Monthly Archives: June 2021

What’s Around the Bend?

I like to tape inspirational messages to my dresser mirror. One of them reads “What’s around the bend?” I remember writing that one down at some point within the timeline of my divorce, when I was watching a lot of Abraham Hicks videos on YouTube. I like the mystery it implies. There’s something better coming… We just don’t know what it is, so get excited!

I still find it to be an inspiring reminder to refrain from getting sucked into the mud marsh of whatever life challenge may be sabotaging your moment. Since it is often the past that pulls us down and out of the purity of now, a reminder like this works as a counterpoint… a sort of “levity,” or lightness, to the “gravity” of our own ruminations.

During that chapter of my life, this little question, written on a blank flashcard, helped me get through the stress that is part of so many divorces… made still worse by the barrage of legal complexities that often feel overwhelming, woefully complex and interminable.

Having stayed too long in a situation that had become unhealthy, the little message also helped me take the first step into the long overdo event. Like so many others who remain in unhappy situations due to various fears revolving around the loss of security, comfort and familiarity, it took a push. That decisive push can come from anywhere… and it can be as small as an innocuous comment or as big as an act of abuse.

The Sticky Mind

As it turns out, that’s how the mind works… its default go-to is the past because that is what it knows through direct experience. That’s what is familiar.

And that’s why it’s often so hard to let it go. Our mind can only “see” what we are about to “lose.” It can’t see what we are about to gain, or in other words, what is around the bend. Whether it’s a breakup, or a lost job, or a move… the mind will focus on the loss and what we’re leaving behind because it has a hard time envisioning what may be on the other side. It can’t imagine the new life ahead because it hasn’t registered in its bank of lived experience yet.

It’s a bit like an addiction. As one of my spiritual teachers used to say, “you’re just spinning the old story.” And that’s how dependency works… We stay hooked on a behavior even when that behavior is no good for us and no longer brings us anything healthy or truly joyful.

Why would we continue spinning stuff in our heads if it doesn’t feel good? Why would we stay in a situation, physically, even after that situation has become dysfunctional? That’s where it gets interesting… and even more like an addiction. As addiction recovery specialists explain, people often use drugs or alcohol to keep from feeling bad, rather than for their pleasurable effects. It’s a way to stay a bit numb to life.

And there’s also existential fear. The loss of anything is a palpable reminder of our own impermanence. We know it intellectually. But on a guttural level, it seems impossible that we are subject to the laws of change, like everything else. And the anxiety it causes takes the form of clinging… clinging to anything that gives us a semblance of security, familiarity and constancy.

And so, dropping our story (that keeps us trapped physically) is like dropping an addiction — one that we hold onto to prevent coming face to face with loss and with time, itself. So, we’d rather not. The problem is, we are not bringing ourselves anything good with this paralyzing strategy.

Replace the Old with Something Better

The first step out is to find something to “replace” the old story with. This goes back to the Yoga Sutras, which explain that the best way to change a habit is to replace it with a better one. I have found that one of the most practical, on the spot remedies is to simply shift our perspective… and it’s got to be simple, otherwise we won’t do it.

Shifting into a spirit of curiosity about whats to come serves as an enticing replacement. It is somewhat like an affirmation, in that it works by re-habituating our thought patterns. But unlike the objection that is sometimes put toward the use of affirmations—that they are not believable—this profound but straightforward question “what’s around the bend?” is simple enough, so that our inner skeptic won’t reject it for being too far-fetched.

There’s nothing to disbelieve. It’s just an intriguing suggestion. And as soon as we begin tofeel better, reality itself feels better and the whole things begins to feed upon itself, like a self-propelled system. In short, we come to see a new reality, and we naturally shift into an uplifted state as new beliefs continue to follow from our new experiences.

You might be wondering… but isn’t this a future thought?… Whats around the bend? Aren’t we supposed to stay present?

Whatever we give attention to, will thrive. So, daily attention to exciting propositions brings a new sense of playfulness into our lives, in real time. We’re playing with possibility. And it makes life more exciting… NOW. The very idea of potential imbues the the present moment with a captivating sparkle of possibility.

The Road Not Taken

In the final episode of The Kominsky Method, acting coach “Sandy,” played by Michael Douglas, confides in his ex wife “Roz,” played by Kathleen Turner:

Sandy: Hey, can I tell you a secret?

Roz: Will I have to lie on the witness stand?

Sandy: I’ve lived my life with a broken heart.

Roz: I don’t understand.

Sandy: When I was a kid, I didn’t dream about being an acting coach. I dreamed I was going to be an actor. When that didn’t happen, I convinced myself that teaching is what I was meant to do. And that it was actually better than my silly childhood dream.

My Story, in Brief

He was pulling the words right out of my own heart. But my parallel had to do with my unfulfilled childhood dream of singing. I never dared to describe it as a “heartbreak.” But in hearing that dialogue, I knew it was the right word. Because that’s what it felt like. In my book, Buddha in the Classroom, I tell the story of how, as a child, I would convince my mother that I was sick enough to stay home from school, so that I could sing along with all my favorite records, especially Elton John, Carly Simon, and Carole King (I’m a child of the 70s). I convinced her to sign me up for singing lessons and later joined the school choir. The rock band I formed with my drummer boyfriend in high school, would be my last go-round with singing… for a few decades, anyway.

As a young adult, I came to feel that I could not sing and simply stopped. But I was that mother who lived the dream through her kid… like those football dads who never got to play, so they live it out through their sons. And live the dream I did… through years of schlepping to violin camp, sax lessons, Guitar Center for new guitars and amps… and best of all, music in the house all the time. He always knew he could leave it anytime he wanted, but as destiny would have it, he took to it naturally.

The Road Not Taken Isn’t Good or Bad

Despite my little pity party with Michael Douglas, I have discovered that the road not taken gives us “juice.” It gives us a kind of useful frustration, even though that word gets a bad rap—as in the expression, “he’s a frustrated actor” (or, fill in the blank). This frustration can provide the impetus to channel that creative energy into everything we do. In other words, we can put that spirit into other endeavors, which imbues them with vigor and meaning.

I have also found that the myriad heartbreaks and “unfulfilled” areas of our lives, gifts us with a sweet sense of melancholy that makes us richer, as humans. But the kind of melancholy I speak of is not sadness or unhappiness or depression. It’s rather like a color… a wonderful hue in the prism of life. It gives us depth. It gives us empathy and sensitivity.

With some irony, it is that same sensitivity that enables me to feel music deeply and relate to others with a kind of profound compassion that wouldn’t be there if I had no understanding of heartbreak.

I would even say that the emotions that are often dismissed as “undesirable” are the salt in the stew of our character.

Spiritual therapist Linda Nardelli speaks of the importance of welcoming all emotions… “when I welcome my clients’ full range of emotions and see them as a whole, they often rationalize their feelings as not being spiritual or advanced. They’ve ascribed to the path of evolution and believe that they have to be beyond human to be spiritual. They perceive their humanity as being a bad thing.”

“It’s important to welcome your emotions. What’s wrong with frustration, shame, fear?” ~Linda Nardelli

Going Even Deeper

We grow up being told that if we chase our dreams and passions, we’ll live happily ever after. We are told to go after all the material goodies, including recognition, accolades and all the various symbols of success. Nowhere are we told about the space in the middle of dreams and disappointment. The space in between yearning and loss. A wise teacher once told me that “anxiety, heartbreak and tenderness mark the in between state.” But no one ever wants to go there.

What would happen if we found the courage to explore the in between? To feel what it really feels like there? This is the land where the spiritual warriors live. It’s where we become tender and where compassion wells up of its own accord, to take the place of bitterness, so that loss no longer feels like loss, but rather, like love.

It Doesn’t Have To Be Your Profession

What does it matter if it’s “what you do?” All the better if not! So as not to become corrupted by “work stuff,” like deadlines, evaluations, and worries about performance. As a hobby, it stays sweet, and never becomes odious.

My best friend was one of the “lucky” ones who was able to make a profession out of dancing. She once shared with me the common experience among the cast members of a famous musical she took part in. Far from reveling in prideful accomplishment for having been part of one of the longest running shows, they ended up physically and mentally jaded. Across the board. Many were dancing on old injuries and were scarcely able to find the motivation to go on stage night after night. Yet somehow, they managed to put themselves into their costumes and glissade onto the stage one more time because it was how they made their living.

It is the same motivation that gets most of the world to work every day.

When something becomes a job it often becomes burdensome. Think of the ancient Greek myth about Sisyphus. He is condemned by the guards to push a giant boulder uphill, over and over, all day long, even as it continuously rolls to the bottom of its own weight as soon as he gets it to the top. The gods understood the futility of wasted labor, so it was the perfect wicked punishment. In retelling the story, the French philosopher Camus likens the absurdity of the task to the predicament of every single one of us, who must push our rocks in our own way… as we struggle to meet deadlines, deal with coworkers and bosses and solve the problems that are part and parcel of any workday, anywhere.

But, when something is done purely out of love, without the label of work tagged onto it, and without the heaviness of deadlines hanging over it, it can be a joyful retreat.

Soul Purpose Matters More Than Profession

My beloved teacher, Guru Singh, once spoke about the importance of getting in touch with your soul purpose. “Your soul purpose is not to be a lawyer or a doctor,” he said, “but your soul purpose can express itself by being a lawyer or a doctor or an actor or a teacher or a mother or whatever. Your soul purpose isn’t your profession, but rather, your soul purpose will be expressed through your intention in your profession.” (Lecture at Yoga West 2/5/13)

Through coaching, Michael Douglas’ character confronted his own unprocessed emotions and created a safe space for his students to do the same. As a teacher, I can relate to the therapeutic value inherent in the profession. I have long gathered that this is a big part of what my soul’s purpose has been…

But thanks in no small part to a stressful divorce, and a little encouragement from my friends, I finally started singing again. It is inconsequential that it is nothing more than a therapeutic hobby. And it’s okay that I’m just an okay singer. Many classics were sung by okay singers who thought they couldn’t sing.

Michael Douglas’ character finally gets his day in the sun. On the big screen. The fact that he won an award made for good story telling, but it too, would’ve been inconsequential if it were otherwise. And no matter that it’s the final chapter of his life. The time is just right when we are able to infuse it with love. And in return, it will bring us only joy.

It’s all part of The Road. A part of the soul’s purpose that isn’t even fully understood… yet.

What is your road not taken? And how might you travel that road, now?