Saturday, May 31, 2008

BardBliss: Tree Pose

The tree I was looking at when I wrote this.
But I was sitting inside. Eating pastries.
That tasted like Paris.

Listening to: Oh, the outfits!


Today's Bliss Formula: After an early morning of much-needed rain, the sun is out. The wind is brisk and singing the wind chimes. I can see the two varieties of Clematis on our mail box from where I am writing and they are beginning to open.



Tree Pose


The tree out front is dancing;
her arms reaching, straining
to sky.
If you don’t look closely,
you will think she is
standing still.
But she dances with frenzy,
with joy, emanating
clear light.

I ache for her abandon;
I, whose feet are not
bound to earth, ache
to move freely,
to abide
in the big mind
of the big sky,
to caress the air
and sing the winds,
to cleanse
breath.

Friday, May 30, 2008

BlissQuest: Hopelessly Devoted to What?

The Central "Altar" in Our House

Listening to: This was my favorite song when I was 11. (Remember, I said eleven!)

Today's Bliss Formula: I love starting my day taking photographs. I need to do that more often. Once it really warms up, I should go out in the mornings with my camera and wander around on my bike.

Every single thing in the above photograph has meaning. The tiny birds are called Guide birds. There are dried lotus seed heads from our neighbors, a piece of drift wood from our lake, story beads, homemade prayer beads, photographs of our Ernie and Jobie and their ashes, Jobie's brush, a Ganesh statue, and more.

All of this reminds me, when I look at it, of my priorities.

When I walked around the house taking photos of the altars, I realized how many we have. One in every room, a few in the living room.

It all started a few Septembers ago, when we decided to put out a Ganesh statue during his celebration month. Every day we lit a candle, changed the flower, and thought about obstacles that we wanted removed in our lives.

The second September we did this, we decided we wouldn't take it down. And then they grew from there.
Lakshmi at the top of our steps.

The act of building an altar can be a spiritual act in and of itself. Choosing what to put on it, arranging it, keeping it neat. But it is the daily usage of the altar -- the acts of devotion -- that give it power.

This is important.

An altar can have anything on it -- religious or not. It doesn't matter. What matters is the intent behind the altar.

What matters with an altar -- and with life -- is the essential question: "To what am I devoted?"

Are you devoted to an old, out worn identity for yourself? Are you devoted to a life that is getting you nowhere, not fulfilling you? Are you devoted, for instance, to concepts that keep you stuck and unhealthy?

And what are the unwritten rules of these devotions? Do you think, for example, that being so busy your head is spinning means you are a good person? Do you think that foregoing your own needs in favor of others' needs, even when it makes you feel bitter, makes you a good Christian/Buddhist/fill in the blank?

To what are you devoted?

Build an altar to it. Light a candle every day. Remind yourself. Then go about your day acting on that devotion.

I am devoted to my partner and my cats and my rabbit and this house and the land on which it sits and my writing and yoga. That's about it. Yes, I have friends. Yes, I have other interests (too many of them). But this small list comes first. It has to; we all only have so much time.

Are you wasting your time devoting yourself to keeping up with the Jones's? Are you wasting your time saying "no" to your heart's deepest desires?

Stop. Today. Right this minute.

Say "yes" to all those ignored whispers of yearning.

Mary represents, for me, the ultimate "yes," in that
she said
yes to life knowing the pain it would hold for her;
the possible
joy overrode the fear.

A BlissQuest challenge for the weekend: Make a list of your priorities. Make it only six items long. Think about being devoted to these priorities. When you use the language of devotion, it can help to clear away the clutter.

Go around your house and gather items that represent one or more of these devotions and set up an altar. Spend time with this space. Light a candle. Just sit and think upon your images. Light some incense. Say a prayer, make a wish, visualize your goals. Whatever works for you.

I'd love to know what you come up with!


Thursday, May 29, 2008

RandomBliss: The Birds!

The Gold Finches are back!
(We've been hearing them, but
they finally revealed themselves.)

Listening to: Dreaming of Italy from Oregon.

Today's Bliss Formula: Bliss is not in my teeth today; new wires = pain! Bliss may reside in the Advil bottle. And in more normal temperatures -- around 70 rather than the 50's we've been having.

I know most people adore spring because it means summer is coming, but we adore spring because it means the birds are coming. And lately...

This weekend, sitting in the backyard, I saw something out of the corner of my eye and thought to myself, "Wow, that is one big firefly!" And then, it hit me.

"Frog!" (My partner started being called "Frog" by her grandfather when she was two; it stuck.) "Frog! The hummingbird!"

Yes, a Ruby-throated Hummingbird was interested in our purple irises at the bottom of the yard. A few summers back, we think we had a family. Every morning around ten, they would come out -- about 8 of them.

About twenty minutes later, I looked up and who was flying over but the Great Blue Heron. Ever since our neighbors put in a pond with the usual big, bright fish, the Herons fly over our house almost every day -- looking for a snack, I would assume.

Yesterday evening, after hearing them for days but not finding them, the Gold Finches came out. And on her way home yesterday afternoon, riding her bike along the bluff that looks out over the bay, Frog saw a Baltimore Oriole, a precious sighting indeed as they are only here for a short time.

Our Peninsula makes us an excellent birding area; it's a major migratory zone and actually has six distinct ecological zones. Our house is about two miles from the lake, so we get some of the visitors as they pass out of the area.

And because we are one block from a city park, we attract and keep a lot of birds that I think we are privileged to see on a regular basis. My personal favorites are the hawks.

In particular, the Red-tailed Hawk. My love of birding started with this majestic raptor. I was sitting out back at a small table, and I looked up just in time to see a hawk come out of nowhere and swoop down on some Mourning Doves (whom I now refer to, affectionately, as "hawk pockets" -- go ahead, sing it!).

He stopped in mid-grab and looked me right in the eye and then took off with his dinner. I know that this is hard for some people, but I felt honored to witness such a moment. It was breathtaking.

(This is natural -- hawks have to eat. And if you're at all concerned for the prey, read Barbara Kingsolver's book Prodigal Summer to learn about the necessity of not just the prey for the predator but of the predator for the prey. It's all about balance.)

Since then, I am constantly coming in contact with the Red-tailed Hawk and so consider him one of my Totem Animals.

A Red-tailed Hawk is considered a rare totem in that it is one that you keep for your whole life. Other totems pass in and out of our lives, teaching us and moving on. The Red-tailed Hawk stays, and he is, of course, about seeing the larger picture. He brings the gift of vision. Hawk medicine is about seeing a better world and trying to show it to others.

So, pay attention to the birds in your life and look up their totem meaning; they may be trying to tell you something.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

SharedBliss: Interview with Artist Kelli Bickman

"Lotus Bliss" by Kelli Bickman

Listening to: This song comes to mind as summer approaches.

Today's Bliss Formula: 39 years old and I get to say things like this: "Today I go to get my rubber bands changed on my braces! Perhaps p
ink?" (Right now, they are ocean blue.)

I think I have mentioned before that my introduction to the idea of blogging came about because I looked up Neil Gaiman a few years back, after having read and been blown away by American Gods.

And it was through reading his blog that I discovered the art of Kelli Bickman.

Bickman's art was a revelation for a couple of reasons. First of all, because it is. Much like Gaiman, Bickman dares to mix -- color, theme, mythology -- and she does so with respect and humor at the same time. A difficult feat.

Secondly, it was a personal revelation. My partner had been painting for a few years at this point and what she was doing did not look like what people thought of as "serious art," and yet she was not interested in producing "serious art." She wanted to make people think, yes, but more importantly to look at a painting and feel good -- even if just for that one moment.



"Green Tara" by Bickman

Kelli Bickman, a serious artist to be sure, does just that and proved to my partner and to me that art produced from a sense of joy could lead to an artist's life -- you know, the kind we all dream of, where our art is our living and our living is our art.

I think art such as Bickman's is actually the most "serious" of all in that it expresses something joyful and ecstatic about being human. I think, too, that art like this can only come from a certain kind of soul -- a happy, broad-minded, and delighted-with-life soul.

(Besides her own website, you can find her here and here.)

Describe the PrimeBliss of your life. How did you come to know that this was your PrimeBliss?

My PrimeBliss is the act of creating art. There are moments when everything of this earthly existence falls away and becoming one with creation envelopes me, time stands still and everything is perfect in that moment...from what I understand, this is what most creators search for. Mostly I am a painter but I explore many mediums. I prefer to work on large scale works, murals especially, but finding bliss can be in the simple act of making a line drawing as well...no matter what medium, it is the act of creation itself that thrills me. There are times when I am doing a commercial job and I literally laugh out loud because it is so wonderful to make money doing what I love. I've always been an artist but I guess I KNEW it when every job I had felt like I was 'doing time' for a paycheck unless I was creating...and I've had many jobs from receptionist to waiting tables in a jazz club to dressing windows at Saks Fifth Ave. I would always come home after my 'job' and make collages (early works) or paintings. When things started selling, it was very encouraging and I dedicated more time to creating and then somewhere around 2001 I made the leap of faith to paint full time. It hasn't always been easy but I remain steadfast in my intention to make a living as a fine artist and, God willing, my career keeps getting better every day.

"White Tara" by Bickman

What types of choices and sacrifices did you make to be able to craft this bliss-filled life?

I guess the biggest sacrifice in my life right now is space. I have a decent sized apartment in the West Village of NYC, but it is always full of visitors and family and seems to get smaller every day. My challenge is to find a space to paint large scale works in and store the hundreds of paintings I've made in a place other then my bedroom (one never gets away from the art when confronted with it first thing in the morning and last thing at night) and then find the time and energy to make the art.

How does your PrimeBliss radiate out into the rest of your life?

Creating works of art is only 50% of the job. The other 50% comes from an audience receiving the work. Sharing is a fundamental part of the exchange between the artist and viewer. So, my PrimeBliss is really to share my creations with other people all over the world. My work doesn't serve me or anyone when it is stacked up in my studio, so I love having shows or publishing images so the creative exchange exists. And, of course, when I sell work, I tend to be much happier and like to share my abundance with the people closest to me!

What are some other activities that also give you this sense of bliss? Things that make you lose track of time?

I live in Manhattan but grew up in a very small town in Minnesota. My nearest neighbor was a mile away and we had almost 400 acres of land. My father was a farmer, and although I was never much of a help to him on the farm (other than cooking meals), I do love to get my hands into the earth. We have an 800 sq foot deck on the back of my apartment (another rarity in NYC), so I have started an urban garden...very blissful to watch things grow and know that in a few months I will be able to go out back and pick strawberries, lettuce, kale, swiss chard, and many various herbs from our little garden (we even compost our organic waste to make soil for next year's crops). I also love camping, swimming, hiking, traveling, biking, and just generally being in nature. I appreciate Mother Earth so much more after living in a big city.

What is your daily or weekly spiritual practice?

Most important for me is to try to be mindful in every waking moment. I also do dream therapy before and after sleeping. Being grateful for everything is key to any spiritual practice. I also read tarot cards for myself as a guide. I practice yoga and do my best to sit in meditation, but in all honesty, I sometimes get lazy with practice even though I know it can help me move mountains.

What music is your bliss?

I love Krishna Das, George Harrison, Fredo Viola (www.fredoviola.com), Kid Loco, Brett Dennon, Bob Marley, and a billion others...depends on my mood at the moment. I did Live Painting at Seed Gallery in Newark last week and the DJ was really amazing...turned me on to a bunch of new electronica that was so inspiring to create to.

Name books or authors/poets or people who are your bliss, who influenced your bliss.

The biggest life changing books for me were: "Autobiography of a Yogi" by Yogananda Parasambava, "Conversations with God" by Neale Donald Walsh, "The Alchemist" by Paulo Coelho, and "The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying" by Soygal Rinpoche. And, of course, one of my all time favorite writers is Neil Gaiman. I used to work for him, and he taught me so much about the world and has inspired me enormously. He has also been one of my greatest patrons.

What advice would you give to someone who feels they have not yet discovered their PrimeBliss?

Sit quietly and ask for guidance. The answer is always there if you can quiet your mind enough to listen to the voices in your head. Angels really do walk among us and are here to guide us towards our life purpose...all we have to do is be present in our lives and let the magic of the universe work through us and be clear in our intention. There are many great teachers on finding Bliss...Wayne Dyer is a great teacher to help people work with the power of intention and shift consciousness to a higher way of being. Another great teacher is Eckhart Tolle...he teaches stillness and is really amazing. Our planet is in a time of crisis, and each individual person needs to work to stay balanced to deal with the changes that are happening. I tend to listen to the audio versions of their books while I am painting or driving...it keeps me focused and in touch with what is 'real' amidst the chaos of existence as we know it on planet earth.

Do you have a favorite quote you would like to share?

Thoughts create reality.

And don't we all wish our reality
looked a lot more
like Bickman's thoughts?
"Mother of Love II" by Bickman

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

EcoBliss: Catholicism & the Environment

A missing-her-hand Mary in the cemetery.

Listening to right now: This (though I don't remember seeing the movie)

Today's Bliss Formula: Later today, I will work on the artist interview I have lined up for tomorrow. It's a rainy and cool day, so lots of indoor work -- including more yoga than I have been doing; I'm trying to increase my daily "intake."

(Next Tuesday, I'll look at Hinduism/Buddhism and the environment.)

Pagans aren't the only ones concerned about the environment.

If the majority of the citizens of the United States claim to be Christians in one form or another, this is an important point.

It's time for environmentalism and environmentalists to stop restricting themselves to fire circles. It's time for environmentalism to enter the pews.

The mystics have known this all along:

The Word is living, being, spirit,
all verdant greening, all creativity.
This Word manifests itself in every creature.

--Hildegarde of Bingen
(1098-1179)

Every creature is a word of God
and is a book about God.

--Meister Eckhart
(1260-1328)

And recently the Vatican seemed to show signs of playing catch-up. They released a list, not of "new" deadly sins as some media outlets liked to label it but, of social sins that were meant to clarify the concept of personal responsibility and how individual actions affect the larger community.

This list includes environmental pollution, which means, I suppose, that the Pope will stop flying all over the world in his personal jet...

And yet, they included it, and that is, in itself, big news.

Yet the "old" list of deadly sins, which the Church released 1500 years ago, seems just fine to me -- if we were to pay attention and think about its relevance in our own lives. This list already includes gluttony and greed, both of which relate to environmental "social sinning."

How do gluttony and greed show their ugly heads in our own lives? Take a footprint quiz just to start. (These aren't perfect, but they are helpful.)

Or listen to what the UN is saying about the use of biofuels. In particular, a UN representative for food rights says that "burning food today so as to serve the mobility of the rich countries is a crime against humanity." Strong language, that.

Gluttony and greed pretty much sum up the behaviors that are causing our current problems:

We want cheap food and we want lots of it.

We want strawberries in the middle of winter and bananas year round.

We want 24/7 entertainment.

We want 24/7 access to everything.

We want houses that in most countries could hold a small village.

We want always to be comfortable -- never too hot and never too cold.

We want and we want and we want.

And we don't care what it costs as long as the physical price tag is cheap.

If that isn't a sin, I don't know what is.

If Catholics or other Christians need a role model for better living, who better than St. Francis of Assisi? How many statues of St. Francis do I see in yards -- some not even Catholic yards? And I wonder if we ever stop to really think about him and his lessons -- or if we just think he's cute, like some version of Snow White, with all those birds on his arms?

I don't think we have to wear sack cloth and tolerate fleas, but finding our pleasures and joys in the natural world would be a good place to start.

As a matter of fact, scholar Eloi Leclerc believed that for St. Francis salvation meant an "enchanted existence." How many of us, driving around frenzied from one place to the next, feel we are living such a lovely thing -- an enchanted existence?

Maybe if more of us lived the spirit of Catholicism more closely, we would have more in common with Pagans than we ever thought possible.

Monday, May 26, 2008

InnerBliss: Letting Go of an Anxious Self

Zoe, who knows no anxiety.
(Unless there is a very loud lawnmower outside!)

Listening to: Music like this can help change my mood.

Today's Bliss Formula: I am appreciating the rain today for all the seeds we planted yesterday (and the healthy-so-far grape and kiwi vines and apple and almond trees). But I also appreciate the sun trying to come out! Another day off for most people and yet our neighborhood has remained oh, so quiet.

Like anyone, I am susceptible to the occasional back-step in my quest for a blissful life. This happened a few days ago, but the difference now is that I am able to get my bearings and recover much more quickly because of some tools I have learned to utilize.

The key is that I utilize these tools even when every fiber of my being is screaming "No!" Even when that sluggish part of me says "just lay down; just give in." Even when it feels like there is a four hundred pound monkey on my back. Even then I get up and reach for my tools.

It has taken me many years to gather these tools into a little box and to learn how to use them. This does not happen overnight. But if you keep trying, no matter what, eventually you'll get there.

Like Ravi Singh says in, I think, Naval Power, no matter how many times you have tried and failed to change, keep trying because this next time may be the time. (I paraphrase.)

This particular DVD is dedicated to the naval center, obviously, which is where your willpower resides. To have a strong naval center is to have a strong inner fire. You are able, then, to manifest your dreams and desires -- regardless of the obstacles that may be waiting around the corner. You just keep going.

So a few days ago, I had a conversation that opened the flood gates of anxiety. When this happens, I can feel a toxic stream in my veins -- my arms actually tingle and feel heavy. I call this "green goo." You know the green -- the Homer Simpson causing a nuclear accident kind of green.

I got off the phone filled with green goo. I hadn't had this feeling in quite a while and it made me angry. So I vented to my partner, but I didn't do anything to feel better.

The next day I did. I felt myself spiraling into old patterns, but I was watching them rather than participating in them.

It is at this moment that the big choice comes. I could continue to watch it and then be sucked in by it or I could watch it while I waved good-bye to it. I could choose my old self or I could realize all the work I've done and choose my new self.

We fear (the old self) is all we have. Even its sufferings
are familiar and we clutch them because their very
familiarity is comforting...Yet so long as we aim at the
maintenance of this present self, as we now conceive it,
we cannot enter the larger self-hood which is pressing for life...

--Daniel Day Williams, Theologian, (1910-1973)

And if we do not allow a new self that is pressing for life to be birthed, we will eventually end up sick, whether emotionally or physically or spiritually or, most likely, all three.

I picked myself up and went for a walk. I walked to our Whole Foods Co-op Cafe and sat and drank a healthy juice and ate some refreshing fruit and wrote in my journal. And I ended up writing, "This sadness is not me. I am blisschick, for goodness sake!"

And I am blisschick. As are you. Or, at least, as you are capable. Blisschick resides inside each of us, if we will allow her to come out.

I walked home, feeling lighter. But I knew I had to do more to seal this deal, and I knew exactly what.

I put in Yoga Quick Fixes (a Ravi and Ana, of course!), and I did an "anxiety antidote," which is a very rapid and concentrated form of Kundalini yoga breath work. Like Ravi says, sometimes you have to fight fire with fire.

This breathing, on this day, was hard! But I pushed myself and by the middle of it, I could feel that green goo moving on out, and by the end, during a second breathing exercise, I could feel the real me, the true me, the bliss me asserting herself.

I kept writing in my journal, sitting and talking to my partner, and doing more yoga, but within another day's time, that anxiety breath work was downright easy. Because I'd done it -- I'd overcome the toxic, old self.

This is the work. Literally. Health and happiness do not just come to you via the UPS man because you order them up. You have to go out there and get them for yourself.

Attaining health and happiness is much more like gardening and not at all like ordering online, no matter how much we wish it were. You have to cultivate and care and get your hands dirty and feel the sweat on your brow.

And even when it looks perfect, there's always some weeding to be done.


Change: A New Way of Doing This

Later today, look for a post about dealing with anxiety, but for right now, I wanted to take a moment to outline a change for BlissChick.

I will be trying out a new way to organize my week of writing and so here it is, BlissWeek:

Monday: InnerBliss, where I will write about yoga, Buddhism, Taoism, or whatever spiritual or philosophical systems I am currently reading about and exploring and think may be helpful to others in their quest for bliss and peace. For an example, read this.

Tuesday: EcoBliss, where I will write about how your happy life affects this happy planet. For an example, read this.

Wednesday: SharedBliss, where I will post interviews and open threads, which, eventually, will alternate week to week. For an example, read this.

Thursday: RandomBliss, where I will write about any old thing that catches my fancy -- because that's what bliss is like and you never know where you'll find it. For an example, read this.

Friday: BlissQuest, where I will write about bliss in a more theoretical manner and give suggestions for activities and/or journal writing that can help all of us to live more blissful and artful lives. For an example, read this.

Saturday: BardBliss, where I will post my own poetry or the poetry of others. For an example, read this.

Sunday: MysticBliss, where I will post quotes from great spiritual leaders or texts and where I will get my own Sabbath of sorts, a day of rest from writing my own material! For an example, read this.

There's our week. We'll see how this works for a while.

More later!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

MysticBliss: Ideas are of the Past

Where I will be much of the day.

Listening to right now: This song has been on my mind and the idea that no matter what, it's all good.

Today's Bliss Formula: It's such a beautiful day; it's not too hot or too cool, but just right; everything is still fresh green and not browning from the summer sun; today is a peak spring day where I am...how about where you are? Have you noticed?

Ideas have become far more important
to us than action – ideas so cleverly expressed
in books by the intellectuals in every field. The
more cunning, the more subtle, those ideas are
the more we worship them and the books that
contain them. We are those books, we are those
ideas, so heavily conditioned are we by them.
We are forever discussing ideas and ideals and
dialectically offering opinions. Every religion
has its dogma, its formula, its own scaffold to
reach the gods, and when inquiring into the
beginning of thought we are questioning the
importance of this whole edifice of ideas.
We have separated ideas from action because
ideas are always of the past and action is always
the present – that is, living is always the present.
We are afraid of living and therefore the past,
as ideas, has become so important to us.

Do your actions match your ideals? Or are you stuck in the talking phase of life? What is one thing you could do today to move toward more experiential living, living that exemplifies the person you really are?

Saturday, May 24, 2008

BardBliss: Upside Down and Backwards

A detail from downtown.

Listening to right now: Some Hip-Hop Flamenco from Barcelona Ojos de Brujo (Wizard Eyes)

Today's Bliss Formula: An empty day on my iCal -- and a long weekend ahead with sun and warmer temperatures. Tonight a fire with wine and friends.

Upside Down and Backwards

In the harness of a catamaran
on the lake on a warm
and breezy summer day,
I stretched toward the sky
and let go of the ropes.
My toes slid along the smooth
edge of the boat, playing the slick
edge, tip toeing, daring.
My hair whipped my face
and I opened my heart
and dropped my head back
into the water.

It rushed over my crown
as my eyes upside down
and backward saw water
on top of sky. My body melted
and the harness disappeared
as I cut through the gray green
atop the blue, flying through
life, for a moment,
upside down and backwards.

I thought I might split open,
beginning at my sternum,
and my heart would escape
from its cage and descend
to the sky.

(copyright blisschick)

When in your life have you felt your heart open? What were you doing? Why aren't you doing it more?



Friday, May 23, 2008

EverydayBliss: Showing Your True Colors

The back of my head visiting my niece.

Listening to right now: The Ting Tings

Today's Bliss Formula: A lot of green on my iCal today -- which is the color of writing projects. And then tonight -- an outing! Dinner at our favorite Italian restaurant, which happens to be in our neighborhood only 4 blocks away. Yum!

One of the big differences that I notice between Gen X'ers and Baby Boomers has to do with self-decoration. Yes, perhaps we tattoo (though I have not) and perhaps we are known to pierce a bit more (again, not me), I think we bother less with make-up and perfume than the Baby Boomers.

At least, that has been my observation. I know of no one my age who wears perfume on a daily basis, if at all. And if my friends wear make-up, it's that "invisible" approach -- no blatantly obvious red lips, fake lashes, penciled eyebrows. And rarely a painted nail -- except on their toes. And, to be clear here, the only lesbians I know are my partner and me. All our female friends are of the straight variety.

And yet, my generation does color their hair. Think about it, they were raised pretty much by the first generation of women ever to decide that their natural hair color was unacceptable and it was way cooler to put chemicals on your scalp.

Fifty is the new forty pretty much because of hair color.

So the fact that I don't color my hair -- unless it's been a dreary winter and I'm feeling a bit pale -- tends to annoy these women. They tell me. As if it's any of their business.

Men are another story. And perhaps this will be a shock to most women, but I get stopped on the street -- literally -- by men who want to tell me how much they love my hair. How much they love that I let it be.

Standing in a line at Starbucks, gentlemen in suits shyly tell me how pretty it is and how much they appreciate the natural approach in a woman.

And I probably don't need to point out that men with the same hair color are told they look distinguished.

Of course, I've been lucky. My white -- not dingy gray -- hair has come in in these weirdly perfect stripes.

And I have had more time to think about this than most women. I got my first white hair when I was fourteen. This has been happening to me for a long time. My age -- 39 -- is only beginning to catch up with my hair.

Which brings me to a larger point: our hair is not, for two days in a row, the same color, so when you color it, you are telling a story. I was born, for instance, with pitch black hair and then for the first few years of school, my hair was definitely auburn, and by college, it was back to being almost black -- but with those whites starting to pop up more and more regularly.

Our hair is really a lot like us -- ever changing and ever evolving and why would we want it any other way?

Though, lately, I have to admit, I have been tempted by the idea of pink!

I think, too, this is important: why are you coloring your hair? Is it for fun? For a little pick me up? Or do you do it because you can't stand the thought of aging?

Like anything, it's about being conscious -- even when it comes to something as "silly" as hair color.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

EcoBliss: "Return to Nature" is a Lie

Right in the midst of a busy part of our city,
there is a fair and lovely park.

Listening to right now: Natalie Merchant, Kind and Generous

Today's Bliss Formula: My new set up: I've moved my computer to a window in our wee library. A dormered window, so I sit in a nook. One of my favorite things.

Right this minute, I am not feeling completely blissful, to put it mildly. My internet is wonky today, and I just figured out (thankfully) that my feedburner feed has not been working for some time...and now the (not-bliss)quest of trying to fix that.

To add to this atmosphere of frustration, my sweet grey cat is growling at my sweet white cat. It's one of those days...

It's one of those days when many of us start to think about living in the woods with pen and paper, maybe a manual typewriter, and no other technology. Oh! we think, a composting toilet, solar panels, a wood stove in the winter. Nothing that can break or blow up or can't be fixed without a help line.

I hang out with enough pseudo-hippie types and liberals that I get this a lot. This dream of going "back to nature," a dream I have had myself.

I imagine the different person I would suddenly become. A long braid down my back, I would be calm and centered every minute of every day. (Don't ask -- there's always that braid for some reason -- a braid I could never have because my hair is so very thick that it would snap my neck to grow it that long.)

But this is all an illusion. The illusion begins not where you assume, perhaps. It begins at the beginning of this dream: the part where I think I have to "go back to nature."

I can't go back to something I have never left. I am nature; nature is me.

You can no more separate me from nature than you can separate a fish from water...no, more than that...you can no more separate me from nature than you can separate a fish from its fish-ness.

The separation between us and nature is a mirage.
The perception of separation is the result of ignorance.
It springs from the arrogant belief that a human being
is unlike animal beings and plant beings and rock beings.
It is reinforced by the false teaching that technology
has lifted us above the web of life...We do not seek
a "back to nature" movement; instead, we emphasize
the realization that we can never leave nature.

--From Mother Earth Spirituality by Ed McGaa, Eagle Man

This all goes way back, of course, to the Garden of Eden story and the concept that we are bad and that nature is good and that we had to be kicked out. (Pout.)

So then we romanticize nature as the starting point, the point we can't get back to. We turn nature into an object, the "other." And then the real story making begins.

And these stories only enhance our feelings of separation.

But that is all this is -- a feeling of separation and then we interpret that feeling as fact, rather than seeing it for what it has always been -- an illusion and a lie.

This leads to further disconnect. The kind that propels people out to protest pollution, but they get to the protest by driving their cars. The kind that compels people to play the blame game with a government that is not nearly as powerful as are their own personal, everyday actions.

The consequences of this disconnect are pervasive. Just look around. The companies destroying rain forests. The countries fighting over oil.

And it all starts with a lie.

If we are nature and nature is us, then everything we make is part of that web -- including the technology. When we truly understand this, we will then know how to take responsibility for our actions. But only when we get over this lie.

Only when we realize that our feelings are what lead to actions that reflect the illusion that then reinforce our feelings -- a deadly spiral if ever there was one.

Standing at the edge of the ocean, I feel a certain kind of thrill that includes fear. I am drawn to the beauty but also feel a pull...there is death in that powerful water, death that does not see me as separate.

Nature is beautiful and so we idealize it. Nature is also ugly and mean and strong and deadly. Like us -- because we ARE it.

I used to think the Indians were talking
metaphorically about sister mountains and
brother buffalo, but I have now known
the quest and seen the vision. I am beginning
to understand! If there were no rocks,
my body would have no minerals and I would die.
If there were no sun, the plants would not grow,
and I would die. If there were no water, my cells
would dry up and I would die...They have known
that if we profane the earth, we will corrupt ourselves.
What we do to Mother Earth, we do to ourselves.

--Ed McGaa, Eagle Man

There is no getting back to something we could never leave.

When you are walking on a sidewalk today, do not lament the cement but feel your feet's roots dig down past it, imagine them connected to the earth from which you came. Dust to dust.

When you are downtown, do not lament the buildings but see how they sprang forth from earth and from our beautiful imaginations. See under to the good intentions, the human intentions, the natural intentions that built them -- equal to the intentions of a bird and her nest.

When you think you must move to the mountains to be your true self, find a spot in a park or your backyard and sit like the mountain you already are.

Remember, where you see poison, there will be poison. Where you see negativity, there will be negativity. Where you see lack, there will be lack.

Let these spring winds blow clean your mind and make room for a new and real perception.

Pay attention: in what ways do you feel how you are embedded in this web?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

PrimeBliss: Interview with Kundalini Yogi Ana Brett

Cat in Bridge by Marcy Hall

Listening to right now: Cowboy Junkies

Today's Bliss Formula: Inspired by this interview, my own yoga is wonderful right now. It feels good to be back on track, to be consciously breathing, to be chanting and feeling my heart and throat open.

The first Ravi Singh and Ana Brett yoga DVD I ever did was their 90 minute Journey through the Chakras. I was already somewhat familiar with Kundalini and felt certain it was the right yoga for me. (For more on that, go here.)

Yet Singh and Brett still completely surprised me. The sequencing of the movements, the speed of them, the pauses between...it all felt amazing and rhythmic, like poetry.

And then there was the giggling -- on my part, that is. I kept giggling. Which felt strange while I was doing yoga. It was supposed to be serious and slow and methodical, wasn't it?

No. Not if by "serious" I meant the denial of fun and spontaneity and joy -- three of the main ingredients in any Singh and Brett DVD.

Take a moment in time to be sublime.

It took me many times doing that DVD before I wouldn't laugh out loud when Singh said this line. It seemed so silly, so "sacrilege," so perfect.

Ana Brett is a beautiful yogi, filled with light. She practically glitters on the videos. And in the last few DVD's, we've started to hear her voice too.

Literally. She does quite a bit of the talking lately, but my favorite way to hear her voice is chanting. There is nothing pretentious or trained about it; it is innocent and ebullient, and even when I'm supposed to be focusing on my breath-work, I can barely stop myself from joining her.

Singh and Brett have, happily, told me they are putting together a CD of their mantras, which is to be released later this year.

For now, we'll have to settle for her spoken/written words:

1. Describe the PrimeBliss of your life, including how you came to discover it.

Movement. Using my energy through moving, whether its dance or yoga, connects me to the earth, to life, and to myself. My earliest memories all involve movement. Even when I was 5 and growing up in Australia, I was fascinated by traditional dance forms performed by the aboriginal people in my area and had to learn all I could about their movement rituals. I love to watch people move whether its babies or professional athletes to glean the primal source of movement and encode it in my body.

I love to figure out ways to pass along this information. I want everyone to experience joy in moving!

2. What types of choices and sacrifices did you make to be able to craft this bliss-filled life?

Since movement is something you can do anywhere anytime (you can even choreograph dance in your head) I feel I have not had to sacrifice. I do miss my friends and family when traveling but I make it up with extra calls and emails. A choice would, of course, be a larger living space so I can dance. We don't have this yet because we've been too busy traveling and teaching to build a house! Also, I guess I had to "sacrifice" my modeling career, because it wasn't inspiring me. I remember how, on shoots, I felt tired all the time. Sometimes our bodies aren't so subtle when letting us know we're on the wrong track. (emphasis blisschick)

3. How does your PrimeBliss radiate out into the rest of your life?

Our DVDs hopefully give others the same joy I feel when I am moving my energy through Kundalini Yoga and Dance. I also feel when you are doing what you love you inspire other people to find the joy in their lives. Some people need to see what is possible through someone else before they can believe it is a possibility for themselves. (emphasis blisschick)

4. What are some of your secondary bliss activities? Things that make you lose your sense of time?

Meditating and hiking with Ravi (Singh). We tend to get lost in more ways than one!

5. What is your daily or weekly spiritual practice?

Every day I do a yoga practice. I mix it up according to my mood so it is always different, although I always work "Kundalini" style from the ground up. No matter what else is happening, we meditate every evening for 31 minutes. Right now the meditation we are doing is a Kundalini one for brain balance and joy (and much more). On a practical level it is helping me sleep like a bump on a log and when I am well rested I seem to be in a constant state of bliss!

6. What music is your bliss?

I like everything from "I Am So Open" by the Cowboy Junkies and Led Zepplin, to Madonna. Fun dancy stuff or soulful. We've compiled some amazing music for our upcoming DVD's.

7. Name books or authors/poets or people who are your bliss, who influenced your bliss.

All the books I read as a child, especially fairy tales essentially taught me to be prepared for life's surprises and how to make the bliss last! Right now I'm reading a book called Bones of the Master. We like poetry. It represents to us spirit in evidence. Some of our favorites are: Pablo Neruda, Walt Whitman, Cesar Vallejo, and the list goes on!

8. What advice would you give to someone who feels they have not yet discovered their PrimeBliss?

Do what you love everyday. Don't get lazy, push through the fear, and never stop believing in yourself. Always keep moving forward and remember when one door closes another opens. Create a relationship with energy. Save some for great efforts. Do Kundalini Yoga and meditate so you stay open to life and its endless possibilities. That technology is designed to help one live one's potential.

9. Do you have a favorite quote you would like to share?

There are so many great quotes, unfortunately I have no memory for them. I feel this is a good one by Yogi Bhajan:

It's not the life you lead; it's the courage you bring to it.

I could read this interview over and over and probably will! Brett points out so many essential elements to living a bliss-filled life -- both on and off the mat. And her Yogi Bhajan quote is one of my favorites.

Next week, I'll be posting an interview with artist Kelli Bickman.


QuoteBliss: Choosing Meaning

As you bring your emotions to the light
of consciousness you become aware
that they are interpretations of bodily
sensations and you are the interpreter
who chooses their meaning.

This function of interpretation
is what gives you choice,
and choice gives you mastery
over your life...Healing your
emotions requires making
active and conscious choices.

--Bija Bennett, Emotional Yoga

Instead of being a slave to circumstances, you decide.

--Ravi Singh, Dr. Yoga House Call (DVD)

The subtitle of Bija Bennett's book is "How the Body can Heal the Mind." And it reminds me of the many times I have said to people, "Start on the outside and work your way in."

Only by being physically healthy and flexible can we ever become emotionally healthy and flexible. How you work on that is your choice, of course, but you must make the choice.

How are you working on becoming healthy?


EverydayBliss: Look Up for a Lift

The Watson-Curtze Mansion in Downtown Erie.

Listening to right now: MIDival PunditZ, Ali

Today's Bliss Formula: The new relationships I am developing -- especially in the yoga community -- thanks to this site. Today's reading: The Anti 9 to 5 Guide, a book about which I have long been excited.

On a trip to Paris too many years ago (what a sad little phrase that is -- must get back to Paris!), I noticed something about Cathedrals.

At the time, I was in one of my anti-religion phases, but I still couldn't stay away from the Cathedrals. And when I went in, regardless of my then-cynicism, I felt something. I didn't want to, but I did. I found myself lighting candles -- completely embarrassed but still doing it.

And I wanted to stay inside those cathedrals, just sit, for hours, but I couldn't -- I was with some people who had lists of things to accomplish and just sitting would mean wasted time.

My memory may be wrong, but at the time (around 1994) they were in the middle of a major restoration and there was no seating inside. I could be making this up; memory is tricky. But I do clearly remember having this unbearable urge to sit on the floor, to lie on the floor, and just look up.

Coming back, I forgot all about this, until a few years later when I started attending Mass sporadically and realized why I preferred the Cathedral downtown to any of the smaller, neighborhood churches -- it was the height.

Something about looking up into that vast expanse of space, made me feel good. And the architecture just added to the sensation. Outlining the space with beautiful, well thought out lines and curves seemed to make the space more apparent -- rather than limited.

Looking up into the sky, of course, can give you the same lift. And living on a lake, with no mountains, no forests, is, to me, the ultimate. I am a flat-lander for that very reason -- my love of big sky.

Reach up for the sunrise.
Put your hands into the big sky.
You can touch the sunrise.
Feel the new day enter your life.
--Duran Duran

So what about out own bodies? If the body is the temple, is there a way to access these feelings internally, no matter where you are?

Of course. Think about someone with really poor posture. They are hunched; their head is aimed toward the ground. The vibe they send out into the world can vary from "I don't care" to "The world doesn't care." And their posture helps fulfill that prophecy, does it not? They literally drag themselves down.

Standing up straight, with your pelvis positioned in line with your spine, activating your core, can make you feel better. Every time your mother or father yelled at you to stand up straight, they were giving you emotional and spiritual advice as well as physical, whether they were aware of this or not.

And in Kundalini yoga, this principle of looking up is taken to anther level: the third eye is key in Kundalini yoga.

For most of a session of this distinct type of yoga, you have your eyes closed and are instructed to look up and through your third eye.

Traditionally, people say that your destiny is written on your forehead. A good enough reason to look in this direction! But Ravi Singh asserts in Journey through the Chakras, that the point of opening your third eye is really so "you can see clearly where your destiny lies and you can go there and live it."

So it might sound silly but stand up straight, raise your eyes to the sky many times a day, lay down on the grass and just gaze, start taking pictures from underneath things, and feel the lift.

And to paraphrase Ravi Singh yet again (or to quote him exactly -- I couldn't find the quote in my many, many DVD's),

Your feet are roots and your skull a skylight; let heaven and earth conspire within you.

We are spirit and flesh, not any less of one than the other. And when you look up, you remember that your mind and your life are as big as any sky, as beautiful as any sunset, and as promising as any sunrise.

Monday, May 19, 2008

QuoteBliss: What is Your Target?

When skill is achieved, the spear will hit the target.
The question that the aspirant should ask is,
"What is the target in my life?
Do I live by awareness or, like an animal, by instinct?"


Instinct, of course, plays a roll. But I think it is part of sharpening your spear: you learn to listen to your gut and your heart and not just the voices around you. And this is intimately connected to your level of awareness.

The question she poses is essential and well-put: What is the target in your life?

A Kundalini-based quote seemed most appropriate this evening as I am preparing for a Wednesday, May 21st, morning post -- an interview with renowned Kundalini Yoga teacher Ana Brett, who works in tandem with her husband Ravi Singh.

Her responses, I think, could help us all to better target our intended goals in life.

BlissQuest: The Alchemy of Action

Painting by Marcy Hall

Listening to right now: Some Bollywood. Here is one of my all time favorite scenes.

Today's Bliss Formula: Learning that there are people out there who are what they claim to be. In particular, the Kundalini yoga community is filled with loving people at the ready to aid in whatever way they can. I thank them.

Age does not confer wisdom. From the moment I met my partner, I knew she was one of those rare wise-ones. Everyone who meets her feels the same way. When I met her 14 years ago, she was only twenty-three.

No, you can be 80 and still have not made the leap to wisdom. So what really does it? What separates the wise from the ill- or even well-informed?

Wisdom, I think, is about knowing and then acting. You live what you know to be true. That is wise. You do not just store information in your brain to share with others. It affects your everyday actions.

So I came up with a brief way to remind myself of that:

Action is the alchemy by which knowledge becomes wisdom.

Thanks to the internet there is more than enough information out there. In seconds, you can have an answer to an inquiry that three decades ago could have taken weeks to discover. Yet, I do not feel surrounded by the wise.

Because an acting individual is an all too rare individual.

I think people do not have the tools with which to act on knowledge.

Or they go into a sort of information overload and wonder what meaning their personal actions could possibly have in the larger picture.

But it is only personal action that matters. Be the change, said Gandhi. (For more on that, go here.)

So what are the tools?

In every situation, they are different. And if you listen, really listen to the communication that is constantly coming at us from the larger universe, as Erich Schiffmann puts it in the quote yesterday, then you will know what to do.

All of the answers reside within you.

The first question might be "why am I not listening?"

Fear. It is almost always out of fear that we do not listen and then act. Fear of the unknown. Fear of change.

For instance, most of us know and believe that the earth is in trouble. But how many of us actually change our lives, "inconvenience" ourselves? And I'm not talking about using cloth bags at the grocery store. But we are more than glad to sit around talking about the problem, pointing fingers in blame, even running around like a Chicken Little.

Another example. There are people who know and believe that they are not meant for the 9 to 5 world of cubicles and the materialism they are perhaps using to compensate for their anger or sadness at that fact. They know they are meant to be creative humans, co-creating a better world. But it's scary to be so very different from everyone around you. So they stay right where they are, imagining a retirement that might never come.

Again. There are people who long to be writers or painters, but out of a fear of failure, they won't pick up a pen or a brush, blaming all the busyness -- for which they are ultimately responsible.

There are people who feel "empty," are depressed, long for some sort of relationship with the divine, but it is easier to ignore it or to take pills (and yes sometimes, but rarely, that is actually necessary). What would their friends think if they started to go to Church? Or they are just too lethargic to institute their own practice of daily yoga or prayer. Or they don't feel results immediately and so give up -- they have so much to do; how can they fit one more thing? And yet, it is possibly the most important thing of all.

And there is no such thing as "no time" -- you are in charge of your choices. And if your choices don't match your priorities, that is your fault, no one else's.

That is how simple (and yet difficult, yes) the "action" can be: picking up a pen, saying no to the cubicle, getting rid of one of your two or three cars, trying a new church, meditating for ten minutes in the morning.

And one action, I promise you, will lead to another.

What action scares you? What action are you avoiding? What kind of fear are you letting rule your life?

Sunday, May 18, 2008

QuoteBliss: What You're Made Of

I looked outside yesterday evening just in time
-- a double, huge rainbow! No faded spots.
We could see the whole thing; and what
was really cool -- the whole neighborhood
was in the streets, oohing and aahing in the rain.

Listening to right now: Marchio Bossa, doing Moon River

Today's Bliss Formula: A Sunday morning pancake ritual and a rainy day fit for reading.

"Because realize: you are alive, you are made of something, and you did not create yourself. The more attuned you are to the creative life force in you, the more you will notice that you are participating in a non-stop non-verbal communion-communication with God and the universe all the time. You are literally connected to the universe with invisible wiring. You cannot get away from it. It's how you are built."

--Erich Schiffmann, my first yoga teacher (via DVD and writings), as quoted in The Joy of Yoga, edited by Jennifer Schwamm Willis

If we are engaged in a non-stop non-verbal communion-communication, as Schiffmann puts it (and I believe we are), then how do we "hear" it?

One way is prayer. And yoga, for me, is a moving prayer, a way to get my body and all its "static" out of the way so that I can have a clear line.

It is only by participating in some form of deep and clear listening that we can discover, know, and live our bliss.

How are you listening?

Saturday, May 17, 2008

QuoteBliss: Writing a Woman's Life (& Death)

Some new work by Marcy Hall

Listening to right now: Niyaz, The Hunt

Today's Happiness Formula: A trip to the Co-op to get ingredients for an extra yummy dinner; I'll let the produce section tell me what to make, but it has to be worthy of the excellent petite sirah that is sitting on the counter!
Following My Bliss By: I cannot seem to get back to a daily yoga practice. I think this happens every spring because the gardens beckon. But yoga is important -- and more than just exercise, so I am determined...

If you have never read Carolyn G. Heilbrun's Writing a Woman's Life, you should. And you should especially read it if you want to write or paint or be more creative or find more meaning in your life...which, I guess, means you should just read it.

By googling Carolyn G. Heilbrun to create a relevant link in this post, I discovered that she committed suicide last October.

I am especially disturbed, because, apparently, she did this not due to depression or illness, but because she thought her life had been good enough and long enough (she was 77). It's called "rational suicide" or "balance sheet suicide" and is a term from a century or more ago. She had been open with friends and family for about a decade that she would be, at some point, making this "choice."

I am disturbed on so many levels.

It is the point of her book taken to an extreme that is unimaginable to me. What of our end? Is there not, perhaps, some point to it? Some point to our not controlling it?

Though we can, and must, choose the narrative arc of our own story, I do not think we are meant to know how it all turns out, because we are not only the writer but we are also the main character and our story is intertwined with others' stories and there are events that will happen that we can, in no way, plot for ourselves; it is the ride that matters, is it not?

Here's the quote I wanted to start with:

(She is speaking of The Scarlet Letter and O Pioneers! but I would also add The Awakening by Kate Chopin.)

"In both of these novels, the woman had lived through her special destiny but left no path behind her for future women, had lived with no community of women, no sense of bonding with other women. Not only had these women no stories other than their refusal of the plot in which most women lived, and no women with whom to talk of what they had themselves learned, but they would have been hard put to answer the inevitable question asked of unhappy women: What do you want?" (Emphasis my own)

By killing herself at the age of 77, Heilbrun was certainly taking on a culturally-created plot (rather than writing her own) that women, especially women, have no value after a certain age, have nothing to contribute. She was concerned she would become ill and then become a burden...again taking on the plot that says if you are old or sick, there is no point to you.

I strongly disagree.

I know people living with very ill loved ones -- young, ill loved ones -- and I know they would not exchange a moment of the time they are having with that person. And I know, deeply know, that one day they will speak of all they have learned by going through this. And I know those who are sick are also learning, seeing life anew, having experiences they would have never had because now they are willing to take risks that before they were just putting off.

In a novel, suicide is a metaphor, but Heilbrun seemed to have confused real life with literature. A danger, to be sure, for people who live too much in their heads.

I know -- from personal experience. It is always a red flag if I am reading constantly, eating through one book after another, that I am not fulfilling my own intellectual, creative, or spiritual needs in some way.

As Heilbrun says at the end of this lovely, little book:

"Women...who found their way to a meaningful life identified daydreaming as a sign of their meaningless lives and the only consolation for them."

I used to daydream all day long...and then I met my partner and she pushed me to write my own life, to make my own choices about who I was and who I wanted to be, not to accept the stories pushed upon me.

I no longer daydream, except at that healthy, occasional level. I use my imagination for my work and I live the life that at one point I thought I could only have in dreams.

As Heilbrun asks, "What do you want?" Does that question make your heart flutter?

Or have you already answered it and are living it day by day, curious about how it will all turn out but enjoying every moment of the ride and willing to be a little surprised?