The Official Website for novelist, memoirist, singer/songwriter, and visual artist, Angela Carole Brown. A place to hear music, read works, and much more.
 

 


 


EARS     EYES     WORDS     OM     ETC     CONNECT

 

                     

"In every landscape, the point of astonishment is the meeting of sky and earth."   ––   Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

 

The following essays were originally published on my blog, Bindi Girl Chronicles, which is more all-encompassing of my array of writing (poetry, short fiction, flash memoir, criticism, reviews, the creative process, etc). Below are ones that court the marvelous caves of self-discovery. May you find something in these thoughts. 

 

SPIRITUAL ALGORITHM : A Prescription For What Ails In 8 Steps

UNTIL THERE IS ONLY THE SONG

UNEXPECTED ANGELS : A Perspective On Forgiveness

THE REAL : Radical Self-Care Or Tyrannical Task-Mastering?

AN ELM & HOUSTON REVELATION: My Week With Tony Robbins

OFF THE MAT AND INTO THE WORLD: A Yoga Forum

MOUNTAINTOP MOMENT  (Spoken Word)

STANDING AJAR : Notes From A Kidney Donor

BELLIGERENT ROMANCE : Song.  Heart.  Bravery.

MINDFUL EATING : Letting Go of A Bad Relationship To Forge A New Loving One

MY WORLD BROKEN OPEN

AMAZING GRACE : Have We PC'd the Marrow Right Out of It?

YOGA AS MUSE : How My Practice Has Informed My Art

THE MUSIC OF SILENCE : A Rumination On Meditation

A SIMPLE LIFE

WHY LENT CAME CALLING

YES, SAID SHE

 




SPIRITUAL ALGORITHM : A Prescription For What Ails In 8 Steps

Essay Copyright © 2015 by Angela Carole Brown
 

 

If algorithm means a procedure or set of operations for solving a problem in a finite number of steps, then consider the following eight steps to be a kind of spiritual algorithm that I’ve recently devised for myself, and which are changing my life.

 

Though, even as I’m writing this, I must pause to tell you I am experiencing an emotional tug-of-war over the idea of sharing this “prescription” forward.  Because on the one hand, I am genuinely excited by some new, and some merely renewed, experiences happening in my life recently, and the reality that actual tangible results of their impact are before my very eyes, and that those results are almost touching mastery, and this, mind you, from someone who tends to be gravely self-critical, and has come from a long, long arc of nuanced depression and irascibility and disappointment, built up over years and easily masked by a generally friendly disposition, and I am turning corners left and right, and I wanna wanna wanna share so badly, because I’m feeling extraordinary.  On the other hand, in any piece that serves as a how-to, there is an assumed authority on said subject, and the implied self-importance of owning that you have something to show someone else.  I have never fancied myself in the role of teacher to anyone; never been especially in touch with my Inner Deepak.  Plus, as always seems to be my thinking, what if I fall?  Here I’ve made this public pronouncement of some wisdom to impart, and now I’ve dared to go on with my life and be imperfect.  Nothing pleases some people more than to catch you in your failures: “I thought you were giving up sugar?” smugly coming from that friend when you’ve been caught eating your See’s butterscotch square is always fun.  So, I’m usually uncomfortable in this area.  Even my blog, Bindi Girl Chronicles, is rife with pieces that are really tapestries of discord and imperfection and stumbles and growing pains and learning curves, as I navigate the turbid waters of self-discovery.  Sometimes I have answers.  Most times I’m just posing questions.

 

But something’s happening, something, as I said, nearly resembling mastery.  There are more and more exquisite little grace notes in my life these days that have me in the perpetual state of wow and wonder than ever before.  And I can only credit eight little rituals that I call my spiritual algorithm, or my prescription for what ails, and that I have only just recently put into daily practice.  Visionary teacher Eckhart Tolle has often said that there are three words that encompass the secret to the art of living:  One. With. Life.   One with life.  He is quite stunning in illustrating the importance of recognizing that we are all interconnected, of being here now, of having experiences for their own sake, and of seeing beauty in everything.  The predicament for me, in truly meditating on this, is always, “of course, but how?”

 

 

Well, I have found it. At least for me.  And I am champing at the bit to share. Without making assumptions that we’re all ailing, I simply offer that if you’re anything like me there’s always a spiritual nip and tuck and tweak that can be had in order to be more present and to maximize your experience here, to be truly one with life.  I came up with my eight without even thinking of the eightfold path or the eight limbs (these are Buddhist and yogic references, for those of you not in the dharma know). That was purely a matter of coincidence. And so now, I like to think of this spiritual algorithm, this prescription for the art of living, as sort of my own personal eightfold path.  It’s working for me, which doesn’t necessarily mean it’s meant for you.  I tend to believe that everyone benefits best from a custom-made chariot for that road to enlightenment. But the chances are at least 50-50 that my prescription could indeed resonate with you.  So here it is.

 

 

1. Turn away from the anxiety-fueling news programs that litter television and the internet.

 

Just refuse them.   They are designed for one agenda only: to whip us into a frenzy, because having an entire culture in panic mode is profitable, and is never about being in the public’s interest.  Find your current events through more legitimate sources.  Do the homework needed to figure out who and what those are.

 

 

 

2. Read for pleasure.

 

As a writer I want to encourage books. I want to encourage good books.  I want to encourage literature.  But hey, read a magazine, just read . . . for pure enjoyment and expansion.   And try as often as possible to do it outside of the digital and electronic universe.  Kindles and iPads are fun and convenient, but don’t let them be your exclusive source for reading.  The brain needs a good chunk of quality time every day to be removed from electromagnetic energy.

 

 

 

3. Meditate.  OR . . .

 

. . . at the very least find a way to simply be in silence and stillness for a few minutes every day.  The more minutes a day you can find in that quiet, the better able you will be to heed the inner voice, and the better everything will be. Guaranteed. (Yes, I am actually being brazen enough to say guaranteed).   I recently read the memoir of Sara Maitland on her experiment of withdrawing from the world, in pursuit of silence.  There is a whole world of discussion to be had on the topic, and its impact on a society, and which is utterly fascinating.  For now, for this, however,  just allow yourself a few minutes each day to power everything down.  And listen.

 

 

 

4. Connect with Higher Power.

 

This term is as wide a berth as the ocean, so even the most ardent atheist can find his or hers. Something that is greater than your pedestrian self, and that has something to teach you, offer you, feed you. Maybe it’s the collective unconscious. Maybe it’s art. Maybe it’s nature. Maybe it’s the source within. Maybe it is a source out there. Whether deity or principle, it will  show up for every individual on the planet, and is that unquantifiable something that maneuvers us around the land mines and connects us to each other.  There is no need to affix a label; simply be with it.  Find yours, and plug in regularly.

 

 

 

5. Create, even if you’re not an artist.

 

Artist is only a label.   We all have creativity and imagination in us, and it can show up in the most unexpected cloak, which is usually how it works anyway.   Feed that.  Promote that.

 

 

 

6. Be a child again (closely linked to the above).

 

And which is not the same as being childish.

 

There is so much obligation and commitment and management and planning and fortune-making that governs our adult lives that we can easily allow it to bog us down and collapse our spirits.  Easy to get so caught up in building the life of our dreams that we kind of forget to actually live the life of our dreams.   So, let it all go once in a while, regularly, and do what children do.   Play fiercely and with joyous abandon.

 

 

 

7. Create a daily gratitude ritual. 

 

It can be a prayer, a journal log, a mantra, a meditation.  Even in the various spells of my life of not feeling especially spiritual or connected, I always found such beauty in the tradition of blessing one’s food.  What a lovely idea to express out loud, in a ritual, our thankfulness for the bounty on our plates, and not taking a meal for granted, but cherishing it for what it gives us. Especially considering how many don’t have that luxury.  Now imagine employing that gratitude practice with everything.  Just imagine.

 

And finally . . .

 

 

 

8. Be in nature.

 

Now, I honestly don’t think any more expounding on this one is necessary, except that I am compelled to share what’s happened to me with this one because this one seems to be the mother lode.  I never truly got that phrase, “be in nature,” that spiritual directive, as I now view it, until I began the recent ritual for myself.  Out of the blue, it seems, I began hankering for nature.  And I think, at least in part, it’s because I’ve been a meditator for a good many years already, yet have been growing intermittently flustered (as business for me has gotten busier . . . knock on wood!) by the struggle to truly burrow deep, and my belief that it has had to do with the inability to remove myself from the world’s distractions.  One truth about meditation is that doing it is possible even if the sky is falling all around us, but that’s a pretty hardcore level of meditation bad-assery that I have never achieved.  I need an environment that promotes moving out of the world for a few chunks of time each day.  Enter nature.  Fortunately I live in a community that smacks right up against a set of mountain ranges, the ever sprawling Angeles National Forest, and its various canyons and parks.  Although, I don’t believe there exists a community that has zero access to some brand of nature.  We can all find some.

 

I’ve been hiking a neighborhood canyon that is part crest, overlooking wide sweeps of mountain, part enchanted forest, taking one into the bowels of nature with trees bridging overheard and creating a canopy.  What I never saw coming was the way in which this daily ritual would become something I would crave, the way one craves coffee.  Runners talk about the runner’s high.  I even know gym nuts who are antsy if they miss a day of working out.  That has never been me.  But I crave this.  And I have found that not only has it been working as a meditative pursuit, but it has begun to shift my whole health & wellness, it has brought literally more oxygen into my lungs and life, and it has, most profoundly, most surprisingly, opened my heart chakra in ways I couldn’t have predicted.  By communing with creatures beyond our pets and other humans, listening to their concert, moving among the wise old trees, recognizing the cruciality of taking care of the earth, and understanding the dire consequences of continuing as we are, in promoting carbon footprinting and the decimation of the ozone, this daily experience has actually shifted my receptor paradigm.  Meaning that I feel myself being more open to receiving, or perhaps, and more pointedly, feeling worthy of blessings.

 

It takes a great deal of courage to keep our hearts open.  So much easier to clamp them down, and to bear the armor of hurt, and to be the suffering martyr, and to garner the quiet awe of others, which IS a component and an attraction, because maybe we have no real clue who we are without our wounds.  But keeping our hearts open is the greatest kind of surgery our bodies can undergo.  And being in nature has been remarkable at opening up that vessel within me, for my access.

 

*          *          *

 

So, there you have it.  My sacred eight. 

 

Navigating the murky waters of life is a job with tenure.  All the enlightenment in this world, and for that matter all the prosperity in this world, won’t reprieve us of the task.  But navigated with the right tools (and I offer this eightfold prescription as one tool of many), life becomes not merely a road to endure, but an experience of riches beyond measure.  

 

Costs nothing.

 

Big Pharma has no equity in this medicine.

 

 

 

 

 

 



UNTIL THERE IS ONLY THE SONG
Essay Copyright © 2016 by Angela Carole Brown
 

 

“I decided that the most subversive, revolutionary thing I could do
was to show up for my life and not be ashamed.”

― Anne Lamott

 

We live in a world where the entire second half of our life is preoccupied with trying our damnedest to hold onto the package as it was in the first half.  Every extra pound gets scrutinized and ridiculed.  Every bubble of cellulite, every wrinkle and sag, every gray hair or thinning scalp, every unexplained spot that suddenly appears, every droop of the eyelid becomes the obsessed fixation.  Because what we value are the vibrant eyes that tame the fiercest beast with their gaze.  The lean, muscular body that can accomplish amazing feats.  The breasts that defy gravity.  The dark, full mane of hair that, for some purely random reason, defines us.  We spin every desperate wheel to maintain (or worse yet, regain if we happen to dare let ourselves lose it) our youthful meaning.  We spin those desperate wheels, which is fairly time-consuming and energy-consuming, when we could be gazing at constellations, learning a second language, traveling abroad, going back to school, getting involved in humanitarian efforts, basking in the hammock with a mountain of great books.  We spend our latter years spinning instead of enjoying, instead of embracing the ancient wisdoms that we were too distracted and high-strung and immature to grasp in youth, like “expect nothing, appreciate everything” or “there is only now.”

 

Why can’t we do both? … you may ask … Live rich lives and obsess over aging?  Go ahead.  Try it.  They are diametrically opposed to each other.  Not only is the preoccupation with maintaining and regaining all-consuming, but it is all-consuming meaninglessness.  And the guilt that appears when we fail anyway (we’re all going to die) is corrosive.  So between the guilt and the sweat, desperately trying to fend off death, desperately trying to remain relevant to those who worship the package only, eats up every bit of the joy and peace that our higher selves spent so much effort in our youth trying to attain through our spiritual pursuits.  Remember when yoga was about breath-seeking salvation, and not so much about that impressive gravity-defying forearm-stand scorpion pose?

 

What has happened to you?  Aren’t you supposed to get wiser as you’ve gotten wizened?  Why are your cupboards filled with creams for younger skin, and hair dyes, and diet books, and little pills meant to do magical things?  Why have you lost your zest for life because it was once filled with the meaning to contribute, and to express, and to minister, and now, in a fit of desperation to say “I’m still here!” it is preoccupied with the need to go viral and get re-Tweeted?  Why are you considering what tattoos you’ll get to mask the scars on your torso from the surgery you had, to remove your kidney in order to save someone’s life?  Why are these awesome scars so distasteful that they need covering up?  Because our society only praises the centerfold template?  And you have allowed them to shame you?  Is that why you have conveniently created this spin that the surgery scars are going to be celebrated with a cute little tattooed symbol on top of each one?  When each one is already the magnificent symbol?  And for that matter, why isn’t every scar that our bodies have ever created, from that knee scrape in childhood, to the ravages of childbirth, celebrated instead of drowned in unguents and miracle creams?  Every one of those scars is a testament to living, the map of an extraordinary life, a life not spent indoors hiding safely behind the curtain of fear and hyperbaric chambers, but boldly taking on the world, amassing the nicks and scrapes that come from playing fiercely and loving wildly.

 

Why, why, why is your life so filled with the perpetual fog of projection, lamentation, and woolgathering, that there is no room for the breathtaking moments?   Is your lame excuse that this cruel world only reveres the young? Renders anyone who isn’t, invisible?  Well, it’s true.  And so what.  The world is not fair, or kind, or wise, or mature, or evolved, or on a higher plane.  And you’re a slave to that, why?   Because you won’t be looked at?  Regarded? Considered relevant if the seams dare to loosen and give way to proud season?  Season should be proud.  Season should be strutting its beak with the years of brilliant hindsight and quicker foresight.  Season should be worshiped.  And when it isn’t ― and it won’t, not in this culture ― be proud anyway.  Proud to carry the work of your ancestors.  Proud to seek the quiet where gardens grow and healing has a chance in hell.  Proud to express uniquely, and not care about pie charts and hit stats.

 

Be forthright in staking your place in the constellations.  Be the artist you were born to be.  Tell your truth.  Be a castaway, a fugitive from the mundanity of conformity.  Be a brazen vagrant.  Be a little crazy.  Or a lot crazy.  Talk to yourself too much because you have so much to express, and not always an adoring audience waiting with bated breath.  The audience may never come.  Say it anyway.  Wear your clothes inside out.  Clash a paisley blouse with a striped pant, and do it loudly.  Be not afraid of THAT WORD that means you were blessed with not dying young, in spite of this society that hands down a sentence for the crime of having the nerve to get older.  Old, old, OLD.   There I said it.   Who cares about a good-looking corpse?   Jiggle, and creak, and eat pie, and celebrate.  The world is not kind.  So what.  YOU are.  Be what the world cannot be.  Raise your own barre.  Leave everyone else’s alone.

 

Take joyous asylum in being the splat of garish color in the otherwise quaint pastel.  Others like you will gather, and you will find each other.  Others like you will make a stir, trouble the waters, shift the plates.  More and more splats will appear until the lot of you are a mad Pollock.  And as you link arms, the net created by all you half-batty, brazen souls will stand the test of time, will strengthen with numbers, will cradle the audacious in its embrace, and dampen the ridiculous clangs of the drones and clones until there is only the song.  And you will sing that song, the choir of you, the throng of you rapturous spirits who did not cave to the world’s random and rude criteria for relevancy.

 

“Dance like there’s nobody watching” (W. Purkey)   . . .  But not like someone is shooting at your feet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



UNEXPECTED ANGELS:  A Perspective On Forgiveness
Essay Copyright © 2015 by Angela Carole Brown

 

Ahhhh, Facebook.   It’s an odd and fascinating communications platform, when you consider that the very best of it has sometimes generated important grassroots movements, and that the very worst of it, because of the safety of our own home sitting at a computer, and that we aren’t obligated to put a human face to a name and profile avatar, has bred some of the most loathsome social behavior I’ve ever witnessed.  For me personally, the gold in Facebook has been the numerous long-lost friendships that, without social media, may never have been possible. On the other end, of course, is the odd stranger that we wonder why we’re Facebook friends with in the first place, and the crazy rantings that have required the socially devastating “unfriend”ing.  But every once in a great while, believe it or not, an actual life lesson can be found on Facebook. Something unexpected and valuable lurking amid the sea of cute cat videos and vomit-mouth etiquette.

 

Here was mine, from a few weeks ago.  A friend posted a most disturbing video of a woman encouraging her child to savagely beat on another child at a playground.  It was shattering to watch.  And of the myriad feelings I had regarding the witness, the primary one was that we lose jobs when we’re terrible at them, and parenthood should fall within those same parameters, and I just prayed Social Services got a hold of that woman.

 

Many people weighed in on this post, expressing their outrage, as well.  One man was so outraged that he used epithets that clearly betrayed his ignorance of his audience. The N-word was bandied about pretty freely.  Gee, can you guess what race the woman in the video was?  I can genuinely say that what the woman’s racial or social demographic was didn’t even enter my mind for it being so overfilled with the horror of her act (which, by the way, Put-Upon White Man, happens in every race).

 

Before even weighing in on the contents of the video itself, my response to the post, which included the original poster’s own words “This is so shocking!” was, “Well, it looks like there’s equally shocking right here on this thread.”

 

I had to wonder, too, what kind of friends my friend had that this kind of blatantly racist response was even possible, until I reminded myself that I have said yes to friend requests countless times of people I don’t personally know, because as a working artist I’m always trying to expand an audience base, and, to be frank, I have “virtually” met some pretty amazing people on Facebook over the years.   And so, the reality is that with such a practice also comes the risk of inviting the periodic troll to infiltrate.

 

Another friend, Melanie, weighed in immediately after me.  Someone I actually do know personally. Someone I regard as a pretty sage woman.  She’s also African-American, like me, and had clearly also seen Put-Upon White Man’s rant too, because her comment right after mine was, “I know, Angela, right???? Lord have mercy!”

 

A few others made similar comments.  What fascinates me still, even as I reflect on this thing that happened a few weeks ago, is that most of the comments were reactions to PUWM’s rant, not the video. His own ire at the video (we all shared that!), which just HAD to go to a very nasty place, had completely overshadowed the horror on the video.  Because this nastiness was right in our backyards.  Who is this friend of my friend, who would rather spit in my face than shake my hand? is the shuddering subtext. That two-degrees of separation is too damned close!

 

I kept tuning in to see how this thread would grow, because frankly I was waiting for my friend (the original poster of the post) to get on here and condemn this man.  She never did, nor ever weighed in again beyond the original posting of the video.  But I’m very glad that I did keep tuning in, because of what unfolded next.

 

First off, after a fashion I noticed that PUWM’s original rant had been deleted.  And then somewhere down the line of this thread, maybe 10 or 12 comments in, he weighed in a second time.  His comment this time was an apology.  And not one of those defensive apologies we’ve all had to roll our eyes at from time to time.  He owned his racial outburst, iterated that he’d been so blinded by his rage over this video, which had broken his heart, but copping to it being absolutely no excuse, and ended with “Please forgive me, ladies….” addressing the myriad women who had commented on his rant, and lastly, “Lord forgive me.” And before I could even react to it, directly afterwards was my friend Melanie’s response to that:  “Thank you, Mark.  That is appreciated.  We need to pray for that woman and her children.”

 

Okay, so at this point I’ll stop calling him PUWM.  He has a name.  It’s Mark.  And yes, even Mark deserves to be called out by his Christian name, and not Put-Upon White Man, which, admittedly, has been my way of showing him zero respect, because it’s become such a cliché, and I felt like reducing him to the cliché, because, guess what? . . . I’m goddamned mad too.

 

I have to admit, I was stunned by Melanie’s ready acceptance of Mark’s apology. She and I share a very similar spiritual path of compassion & empathy, and consciousness-based cultivation, and we are both huge believers in forgiveness.  I just hadn’t determined whether I was ready yet. But Melanie didn’t need to decide if she was ready. Melanie leapt. Melanie forgave. Melanie chose the higher road, without question, without needing to be ready.

 

It really did take me a minute to adjust this thinking, to wonder how she could do this so effortlessly, to have to face that my ball of fury had just had a pin pricked into it, and was deflating rapidly into a flat, self-righteous platitude.  My own initial gut feeling was that Mark was only offering this apology because he got nailed on his abhorrent behavior, and that anyone who is capable of that language, and the intent and belief behind the language, will be absolutely capable of it again.  Just give him another circumstance, a fresh audience, and sumpn’ else for him to be raging about.  But did I know this for certain?  That his apology wasn’t genuine?  That he hadn’t really thought about his irresponsible and hurtful words?

 

What if Mark had had his heart truly opened by this exchange, had offered his amends, and then been shunned and dismissed? What, then, would that say about the sacred principle of forgiveness? Something pretty shameful, I’d say. Melanie wasn’t about to try and second-guess Mark’s intentions; her ONLY option was to put noble principle into healing practice.  If Mark’s apology really wasn’t the real thing, if there was just a whole lotta bullshit goin’ on, that’s for Mark’s soul to wrestle with.

 

And so, while that was murky at best for me to wade through, it was as clear as a fresh spring to Melanie, my beautiful guru-mama sister-friend.

 

I carefully decided to say something myself.  My instinctive thought was yeah, whatever, and not to respond at all.  But in the spirit of my dear compassionate friend Melanie, and my own spiritual practice of forgiveness, I also offered a “thank you” to Mark, followed by, “The video broke my heart too.”

 

And so, while that was murky at best for me to wade through, it was as clear as a fresh spring to Melanie, my beautiful guru-mama sister-friend. I carefully decided to say something myself.  My instinctive thought was yeah, whatever, and not to respond at all.  But in the spirit of my dear compassionate friend Melanie, and my own spiritual practice of forgiveness, I also offered a “thank you” to Mark, followed by, “The video broke my heart too.”

 

In those simple words  –  Melanie’s: “We need to pray for that woman and her children,” and mine: “The video broke my heart too,”  –  we let Mark know that the feelings about this heinous video were shared by us all, Black and White, male and female, Democrat and Republican, Christian and Atheist.  Us, them.  Whatever and Whatever. That there is actually more that connects us than there is that separates us, if we’re willing to see it.  What an opportunity to offer healing, when my own instinct would’ve been to let the opportunity slip right through my fingers, and remain in the huff that someone else’s hate had engendered.  Mark walked away changed too; that was evident in his further comments.  He probably hadn’t ever thought, for a minute, that his apology would be welcomed and accepted.  And if it had just been me alone out there reacting to his rant, it wouldn’t’ve been.  So, thank you, Melanie, for reminding me.  Yep, folks, a true spiritual practice requires rigorous renewal every single day, and unexpected angels and bodhisattvas to show us how.

 

In illustrating how much more connected we are than separate, a wall was torn down.  It humanized everything. And that could ONLY have happened by a willingness for forgiveness.  Melanie had thrown down the healing gauntlet.  In a landscape of nothing but enraged hearts, how brave to be the one.

 

Forgiveness is a funny thing. It shouldn’t be.  It should be startlingly clear. When Dylann Roof committed one of the most heinous single crimes in our recent history, the people least likely to, the families of the shooting victims, forgave. I personally was floored.  It restored my lately-waning faith in humanity. But who on earth would ever think that instead of being absolutely lifted by this example, as I was, that there would be a backlash to it? Of course, there’s always going to be a militant response to such compassionate practice, people who are natural warriors, who believe morally in an eye for an eye.  And I would even venture to say that most of us who aren’t militant would look at such compassion, and admire it even as we are admitting we’d never be able to do that. But the overwhelming backlash seems to be coming from the mainstream community, and not just asserting that we can’t do it but that we shouldn’t.  The angle being that it finds these forgivers to be suckers, for lack of a kinder word.  The charge is weakness, gullibility, and allowance of further racist behavior.

 

One article I found interesting and quite intelligent, in spite of the fact that I disagree with its fundamental creed, is by Stacey Patton for the Washington Post. The prevailing thought in this article is that Black America is the only culture expected to forgive its racist perpetrators. No one expects forgiveness toward al-Qaeda or ISIS.  No one expects the Jews to forgive the Nazis. But Black America is pressured to forgive when the conflict is race.  And when forgiveness is given, all Black America is doing is allowing more and more offenses to be made.

 

“Black people are not allowed to express unbridled grief or rage, even under the most horrific circumstances.”

 

Allowed?  At least in this country, we all have the complete free will to choose how we feel, and how we will heal.  And the trap to fall in is to assume that because there is a choice made to forgive, that grief or rage are not present.  Even by framing the phrase “politics of forgiveness”  Ms. Patton politicizes a basic tenet of grace and love.  There is no politics to this.  You either practice it or you don’t.  It advances no agenda other than grace and love itself.

 

The most poignant thing Ms. Patton says is:

". . . offering absolution to Roof is about relieving the burden of anger and pain of being victimized.  In this regard, forgiveness functions as a kind of protest, a refusal to be reduced to victims.  It sends the message to the killer that he may have hurt them, but they are the true victors because they have not been destroyed.”

 

This I passionately agree with.  But she then counters it with the pronouncement that there is a demand by White America for this forgiveness.  Demand?  You can bet that White America was as stunned as anyone when these families chose the higher ground.  Besides, how insulting to the intelligence of these compassionate soldiers Ms. Patton’s insinuation that White America is somehow their puppet-master, pulling strings.

 

I also challenge Ms. Patton’s claim that when Black America, especially of the Christian ilk, subscribes to the philosophy of forgiveness, it is being done out of some investment in the hereafter, a kind of E-ticket to Glory. Heaven or not, the only true salvation for this fractured present-day culture will be in cultivating that tenet for the life we are living right here, right now.

 

What seems not to be a part of the argument, at least in this article, is that to refuse to forgive is to keep oneself spiritually enslaved.

 

It’s important to know what forgiveness is.  It may be even more important to know what it isn’t.

 

Forgiveness isn’t permission.  Forgiveness isn’t forgetting.  Forgiveness isn’t remotely weak. Forgiveness IS rising above. Refusing to fuel.  Bringing to the table a different kind of challenge.  And just possibly, changing that landscape.

 

There are many valid and insightful points that this article makes, and so I do urge you to read it.  But while we are cautioned by Ms. Patton not to give forgiveness quite so quickly, from my own micro-example of that very dynamic, I can personally attest that when my friend Melanie gave it quickly, the entire landscape shifted from people divided to people communicating passionately together about the original problem (that horrendous video of mother and child).  Healing was right in front of us.  A coming together and acknowledgement of what connects us more than what divides us that would NEVER have happened had rage been met with more rage, and heads banged.  Me, I was ready to put up some dukes and be a part of the fray.  But it wouldn’t have been the right choice.  And a golden opportunity would’ve been tragically missed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


THE REAL:  Radical Self-Care or Tyrannical Task-Mastering?
Essay Copyright © 2015 by Angela Carole Brown

 

We all want the same things.  Happiness.  Love.  Health.  Me, I’m a fine-tuner, a tweaker.  I once read a birthday book that described January 1 people as chronic self-improvers.  It’s the word chronic that has me suspecting that the inference might not have been positive.  Whichever position the book was taking on it, it did nail me. That is my nature in a nutshell. When the lug nuts are loose, on my life, my soul, my character, I tighten them. The thing is, the little suckers do get loose again; that’s just the normal wear and tear of living. I can either keep my tools at the ready in order to re-tighten and keep going, or I can beat myself up for not doing the job right in the first place. Even though the definition of doing the job right – when regards a lug nut – does not guarantee that it’ll never have to be tightened again.  In fact, the only thing that is guaranteed is that it will.  And yet that is where I get seriously tripped up.

 

Let’s take today.  My first completely non-agenda day in more than a week.  Very stressful week prior, and I’ve been looking forward to this day, all week long, of powering-down and blissfully thinking of nothing.  I’ll just give a few bullet points on how this “day off” unfolded.

 

I wake up this morning – no alarm clock – and instantly, instinctively, ritualistically, catch my naked form in the mirrored closet door that spans the wall’s entire length and width.  Judgment.  Instant.  Merciless.  Am I bigger than yesterday? Smaller?  I do this assessment every single morning, because I’m perpetually trying to lose weight.  It’s so routine, in fact, that I’m not even shattered by it anymore.  What I am, though, is unhappy.  I will at least give myself this much credit; I no longer talk disgustedly about my weight gain.  These days, when I do speak of my desire or my efforts to lose weight, it is with a conscious gentleness.  I just can’t be the one who starts a frenzy of self-loathing among my women friends of a similar age, most of whom are trying to lose their middle-aged weight too.  I’ve seen it happen, and have even been the instigator of that soul-crushing domino effect of “my disgusting arms, my disgusting belly,” but no longer am I the one who starts or participates in that avalanche.  Make no mistake, though; I am not happy.  I wish I could let go of an idea of how I used to look, and embrace where I am today. That has been a great challenge.  And where I find myself divided to points of utter hair-pulling confusion is: Do I believe in embracing self-acceptance of my present, or do I believe in going after goals? Or is there a way for both concepts to work together for the benefit of body AND soul?  I actually do practice a radical self-care lifestyle. I eat whole, clean food, I hydrate like crazy, I walk and hike and do yoga, I meditate, I make certain to get some nature time in, I have therapeutic and creative outlets.  I am so much healthier, and feel so much better, in this lifestyle, yet still I judge myself everyday for not looking like I used to. Such a miniscule part of the whole schematic, yet I make it larger than everything else. That particular lug nut gets loose an awful lot. I catch myself in the mirror and furiously try to dissect why my body changed the way it did. Menopause! Laziness!  Depending on the day of the week or my mood, there’s a different culprit to blame. And so, the ritual of judgment. Every day. And today, my DAY OFF, is no different.

 

Next I check email.  Brush my teeth.  May not shower today since I have no obligation to leave my house.  Still, a twinge of guilt hits me at this decision.  I should take a shower.  I don’t feel like it. I’m utterly exhausted from a busy and emotional week (a dear friend was in the hospital), and I won’t be encountering anyone today, so why should I care so much about a shower?  Yet the twinge lasts. Apparently not enough to make me turn the nozzle and hop in, but just enough to make me annoyed with myself, and harshly critical at what I have decided is laziness and apathy.

 

I start breakfast with my second annoyance of the day already in gear and it’s barely 10 a.m. Leftover ginger soup, made with turkey bone broth, and fresh spinach tossed in. Yummy. I should walk today. That’s my mode of exercise. Vigorous walks through my lovely neighborhood, or hiking the nearby canyon. But I can’t think about that right now. Really very tired.  My soup is so delicious, and I love the smells it puts in my home. I don’t smell! Why can’t I shake the shower thing? I’m home alone. Why does it matter? Mmmmm, savory ginger soup. I should really walk.  Goddamn it!  See?

 

I’m already exhausted from the ludicrous back flips my thoughts are doing, all while trying to eat my breakfast.  I should sit in silence and eat my food mindfully.  Uh oh, is that another should ? And if you read my blog article, Mindful Eating, you’ll know why this is even in my head.  But I don’t sit in silence. I turn on the TV to Kelly & Michael.  It’s my morning ritual on days when I have to go to my part-time office job two days a week.  On those mornings I bop around getting cleaned and dressed, making breakfast and feeding the cat, all while Kelly’s and Michael’s sparkling repartee provides white noise.  I don’t tend to do the ritual on days off. I prefer a quieter morning ritual on those days, a ritual more befitting my Mindful Eating essay. Except that today my brain is romping like crazy, so I’m looking for television’s dynamic duo to help distract my head while I sip my ginger broth.  Of course the guilt arises that I am giving any amount of my morning to this vapid time-waster.  So, now I am killing two birds with one stone, as I judge both the TV show and my indulgence in it.  I’m on a roll.   I need a day off from my day off.

 

I don’t need to give you the full play-by-play of the remainder of my day.  You get the gist. Nothing much actually happened, which was exactly the point of the day, and yet by the end of it I was thoroughly spent from all the noise. My head was so filled with guilt, and judgment, and shoulds, and the niggling pressure to DO something, and the harshly critical indictment that I even chose to have a down day, as if it is something shameful. Because what are we, as Americans, if not putting all our value in doing and accruing, as opposed to just being? Meditation always helps. But even just getting myself to the proverbial mat is really tough when a day like this occurs. Today it was impossible.

 

I can’t say I don’t know where the penchant to punish comes from. I do. I have made a decent but very humble living for a long time now, all the while trying to get something of mine to burst wide open, whether it’s the music or the books. And my attempts at this have been largely futile. You don’t deserve a day off, my inner imp whines at me. You need to get in that corner and do some thinkin’, young lady, about all the missed opportunities and wasted potential.  And you need to nitpick at everything.  And so . . . I punish.

 

Take the DVD I chose to watch later on of this “day off.” Twenty Feet From Stardom deserves the Oscar it won. It’s a powerhouse movie that I’ve been excited to re-see for sometime now. It’s also a movie that takes me to a melancholy place, because of the subject matter. I’m a singer. I’ve made my living at it for a very long time. But if some of the remarkable singers in this movie are, to a certain degree, bemoaning their lot of always being the session and touring singer and never the star, I watch it bemoaning my lifelong inability to reach even THEIR heights of being the sought-after voices for some of the most iconic songs in pop history. My own history, and deeply grateful living, has been quite a ways humbler than that. Most days I’m incredibly happy with the career I’ve had, and the musicians that have given me work as well as their ardent respect. But a movie like this can, on occasion, take me to a pretty dark place. So, why would I even choose to see it a second time?  The easy answer is because it’s a wonderful movie. But is it purely coincidental that I chose to watch this particular movie on my day of chilling out? Or is the pesky little deep-seated self-punishment imp deciding to hang around, brilliant saboteur that she is, and telling me that I have not accomplished enough in my life to deserve to chill? That I need, instead, to be up on my hindquarters in white-knuckle anxiety. Guess what, Miss Thing? You’re not gonna get to relax. You’re gonna exhaust yourself with all the doubts and the what-ifs and why-didn’t’cha’s that can be mustered. Because you SHOULD be further along in life, and shame on you for not being.

 

By the end of the movie, just as I did when I saw it in the theater, I am in tears, and standing up and applauding these women of extraordinary talent and their compelling stories (my own cousin being one of them...an original member of The Blossoms, who did every major vocal session in the 50’s and 60’s).  I am deeply moved by these stories.  I am also taken to my couch.  And not in the good way, the hammock and a good book and a mason jar of lemonade kind of way that is exactly what a day off should be.  Nope. I am taken to it in that crippling, fetal position way that fears life passing me by without having left the mark I’ve always felt was my calling to leave.

 

Likewise, I’ve managed to get nothing going with my book. I have three of them already out there, but the latest is really THE book. The one I feel is my opus. And except for a handful of dear friends and awesome moral supporters, it has gone largely unread and unknown. I keep trying to say that I’m not lazy. Hey, I produce content, baby. Six albums, as many full-length books, a one-woman show. That canon does not get produced by a slacker. I keep trying to say that something else is the reason I’ve never gotten any real shots. But after exhausting all other possibilities, and coming up with no clear answers, I think I may, after all, be lazy. I’m certainly tired. Everything I have to give goes into what I create (which, ironically, never tires me). But after all of that, there’s just nothing left over to give to hustling, and promotion, and marketing, and going out into the world, and meeting and networking, and being witty and quick and charming and all those things that seem to be what is required to get anyone to give you and your work the time of day. I don’t have it in me. It’s not in my nature. And from one day to the next, as I am on this constant road of self-examination, my tune is either that I’m genuinely at peace with my nature, and am happy with the blessed life that this nature has given me, and I clearly see the power and beauty and enlightenment in that . . . to believing . . . No.  Get up.  Do. Make it happen. It’s not too late. Don’t collapse now. Collapsing is giving up, and there’s nothing evolved or enlightened in that. And I am split wide open and right down the middle with trying to determine which principle I actually do align with.

 

The spiritual work that I have been doing has been truly transformational. But spiritual transformation is not a neat and speedy ascension to that higher place. It is a resolute road of one-step-forward-two-steps-back, filled with amazing moments of insight, daily challenges to our better angels, and THIS!!! . . . this “day off” that has just sicked Ronda Rousey on my ass. It’s also not (or at least, should never be) a tyrannical slave labor camp. And that’s where I can sometimes get stymied. My passionate embrace of radical self-care and self-inquiry is so all-encompassing that it even led me to start this blog to explore the vast landscape of that consciousness. But I think that days like this can sometimes happen because I tend to fill my life with stringent standards that I’ll beat myself up about not reaching. And if not managed with some semblance of balance and breath, the whole self-care thing can actually backfire. And by breath I mean that proverbial, symbolic inhale and exhale of not having to be perfect, not having to be in ballet-dancer-upright stance 24/7.

 

I think that I have given myself so many tasks towards this spiritual evolution (don’t forget to meditate, don’t forget to bless your food, don’t forget to buy organic or grow your own, don’t forget to be of service to others, ad nauseam) that I can begin to crumble under the weight of them. And with the crumbling comes the self-punishment, the why can’t you get your act together? inner talk, when the crumbling is only because of all the weight I have put on my shoulders. But the answer is not to snap the whip when those tasks are not completed. The answer is to remove, I don’t know, maybe a couple hundred of those cinder blocks that I’ve heaped on my shoulders. Because otherwise, one of two things happens. I either crumble into that fetal position, self-berating and sinking into depression in reaction to the tyrant in me, as I did today, or I implode and rebel against her. So, how do I remove the weight and heft in this journey to be a better me? How do I let go, and let gentleness prevail?

 

The way to it is through forgiveness.  I’ve been writing about forgiveness a lot lately, because it is a crucial key to stepping up a little higher on that ascension, that higher realm, and it has truly been tested in the world lately.  I find it easily the most important principle to explore, to put into practice, and to understand what it truly means.  And I have lately neglected putting those principles into practice on my own self.

 

If I were someone else talking to Angela, I’d have this wired.  I would passionately grab her by the shoulders and say:

“Forgive your body for daring to evolve from young to old. Whatever society says about you because of your age is society’s flaw, not yours. Forgive your efforts for daring to be committed to art, and not marketing.  Everyone can’t be everything. Forgive your talents for not getting you certain gigs. They are unique talents, and clearly didn’t belong in those boxes.  Maybe there is no box yet created for your gifts. Maybe there never will be. But you keep renewing your agreement with the universe to make sacred art anyway, you keep cultivating your own unique voice, and you let the rest go. Forgive your needy, needy need to reach a certain status in order to be acceptable to society, and your human moments of faltering in the mission to elevate yourself in consciousness. Your life is so beautiful, with friends and family that rival most folks’ friends and family any day of the week. You have love in your life. You have food on your table. You have health and wellness and compassion. You have a curious brain and a heart eager to evolve in spiritual consciousness. You have a very special gift as a creator of books and music and art. You deserve a day off. To sleep in, to read your juicy book, to watch vapid TV, to walk on the beach, to surf the net, to look into the mirror and love your magnificent vessel that has carried you through fifty-something years on this earth in effortless mastery. It has even saved someone’s life!  So, take that, Self-loathing Thomas (lesser known and even more deep-seated brother to Doubting)! You deserve a day off to do absolutely nothing except swing on that proverbial hammock with that mason jar of lemonade and CHILL.  And to know that you are not less to do so.”

 

Forgiving ourselves for not being perfect specimens may be the hardest thing we ever do. We all have a wart or two, or ten, don’t we? We try to buff those warts up, better them, put a little spit shine on them. Or we try to tuck them away and pretend they aren’t there. We rationalize them, justify them, or we self-berate, as I spent an entire day off doing.  But it really all comes down to this: We can transform, evolve, improve who we are, learn something new every day, open our hearts, practice compassion, and yet at the end of the day we are still not perfect specimens in 24/7 upright ballet-dancer stance.  We aren’t designed to be.  And so all of those rough edges, the warts, the fears and guilt and defenses that still insist on lingering there, even with all the soul work we may do – that’s where forgiveness comes in. That’s where we’re tested to see if we can love and embrace every part of ourselves.  Because every part has a role to play in shaping who we are, and how we walk in the world.

 

As for my day off, well, it came and went, and my world didn’t crumble.  It just left me a whole lot more exhausted than any day off should.  But I ended it with pouring this onto paper. That’s something. A stab, always, at trying to work it out. Trying to listen to the higher voice. Trying to be understanding and patient when the lug nuts loosen.  Hey, all that really means is that the tire covered a whole lot of great road.  And I truly am okay as long as I’ve got my tools.

 

I suspect I make some uncomfortable when I write about my humanness in such a public forum. But please don’t mistake this, ever, for self-immolation. It is the voice of rigorous honesty, of getting really, really real, and coming out on the other side.  

Quick story, but it’ll tell you everything about my penchant for this kind of writing.  When I was an early teen, I saw a movie where a band of ski-masked looters burst into a fancy gala, and held the entire party up with rifles, and had everyone strip down to their delicates, so that their jewels, furs, and wallets could be raided. It was a scene that mortified me, and has remained as a lodged nugget of anxiety in the back of my brain ever since. This idea of being exposed, of having all of one’s bodily flaws and secrets stripped down for everyone else in the room to judge, laugh at, and shame. Here’s the light bulb though. Everyone else in the room is in the exact same vulnerable circumstance, even if, in that instant for you, there is only you. I’ve revisited that scene so clearly and so often that it’s beyond counting, where honestly I cannot even recall the film itself. Telling our stories is a bit like that. If we’re honest, we expose more than what advances the agenda of being totally together. And while that idea can be terrifying, it is also brave to do so in this present culture of spin, and a remarkable unburdening has the chance to occur, because the world of public opinion will instantly assure us that we are not alone. And by that process, we are not only unburdened, but connected. And for me, there is no greater purpose in telling our stories.

 

There isn’t a breakthrough in existence that isn’t accompanied by some aches and pains, but what comes out with us on that other side, always, is freedom. A freedom worth cultivating and renewing and re-tightening every single day. That’s my healing motif. The voice I’ve cultivated.  I believe it can be of benefit to others too.  That’s why I write.

 

J.M.W. Turner understood that.  I saw his works at the Getty recently, and was blown away by the naked pain and storm (as symbolic as it was literal) that he portrayed.  And yet, his way with light is startling.  That is the way with light, isn’t it?  What does Leonard Cohen say?  There is a crack in everything.  That’s how the light gets in.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


AN ELM & HOUSTON REVELATION: My Week With Tony Robbins
Essay Copyright © 2016 by Angela Carole Brown

 

 

Last week, for me, saw four intensive days in seminar with the iconic Tony Robbins and his “Unleash the Power Within” doctrine.  If you’re not familiar, look him up on YouTube. There are hundreds of lectures, TED Talks, etc, on the man.  If you ARE familiar, I’ve found, you’re either behind him with a sense of devotion that just about any other motivational speaker out there would be hard pressed to rival, or you’ve concluded that he’s a modern day Jim Jones. I find almost no one who has a tepid reaction to him.

 

Yes, I did the firewalk.  No, I was not injured.  Yes, it gave me a high like nothing else, for what it was designed to symbolize; the power to accomplish anything, even the seemingly impossible, a subject-matter I am painfully intimate with.  I had a personal stake in doing this.  And it delivered.

 

And finally, yes, we’re talking about the same UPWDallas2016 that blitzkrieged the news on the firewalk night. “Hundreds burned in failed Tony Robbins Firewalk!” As someone who was there, I can vouch for the real thing being nowhere near as dramatic or perilous as the coverage made it out to be, because, of course, “if it bleeds it leads.”

 

Dallas is a city I’ve barely been to, in all of my many trips to Texas.  It’s usually been a case of flying in or out of DFW and picking up connections to other destinations.  So in preparing to come to this city for the Robbins conference, on my menu of intentions was to visit Dealey Plaza, the site of the assassination of JFK. I really have a thing for visiting these kinds of historical landmarks, and this one especially has been on my list to visit, because our nation changed radically after (perhaps even as a result of) the assassination that day in 1963.

 

We only had the last day in town, after the seminar was over, to check it out thoroughly, though we did actually run across it by accident on the first night of the seminar.  The friend I was traveling with, and I, had decided to walk a few blocks away from the Convention Center to get our Uber, since eight thousand other people were all trying to get back to their hotels too. And at a certain point, a few blocks into our midnight walk (the night of the firewalk, so we were already on a kind of high), my friend suddenly stopped in his tracks, looked around, as if he was lost, and then said “I think this is it.” “What?” “Yeah,” he continued, ignoring me. He then proceeded to stroll across a grassy knoll (I’m still not catching on), and pointed to an X in the street. “This is where Kennedy was shot.”

 

It was a quiet night.  Clear sky.  Bright moon.  I was already open-veined and euphoric, because I’d walked on hot coals tonight, baby!  And I had not burned my feet, because I had applied the fierce focus and intention taught us earlier that evening.  And it was not a parlor trick; the coals were freaking hot.  And so, when everything finally came into dawning for me, and I saw the corner street signs of Houston and Elm, and the picket fence where the fourth bullet had allegedly come from, and the building formerly known as the Texas Book Depository, I stood there, having just experienced something rather larger-than-life, and cried a little, just to myself, at this other larger-than-life historical ground zero.  It was an eerie and haunting thing to stumble upon by accident at midnight.  We spent a bit of time there, as one does, then called for our Uber.  And then proceeded to end every night of the conference with the same agenda.

 

So, by the time we got to our last day in town, and had the seminar firmly behind us, and had a cousin of mine who lives in town escorting us for the day, to go experience this thing in the daylight, do the museum, and be official tourists, we had already experienced it the way everyone should, I’ve now concluded.  The midnight visit had been a sacred, internal moment that had allowed me to feel that bit of history in an intimate and private way, and to have an emotional reaction to it.  In the light of day, it was an entirely different experience.  All the opportunists were out in droves, selling their bogus copies of “the actual newspaper headline from The Dallas Morning News!” and their angle on what really happened that day.  Every wild theory was flying out of the mouths of the carnival barkers, creating a cacophony of chatter that was almost musical.

 

And then a most interesting thing happened.  One such barker that I was standing near, and trying to listen to, as he explained to a huddle of tourists about the fatal shot, couldn’t’ve been more than 50 years old, and yet was saying things like, “and that’s when we all hit the deck, and then ran across here behind the picket fence…”  He then pointed to a blurred figure, in a crowd of other blurred figures, in an old, dog-eared photograph he was holding, with the doomed presidential motorcade in the foreground, and said, “that’s me.”  Even though blurred, the figure he was pointing to was clearly an adult, someone who was not an infant, which, at a stretch, is the only way this guy could’ve potentially been present at this 53-year-old moment in history.  So yeah, we were dealing with crazy, I concluded, and he officially lost my interest in listening any longer.

 

From a distance, however, I continued to stare at him do his thing.  I sort of couldn’t take my eyes away, because I was suddenly reminded of the most profound thing that I had learned from Tony Robbins during his game-changing seminar intensive.  That all of our problems, struggles, dysfunctions, etc., exist and linger because they serve a need.  And as long as they continue to provide a benefit, they will not be repaired.  There is something that they fulfill.  I remembered that one stopping me dead in my tracks on, I want to say, Day 2 of this thing.  And so, as I stared at this man, who was more likely mentally ill than a simple con man, I was suddenly softened from the earlier eye-rolling, head-shaking, dismissive stance I’d taken against him, and wondered what need his story was fulfilling for him.  A sense of significance in a world that had rendered him insignificant?  Combating a crippling loneliness by surrounding himself with people who could potentially find awe in his story, and him?  Whatever the benefit was, it certainly wasn’t a financial one, since everyone around him had him nailed, and no one was buying his story, or his wares.  Yet they were continuing to hang on his every word, because crazy is entertaining.  And it was at that moment that I realized I would probably never look at any other situation again, neither another’s nor my own, without asking that question:  What need does this serve?

 

That changes the whole playing field, doesn’t it?

 

There is a plethora, a right worthy grocery list, to be honest, of struggles and hiccups that my own personal growth seems to be bombarded with these days.  Much of which I’ve chalked up to a case of what I do, or don’t, deserve.  Or I chalk up a certain behavior, which is nonetheless frustrating for me, to being a hardwiring.

 

For example, one sentence I’ve claimed for years as part of my story: I’ve spent my life not being picked.  Or at least believing, always, in that outcome (which pretty much means it’s guaranteed).  Case in point:  My boyfriend in 8th grade literally moved on from me to someone else without a word my way.  How I found out was when his “new thing” and I were racing against each other in a track meet.  The girl had actually been my friend, and the boyfriend and I had not had a single conflict, so while I get kids just moving on from each other thoughtlessly, I never understood the venal nature of the moment. He stood at the starting line where she and I were poised to run the 50-yard dash, and he muttered, but for everyone to hear, “Beat her, Albertine!  Beat her good!” Albertine didn’t win that race that day.  I did.  But it gave me no pleasure in the victory, because I was also the one beaten.  I didn’t understand my breed, and I didn’t get what I had done so heinous to have deserved such malevolence.  Today I can see clearly how that one incident has been so indelibly stamped on me that I have always tended to enter into an agreement with isolation and outsidership.

 

I’ve just thought of it as a hardwiring, a simple case of, “This is who I am. I don’t fit into circles and clubs.” But here’s the danger in that; chalking anything up to a hardwiring presupposes that there’s nothing that can be done about it.  It takes the power (if it’s a plight we’re actually interested in fixing) right out of our hands. 

 

And if I have taken nothing else away from this seminar, I have taken with me a new understanding that any emotional baggage we have only sticks around, and is given momentum, because there is a need it serves.  That one just blew my head right open.  Done.  Brains on the dashboard.  Blood and guts everywhere.  Absolutely nothing I’ve ever learned in my years’ long pursuit of self-examination has made more sense than that.

 

And so, rather than tossing off my penchants for outsidership, for example, as a hardwiring I can do nothing about, I need to figure out what the role of outsider in my life has been serving all this time.

 

One thing I know for sure is that it’s been a bit of a badge of honor.  I do love my solitude, and marching to my own drummer, and I have a natural penchant toward inward-turning and contemplation.  So, what it’s feeding is pretty obvious.  But it’s also a dubious badge, as there is always an overtone of loneliness and missed opportunity that is a part of the outsider landscape. So, maybe it also feeds a kind of “poor me” comfort?  I’m not sure yet, but there is so much to play with here.  So much to discover, to answer for myself, so many lids to pry open, so that maybe I actually stand a chance of delivering myself from some of these frustrations, and finally give myself the permission to pursue just exactly what I want in this life.

 

As for Crazy Grassy Knoll Man, he will likely remain who he is, though we never know who or what comes along to change our state, and our stake.  But my attitude toward him (once I got past the stun of him cursing me out for not buying any of his wares) became more compassionate and empathetic to the battles that must be his, the battles we all experience to varying degrees of crazy.  And to know that there is an answer, somewhere, somehow, for every one of us.  I just want to be that little sprite whispering into Crazy Grassy Knoll Man’s ear, “I see you.  You are seen.”

 

This was merely one of fifty hours worth of ideas that were drilled into our heads by Tony Robbins during his four days of exhaustive saturation.  I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface on what this seminar did for me.  And honestly, I’m not sure I’m meant to share any more of the experience than this one example, because it was such a deeply intimate odyssey for me, one of identifying belief systems, and transforming them.  It was so intimate, in fact, that when my friend and I couldn’t get a seat together on Day One, we ended up not doing any part of the seminar together, as it was nice not having to be self-conscious around each other.  And that was easy enough to accomplish, in a sea of eight thousand people.  We just met up on dinner breaks and when it was over each day.  We didn’t even witness each others’ firewalk.  Instead, upon completion of the walk, I cheered for my triumph with the people around me, who were all doing the same, a communal pep rally.  New bonds got formed.  In fact, my firewalk partner and I decided to remain friends.  The experience was intimate and expansive at the same time.

 

I’ve been changed by this four-day event, that’s for sure. To what degree will be discovered in the days to come, as I venture forth to apply these tools and get out of my own way.  But I don’t think I truly got hit with that feeling of difference until my revelatory moment on the corner of Elm Street and Houston, the same corner that was John F. Kennedy’s last.  A setting ripe with ghosts and guile.  And maybe even a little grace.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


oFF THE MAT AND INTO THE WORLD:  A Yoga Forum
Essay Copyright © 2016 by Angela Carole Brown
 

 
 
“Abandon your masterpiece, and sink into the real masterpiece.”
― Leonard Cohen

 

I have practiced yoga for nearly 25 years now.  And, in fact, at this very moment have my head deeply buried in books on the 8 Limbs and the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.   One year ago today I had a most invigorating round table discussion with some of my respected peeps in the yoga world, and some not in the yoga world but are wise individuals nonetheless.  The reason I know I had this discussion a year ago is because it was on Facebook, and the Facebook minions just love to remind us of anniversaries.

Facebook is actually never lovelier than when rich, vigorous conversations arise on a subject of great substance and depth.  Even the shut-in can attend the party.  That’s the beauty of it.  And in a time when the untold uglinesses of Facebook are routinely bandied about and analyzed, and we’ve all certainly experienced it, celebrating the beauty of it is refreshing.  Such conversations often arise for me, as I have a mineral-rich amalgam of FB friends, both real-time and virtual, and it’s those very kinds of conversations that keep Facebook interesting.

In this case, I was really happy to revisit that discussion, and found it just informational and insightful enough to bear sharing here.

 

*          *          *

 
My original Facebook post: May 30, 2015

I recently found a new yoga center in my neighborhood, and it is the real deal!  Tonight was the 2nd class I’ve now gone to, and tonight’s was Kundalini, which I used to practice years ago at The Awareness Center in Pasadena, and which is the form closest to my heart.  It was a great class; rewarding and challenging. Challenging in the sense of things being woken up, disturbed, stirred up, released, accepted, held onto, resisted, worked with, the whole smorgasbord of spiritual experiences, and the ultimate agenda of inner peace. Rewarding in the sense of those various shifts happening as we move our bodies, oxygenate our cells, and focus our energy toward benevolence and balance. I bring this up because for several years now I have been on the hunt, as it were, for “the real deal.”  The real thing is actually everywhere; it can be found easily. But as I’ve tried to take on a regular practice, I’ve had to consider my finances, and yoga centers can be expensive. So for me, I’ve tried to find the real deal at gyms, where for one monthly fee one can do all the yoga one wants. That hunt has been largely futile. Invariably when I’ve walked into a new gym in the neighborhood to inquire about membership, and they ask me what I’m interested in, and I say, “yoga, but is it the real thing?” they, without fail, assure me that it is.  They are almost always wrong. And I wonder if their answers to me are because they are instructed to say whatever the customer wants to hear, or because they really don’t know what yoga is.  I suspect it’s exactly both. I am being very judgmental here (the first step to recovery is admitting it). But I have been genuinely frustrated, so it is what it is.  What I have found is a great sweeping commercialization of this ancient spiritual practice.  And that’s what yoga is – a spiritual practice. But now this other animal exists; yoga as another mode of aerobic exercise. Another way to get fit, get hard-bodied, be impressively flexible, even competitive.  It’s all about the externals. But the real thing is a profound meditational system that consists of what are called eight limbs (synchronistic to Buddhism’s eightfold path), and only one of those limbs regards asana, which are the poses that seem to be the entire package in the commercialized version. (“Oh, and the faster we move through these poses the better, so we can get our heart rate up and shed those pounds!”). Yes, I’m being sarcastic right now, although I have actually heard that uttered.  In any case, the real thing is a cultivation toward inner peace, spiritual harmony and balance, alignment with divine power, and integration of the physical and the mental. The word itself means “to unite” in Sanskrit. And it has been known to have profound impact on everything from depression to chronic illness to just simply improving our sense of well-being, and our willingness to self-investigate.  It’s been a lifesaving practice for me.  And the only reason the phenomenon is even in my thoughts tonight is because I had a most gratifying class, and it seems so odd to me that that experience has been so elusive over the past few years, and I would love it if my genuine yogi friends would chime in on this thought, and share your perspectives.  In fact, I welcome anyone, yogi or no, who has a thought on this.  Is there room for all of it (I suspect the answer is yes)? Or is it important to clear up general misconceptions about this beautiful, transformational practice for the lay public?  Or do I just have the whole damned thing wrong?  I suspect the answer to that is yes too.  Fire away.

 

Ken Rosser  
Years ago I read a yoga instructor saying that he felt that awareness of the spiritual benefits was not necessary in order to receive them, that in doing the exercises you opened that door anyway … I dunno, there was something about that I found kind of charming in the way that works so contrary to how “the west” operates in any of its disciplines …

 

Me
Hmmmmm.  I think I may need to go to my mountain and think about that one for awhile.

 

Ken Rosser
Just passing along something your post loosened up in my brain that started rattling around – and I remember the quote really sticking with me because when I was raised Catholic I would NEVER hear a priest say that the act of taking communion or even praying would have spiritual benefit whether or not you believed – that whole tradition hinges on your state of belief.  To say that yoga works whether or not you believe sort of makes it like a spiritual medicine in my mind, in the way that I don’t have to believe in antibiotics in order for them to kill bacteria. I dunno…I’m just spouting here.

 

Me
Kenneth, your “just spoutings” are always some of the best Just Spoutings out there.

 

Lily Knight
Distortions are inevitable, since everything is continually changing, but you have the experience of your soul guiding you to where the light grows in you, and the practice of seeing the god in everything.

 

Candi Milo
It IS hard to find that sweet spot. I know. I’ve watched Chokae’ Kalekoa post his photos and think that he may be the last of the quiet, Om breath centered, ritualistic teachers.   think a lot has to do with yoga studios needing to keep their lights on and bills paid and their courses are thereby driven by the kind of people who power through their experiences and want a heart-rate boost, or they know nothing of the practice and are looking for an “easy-workout” with some stretching. I often see disappointed faces whenever the class isn’t physically hard enough or the poses are breath-balanced.

 

Me
Candi, your insights about teachers needing to bend to popular demand in order to keep the lights on are very insightful.  Makes me sad that people look to yoga for something that it isn’t. But then again, I’m getting feedback here about the importance of bringing my own intention to the practice, no matter what the nature of the class is (AND leaving others alone to do the same thing….when did I get to be such a bully!?), and I’m really trying to sit with that one right now. Mountain calling!

 

Chokae’ Kalekoa
Actually, none of them are “The Real Thing” … and yet … they all are. Don’t mean to get all Zen on a sistah … Or, do I? …. *wink.*  I do get your meaning though, and feel your frustration. Having practiced deep meditation since I was 11, I feel grateful and lucky to have had my first approach to Hatha Yoga be from a meditative perspective. My first young taste of “Hatha” Yoga Practice was in San Francisco with B.K.S. Iyengar’s Book Light On Yoga. Mind-blowing. I also found Patanjali’s 8 Fold Path, in which, as aforementioned, Hatha Yoga is simply one of the eight steps. Overwhelming.  Over many years came a deeper interest and enthusiastic introduction to many forms, expressions, and systems of Hatha Yoga. From Astanga, Kundalini, and Sivananda, to Jivamukti, Viniyoga, Bikram and many more. All practices, at their foundation/core, are all incredible practices. As a Hatha Yogi (using the term in this case in reference to anyone who regularly practices any form of Hatha Yoga), one has the opportunity to experience many variations of practice methods within each “Style” of Hatha Yoga, with emphasis placed on various approaches at various times with various intensities – Hard, Soft, Meditative, Flow, Athletic, Therapeutic, Esoteric, Aesthetic, etc.  Although each system or style of Hatha Yoga may focus more on a particular method than others, they all (generally speaking) include, in one way or another, all of the above and more … despite the ridiculously childish this-yoga-is-better-than-that-yoga rivalries, vile commercialization and mountainous agglomerations of pure bullshit (a sanskrit term meaning bullshit) permeating the Hatha Yoga world on a global scale. Through practicing and teaching Hatha Yoga for over 25 years now; to all kinda folks on a few different continents, I have seen and experienced the fact that, regardless of whether one considers oneself to be Believer, Non-Believer, Spiritual, Non-Spiritual, Theist, Athiest or any other Club Member … “regular practice” of any Hatha Yoga system, has the potential to bring about deeper understanding of oneself, harmony inside and out … and the healthy union of body, mind and soul, whether one is fully conscious of the benefits or not.  “Wax on, Wax off.”

 

Me
“Bullshit (a Sanskrit word meaning bullshit)…”  Chokae’, I love you for so many reasons, as you are a genuine shaman to be reckoned with, but never so much as when you make me laugh.

 

Candi Milo
I stand corrected, cuz I guess my post is really about “look what I notice when my eyes should be on MY mat…” doop!

 

Me
GURL, don’t even get me started.

 

Victoria Kassa
OMG, this is a lot to chew on and mull over. I have only ever practiced sporadically. Angie, your album has been my go-to, which fits my budget and gets me centered. So the real deal I think is also what you bring to the practice. I see lots of studios popping up here in Highland park.  My schedule and budget are limiting me to actually explore them. However I’m just curious about the “market.”  Are people really meditating or just working out?  I’m gonna stick with my home work out for now. Thanks Angie!!!

 

Me
Thank YOU, Vicki. I’m so glad you’re using the CD!  I wonder if polls have ever been conducted on your very question. I would be curious to know (the control freak in me just cannot seem to be tempered.)

 

Chokae’ Kalekoa
Another thought that may help … Practicing yoga and one’s yoga practice are 2 very different things. Just like rehearsal is different from performance.  When working hard, correcting, adjusting, pushing myself to the limit of the moment, I’m “Practicing Yoga” – When I’m indoors, or out in nature doing asanas at sunrise, sunset, or under the moon, in preparation for, or as meditation, that’s my “Yoga Practice.”  The harder my practice, the easier my practice.

 

Melanie Taylor
Wow, I’ve been overwhelmed reading all the profound and thoughtful comments. I finally had a moment to chime in, as I’m always up for geeking out about yoga.  My thoughts:  When I get all in my head about my 30 year practice (3 of which I’ve been teaching), I’m reminded of the wisdom of BKS Iyengar, who said, “Body is the bow, asana is the arrow, soul is the target.” And it goes without saying that breath is the Way.  I’m also a huge fan of “beginners mind,”  going back to basics of breath moving through the body.  And also, working from the outside in, because the body is the most accessible tool to the heart, which at the core of everything wants to express itself.  I’ve practiced all the disciplines but vinyasa remains my favorite because it mirrors nature, the movement guided by breath like wind through the trees, or waves crashing on the shore.  When I was getting certified, we had lots of spirited debate about the merits of yoga as fitness versus yoga as a spiritual practice.  My feeling is anything that gets you to the mat is going to benefit you in ways you never imagined.  And when you take your yoga off the mat is when it gets real.  It is insidious; it affects you, increases your awareness and maybe that will lead you to be more curious about the practice itself and how you make it your own.

 

Lotus Lindley 
What a wonderful thread. Thanks for including me Angela. Personally, I feel out of the norm of the yoga loop anymore. But, I began with Bikram yoga 15 years ago. A dancer/dance fitness instructor at that time, Bikram was the perfect transition.  I loved the heat, the sweat, the athleticism that created the “work out” which fed me. It was at that studio I saw a picture of Yogi Desai, who drew me instantly. Within months, I was at a week long retreat with him, received
Skaktipat & my life has never been the same.  I still chuckle at how my first couple of classes in his “Amrit Yoga” system left me underwhelmed & frustrated. I wasn’t sweating, I wasn’t getting a work out, but I hadn’t yet sensitized energetically to the inward “pull” so to speak, yet either. My practice since, for the most part, has been a very solitary one.  For me, Bikram was perfect & just what I needed in order to move me toward the next perfect phase.  It continues to work that way!  I believe Soul has a way of guiding us to what each needs along our journey.  I guess the point of my story is that there are many right times, right places, right teachers, for just the right lessons ~ all along the way.

 

Me
Blessed peeps, this is all such spiritual gold.  I want to meditate on each comment thoughtfully.  I am humbled and grateful to be given such loving feedback in my moment of trying to work it out.  The tangles that live in us … for me, this one’s lived for a long time, just tucked away, and only, ironically, JUST as I’ve been rewarded recently by a couple of strong classes, did this particular tangle rear up again for my perusal. It just blows my mind that finding a fulfilling class has felt like stumbling upon the Holy Grail, and it is a phenomenon I felt was worthy of a posted thought.

 

Melanie Taylor
Angela…One more thought to your original post as to teachers that may not resonate with you and where you’re at that day: that’s when my Iyengar mantra kicks in and I use that frustration as an opportunity to fire up my practice (deeper pranayama, extra vinyasas) and clear out negative shit that doesn’t serve my soul. Put simply, if I’m not feeling my teacher, I just go hard until I burn it out. 

 

Me
I suspected that the idea of it being about what you bring to your own practice in any class, with any teacher, would largely be the feedback I’d receive.  And so far, you all seem to be on the same wise page, which means that there is no Holy Grail;  yoga is everywhere, in every inhale and exhale, every experience, especially the ones that challenge our beliefs, or just plain irritate us.  I truly thank you all for this feedback.

 

*          *          *

 

And that pretty much wrapped up the FB thread, which went on for a few thought-provoking days, and did me a world of good. The conversation, however, continues and continues.

 

Leonard Cohen, iconic singer/songwriter and Zen monk, said the quote that began this forum (abandon your masterpiece, and sink into the real masterpiece) about his experience of living for some time at a monastery. As you’ve just read, I had some pretty righteously indignant feelings on the subject.And I was artfully, lovingly, but most definitely, nudged right off my soapbox.  And therein, I think, lies the essential meaning of Mr. Cohen’s beautiful words.

 

My contributors and comrade-in-arms:
Ken Rosser is the man I call my musical soulmate, with whom I’ve been involved in several music projects, and who may just be the most innovative and soulful multi-stringed-instrumentalist I’ve ever come across. Check out our duo CD sometime, called MUSIC FOR THE WEEPING WOMAN.
 
Lily Knight was my Kundalini teacher (and favorite yoga teacher I’ve ever had) from way back when I studied yoga at the Awareness Center in Pasadena, and who is the one responsible for opening up this world for me of self-investigation and soul-tending.

 

Candyce Milo is a razor-sharp, irreverent comedian, actor, and writer, whose ability to examine the human condition in her one-woman shows raises her above the masses.

 

Chokae’ Kalekoa is, as Candi says above, just about one of the last of the quiet, Om breath centered, ritualistic teachers.  He is a yogi-shaman bad-ass, and founder of the Shut Your Monkey Meditation Workshop, which he travels all around the globe.

 

Victoria Kassa is a lifelong educator, which may be the noblest calling on the planet, and someone I’ve grown up with, literally since infancy, so….yeah…family.

 

Melanie Taylor is a yogi, singer/songwriter, seeker, carrier of light and eternal optimist.  She is also my birthday twin, and my true sister from another mister.

 

Lotus Lindley is a Reiki healer, and a Path of Sacred Feminine & Essential Oils Facilitator.  After having only met her through Facebook at that point, she actually came to my rescue with an earth-shattering Reiki treatment when I was going through something once. Blessings to her forever for that.
 

 

A deeply heart-filled gratitude to these treasured friends for contributing not only to my thread, but to my learning, my healing, and my ongoing cultivation of peace and compassion.

 

May this forum offer you an insight or two that you might not have had before. Om shanti.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



MOUNTAINTOP MOMENT (Spoken Word)
Essay Copyright © 2016 by Angela Carole Brown
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



STANDING AJAR : Notes From A Kidney Donor
Essay Copyright © 2008 by Angela Carole Brown
 

 

I received the following email recently; one of those intended for the tradition of forwarding on to everyone you know. It said: “To get something you never had, you have to do something you never did.”

 

Forwarding jokes, political statements, gossip, all these common manifestations of the wonderfully viral internet are never more wonderful than when people feel the instinct to spread gems of wisdom about. And I have become a person who collects them in a little computer folder marked “doors.” 

 

Doors are what I always find them to be, because they surely take me through a portal and across a threshold into a new understanding, maybe even a new conversation, on the always compelling human condition. This particular quotation is such a door. 

 

Lately, especially, I have been fully embracing messages like the above, which I always believe are coming to me by some divine force. But after sitting with this one for awhile (I wish I knew whom to credit for it), I realized that it might’ve actually had a different message for me than I had originally extracted. More cautionary tale than inspiration. And so, a foreboding door, in this case. One that creaks as it opens, and is adorned with cobwebs and potential booby traps. And the next thing you know, I was posing the question:  Do we humans only tend to do things for what we can reap in return? 

 

One might think that the most profound impact this whole kidney thing would have on me would be the act itself; easily the most altruistic gesture that I, a fairly self-serving human being, have ever made; and the way in which it would transform me as a person. The jury’s out on that one yet, since we’re still weeks away from the actual switch, and no doubt when it finally does happen it will trump everything. But for now, what has actually turned my head the most are the many and varied reactions I’ve gotten from the people in my life when I announced to them that I was offering to donate a kidney to a young man in need. 

 

I just knew that such an announcement would instantly give me the greatness that had been the singular aspiration I had sought in some form or other my whole life.  Now, that’s pretty deep-seated. But even more deep-seated was my belief that a sentence like that would be the magic pill that would cast all doubts about Angela’s character cleanly away; put me in a new light in the eyes of those who have had their issues with me.

 

I’m a nice person. Sure, I can be aloof and shy when I first meet you, but I’m a decent human being, nonetheless, who believes in being ethical and compassionate, who has spent most of her adult life trying to self-discover and become a better version of herself by the means of yoga, meditation, Buddhist studies, the healing arts, etc. I have devoted my life to being an artist, to putting something out into the world of value and substance and beauty. 

 

But I can also be moody, impatient, passive-aggressive, lazy, and self-absorbed. That last one, I think, just goes along with the territory of being an artist. But it certainly can make one a difficult person to live with, and I do know that I’ve been considered complicated by the people in my life. 

 

So, there’s always been this far-in-the-distant, vaguely dull, faintly hovering in the background, but persistent, agenda for me to scrub and scour and clean up who I am … to be delivered, in a sense, because I am aware of my narcissism and its impact on others. 

 

And I do know, and must admit, that this was the primary engine behind making the decision to donate a kidney. Instant atonement for my crimes of mood swings and self-absorption.

 

And so, the varied responses to my announcement: One friend (a doctor, no less) responded to the news with: “You don’t need to sacrifice body parts in order to contribute something to the world. That’s taking it a bit far, isn’t it?” Here is a man who must know how rare it is for a kidney patient to find a living donor. And all I could think from that reaction was that I must’ve foolishly let on that I saw this as a healing not only for this young man but for my own narcissistic self. Silly girl!   know better. As soon as I start any kind of dialogue about self-examination, and doing excavating work on myself, and trying to uncover and face my grave flaws in character, and trying to up the ante on the person that I am, most people’s instinctive reaction is: “Yikes!” followed by, “What’s with all that garbage? There’s nothing wrong with you.” People get all tripped and tangled up when the gesture isn’t clear and singular, like just wanting to help a young man stay alive. And truly, everything should be that simple. But, alas, we are complicated creatures, full of baggage and dysfunctions and agendas and blocks and stumbles, and desires to be better than we are. It’s a slippery slope trying to dialogue in that environment with most people. So, I sadly recognized the all too familiar patois in my friend the doctor’s claim that I was involved in something rather foolish.     

 

Another friend made this into something I was doing to him. The inference, of course, was that he was worried for my safety, which is always appreciated, if a bit hysterical (my own defensiveness is clearly at play with that one); but he framed it with such a sense of personal wound that I spent the entire conversation practically apologizing.     

      

Certain family members have, in all of the months of my involvement in this, barely acknowledged ITS existence in their lives (that their daughter, sister, etc. was about to go under the knife for a young man they didn’t even know). Not resistance, mind you. Not “don’t do this!” I could wrap my brain around that one; that they would understandably want what they felt was best for me. No. Just non-acknowledgment. Denial is a powerful and medicative tool. 

 

Yet another friend (and this one has to win some sort of prize) responded to my announcement that I was about to save a young man’s life by reciting a joke from Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life (a reference to kidneys), and then instantly segueing into the next subject. I realize that sometimes news can be met with inappropriate behavior when that news is just too heavy to process. It’s a protective mechanism. I get that. I guess I just wasn’t prepared for the world NOT falling at my feet at this most uncharacteristically selfless pronouncement of mine (Me! The self-serving one!).  

 

Let me not diminish the experience with spin. Many in my life have found this commitment generous and kind, have admired me for offering it, and have been incredibly supportive during this extraordinary odyssey. One friend actually wept upon the announcement. Not only did he weep, he did it in front of the woman he’d recently proposed marriage to (and me) over lunch one day, potentially risking being seen by his new fiancé as soft. He didn’t care. He embraced his sensitive soul, and me. Family offering to bring me soup,  or buy me groceries when I return home from the hospital, and including the young man and me in their prayer circles, friends calling it a mitzvah; these have been in abundance. My best friend insists on taking a few days off of her job to care for me (we’re still fighting over that one). Believe me, these outpourings have been stunning.

 

I simply was unprepared for such a divergence of receptions. Between the acceptors and the resistors, I have been given a fairly awesome panoramic view of the motives, agendas, fears, and beliefs of the people in my life; gotten a sense of who they really are, by their reaction to this news. It has served as a radiant telescope on these souls in my life, and none more nakedly revealed than my own:

 

That I would rely so heavily on the praise of loved ones; that I would need to make a plea for my own goodness by this gesture (it apparently isn’t enough that I might become a better person by actually rising to the occasion; what seems to be most pressing is approval); and that I would use a young man’s health affliction as my ticket to salvation.

 

That’s the one that slapped me in the head and made me see stars. 

 

And I realized that it was the resistant reactions – the ones that jarred more than comforted, that doubted and suspected more than praised, that didn’t allow me to sit on my selflessly sacrificing throne while being plied with chicken soup – that were just what I deserved. 

 

During the months of preparing for this major event (lots of tissue matching, and blood-drawing, and work-ups of EKG’s and CTU’s and glucose tests, and urine collections, and nephrology consults, and orders to lose some of my middle-aged weight, etc.) I’d been reading Eckhart Tolle, one of the many I’ve read in my ceaseless pursuit of betterdom, and whose whole shtick is about liberating one’s true self from the machinations of the ego, and I felt like he was pointing his finger right at me. He’s an annoying writer to read, frankly, because there’s always the sense that he has truly stumbled upon something profound, yet achieving what he talks about is a bit like finding the Holy Grail. Nice thought, but…you know...good luck!

 

Still, I’ve been made hyper conscious of my own motives, and trying my damnedest to clean and scrub them up in time to truly be of service to a young man named Hans. 

 

Ah, yes, Hans.

 

He is not a plot point. Not a tool or a prop for my journey toward self-cultivation – raggedy as it often is. Not a trophy to wear around my neck (along with a nice belly scar to prove my altruism and noble disregard for vanity). Hans IS the reason for all of this. He is a real, live, thinking, feeling human being, whose life was suddenly threatened by renal failure at the regrettable age of seventeen. And Hans is my friend (well, Hans’ amazing parents are really my friends; until this he was just the son of friends; but we are indeed friends now). 

 

From the moment I made this offer I believed in my gut that this was meant to be, that we’d been brought into each others’ lives five years ago for this express purpose: The fact that I was an instant tissue match; that no one else was considered a good candidate; that every concern I’d had about long-term ramifications had been answered to my great satisfaction; that this was a period in my life when I had expressly asked the universe to supply me with a service to someone else, because I was tired of living only for myself; that I was determined to carry this through even though it was threatening to strain relationships (and me, the people-pleaser!), and that I wasn’t the least bit frightened by the idea. It was just too easy, for this not to be what was foretold.

 

And while my bi-monthly schedule of giving blood for the past two years certainly counts as being of service, in my mind it still seemed a little like cheating, since I was not really sacrificing a single thing (if anything I always get a little perk for the gesture; a gift certificate to Baskin-Robbins, as the blood bank’s way of saying thank you: “A pint for a pint!”). Isn’t sacrifice supposed to be a part of service? Offering a kidney had a whole other depth to it; it was about true selflessness. Or so I thought.

 

I recently got hold of a snapshot of Hans and me. I framed it, and I look at him every day in the hope of maintaining clarity. In the hope of keeping everything pure. Because Hans deserves that in his donor.  

 

It isn’t easy. I mean, if I haven’t yet been successful at getting ahead on my own account, and by my own talents, then why not use this gesture as a calling-card for all future opportunities? Shouldn’t Oprah know about this? Well, at least the Karmic heavens will know, she thinks to herself in a moment of greedy desperation. And in the tradition of Karma, this MUST mean that life will go my way from now on. Smoothly and with no rocks in the road, because, “Hey, I just gave a kidney away!” 

 

This cannot be given legs. It will truly be my soul’s downfall, if it is.         

  

One of the many tests that I was given to prepare me for this journey was a psychiatric consultation. They needed to make sure I was not crazy or suicidal, or involved in some mercenary agenda. I remember the session being sort of fun, and we laughed constantly. Lots of word-association games and basic logic tests, which apparently I passed with flying colors. But I remember thinking that if they had gone beyond and deeper than basic abstracts, and which-shape-goes-in-which-hole puzzles, they might’ve learned that there was more at stake here than just my wanting to help someone in need. They might’ve discovered that my own sense of identity was clinging to eventually being known as The One Who Sacrificed A Kidney. And they might’ve thought twice about my mental capacity for being a donor.

 

Or is it simply a given that we all operate from a place of ego – that we aren’t all Eckhardts –  and that’s okay? That it doesn’t mean we’re not fit to be of service to others? Because, really, the bottom line is, no matter what my baggage might be, Hans gets a functioning kidney. Hans gets to extend his life another 30-40-50 years. So, who really cares about the motives of the crazy, one-kidneyed lady in her clock tower, yelling: “I just gave a kidney away!” 

 

The answer is, I do. 

 

I’ve hated that, in my mind, this has become about MY journey. Well, there you go, folks; the self-absorbed gal, trying to rise above self-absorption by offering this altruistic gesture, only to turn it into something quite … self-absorbed. 

 

We’re truly artful, aren’t we, us egomaniacs? 

 

I have to take deep breaths constantly. 

 

Every day for seven months now, I have touched and rubbed the spot on my side where I’ve supposed the laparoscopic equipment will poke through my flesh and work its medical miracles. Every day for seven months now, I have imagined what it will feel like to be missing a kidney. I’ve heard about amputees who can still feel the missing limb. Would it be like that? My boyfriend, at the time this all began, once asked jokingly, “Will you walk lopsided after this?” We laughed at his silliness, but I do wonder. Every day for seven months now, I have envisioned and tried to feel what it will feel like. Tried to get a jumpstart on the palpability of it. How much it will hurt. How long it will take to heal. How I’ll regard my own diet and exercise habits and appreciate my body’s temple from now on. How I will walk in the world (I don’t mean literally, but yes, sure, that too). And if the scar will be something I’ll finger obsessively for the rest of my life, in awe at this turn of fate. 

 

I have felt for a very long time a great pull to evolve, to be a better version of myself; the one who doesn’t have the lazy gene, or the selfish gene, or the fear gene, or the desperate-for-approval gene. Without those imperfections, I could conquer the world. But transformation and awakening is hard work, and, well, after all ... the lazy gene. And so every day for seven months now, I think I've also bet on this to magically eradicate all need for the groundwork and ascend me directly to enlightenment.

 

I stare at the photograph of Hans and me. He has a great face. Sort of innocent and knowing at the same time. Bewildered with the wonders of this life AND too clever for it. He smiles. He laughs. He makes goofy jokes. He plays his guitars and his basses and he gigs around town with his garage band, in between thrice-weekly dialysis sessions and despite catheters and fistuals implanted in his neck, because he can’t just sit still while bureaucracy and the tease of medical marvels are waded through. And he’s frustrated. Frustrated at the way hospital staff has constantly talked down to him, not given him the credit for being an adult, because at the age of nineteen Hans unfortuitously straddles adulthood and childhood, and therefore no one quite knows which way to treat him.  

 

Trying to feel all of this through Hans’ lens has been a task. But I keep trying. Is he frightened? Does the catheter in his neck make him nervous? Does he have hope for a long future? Or does he already have the teenage chip of jadedness? 

We hang out together. We went to see two living jazz legends, Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter, at UCLA (ironically, the same grounds upon which this surgical procedure would’ve taken place, until a whole barrage of red tape and personality conflicts had us switching hospitals), and the Rolling Stones concert movie. And our connection, our bond, is being solidified. 

What will happen to us when all of this is done? Will our bond continue? Grow even more? Or will we drift apart, our deed done, mine to give, his to receive? I think we will be friends forever. But I do fear a possible obsession with staring at Hans’ rib cage every time I see him, and envisioning my kidney inside his body regulating his fluids and his electrolyte balance by the autonomic process of filtration, secretion and re-absorption, because, really, it’s all just too unreal! And I’m sure his parents will fear a pending sense of eternal obligation to me. And it will simply be my job to assure them every day for the rest of our lives that they owe me nothing.

 

How do I do that? How do I assure them that they are not in debt to me? And how do I keep visions of Oprah, and Karmic insurance, and instant enlightenment, and entitled blurtings of, “I just gave a kidney away!” from dancing in my head? 

 

How do I keep everything pure? 

 

And the best that I can figure is that it’ll be by thanking the universe (and the doubtful ones) every day for making me self-aware enough to alert me to possible egomania. See, that’s really the perk of being self-absorbed. You also stand a shot at being self-aware. And cutting off craziness at the knees. Well, a shot’s all I can really ask for, I suppose.

 

There are times that feel so lonely, when I had originally fantasized visions of the crowd carrying me on their shoulders. Is it coincidence? Related? Are there some who are actually drifting away from my life because they don’t get this gesture? Or because they smell my self-aggrandizing weaknesses reeking from me? 

 

And if either is the case, then losing those who would leave so easily and facing my own narcissistic imperfections (which has been a great gift, if not especially fun) are a small price to pay for the shot at witnessing a young man bounce back like a flower newly watered. What a front-row seat that will be.

 

An Emily Dickinson quotation comes to mind; one I should really get going on the internet, for other fellow geeks’ computer folders that are labeled “quotes”: The soul should always stand ajar, ready to welcome the ecstatic experience.”

 

Well, universe, here I am. Standing. Welcoming. Ready. 

 

 

(Written on May 26, 2008. Angela donated her kidney to Hans San Juan seven weeks later, on July 22, 2008 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. To read the entire memoir: THE KIDNEY JOURNALS: MEMOIRS OF A DESPERATE LIFESAVER)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



BELLIGERENT ROMANCE : Song.  Heart.  Bravery.
Essay Copyright © 2008 by Angela Carole Brown
 


“…the only answer is to recklessly discard more armor.”  
–– Eric Maisel

 

 

I am awakened rudely by construction in the neighborhood.  I fight it for a time, but eventually give in and hasten my exercise gear on.  I get myself outside for a good walking meditation (my thing these days), and can’t get Hans’ song out of my head.

 

Angela.

 

There are actually lots of songs with my name in the title.  The music from the television show Taxi is actually called Angela’s Theme.  There’s Helen Reddy’s Angie Baby. Of course, the Stones’ iconic Angie.  The Bee Gees have a song.  Even Motley Crue, stealing lines from Hendrix’s The Wind Cries Mary with their own “when the winds cry Angela” lyric.

 

It can be heady, this idea of your name inspiring song after song, but then again none of them were written for me.  So, how heady can I really get?

 

Until Hans.  I’m giving him a kidney in just three more days.  This anticipated event has dragged out for nine excruciating bureaucratic months. My best friend pointed out the symbolic time frame as indicative of a kind of birth. But now it’s here, and both of us (Hans and I) have to be bouncing off the walls in our own way.  Me, I’m doing these walking meditations every day now for a month solid. It’s equal parts exercise (I really hoof it) and opportunity to live with my own thoughts before my day officially begins with and in the world; to level myself and clear out my brain for the big day. I chant, I do mantras, I work out problems, I talk myself down from ledges, I rationalize behavior, I ask for forgiveness, I defend myself in imaginary arguments, and I thank the Forces That Be for everything. 

 

But on today’s walk, all that activity got shoved to the various corners and crannies of my obsessive brain to make room for memories of last night, going to see Hans play his guitar in a coffee house, and open his set with Angela….written for me. 

 

Interestingly enough, I’ve been involved with countless boyfriends, almost all of whom have been musician/composers, and yet none of them has ever written a song for me.  It is either a great poetic juxtaposition, or a really unsettling indication of the impact I have on the people I’m involved with.  Of course, I’m also a songwriter, and I’ve never written a song for any one of them either.  So, okay, maybe all it indicates is that every one of us is jaded and crusty and we’ve lost all sense of romance and inspiration. 

 

Picasso painted every woman he ever fell for.  What has happened to that kind of belligerent romance?  The terrible compulsion to celebrate another human being?

 

So, hearing this song, sung by teenager Hans and his girlfriend and the drummer in his band, was a moment that left me speechless and tearful.  A moment that made me realize that inspiration and romance do still exist…. they’re just hiding amongst the young.  And if we still want to be touched by it, then the young are who we need to surround ourselves with. 

 

I walked my regular route in the neighborhood, and tried to chant my daily mantra, which usually begins with “Love, reign over me…” (I have tended to find much more prayerful intention in rock songs than I’ve ever found from anything biblical.) “….make me mindful….give me grace…. deliver me from need….fill me with wonder….” etc.  Sometimes I chant for winning the lottery, but I sort of get that that’s not really how it works, and so those requests always come with tongue firmly planted in cheek.  Today I didn’t care about money or enlightenment.  Today I was intoxicated by having had a song written for me, for the first time in my life.  I felt like Marie-Thérèse, or Anaïs Nin, or Beethoven’s “immortal beloved”; women who have been painted, written about, composed for, dedicated symphonies.  I highly recommend it.  Being someone’s muse.  It’s a high like no other. 

 

As I walked, I completely tuned out the music that was blasting through the iPod buds wedged in my ear.  Explanation: It’s easier for me to do my mantras against music; it’s a deliberate sensory overload; somehow things just stick themselves deeper in the subconscious when they’re too overloaded to have surface impact. It didn’t matter today anyway; I had abandoned my Pete Townsend-inspired mantra and my downloaded pop tunes, to be flooded with Hans’ song.  Or rather, the idea of Hans’ song.   

 

A complete stranger who was walking my way held her palm up, and shouted “high five” as we passed each other.  I obliged.  First time I’ve ever been accosted in that way.  And I thought of this woman’s completely loopy bravery.  Just to infiltrate a perfect stranger’s sphere, for a split second, and engage.  What if I had refused her?  Treated her the way we treat the bag ladies who pass us by?  I wouldn’t be brave enough to throw my loopiness out there in that way; too afraid of rejection, of having someone look at me like I was nuts.  And then I thought of the oddly shaped angle that I was practically on the eve of having surgeons cut me open and pull a kidney out of my body, yet here I was assured that I would’ve been too afraid to be silly on the street with a passing stranger.  Which one really takes more bravery? 

 

It takes a special kind of bravery to write a song for somebody.  It takes letting down one’s cool guard and daring to show a little vulnerability.  Letting the world peek into your opened and exposed heart.  And most especially, letting the person for whom the song is written peek into your heart, daring to let them know that you feel, and that they have impacted your life enough to inspire public song. 

 

I once had a boyfriend, a brilliant composer, who, with me, was one day listening to a song written by a friend of ours with a woman’s name in the title.  He said, “I don’t think I could write a song with some woman’s name in the title.”  He said this with a kind of pride in the claim. I felt sad for him.  And sad for myself, as well, because I think that claim was my truth too.  We’re all just too cool.  Vulnerability is not attractive.  

 

Leonard Bernstein’s Maria, from “Westside Story”, a song of truly loopy and delirious love.

 

Tom Waits’ Martha, an invocation of sweet, melancholy reminiscence.

 

The Beatles’ Michelle.

 

Elton John’s Daniel.

 

Brian’s Song.

 

Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair.

The list goes on, and on, and encouragingly on.  Who knows which of these is based on an actual person, or is merely the playground of fiction?  And who cares?  Either one still requires a level of unadulterated celebration, and a willingness to abandon cool, which makes someone ultra-cool in my book.  

Hans is brave.  He is brave to be a musician, going out there in the world for the scrutiny of the jaded.  He is brave to have withstood two years of debilitating dialysis, countless surgeries, stem cell experiments, and catheters and fistulas implanted beneath his skin.  And perhaps the bravest act of all is his daring to expose his great heart in so many ways, only one tiny example of which is the writing of a song entitled Angela.

 

 

 

 

(Written on July 19, 2008. Angela donated her kidney to Hans San Juan three days later, on July 22, 2008 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. To read the entire memoir: THE KIDNEY JOURNALS: MEMOIRS OF A DESPERATE LIFESAVER)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


MINDFUL EATING:  Letting Go of a Bad Relationship To Forge a New One
Essay Copyright © 2015 by Angela Carole Brown

 

To the poet, to the philosopher, to the saint,
all things are friendly and sacred,
all events profitable, all days holy, all men divine.”

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

It has lately occurred to me that food, and one’s approach to food, even the enjoyment of it, would be greatly enhanced by looking at the whole affair from a sacred, spiritual standpoint. It’s hardly a new idea. Religions the world over have historically had rituals regarding the consumption of food. From the Holy Communion of Catholicism to the Kosher Laws of Judaism to the spiritual fasting observed by many religions, food and the consumption of food have played a pivotal role in the development of the soul.

 

I have struggled with food my whole life.  I’ve either seriously dieted and lived in grumpy privation, or I’ve emotionally eaten and found myself in food stupors, blocking out some deep pain body, or I’ve thrown hands up, not cared, and gotten real depraved with it. Actually “not cared” isn’t exactly accurate. I’ve always cared, always been preoccupied, always been obsessed, always felt the pressure from society, boyfriends, even colleagues, because I happen to be in a business where what I look like matters greatly, to look a certain way and to maintain that, in no uncertain terms.  I was pretty successful with maintaining a look and a weight for most of my adult life, but not without the help of a lot of compulsive behaviors.  When menopause hit and I gained nearly 50 pounds, and then kept that on for the better part of the last ten years, making the new weight my body’s new set point, efforts to get back to where I’d mainly been my whole life were proving insurmountable, and really only succeeded in enhancing what was already a fairly dysfunctional relationship with food.  I’ve never starved myself, or binged/purged;  my issues surrounding food have been a lot subtler than that, making the whole panorama of eating and body dysmorphic issues much more complex and nuanced than popular media ever gives us to understand.

 

That’s my eating background, in a brief nutshell.  Nothing devastating, just the nuanced struggles of a middle-class American girl pressured by a quintessentially middle-class American pastime – dieting.   And so now to this recent dawning.   I’ve been on a spiritual road for some time now, some of it documented on this blog, some of it hinted at in the various memoir I’ve put out there, some of it, as well, remaining deeply private, and all in the service of bettering who I am, healing what has ailed me, and coming closer to the divine and to an internal peace in the realm of higher consciousness.   I made a recent decision to start approaching the ritual of eating from a sacred standpoint.   So now, what exactly does that mean?

 

To begin with, the world is filled with far too many people who are without food, who would give their right arm for a bowl of porridge, and would consider that bowl sacred, because it is so rare.   How can I possibly continue to live in this life where I have never once had to go without, and not value the privilege that I have been given?   And so, a new commitment is beginning for me.  It is my effort to heal what is sore between food and me.

 

I want to rise above my animal self, the hungers, the desires, that root chakra governance that is primal and is all about brute survival by any means, and instead appeal to a higher state of grace that is beyond the limited senses.  I wonder if that isn’t what’s behind the spiritual practice of fasting.  The idea of denying those base urges in us, in order to push through a veil to experience what’s on the other side.  When we’re stripped of our animal nature, what’s left?  What are we?  What are we capable of?  What are our limitations?  Our possibilities?  Fasting is not an easy thing to do, and this essay isn’t about that, but I think we can make that same journey by deeming the act of feeding ourselves a sacred one, like baptism or the Eucharist.   It’s a wacky thought, perhaps.   This largely social covenant (think of the countless meals portrayed on Sex and the City), reduced to a stodgy sacramental rite.  Yuck, many are surely thinking.  “Taking the joy right out of eating, Angela... gee thanks!”  Well, maybe. Bear with me for a minute.  Because for me, the way things have been for me for awhile now, there are probably far more meals that I consume than the number of them that I actually enjoy and have a wonderfully epicurean experience with.  I am moved by this idea that the experience can be so much more, and at the same time achieve a transcendence in consciousness.  It doesn’t have to be one or the other.  And, for better or for worse, I am moved by it just as compellingly as it is also my belief that this will be incredibly difficult for me to adopt.  But I’m giving it a go.  Have already begun so, in fact.  And I’ll let you know how it works out.  Here’s the basic game plan.

 

1.  Blessing each meal.  It’s such an old-fashioned notion.  My childhood always involved grace at the dinner table, usually done by my father, or my grandfather if the meal included extended family.  But once adulthood hit, I sort of never really thought about it again except for those occasions of Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner with the family, where it’s a ritual that’s still employed.  My brother Mike is usually the designated grace-giver, because he is the one person who never gave up the practice.  Privately from me was always a reaction of, “isn’t this charming?”  And yes, I admit, there has been a bit of condescension as well as actually being charmed in the thought.  But at a recent family gathering, I found myself reacting very differently for the first time to my brother’s bowed head and earnest mutterings.  The word charming never entered my head.  Powerful, meaningful . . . these were the words that hit me this time, and I couldn’t possibly tell you why, so out of the blue, but it actually re-purposed the experience of eating the meal that was in front of me.  Gratitude is the theme with this one.  Many in the world go without.  So because I have never had to, the need to give thanks for the bountiful straw that I drew in this life suddenly became compelling.   I talked about this very briefly a couple of articles back.  I just need to be truly thankful every day, and putting that practice in a ritual form is the surest way to keep me always in grace (pun most definitely intended).   When every meal becomes meaningful and cherished, it makes just grabbing a handful because you’re passing by the bowl, or grazing mindlessly and finishing the whole bag out of boredom or restlessness, increasingly meaning-LESS, even, dare I say it, disrespectful in the face of those for whom a meal is a rare, momentous and lifesaving gift.

 

2.  Preparing as many of my meals as possible with my own two hands.  There will be times when I go out with friends, and we commune over lunch or dinner.  That is a ritual to cherish, for certain.  There will be times when I’ve been invited to someone’s house for dinner.   There are certainly times every week when I’m on a job, and I need to eat.   But other than those examples, gone largely now is the choice to grab take-out when there’s only me, when the option to prepare my food at home instead exists.   I’ll almost always choose the cooking.   And I am choosing to cook and prepare my meals from a Zen perspective.   Meaning to notice and appreciate every move, every moment, every flick of the wrist in mixing ingredients, every whisk, every rinse, every dice, every spice.  Even the selection of ingredients, which means I am having to adopt a more mindful approach to grocery shopping.   I am making the commitment to finding stores in my neighborhood that promote and support local farmers, so that what goes in my body is healthy, and is no longer supporting the corporate machinery of factory food production, which is dubious at best.   I’ve been nutrition-conscious for many years, actually.  I’ve read every health guru from Andrew Weil to Gary Null, and have largely tried to live by whole food tenets (while, of course, veering recklessly enough whenever the emotional components to my eating would kick in).   But this experiment marks the first time I’ve actually sought to minimize my participation in Food Incorporated, and support local and organic.  This also means that if I have to go into a mainstream grocery market, choosing to shop on the end aisles where all the unprocessed, unrefined foods reside. Everything in the middle aisles is boxed, canned, packaged and prefabbed, usually with far more than just the food itself inside, making it a very iffy proposition from a health standpoint.  Our bodies deserve better.

 

3.  Listening to my body, but also listening to my urges.   Urges and cravings exist to compensate for something that is missing.  It might be a nutritional lack.  More often than not it’s an emotional one.  That’s the time to slow down, examine the urge, not judge it (also a challenge for me), and respond to it in a way that only supports the sacred nature of this experiment.  If the answer I get from my soul is that I need to be addressing something, or letting go of something, then I need to do my best to go about that task, instead of burying it with nullifying food.  Because here’s the thing:  Food can be our greatest enemy OR our greatest ally.  The trick is determining exactly what our relationship with it is going to be.  Abusive or cherishing.

 

4.  Being done with “diets.”  And punishment.  And needing to answer everyone else’s call about how I’m supposed to look, with none of those pressures any more obnoxious than my own impatient, unforgiving self-demands.   Instead, allow my eating in a mindful and sacred way to do the job of transforming my brain, my heart, maybe even my body, into a precious, godly vessel.

 

5.  Eating without distraction, but instead putting my focus on the ritual itself.  Appreciating every bite, every swallow; again this very Zen approach.  As opposed to stuffing my mouth mindlessly while watching a movie or checking email, or grabbing food on the hurried go, and juggling a jaw-ful of food and a steering wheel at the same time, and not even paying attention to my eventual fullness, or to the taste experience. That one is hard for me.  I have such a restless, antsy brain that JUST sitting and eating, and doing nothing else except enjoying the sensory experience of a delicious meal goes completely against my life’s experience.  I’ve always eaten while multi-tasking.  Doing nothing except eating my meal is essentially a meditation. And while I’ve been an ardent meditator for many years, that idea is easily the most radical of them all for me. And therefore the one I am most determined to accomplish. I am a firm believer in food as medicine.  Food can change our brains and our health, because it contains information that talks to our genes. It’s serious stuff. So, why have I lived my entire life regarding it sloppily and cavalierly at best?  That’s the question I’m trying to answer even as I write this, and as I venture forward in this experiment with a new appreciation for every meal I’m blessed to partake in.

 

The first night that I tried shutting off the TV and the computer, and putting my phone away, and just cooking a meal...and then setting my table...and then putting on some music (actually the music was playing during the cooking...very peaceful evening that was), and then sitting down and eating my meal, it was a transplendent experience.  I was truly in the moment.  I blessed the food I was about to cook, and then I blessed it again as I sat down to eat.  I took my time.  I didn’t go back for seconds, because I didn’t need to.   I’m accustomed to going back for seconds.  Usually because I’ve shoveled my food into the trough so fast, while watching some fast-paced movie or something equally agitating online, and so the rhythm of my external stimuli would be matched and mimicked by the fork-to-mouth action, and simply wouldn’t stop.  Plus I’m a musician for my living; having a 15-minute break on a gig that’s designated for the meal they offer you has borne some very gastrically-unfriendly habits among my musician cohorts.  I learned to be a fast eater, and then the habit stuck even beyond being on a gig.  That first night in this new experiment, I ate slowly.  I thoroughly enjoyed the taste sensations.  I relished in the art of food pairing.  And I let the world and the evening go by, as I luxuriated (yes, I can actually claim luxuriating) in the experience of my dinner.   I also realize that not nearly every night, nor every meal, will be that magical.   There will be the occasions when my mood is terse, perhaps my day has been a challenge, and I won’t feel like cooking, or I won’t feel like gracing, and all I’ll want to do is mainline the drug that food can be with the wrong infusion, into the gullet, and numb out.   But I figure, it’s a one-day-at-a-time kind of thing, like AA.  Like any program that attempts to repair something that is out of spiritual alignment.   It’s a mountain.  And I’ll need to be prepared to climb it daily.

 

During the formulating of this idea, and writing about it, I’ve had to ask myself (if my creed here is truly vigilant honesty, and that’s been my claim) if all of this isn’t just a new scheme, of the gaggle of them that I’ve tried, toward trying to lose weight. And while I can’t say that isn’t a factor, the truth is I am looking for something deeper.  I’m in this whole thing for a spiritual revolution.  An uprising from my innards, pulling at every thread in my sight lines and my insight lines, that will help to weave me right into the tapestry of interconnected consciousness and the frequency of infinite realms and possibilities. I know, I know, I’ve gone off the reservation a bit with the flower-child rhetoric. But I assure you it isn’t without focus or substance. And it’s already happening, this personal revolution, unfolding layer by layer by layer, a tiny bit each day.

 

I heard an ancient anecdote recently of some Buddhist monks who, in an effort to protect their sacred Buddha monument from Burmese soldiers, covered their beloved statue in mud, knowing that the soldiers would find no material value in a statue made of clay, when what was hiding beneath its clay cloak was a monument made of gold. And the story was told in the context of the very fitting metaphor for this idea that our true value can often be hidden beneath layers of mud, or, in our contemporary parlance, baggage. And what that parable is meant to teach us is that the spiritual journey is really more about subtraction than addition. We are already complete, beneath our shame, our hurt, our wounds, and through the process of shedding layer after layer to reveal our sovereign splendor, we become lighter and lighter, freer and freer.

This new eating thing? It’s just a layer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


MY WORLD BROKEN OPEN
Essay Copyright © 2014 by Angela Carole Brown

 

All of last year, I made bold claims about 2014 being a paradigm-shifting year. I even went so far as to say that this gut feeling was not just personal but global.  I still make the claim, frankly; still feel it happening all around me.  But as for my own personal shift, thus far it has unfolded in ways I did not see coming, and have with equal measure both cursed and taken into my embrace like a greedy child.   And the year’s only halfway up.

 

First off, a confession. A good part of my “predictions” about this shift were shaped by the practice we’ve all come to be familiar with in this trending age: The Secret. and I was doing as prescribed. Manifesting. Walking in the world as if.  For the record, a good part of the claim, as well, genuinely resided in my gut’s intuition. But let’s focus on the other for a minute. One thing that happened to me this year was a very large, very significant book prize that my novel was in the running for. I didn’t tell a soul about it. I knew that winning this could potentially change my life, especially in light of the fact that my book is published under my own established imprint, and not a traditional publishing house. I spent weeks and months twisting myself into “manifesting” pretzels walking the walk, and praying every day for an outcome that would break open my little life. I went so far as to say publicly that my life would change significantly in 2014. I wouldn’t say why. I didn’t want to jinx it. Plus, a little mystique is never a bad thing. It would just happen, my life would change, and it would be so huge that no effort from me would even be needed to break the news to my world. MY world would become THE world. Well, break open it did, my little life. But in ways that are only visible to me, that have nothing to do with material achievement, for sure not the book prize I had coveted, and certainly nothing to do with others’ perception of me, which has always been a significant engine for me.

 

(I wear the mask almost too well of marching to my own drummer and not caring how I come off to others, but I am secretly and remarkably fragile in that area.)

 

I did not receive that book prize I had worked hard for and claimed as mine with all of my manifesting might and rhetoric.  And it was a blow I did not recover from very easily.  I have (fast forward to right now) indeed recovered, but it was a mountain to climb.  A mountain that included several summits where the air was so thin my lungs felt crushed.  No, I can’t ever resist an obnoxious metaphor.  Hey, maybe there’s a clue why I didn’t win the book prize.

 

But yes, the mountain summit.   Lung-explosion.  Enlightenment.  All those things associated with the spiritual trek that is Everest most certainly happened to me in the days following the book prize letdown.

 

Did the author who took home the honor practice the principles of The Secret, I wondered in jealousy and bitterness?   And if so, was it because he or she had mastered a technique that I hadn’t?  I was downright irascible in wondering why not me, when I had manifested the Hell all outta my shit.  Almost busted a vessel in my neck with all my manifestin’ (can you envision the dance? . . . sorta Mick Jaggerish?).

 

Life is never that follow-these-simple-steps-and-the-world-is-yours  neat.  Never.

 

And so, I took the proverbial backpack that was ready for global domination off my back, didn’t sell my car, didn’t give up my apartment, didn’t say “so long, suckas!” and instead stepped back and reassessed everything.

 

I thought about how people pray, and how I prayed during all of this.  I not only prayed to win this book prize, I asked those I know who call themselves prayer warriors, and are genuine lights in this world, if they would put in a good word.  With whom?  is always an issue for me, as I do not subscribe to the literal anthropomorphization of God as some “he” who grants wishes. Yet I requested prayer.

 

In fact, here’s me in a spiritual nutshell, which surely promises to disturb both the devout and the atheists in my life, so this one is especially hard for me, the people-pleaser, the one who’ll do anything not to rock the boat:

 

I am a person who is open, who is not so arrogant as to insist that something doesn’t exist just because it might be something I haven’t personally experienced.  I do believe there are numinous mysteries and truths beyond what we can see and feel and document in an empirical way.  After all, this world is but a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a fraction, ad infinitum, of what is, and what we yet know.  I believe in interconnectedness and life force, yet how to name it, to intellectualize it, is useless folly, the most concerning of those follies for me being the literal definitions of God as a deity who wields miracles and punishments in equal measure, and has the human attributes of jealousy and vengeance.  I’ve always believed in prayer even when I wasn’t so sure about “Him.”  Because for me, higher power is indefinable.

 

I have great difficulty using the word God, because it’s such a polarizing, even incendiary, word.  Wars, folks; history is rife with examples of hypnotizing ideologies in the name of God.  And, as a result, my own mental association with the word brings with it an agitation I would rather not welcome into my spiritual space.  I DO often speak of our “god-realized selves” as being the very manifestation we should each be seeking in our spiritual work. Yet to say “God” the way I’d call someone by their name feels unnatural. I find myself using almost ANY word or phrase before using God. The Divine. Higher Power. Source. Sacred Spirit. The Presence of Absolute Good. It’s just semantics anyway. The minute we label it, we’ve lost it. Yet I understand the need to label, as language is what we have. We simply cannot conceive of higher truth without assigning form.

 

But, yes, I do believe that we are more than our bodies, more than our biology. And I think the early 20th-century French philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin got it absolutely right. We are not human beings having a spiritual experience, but spiritual beings having a human experience.

 

To be honest, these are just today’s beliefs. Tomorrow who knows? And I’m good with that, because what I do know for sure is that I know nothing. Our entire journey here is meant to be a constant and repeated awakening and unfolding. If we were meant to know everything, to have the skinny on life and the meaning of life, we’d be done with our job here. The design is right in front of us. It’s perfect the way it is.

 

Anyway, I prayed. And I asked others to pray. There was a part of me that wholeheartedly subscribed to the idea that the universe conspires to do our bidding, and all we have to do is be willing to show up with conviction.  That’s the basic rhetoric of The Secret, isn’t it?  And which runs in complete contrast to my deepest belief that shit happens and some dreams don’t come true, and the real lesson is to learn to amass the masterful tools meant to help us respond to all of it – the fortunate and the unfortunate – with some amount of grace, humility, mindfulness, and vigilant compassion; instead of living in the cotton candy, law-of-attraction universe where we think we can get anything we want.  But I digress.

 

Gist of my prayer:  “Please let me win this book prize. And I vow to be worthy of the gift.”

 

See how I even put the humble little spin on it? That I wasn’t just asking for something, I was offering to give something in return. Prayer as bargaining. Somehow I seemed to miss the spiritual lesson of:  “Hey, be worthy anyway. Period. ”

 

And yes, all spiritual lessons begin with “Hey!”   At least, they should.

 

Or even (alternate prayer technique):  “I claim this book prize as mine. My time. My shot. I’ve invested a lifetime at the task of fine-tuning my voice as a writer, and it’s my turn.”

 

The truth is, it’s everybody’s turn. Anyone who’s ever devoted their time and energy to something creative, productive, elevated and elevating.  But we can’t all be named Miss America.

 

And so here’s what I find most perverse about that kind of praying.  Asking for that gift, knowing that there were thousands (I don’t actually know a number) out there all praying, hoping, crossing fingers, sticking pins in voodoo dolls, dancing naked under full moons, rubbing genie bottles, whatever, for THEIR lives to be changed too, meant that I was not only asking to have my prayer answered, I was asking for everyone else’s to NOT be.

 

Think about that one for a minute.

 

I was asking for others’ devastation.  Granted, devastation is a great bit of hyperbole, but it definitely was how I felt, in actually believing that I had a shot, that  walking in the world as if  was my bitch, that I had mastered her, and that she was about to pay up.  And then she didn’t.

 

Yes, devastated.  Because I had decided that my life wasn’t good enough as it was.   And I was ready for the Great Escape. And I was way too eager to believe in ANY used car premise that was promising to aid me in that.

 

I had actually long ago stopped believing in that kind of prayer.  But this was a clear case of desperation so deep-seated that I pulled out every gesture, every chant, every angle, every good deed, every loophole, every prayer approach that I had long ago lost faith in, to make this happen for me.  Actually, losing faith is not accurate.  It’s not exactly that I stopped believing it worked.  I had come to the realization that I no longer believed in its intrinsic selfishness.   “Dear God, gimme…”

 

Had I won that book prize, I would’ve gone down in my own history believing till my death that it was because “God is good!”  I’d’ve conveniently ignored that such a premise would also mean that God wasn’t quite so good to all the other writers vying for the same prize.   And how does one work that into the deeply held narrative that God works for us all?  I see that as a fundamental problem with conventional belief, especially so because I can see how easy it is to get whipped into that euphoria when things are going smoothly.

 

Here’s how I actually do believe in prayer.  And if the sore disappointments that occurred in the earlier part of this year weren’t enough to jolt me right back to what I know, slap my face, and tell me to “snap out of it!” then nothing was bound to. Prayer is not about change out there.  Never has been. It’s about change within.  Not about asking for, from some exterior source, but about getting aligned with one’s own sapient marrow.  Appealing to that deeper, higher resonance, frequency, and vibration (actually, that’s probably the closest definition of God than anything else I can perceive) to help us AWAKEN. A cup that’s too full can’t receive any new information or lessons. We need to empty ourselves daily. That’s the purpose of prayer and meditation. So that we can get a handle on how to skillfully receive whatever life has decided to deal us, with amazing grace.  Truly, it is the difference between acceptance and resistance. Between desperate attachment and effortless release. Between willingness and willfulness.

 

I am a writer. I will always write. Regardless of its impact and acceptance. Regardless of awards.  I release everything else.

 

Now, all of that said, and for the record, I am genuinely indebted to, and lifted up by, those prayer warriors’ efforts and the love that was behind it.  Praying on behalf of someone else is truly an act of benevolence, and that will never be forgotten in this house.

 

I’ve been reading Alan Watts this year, who has blown my mind in ways that . . . Well.  Damn.  Just damn.  He talks about the wisdom of insecurity (the name of one of his books, in fact), of knowing that struggles and stumbles happen, and being braced for it. Not only braced for it, but breathing it in, working with it, dancing with it, doing our part for balance and recognizing each stone as a lesson, a great epochal story, not allowing ourselves to be sucked in by delusion and resistance and by desperately cocooning ourselves in material comforts, and convenient denial, and the desire for permanence, versus the fact of flux.

 

I know that the desperation to escape my life, and the genuine belief that a book prize, a credit on a resume, a label, was going to give me a sense of security, was all about needing to do everything in my power to distance myself from flux.

 

Well, we’d all better start embracing flux, because, baby, that’s what we’ve been given to work with.  But that’s not bad news AT ALL.  There is beauty in flux.

 

“The poets are often at their best when speaking of the transitoriness of human life . . . that images, though beautiful in themselves, come to life in the act of vanishing.  The poet takes away their static solidity, and turns a beauty which would otherwise be only statuesque and architectural into music, which, no sooner than it is sounded, dies away.” – A.W.
 

The great mis-belief that we can attain a certain thing, and that that thing, once possessed, will remain static and unchanging forever, so as to never let us down, and that this is what our life’s work is supposed to be towards, is a pretty great lie we’ve been sold.  And believe me, I was one of the first in line to buy.

 

I was meant to read Mr. Watts, and others like him who have blown my world wide open, in this year 2014, this year that I claimed to be a paradigm shifter.  Be mindful what you wish for!   Because, these sages have shifted my shit all out of my comfort zone, and I couldn’t be more frightened, and more alive.

 

2014 has virtually overtaken me with mystics, philosophers, artists, innovators, original thinkers, pushers of envelopes, those unconcerned with zeitgeist, creators of their own movement, a little off, a tad quirky, willing for and honored by their own inner fool, nobody’s darling as the poet Alice Walker says, and therefore the world’s hope, the hope of the future, the hope of the very magnificent RIGHT NOW, the hope of sustainable energy, the hope of eternal beauty, the dark and the light, the smudgy, the clean.  These have been the manner of righteous godlings that have upturned my soul, and have, especially in this year, broken my world wide open.

 

I observed Lent this year for the first time in my 50-something years on this earth.  Not even Catholic.  Just felt compelled. I did prayer and fasting for 10 days straight (40 was too ambitious, yet I did want to raise the stakes by doing a full-on juice fast, instead of just giving up one thing). I even documented it right here on this blog. I let quiet and introspection and privation take over my life for those 10 days. I was in the very thick of it when the big book prize disappointment happened, when I lost people (plural!) too young to be dying, when health issues even snagged my pace and slowed me down a bit.  None of this was happening before I started. And I began to wonder, what the hell door did I just open!  It was a roller-coaster experience, and I wanted to break windows on many of those days.   I didn’t.   Instead I braved through, faithed through, did a lot of facing, and came up for air forever changed.

 

I’m not even sure I can quantify for you how.  But I have, ever since then, been in the midst of a tremendous transformation, and am frankly looking to be even more transparent and disclosing, more accepting of every facet of who I am, including the parts of me that are deeply flawed, more willing to offer compassion to those flaws than to try and shake them off with denial, because they make me uniquely me, more willing to say them out loud to others, which actually lessens their hold, instead of living behind a shroud of shame, or worse, behind a shroud of pretense and spin, which I’m surrounded by far too much, living in L.A.  I am using my writing these days, especially this blog, to explore my own spiritual growth through rigorous honesty.  I am incredibly proud to have cultivated the courage to look inward, and to lay every flaw AND virtue, equally, on the table for examination.  I feel for the ones who are so fragile or in denial that they can never allow themselves to face their beautiful imperfections. Without that tool, and that desire, to do so, how do we ever blossom, grow, evolve, heal, break through? Breakthroughs generally tend to be accompanied by some pain, but always result in true liberation.   I have decided that I am in this...all of it...every bit of my spiritual practices, my blog-writing being, surprisingly, one of those...for the hard lessons and the powerful transformations.

 

I have been twisted, yanked, torn, and shaken by spiritual epiphany this year.  It has been illuminating, if not always pleasant, and it has, yes, done what I said 2014 was going to do.  It doesn’t even remotely resemble what I had in mind.  Funny how that works.  And releasing my attachment to THAT outcome has been an arduous process, but release it I have, and I am breathing deeper and more fully because of it.  Oxygen, heavenly oxygen!  It may not look like anything to anyone observing my life.   But it’s happening.  It’s happening so big and bold that I’m a bit nauseated trying to keep my insides still. The Earth of Me has opened up and rumbled.  And, as I have to keep reminding myself, the year’s only a little more than half up.

 

I said this in an earlier article, and I feel compelled to say it again here.  The world IS insecure.  It is unsure, unpredictable, it will always, and till the end of time, give us joy beyond measure, AND loss, heartbreak, and disappointment beyond measure.  And all the praying to the manifesting, law-of-attraction gods will not make us magically immune to pain and disappointment.  To spin our wheels trying desperately to never be touched by pain or struggle – or flux – is futile and foolish.  Yes, we can intersect.  And we should.  Yes, we can make change.  And we should.  Yes, we should try and rise to our highest potential wherever we can. But there is no magic pill.  Don’t be disappointed.  That, either, isn’t bad news.  It’s the best, actually.  It means that every effort holds just that much more meaning.

 

I have the unshakable feeling that our world is presently experiencing both a great enlightenment and a mad fall simultaneously, and the wonder of which force will ultimately tip the scales, and the knowing that we must all stay engaged, stay conscious, continue to evolve, and opt for amassing a healthy arsenal of sapience and sentience.  I’m not a political or sociological analyst, and my writings will never be a partisan rant. I am only an authority on my own psychological and spiritual growth, and on how I choose to show up in the world and contribute, and on my efforts, always, to try and up that ante daily, in order to be my own greatest, god-realized self.

 

As the earthquakes become more and more prevalent around the world, so does the quaking of all our ideologies.  What’s in store for us?  And are we ready?

 

 

 

 

 

 


AMAZING GRACE:  Have We PC'd the Marrow Right Out of It?
Essay Copyright © 2013 by Angela Carole Brown

 

The hymn Amazing Grace always rings in my head around Thanksgiving time, and so this particular reflection was written at a time of preparing my table, as well as my heart to be in a space and place of gratitude.  The thought, however, is hardly restricted to any specific seasonal bent, so don't feel you need to be directed away if you happen to run across this in the heat of summer, for example.

I’ve never known any song in my life to express as much humility of spirit as Amazing Grace, and so perhaps the association in my brain with Thanksgiving is because humility is the first step toward gratitude. Gratitude is about accepting one’s present, as opposed to resenting one’s past or coveting a certain future. It is about humbling oneself to being moved by the great fortune of being alive and being loved. I believe that gratitude cannot and does not exist when one’s legs and knees are stiffened in a kind of pride and entitlement. It takes humility first to experience an attitude of gratitude.

 

So, in preparing my own symbolic table, I decided to read up on my favorite hymn. Amazing Grace has often been associated with the American South, and I, for one, did think its origins were from the tradition of the Negro Spiritual. It was, in fact, written by an Englishman.

 

But here’s where my own mental association wasn’t completely off-base. John Newton was an English slave trader, trafficking thousands of men, women, and children from Africa to the auction blocks.  In 1748 a violent storm threatened to sink his ship. Frightened for his life, he made a promise to God that if he survived he would change his ways. And sure enough, around the age of 45, he had a crisis of conscience and became a minister and a composer of hymns. Yet it would be years later before he would give up his involvement in the slave trade, and a total of thirty-three years from the time of his “spiritual conversion” before he would break his long silence, a watershed moment in his life, and publish his brutal book on the subject, which included an apology for “a confession, which comes too late. It will always be a subject of humiliating reflection to me, that I was once an active instrument in a business at which my heart now shudders. He promptly became a prominent supporter of the abolition of slavery in England. As more years passed, Newton drew deeper and deeper inward to his monastic life, as he found himself haunted by what he constantly called his twenty-thousand ghosts. He bemoaned having been a part of the dehumanizing of these Africans who’d had beautiful names but were only ever referred to with grunts. He would say that while these captured were treated as beasts, it was the slave traders, him above them all, who had been the beasts.

 

It was fifteen years BEFORE his public confession, in the year 1772, that he had composed a hymn called Faith’s Review and Expectation. It became one of the most recognizable songs in the history of the world, and the most recorded, a song now known as Amazing Grace. And to have now learned of Newton’s spiritual journey and redemption, it is so clear to me that this hymn is his confession.

 

The song’s history has a wild and glorious path, as it has become associated with having the power to give hope where there has seemed none, and expresses a God of absolute mercy and forgiveness. Just a few points on the map of its presence in the hearts and minds of the global collective:

  • It was used as a requiem by Native Americans on their Trail of Tears (the ethnic cleansing and forced relocation of Native Americans from the southeast parts of the United States following the Indian Removal Act of 1830).

  • It was sung by Civil Rights protesters during the freedom marches and rides.

  • It held a prominent place in the proceedings when Martin Luther King, Jr. shared his dream on the steps of the Washington Monument.

  • It was played the world over when Nelson Mandela was freed from prison.

  • It was sung when the Berlin wall came down.

  • On 911, it rang out to comfort a world in mourning.

It is a song of such startling humility that I find myself privately conflicted whenever I’m obliged to sing it for jobs, as I recently did for one of the churches at which I periodically sing, and am requested to do the PC thing of changing the word wretch to soul . . . or something else, ANYTHING else, other than this awful word that only degrades us.  That’s the subtext anyway. The reason I'm conflicted is because I maintain that wretch is absolutely appropriate, as it calls on, and calls out, the basest of our human instincts, to stand and be accountable, to bend our knees prostrate and humbly offer that we’ve been to Hell and back, or have given Hell to others (haven't we all dealt, or been dealt, a little Hell at some point in our lives?), that we are human and therefore with flaw, and that ONLY in the owning of that truth are we able to rise, to heal, to transform and transcend. By the instinct to couch and cushion our delicate sensibilities in more conciliatory words like soul, we are basically saying that we don’t have the ability or the humility to own up.

 

We are presently in an era where, in an effort to be removed from the dogma of more traditional practices (an instinct I'm inclined to embrace), our modern spiritual movements seem largely to have, as their agenda, a reliance on salves and unguents for fragile souls, but without the crucial first steps in any authentic spiritual work of courting the caves for exploration and excavation. I believe this is as important a part of a heart-centered practice as a room buzzing with namastes. Yet as I make my way around the New Thought circuit (a movement I do regard fondly) as a vocalist, I find this particular feel-good bent more and more prevalent. The practice becomes precious rather than revolutionary.

 

And so, because I often find myself caught between self-governance and employment, both of which are important to me, I do sing soul instead of wretch when I am paid to sing the song, because it is the job required of me, but never when singing it for my own reward. I believe that John Newton understood the state of grace only because of how far down he had once sunk, and how much of a wretch he had been. He could not possibly have authored a more perfect set of words from any other internal place than his own lowest spiritual ebb. Why do we SO fear the personal investigation of such states? Isn't that a fairly important step in the journey towards connecting to our greater god-realized selves? Joseph Campbell understood that when he said, "The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek."  So, too, John Newton, when he composed an efficient set of stanzas as powerful, timeless, and iconic as:

 

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

‘Twas Grace that taught my heart to fear.
And Grace, my fears relieved.
How precious did that Grace appear
The hour I first believed.

Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come;
‘Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far
and Grace will lead me home.

 

 

Humility, grace, gratitude . . . these are all states of the heart and mind that we tend to reflect on during the Thanksgiving season.  Year round is not such a bad idea either. And now I even know a little bit about its author, after all these years of singing it and loving it, which only makes me feel even more interconnected with this globe of beautiful, imperfect, sentient beings.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



Y
OGA AS MUSE: How My Practice Has Informed My Art 
Essay Copyright © 2007 by Angela Carole Brown


I have been a singer/songwriter for over twenty years. I have been a yoga practitioner for seventeen. 

 

When I look back on my body of work, I see an unfocused songsmith, full of agendas. My music has resembled everything from show tunes that I wrote for easy money, to power-pop ballads, hoping to become a star, to straight-ahead jazz, trying desperately to be hip.

 

It wasn’t until yoga came into my life, and I learned to quiet my world, that my practice reshaped me as an artist and I began to connect with the art of song on a level too organic for agenda.

 

This wasn’t instantaneous. I persevered through the years of the yoga novice and the machinations of the ego: wanting the practice to give me an awesome body and stupefying flexibility (a leg behind the head is something we’d all like to show off, wouldn’t we?), wanting to wear the badge of New-Age-artsy-liberal-hippie-chic honor, and, perhaps the biggest trap of all, wanting instant enlightenment. I begrudgingly honored patience, and, as will beautifully happen with time and commitment, finally managed to burrow deep. 

 

It was during this shift that I clearly saw my music going through the same stages of maturation. The writing was no longer about acceptance in my industry. It became surprisingly internal.       

 

Today my music is as close to pure as it’s ever been.  Can it traverse even further?  Of course!  But I believe that where it is today owes its great debt to the practice of yoga. Sometimes I even wonder if it might not be the other way around.  After all, they both regard the Pursuit of Truth.

 

Though in the end, as life goes galloping richly by, the richer for all our efforts to be whole, does it really matter? 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


THE MUSIC OF SILENCE: A Rumination on Meditation  
Essay Copyright © 2010 by Angela Carole Brown


 

"Silence is the universal refuge,
the sequel to all dull discourses and all foolish acts,
a balm to our every chagrin,
as welcome after satiety as after disappointment."

––– Henry David Thoreau

"Silence is the language of God.  All else is poor translation."
––– Rumi
 

“Silence tells me secretly everything."
––– From Let the Sunshine In by James Rado & Gerome Ragni

 

I’ve meditated on and off for years now. Every kind under the sun, from mantra meditations, and pranayama-focused meditations to guided meditations and walking meditations. And I recently looked up one day and realized that what had been a daily practice for me, or at least a weekly, had managed to fall by the wayside, in favor of work and stress and recreation, even depression-related hibernation. Somewhere in the tapestry, one little textured patch seemed to have torn away. 

 

As I’ve tried to get back in the practice, I’ve begun with many of the guided meditations you see above, as well as the CDs and tapes of others, and I've attended sangas (a community of like seekers) where the meditations are guided by Buddhist monks. After a time, I always find myself hungry, itchy, antsy, something, and realize that what I really want to do is live in silence for a time, not fill my head with more words, more thoughts, more suggestibility. And while I take nothing away from the value of guided meditations (some of my greatest epiphanies and satori moments for me have resulted from them), I've come to realize that the reason I haven't been moving consistently enough in some kind of forward direction, neither spiritually, nor in terms of my life’s legacy and the planting of seeds; why, instead, I have felt that life lately has become simply about surviving, taking the gig that will pay this or that bill, and then counting out my pennies to figure out what I can afford to do for fun until it's time to go to work again, and pay another bill, and every day that keeps landlords and repo men away from my door is considered a success, until it's time to go to bed, wake up the next morning, and start the cycle over again – whew! – this is what my brain is like these days! – is because I’ve been busy, in meditation, asking for.  

 

Everything seems to be about wanting something. Even prayer is about asking for something. Please God, let me ace that exam. Please God, let me win the lottery. 

 

I’ve loved and held tightly a mantra I composed about two years ago, and have been dedicated to chanting on my morning walks. “Love, reign over me..." (notice The Who reference; and, as well, my penchant for replacing the word god with love….just my thing). "...Make me mindful. Give me grace. Deliver me from need. Fill me with wonder. Help me to evolve for my sake and no other. Take care of those of love.  And those I don't.  Compel me to live fully in my present every single day. Yet always, steadfastly, planting the seeds and tending the ground of my purpose in this life. And then teach me to let go, and dare to trust my very best life to keep exploding before me in a rain of light.” And then repeat. I’m also especially self-pleased with the seemingly writerly bookends of reign/rain (a geek's excitement). 

 

In my newest head, I think about that mantra and I sound awfully “gimme gimme” to myself. There’s nothing wrong with asking for guidance, help, strength, clarity, protection. And of course, it is incredibly beneficent to ask for peace and goodwill for others. But it suddenly hit me that while those words, and the meaning behind them, merely serve the bigger picture of digging deeper within the fibers of my being, and compelling me to move, act, charge forward in a very specific way, and therefore IS helpful, IS healing…..there is still something missing.  For me.  Right now.  In this moment.  And the something, I have finally realized, is silence.  It is about not going into meditation with an agenda on my plate, but going in with a blank canvas.

 

This is not a revolutionary idea. Vipassana Meditation, for example, at its basest and simplest, is this idea. But for me, it has taken my own very specific journey for the idea to come out of the abstract and into a tangible resonance.

 

Approaching meditation with a blank canvas is actually quite hard to do, but I am enticed by the challenge. Because I know that what’s on the other side is the open door that welcomes insight and answers and light bulbs galore. In the silence – true silence – not just a cessation of talking – the world opens up. I’ve been there. I’ve experienced it. Only in the briefest of instances. But I have touched it. 

 

The trick is to let whatever your monkey mind has brewing just come forth. Your grocery list. That doctor’s appointment coming up. Re-envisioning the argument you had with your friend, where, this time, you actually say all the right things. Shedding songs for that upcoming gig. Lusting over the new guy that jogs by your house every morning. Brainstorming on how to get your book published. Bills. Let it all bubble up and spin into a frenzy. Don’t fight it. Don’t try to shoo it away. Because even THAT is agenda. Let it go wherever it will go. Without the fight, and without a what-am-I-trying-to-accomplish-here? lesson plan in place, eventually the monkey matter begins to dissipate, little by little. It loses momentum and power. It takes time. It takes release and a consciousness about release.  

 

It also takes a certain amount of bravery. Because in this modern, fast-paced, multi-tasking society of swiftly accruing noise, industry, machines, and devices which can "distract humanity from the essence of life," as the painter and poet Jean Arp once said, we’ve learned the brilliant art of tucking, of compartmentalizing the worrisome stuff, so that it doesn’t invade us too often or too harshly, and cocooning and distracting ourselves with the noise. This is incredibly easy for me to do, because I'm a musician for my living, so I am perpetually wrapped in a blanket of pings and strains and twangs and hums and vibrations and cacophonies of toots and screeches and splats. And that existence can equally serve to bless me with a constant, spirit-feeding music AND keep me in a comforting fog. Inviting the silence means daring to clear the fog, and therefore can mean inviting the worrisome stuff to dance in front of you, to insist that you smell it, touch it, hold it, face it.                   

 

The good news is that eventually what begins to happen, by allowing whatever dances in front of you to do so, is that what was important simply becomes less so. The mind begins to let go of its burdens. The realities don’t go away. Have a bill to pay? It’s still there. But the mind’s insistence on letting it bog you down suddenly loses its strength. And as the quiet begins to creep in, a true moment of clarity can be experienced. A sense of being able to handle whatever comes your way with skillfulness and grace. The detritus shows its true colors, and the truly crucial issues begin to find their answers, or at the very least begin to break themselves down in order to be examined more thoroughly and approached more calmly.

 

Li Po speaks of returning to the grove. To the music of the trees, the wind, the birds, and silence. 

 

One thing that seems to be a recurrent theme with me is the desire to be a calmer version of myself. I am naturally hyper. I talk a lot. I can’t even sit in a chair for long without changing to the other butt cheek periodically. I cross one leg over the other, and then for the duration of my sit I constantly switch legs. And I need to watch movies in a movie theatre, and not at home, or I will invariably stop and start the damned thing thirty times to: go wash the dishes, make that phone call I forgot about, check my email one more time, see who’s talking about what on Facebook, the list goes on and on. And what is a two-hour movie becomes a six-hour project for me. I long to be calmer, slower, more thoughtful, more focused, and I've been praying for it in my own way: “….give me grace, make me mindful…” etc. 

 

What I am realizing today is that all any of us really needs, in order to accomplish anything of value, personally, professionally, spiritually, even philanthropically, is to stop asking for, and instead simply learn to quiet our minds, to silence the monkey brain, to slow our heart rate, to live in the music of silence, for at least a few golden minutes every day, and dare we even think it....be at peace with being right where we are. It is there and then that we'll start to understand so much, and will stop being in such a rush to get somewhere else; only then that we can most effectively be of service in the world. Evolving is natural. Needing to be any place but here is....itchy at best.

      

We don’t have to ask for peace of spirit. We only need sit in silence (yes, it can even be done when the world around me is noisy). And let the silence speak to us. 

      

Silence. So simple. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


A SIMPLE LIFE
Essay Copyright © 2014 by Angela Carole Brown

 

“Just let go.  
Let go of how you thought your life should be,
and embrace the life that is trying to work its way
into your consciousness.
― Carolyn Myss

 

 

The life I used to want . . . or perhaps the better way is to say the life I thought I wanted? . . . was a grand one. A life of being celebrated, and documented, because of what I’d put into the world.

 

Maybe it’s age and the wisdom that hopefully comes with it. Maybe it’s disappointment, and choosing to redefine a goal instead of wallowing in the failure of an old one. Or maybe I just lost my appetite for grand. But today there is a very different life that I want. And it comes closer to a renunciant’s path, to Zen, and to nature, than ever before.

 

Let’s take Oprah Winfrey for a minute. I think the legacy that she has carved for herself is a noble one; that of being the spokesperson for discovering one’s best self and living one’s best life, and the idea that this has nothing whatsoever to do with financial prosperity, but instead with spiritual prosperity. Yet the irony can’t be lost on even Oprah that her own financial wealth makes the very kind of zenning, sentient life she purports virtually impossible for her. A woman with homes (plural) that rival the size and scope of art museums, and require staff. A woman who has entourages. A woman who is stalked and hounded and quoted and misquoted by a frenzied culture desperate to crack the code that is the Entity Oprah, because we all want whatever magic has befallen her. How does one live in that life and temper the monkeys in the mind, never mind the monkeys coming after you?

 

Yes-Men surrounding you constantly will lose you your touch with reality, and make you operate from an engine of dissociative ego.  And I often wonder to what degree she is aware of that peculiar power (or is it a liability?) and takes full advantage of it. I think back to her controversy with the author James Frey [read about it here, if you’re not familiar].  I have my own opinions about what he did, which is perhaps an article for another day, but I have always, and for this article’s purpose, also questioned her role in this, because of the Yes-Men phenomenon that ostensibly makes Oprah incapable of ever being wrong, and gives her permission to wield the ax at her discretion.  Did she really think that what Frey did was morally reprehensible?  Or had she just been personally humiliated, and therefore needed to use her power to humiliate him in return?   Was the punishment that she doled out to him on national television really about teaching James Frey some ethical lesson?  Or just about saving her own face?  And does she even choose to recognize that whether she feels it’s her responsibility or not, she has set herself up to shape the zeitgeist for a lot of America and what America should think about such things?

 

I only choose to analyze the Oprah phenomenon, as opposed to anyone else out there in the celebrity world, because she is not just a celebrity but a pop culture icon, and there has been a pretty wide swath in my life of envisioning a similar station.   A few years ago I wrote a grief memoir about the death of my mother (not yet published), but what the book is really about is an examination of our relationship; complex to say the least.  One of the commonalities that I examine is both of our desire for fame. I am an entertainer. My mother’s life was in politics.  And we both had an appetite unlike anyone else in our family for renown.  There was something just so fundamentally dreadful to us both about living unsung (let alone dying unsung) in anonymity. And somehow the belief that if only a hundred people were touched by our gift, versus a million, that our gift was meaningless.

 

I have had many knock-down-drag-outs with my soul on the place my art and my contribution has in the world, and where I place its value.  Is its value in acceptance by the larger public?   Acceptance by the boutique few?   Or is it measured by no barometers at all save my own instinctive sense of personal best?

 

I think we all know my answer, but putting that into actual action and ownership has been another trick entirely.   Believe it or not, getting older helps.  A lot of delusion gets shed away.  I think I know what kind of famous person I would be, and it isn’t pretty.   Talk about dissociative ego.   Today I am finding more peace with the artist I am, and with the spiritual being I am, while living in a world (“in this world, not of it”) that woos only greatness, as defined by financial station, celebrity, and popularity.  And yes, I’m even finding more peace with that world, as well.

 

And so, any longer, here’s what today’s dream looks like.  Here’s what’s truly attractive to my soul, and what I believe my consciousness has been inviting.  Hint:  It hearkens awfully close to a Thoreau utopia.

 

(And let me preface what I’m about to say with this:  I don’t begrudge the Oprahs of the world their wealth, their station, their largeness and their guaranteed seats in the history books and Forbes Magazine.  These choices, and these good fortunes, are not bad ones or wrong ones. I’m just finally finding a different value for my life.)

 

I want to live simply.

 

I want to be awakened every morning by the sunrise, and honor a ritual by which I prepare for bed nightly, instead of letting myself fall asleep to the white noise of the television, fighting with everything in me to stave off sleep, just because the waking hours feel like a desperate drug to this addict.

 

I want to bask in quiet and stillness for at least a few precious moments every single day.

 

I want to encounter every wonder with the patience and pace required to catch every detail, and I want to write about it, because every one is as remarkable as a Van Gogh or a Stravinsky.

 

I want to be of service.

 

I want to read books and, through them, get lost.

 

I want to stare at a painting in a museum, and have my life changed. No, it doesn’t move. No, it’s not interactive.  No, it doesn’t trend. There are no hash tags.  No friends.  No followers. No algorithms. No memes. No apps. It hangs on a wall merely, and blows our illusions out of the water, if we’re canny enough to see.

 

I want to be canny enough to see.

 

I want to sing, not for my supper, but for the gods.

 

I want to earn my wage outdoors, with labor and sweat and sun about me.  I want to plant gardens, and eat what I’ve grown, and work my body like the vessel it is.

 

I want to forgive my body its daring to creak and ache, and instead awe at its magic to move, to protect, to repair and regenerate, to create, to haul lumber and compose symphonies equally.

 

I want to open my doors, and meet my neighbors.  And hold children.  And praise animals.  And laugh with friends till it hurts.  And invest in compassion.

 

I want to watch the rainfall with the same fascination as when I watch a great movie.

 

I want to abolish from my own brain, my own agitated sense of desperate measures, once and for all (warning: incoming rant), the emperor’s new clothes of this insidious Religion of Prosperity that’s gripping our culture today, and the irresponsible false promise that all we need is a positive mindset and to walk in the world AS IF, for all our problems to be solved.  If only the billions of starving, war-torn, Third World citizens of the earth would stop for one second to apply its principles . . . Don’t they know!  I’m not knocking positive thinking – a huge proponent actually – I just reject this idea that it’s a magic pill.  The world IS insecure.  It is unsure and unpredictable.  It will always, and till the end of time, give us joy beyond measure . . . and loss, heartbreak, and disappointment beyond measure. And all the praying to the manifesting, law-of-attraction gods will not make us magically immune to pain and disappointment.  The true key is not to be constantly coveting an over-there reality that may or may not ever come to us, or to try and create a cocoon of cotton candy denial around us from all the realities of life, but to amass the masterful tools meant to help us respond to all of it – the fortunate and the unfortunate – with grace, humility, mindfulness, and compassionate vigilance.  To truly be able to recognize the beauty, and power, and opportunity for transformation and swift healing in whatever experience is given to us.  Which doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t work toward goals, or not try to cultivate a can-do mindset.   But what it does mean is that if we live only for the GOAL, then we completely miss the GOLD of the absolutely magnificent right now.

 

I want to never miss the gold.

 

I want to learn the lessons that every encounter with every kind of being on the planet is meant to teach me.  And I want to appreciate them for that, instead of collecting enemies.

 

And I want my only prayers from this day forward to be . . . NOT . . . “Dear God, please give me . . .”    But two words, and two words only:  Thank you.

 

I want a simple life.

 

With wine.

 

And chocolate.

 

 

 

 

 




WHY LENT CAME CALLING
Essay Copyright © 2014 by Angela Carole Brown

 


“If you’re brave enough to leave behind everything familiar and comforting,
anything from your house to bitter old resentments,
and set out on a truth-seeking journey, either externally or internally,
and if you are truly willing to regard everything that happens to you on that journey as a clue,
and if you accept everyone you meet along the way as a teacher,
and if you are prepared, most of all, to face and forgive some very difficult realities about yourself,
then the truth will not be withheld from you.”
––– Elizabeth Gilbert

 

I recently watched a documentary called Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead, about a man who documented his 60-day juice fast. He’d felt at the end of his rope health-wise, and was subsisting, at the age of 42, on an artillery of pills for a myriad of ailments.  On his journey, where he traveled across the United States telling his story while drinking his green juice, he came across a few most unlikely candidates, who latched onto his journey and made it their own.  These were people who, like him, simply felt as though they’d somehow, somewhere along the line, lost self, lost purpose, and rather than living were merely surviving.  I remember as I began watching it, thinking, “well, this isn’t new information for me, but it’s always good to get a reminder.”  But then there came a moment that truly got my attention, and made me obsessed enough to watch this movie two more times before sticking it back in the mailbox.  Not only did these participants’ health turn around (how could it not, when you’re talking about concentrated, mega doses of micro-nutrients a day?), but something in their entire psychological and spiritual paradigm shifted.  A serious reboot of mind, body, and spirit seemed to have occurred. And lately that is something I’ve been feeling an almost desperate need for in my own life.

Something’s been wrong.  I’ve felt overwhelmed by finances and survival, and though I am an artist to my very bones, I’ve been creating very little.  The novel that released almost a year ago now has received very little marketing nurturing from me. I would tell myself that I believed in a universe that would take my labors into it, and would not let them just flounder in the sea, no matter how unmotivated I may have been. I was clearly ignoring whatever the universe might’ve had to say about effort. My own health, fitness, and wellness is okay, but I want more than okay.  And I’ve begun to isolate socially and emotionally from those I love, or even just like.  And I realized as I watched this movie that I, too, felt I was merely surviving, and no longer living.

I’m a big believer in synchronicity.  I encounter it constantly, and always experience moments of absolute bliss when it occurs.  So, right as I was obsessing over this movie, I also happened to read a quote on Facebook, credited to Homeboy Industries, an interpretation of Lent that spoke directly to my own practices of meditation and turning inward.

“The giving up of something you enjoy is to quiet the mind and recognize how caught up we are in what we think we need.  Lent is a time of reflection and centering and to remind ourselves that what we need is inside of us.”

Amen.

I’m not Catholic, and have never observed Lent before (born and raised Baptist, now living largely with the tenets of the Buddha Dharma).  But my own spiritual approach has always been completely inclusive of any rituals that resonate with my heart and soul from all the traditions. So, what the hell, let’s participate in Lent this year.  Of course, I came to this resolution ten days into Lent, but I also realized that for me it wasn’t about the number of days, but simply about participating in something for however long I could, somewhere during this stretch of time called Lent.  It was a symbol.

From the moment I decided to participate, I knew that a juice fast was going to be the chosen sacrifice. Lent and this documentary couldn't've both been roiling in my head at the same time for any other reason.  And for me, it seemed too easy just to give up wine, or coffee, or chocolate, or whatever (the typical choices I always hear about).  I wanted it to be something truly challenging, because if the ante wasn't high enough then I just didn't see any kind of genuine transformation being a part of the deal.  So, I decided to do 10 days of a juice fast, inspired by Joe Cross' adventure, coupled with an intensive meditation. To quiet my mind, and invite the truth to show itself to me. To actively seek to forgive myself whatever realities I’ve clearly felt needed punishing. To feed my body with only what it needs, and not what I think it needs (in this environment that I’ve created of learning to self-medicate and to numb). To get really, seriously, ridiculously focused, which the ritual of juicing pounds of vegetables every day, and cleaning the multi-parts juicer everyday, and getting in lotus position everyday, and saying "no" to every waft of food that comes your way everyday, will give you. There's no meditating in the movie, but I decided to include meditation because suddenly the age-old tradition of "prayer and fasting" was very attractive to me.

I chose a day to start, and even got a friend on board to do it with me, so that a sense of community, of a support system, of checking in every day and keeping each other honest, would be set firmly in place. Leading up to Day 1, I experienced the weirdest and widest berth of emotions about it. Dread – that I would not succeed, that I would bail after Day 2 because my caffeine and sugar addiction would get the better of me and have me climbing the walls. Hope – that I might actually come out of this 10 days changed, transformed, bettered. Anxiety – that a social commitment would challenge my ability to stick with this; because, what are we if not social animals who congregate over food and libations?  And honor – to be entering into this ritual that I see as sacred space.

My first instinct was to share this journey publicly. Facebook here I come!  Then I thought, no, not this one.  This one requires quiet. Then a third thought came to me. That if I blogged about the journey (no, it’s not a travelogue to the Himalayas, or across an ocean, merely an internal one), then I would be made to stay honest, to commit, to see this all the way through. Otherwise there’s just public humiliation, and we all know how fun that can be. But there was something deeper to the thought, as well.  A connection. Sharing my journey means opening my heart. Maybe even inspiring someone else who may be feeling lost. Just as a Netflix DVD changed my world one night.  And so I began.

 

Fast-forwarding to the end of Day 10, I did successfully make it through my Lenten observance of juice
fasting and meditation, and documented every day of it on my blog.  For anyone actually interested
in the daily details of this extraordinary experience, including some pretty tasty juice recipes...and one
that was not so tasty...the posts are archived on

BINDI GIRL CHRONICLES

 

What was I hoping for this observance of Lent to do for me?   Perhaps, slow me down a bit in certain areas of my life.  Areas where beauties are missed, where stress and hyperactivity rule, where over there is more meaningful than right here.  And in other areas I suppose I’ve been hoping to speed up, show up, get into action.  Areas where complacency or fear have clinched my ankles and caused me great frustration and despair. Wanting to appreciate impermanence. Wanting to be made weightless by non-attachment to outcome, and to recognize the beauty and wisdom in creating for its own sake.  Wanting to love exactly who I am, without judgment and chastening. Embracing imperfection, and finding that a little perfect. A tempering of  narcissism. Having the ability to listen to and honor every voice and every story, and to really get that someone else’s isn’t rendered valid ONLY if I can claim the same experience.  Center.  Ground.  Clarity.  And letting go.  And letting go. And letting so.

 

So, of course, the big question is: did I achieve any of that?   Have the plate tectonics shifted at all?  What has been instantaneous is a ridiculous energy reboot, and a re-commitment to eat more cleanly and revere the temple that is my body, and to never miss a day to take time for quiet meditation and for saying thank you.  As for the rest of it, I guess I’ll see, as my life goes on and I operate in it.

 

But what I do know for sure, today, is that I’ve set a groundwork for ongoing self-tending and soul-tending.  Let there be no doubt about it, I am on the precipice of profound self-awakening.  I am completely geared for an embarrassment of riches.  I find beauty in everything.  And I express my gratitude to the Source everyday.  The tools are in place.  So bring it on. Whatever it is.  The blessing and the challenge.  I am ready for the responsibility of my Buddha mantle.

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Angela Carole Brown : OM PAGE ESSAYS : writer/vocalist/artist