; there can be nothing to look forward to.
When we feel this way (I’m now assuming I’m not the only one, god help me), we usually feel powerless to change these thoughts and feelings; therefore we must have also decided (since we weren’t feeling bad enough) that we have no power to create anything to look forward to.
What a place to be.
One of the gifts of experiencing this particular kind of pain is that it can catalyze us to confront dysfunctional, repressive paradigms inside us that often operate unchecked for long periods.
Here’s a doozy: wanting to be saved.
Isn’t that one of the reasons we check email, check our social media? We’re looking for something momentary to make us feel better (even when we’re feeling good: one can always feel a tad better), something to remind us that yes, we are important and yes, we are on a path.
Well, everything can be a path. Therefore, surely the best path is the one we tread entirely for ourselves, without the need for anyone else to continue to provide it?
This is of course not to say that we don’t need others, or that collaborating with others isn’t a joy and fulfilling in personal and professional ways.
It is simply to say that feelings of flatness and helplessness that stem from seeing nothing on the horizon are malleable; they can be affected and transformed by the feeler. It is up to us to have joyous, creative, productive things to work on and live through that carry the promise of generating other joyous, creative, productive things, many of them in collaboration with others. It is only (I say ‘only’ with a measure of irony) a matter being acutely aware of the track we have carved for ourselves and then eagerly sniffing around for new paths, great and small.
Our struggles in life, these gray, empty moments, can be the spur to greater creativity, innovation and risk.
We don’t have to take risks purely for adrenalin, or for some notion of self-actualization. Nor do risks have to be life-threatening. We can also be motivated to risk in order to enrich our lives with greater color, vitality and the promise of more life flowing in, and these risks may not seem at all like risks to others. They need only be risks to us.
Risk is not exclusively the province of ‘brave’ people; it is there in manifold forms for those of us who need to wake up, on at least more than half of our days, looking forward to what will unfold.
September 8, 2011 § Leave a comment
I can always tell if I’m patronizing a ‘cool’ establishment in Los Angeles. The most salient clue?
No one’s smiling.
Some time back, probably around the point at which the Goths sacked Rome, some self-ascribed ‘cool’ person decided that one isn’t allowed to show joy, enthusiasm or humour if one is to be considered chic, trendy, hip. I remember my first visits to nightclubs in Sydney in the late 80s; the brusqueness on display terrified me. It was as if all the Bond villains in the world had descended on this tiny room. These living monuments to the in-crowd were veritable statues. Impenetrable. I remember thinking, “geez, this nightclub stuff is serious. I wonder where these folks go after this experience to unwind?”
I was at my corner 7-eleven this morning, buying my favourite cup of corporate hazelnut coffee and, upon my turn at the register, I noticed a gentleman standing behind me with his cup. This person was clearly what we have to come to label a “working” man, a moniker never more appropriate in this world of capital gains, dividends and people making gads of cash at the touch of a button. On an impulse, I told the man at the register to ring up his coffee as well on my dime.
The first thing I noticed was the look of surprise on the cashier’s face. He asked me to make sure. I said yes, absolutely. He paused, as if to verify for himself that buying a stranger coffee was not illegal in Burbank. He then proceeded.
The victim of my random act of kindness was also in a state of mild astonishment, followed by a gratitude that was out of adjustment in its intensity. Clearly he, too, doesn’t experience this sort of thing too often. What followed was remarkable- he had already withdrawn his cash to pay for his coffee, and having thanked me he then put it down on the counter and said to the man behind him, “okay then, I’ll pay that forward!” and, shaking my hand, he then left the store.
The gent on the receiving end of this train of goodwill attempted to refuse and the chuckle that accompanied the refusal spoke volumes to me. It was the nervous laugh of embarrassment.
It is sad to me that we are conditioned to find unalloyed genersoity, kindness and exuberance embarrassing or silly. Our most powerful resource is kindness and love for others. We must be on the lookout for it on a daily basis. We must be ready to accept it when it comes along for, to be sure, every time that we reject or fail to acknowledge a kindness, something offered us without ulterior motive, we are conditioning the giver to withhold, withdraw and cease in their practice of generous acts.
Charisma is not aloofness. ‘Cool’ is not a face set in marble. Charisma and cool mean walking into a room ready to take an interest, to give of oneself, to offer and receive with jubilance, to laugh, to opine, to be outraged and to dance, with grace or otherwise.
Kindness and generosity are the new chic. If that sounds corny and a little silly (and I strongly suspect it might), it means I’m probably onto something. Or, as Dr.Dre put it in elegant, Shakespearean terms : “if you don’t like it, blow me.”
Picture : I only know one song of Dr.Dre’s, his duet with Eminem ‘Forgot About Dre’. Pulsating.
August 18, 2011 § 1 Comment
An hour has passed since I left the cineplex, having used my free movie ticket given to me by a friend to view Rise of the Planet of the Apes, starring a somnambulant James Franco and, while the film itself was almost worth the gas money spent, I’m perturbed by one question:
Why, um…. are there no female apes in the movie?
Let me qualify with a disclaimer: at no time during the film was ape genitalia sighted, of either gender; therefore, I cannot be certain that there were not she-apes present. Having said that, were the creators to tell me that the presence of female apes should have been assumed, it would only increase my agitation.
An agitation engendered by the fact that Hollywood, if it can be believed, has become even more feminine-averse that I’d previously thought possible.
Note the use of feminine, as opposed to female. Yes, there are roles for women (albeit not many leading ones) in Hollywood movies- the problem is that most of them have veered even more in the direction of male-created stereotypes.
It used to be that the two roles available for the vast majority of actresses were either Virgin or Whore. Ingenue or Vixon. However, in the last generation, the studios have added a new category: Warrior. Sigourney Weaver ushered that new Hollywood archetype into the mainstream with Alien and since then, we’ve witnessed a cornucopia of adaptations : Milla Jovovich in the Resident Evil series, Radha Mitchell in Pitch Black and Angelina Jolie in Salt, to name a few.
Can we call this proliferation of roles embracing the female-warrior archetype progress? It may very well be a step back. When we consider in retrospect what might be called the “golden years” of Hollywood, a glance at the leading ladies of the time might well give us pause when considering the “progress” some people claim women have made in front of the camera in recent years. Actresses like Bette Davis, Ingrid Bergman and Joan Crawford epitomized a feminine archetype whose power didn’t come from a facility with automatic weapons and a third degree black belt, but from a different kind of weaponry: that of intelligence, wit, inner strength, courage and a seductiveness borne out of a seemingly indestructible sense of personal power.
Where are those women today? More accurately, where are the roles? Must women be either sex objects, helpless maidens, gun-toting killers or a combination of the three?
The public is ready for, and I would argue is in need of, vehicles for powerful, dynamic actresses that represent true feminine power, a power that can manifest itself through emotional fluidity, intuitive playfulness, shredding wit and, among a multitude of other facets, the loves, rages and desires that can storm from its pure life-giving and love-bearing essence.
While there are no shortages of roles in the American film industry for men to embody the masculine essence with its properties, the same cannot be said of that terrain in relation to women. That needs to change and not just for fairness’ sake. We need a new paradigm that allows for the feminine to rise, as opposed to a warped idea of femininity that is propagated daily by a male-dominated industry.
Vote with your wallet. Staying home can sometimes be a powerful gesture.
Picture : Where were the female apes?
August 4, 2011 § Leave a comment
Some might say that concluding a five-part series on my experiences of a five-day cleanse that ended before the third sun had risen may be a trifle redundant.
I would agree wholeheartedly, which is one of the reasons why Parts IV & V arrive together- I simply had nothing valuable or even interesting to say on the third day, certainly not while in the act of stuffing myself. I also allow myself the same license that recent filmmakers have taken; didn’t they shoot all three Lord of the Rings films together? Doesn’t the same go for the second and third installments of the Matrix trilogy? Yes, they were in fact two different movies- in the second, Neo fights Agent Smith. In the third, Neo fights Agent Smith in the rain. A stunning innovation.
I suppose I’m required to say something of food and cleanses at this point, by way of tethering this blog, however feebly, to the first three chapters of the series, but as someone who didn’t finish what they started, let’s face it, I’m an impostor.
Cleanses are cool. Juice is fun.
Okay, that was Part IV. Now for the finale.
Here are my nominees for the Most In Need Of A Cleanse award for this week:
Barack Obama. Actually a firehose-powered shower might be closer to the mark. Another capitulation dressed up as ‘compromise’. Sorry, remind me what the Democrats got in this deal? Obama continues to look like either a timid and naive fool (as evidenced by the replaying all over the media of his press conference last year where he said, in response to being challenged on his self-imposed weak negotiating position in advance of the upcoming debt ceiling fight, that he would take the new leader of the House, John Boehner, at his word that he wouldn’t hold the country hostage over raising the ceiling – whoops) or a cynical politician who is quite happy to embrace Republican policies if it means winning another election, a calculation that may well blow up in his face anyway.
The ‘Impartial’ Beltway Media
I nearly totalled my car on Friday when I heard an NPR reporter (aren’t they supposed to be smart and.. a little bit truthful?) say that the stalled negotiations were due to a unwillingnes to compromise. Excuse me? If only that were true. Thankfully for her, I can’t recall this reporter’s name but it seems that, if her comment is anything to go by, this dishonest hack’s idea of a Democratic compromise would mean a return to institutionalized slavery and Rush Limbaugh taking over as chairman of the DNC. Add water and repeat for the rest of the corporate media who trade reality and integrity for ‘balance’.
People Who Fail To Finish What They Start (or, to be more specific, Me)
I’m embarrassed. Like our President, I capitulated. Like our President, I sold out to avoid discomfort. Like our President, I’ve left my supporters feeling angry, cheated, let down, deceived. Luckily, the sun rises and we get another chance to move forward, to grow, to be the best we can be, to be true to ourselves and our deepest principles.
But not tonight. I’m taking a long shower with Barack, and it might take a while to wash the shame away.
Picture : Our impostor-in-chief.
August 2, 2011 § 1 Comment
When one decides to abstain from processed food, the reasons for our country’s obesity epidemic become abundantly clear.
A disclaimer: I decided to, uh, postpone our juice cleanse last night. One and three-quarter days I lasted.
What caused me to end it, to break my fast? I could dress myself up here in many different colours of righteous justification, but ultimately, looking back, it was a matter of will. Without a pressing need to continue, I gave in to my hunger.
But the illuminating part came later, after I had finished gorging myself on a foot-long veggie pattie, lettuce and tomato on whole wheat, married nicely to a regular coke, courtesy of my friends at Subway. It was, after all, late at night and my options were limited. But in the interests of complete disclosure and ethical reporting, there were plenty of options in my fridge as well.
So why did I venture out into the dank, wooded Burbank night? Why did I seek satiety in a Subway sandwich, when I could have easily filled my stomach at home?
Because, hungry as I was, I wasn’t satisfying appetite merely for food. That, in fact, was the smaller part of it. The essence of this experience is that I was satisfying my need to purchase food. And not just any food. Food obtained from a shiny, fluorescent place with soda fountains and sandwiches with catchy names. A place where I could watch someone else make my meal.
No wonder people find it so hard to lose or even maintain their weight in our society. We drive past, walk through and experience mini Las Vegases of food, everywhere we go. Fast food, fast coffee. On seemingly every corner, on billboards above every street, in every commercial we take in images of gleaming, delicious fare, seductively coaxing us to empty our pockets and stuff our gullets. We can be happy for twenty minutes, or ten, or even five depending on how fast we eat or drink. Sure, that happiness fades, but that’s why there’ll be a thousand other chances to make another purchase down the road. Flashing lights, enormous posters: from sandwiches to lattes to burgers to fried chicken to chinese take out to frozen yoghurt. Vegas, baby, Vegas.
How can the ordinary citizen, not educated or conditioned to resist, possibly detach from the undulating neon which washes over them on a daily basis? Based on current obesity statistics, they can’t. Or won’t. Or are not even aware that they’re being manipulated.
I don’t feel bad about quitting the cleanse. Well, maybe a little. What embarrasses me is the manner in which I quit.
I’ve always thought that there should be extremely restrictive regulations in place related to how casinos can advertise and operate. No flashing lights, no colourful names, no hotels attached. The machines can’t make any sounds. The croupiers can’t dress up and they must be called money-collectors. The sign outside has to show the casino’s daily profits and the odds of someone walking out with more than they had when they went in. The walls must be lined with photos and descriptions of people whose lives have been ruined by gambling. No drinking- no sodas. Just fetid water, brought on plastic trays, the kind on which hospital patients receive their daily pills. The casino’s mission statement must be in all their advertising and it must be honest, something like, “we are in the business of making money. Our games are extremely profitable for us. They are designed to ensure that you will lose most of the time. Come to our casino.”
Armed with that information and nothing else, I wonder how long it would take for gambling to become a non-issue for most people. If only it were that way with food as well. Then it wouldn’t be so hard for chumps like me to do a 5-day juice cleanse.
Don’t give up on me. Two steps forward, one step back. I went to the West Hollywood farmers market today. And just to show you that the bastards haven’t won, Parts 4 and 5 of this series will still be going to press.
June 22, 2011 § 1 Comment
People do use cellphones in The Trip, the delightful English road movie directed by Michael Winterbottom. But they never look at their cellphones; not in restaurants, not while driving, not while standing somewhere waiting for something or someone.
They’re too busy making conversation. After all, that’s how conversation occurs, doesn’t it? It’s made. We have to create it and, in the absence of that act of creativity, there must be silence between people, which would be an acceptable alternative (not nearly enough of it these days), except for the fact that we long ago abrogated silence in favour of apps, background music, televisions in elevators and never ending skyscraper construction.
But back to conversation. While we may look back at more primitive agrarian cultures and see the human being bent over their plow, we might now define the modern human as bent over a phone, staring into the electronic void, saying and hearing nothing. The Trip reminds us (or at least this writer) of the joys of working with and off another person in the search for entertainment, as opposed to having it spoon fed to us. These men spend a lot of time in a car and at no point is the radio on. Instead, they proceed to create utter nonsense for six days straight as they go about their business in the English countryside.
Of course, this is a fictional film, with two hours of written, edited and parsed material. But the essence of their interaction and the lesson implicit within remain: we can never know the satisfaction and joy of connecting with others if we don’t at some point venture forth and attempt to connect in the first place. There are risks involved: we need to show an interest, bring our sense of humour, be prepared to offer unbridled opinion and to entertain the perspectives and humours of others. That many of us might call these acts risky says something about the point at which we find ourselves.
In addition, sometimes conversation and interaction is boring. That’s the thing from which this society flees. Boredom has become more intolerable than cruelty, avarice and self-aggrandizement; we’d rather watch reality television and violent, money-soaked blockbusters than films where heaven forbid there is a moment that doesn’t stimulate.
We’ve forgotten that sometimes there’s value in patience, in sitting through and with the quiet moments, during which nothing of great interest is occurring. The alternative, which we have now in our mass distraction industry and society of constant noise, is the en masse numbing of thought and feeling.
The Trip has some of those moments. But in living with those, one also experiences joy, laughter, spirited exchanges of ideas, poignancy and a smattering of poetry thrown in for good measure.
I could tell you to seek out the movie. Or we could just gather all of who we are and instead seek out each other.
Picture : Steve Coogan & Rob Brydon in The Trip, directed by Michael Winterbottom.