Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Two good Buddhist teachings

I just finished re-reading the Tao Te Ching (translation by Stephen Mitchell) and in reading the notes at the end, there were two good stories I wanted to share.

Honoring the Tao means respecting the way things are.  There is a wonderful Japanese story (adapted here from Zenkei Shibayama Roshi's A Flower Does Not Talk) which portrays this attitude:

A hundred and fifty years ago there lived a woman named Sono, whose devotion and purity of heart were respected far and wide.  One day a fellow Buddhist, having made a long trip to see her asked, "What can I do to put my heart at rest?"  She said, "Every morning and every evening, and whenever anything happens to you, keep on saying, 'Thanks for everythingI have no complaints whatsoever.'"  The man did as he was instructed, for a whole year, but his heart was still not at peace.  He returned to Sono, crestfallen.  "I've said your prayer over and over, and yet nothing in my life has changed; I'm still the same selfish person as before.  What should I do now?  Sono immediately said, " 'Thanks for everything.  I have no complaints whatsoever.'" On hearing these words, the man was able to open his spiritual eye, and returned home with great joy.

And the second story:

A poor farmer's horse ran off into the country of the barbarians.  All his neighbors offered their condolences, but his father said, "How do you know that this isn't good fortune?"  After a few months the horse returned with a barbarian horse of excellent stock.  All his neighbors offered their congratulations, but his father said, "How do you know that this isn't a disaster?"  The two horses bred, and the family became rich in fine horses.  The farmer's son spent much of his time riding them; one day he fell off and broke his hipbone.  All his neighbors offered their condolences, but his father said, "How do you know that this isn't good fortune?"  Another year passed, and the barbarians invaded the frontier.  All the able-bodied young men were conscripted, and nine-tenths of them died in the war.  Who can tell how events will be transformed? 


Sunday, September 23, 2012

You Should Be Dancing

Another Huff Post piece:

There are certain moments in your life that you remember forever.

This is one of mine: I'm pregnant and it's 1987. Dirty Dancing has just opened. I see it alone, during the day, at the Paris Theater in Manhattan. I'm unemployed, nauseous and my hormones are all over the place. From the moment I see Patrick Swayze teaching Jennifer Grey to dance, practicing the lift with Grey in the water, to the scene at the end of the movie when she flies off the stage into his arms, it practically gives me an orgasm. I dance out of the theater, I feel so alive, so ecstatic, the combination of Swayze's dancing, and beauty, and my hormones are almost too much to contain. I'm sure I saw it at least three more times before I gave birth to my daughter, Zoe. And probably a hundred times since.

Ten years earlier, in 1977, I was living in Los Angeles, working in television, and it was one of those LA winters when it never stopped raining. Ever. I was just about ready to kill myself. I'm from New York, where we have actual seasons and real weather that changes. So I went to see the movie everyone was talking about, totally depressed, and as soon as the music started to play and Travolta was seen strutting down that Brooklyn street, holding that can of paint, I was mesmerized. I fell in love, with John, with Brooklyn, with dancing, with the music. I bought the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. I danced in my living room. One weekend, I went to the mall in Century City and the choreographer who'd supposedly taught Travolta to dance for the film was there giving a demonstration. He picked me out of the crowd to dance with! It was my big moment! I danced and I could follow and it was thrilling! I was no longer even remotely depressed.

As the Don Henley song says: "All she wants to do is dance."

I started dancing when I was 5. First tap, then ballet, I was enthusiastic, but never fantastic. I loved Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movies, and I adored Gene Kelly. I studied jazz, modern, African dance, I was up for anything. I loved going to dances, concerts, any opportunity to dance and I was there. After college, I moved out to LA and focused on work and found other physical outlets, first running and then yoga. I loved the endorphin high running gave me, and I loved the discipline of yoga. I missed dancing, but somehow it got lost.

When I got married and had Zoe, we danced together when she was little. But then real life took over, raising a teenager, working, being a member of the sandwich generation, dealing with my parents' illnesses -- there was no thought of dancing, there was just survival, the couch, and television and books to escape into.

In 2009, after 23 years of marriage, my husband and I split up, my mother died and I went into a deep hole. It was a time of intense grief and I just had to work my way out of it, slowly.

And then, in the summer of 2010, I was invited to dance in a flash mob in Washington Square Park. I love flash mobs! As I learned the dance (we danced to Nina Simone's song "Feeling Good"), I began to feel... good. Really good. Alive. I enjoyed learning the dance, being part of something, connecting to the music. We danced in Washington Square Park in honor of Gay Pride Day, and we staged a mock lesbian wedding at the end of the dance. We were a motley crew, not one of those big professional flash mobs, but we all had fun.

A month later, in August, I met a man on Match.com who, among other things, taught tango. He was going to go to a milonga (tango dance) on the pier one Sunday afternoon, so we met for coffee nearby, before the dance. I was curious, so I went along to the milonga and watched as he danced with a few of his students. I was wearing my sneakers, and was hardly dressed for the tango, but he insisted on showing me the basic steps.

After we danced, he said to me, "You picked the steps up immediately. You are a dancer."
Wow! "I am a dancer." That was all I needed to hear! I raced out the next day and bought practice dance shoes. I showed them to my neighbor who said, "Those are kind of ugly." I was thrown off -- I thought they were great, but maybe it was the dancing itself I was thinking of. Even so, I stuffed them in the closet and forgot about dancing. It felt like too much effort. Then November came and I thought, "What can I do this winter to keep myself from having the winter blues?"

A little voice said, "dance." So I called Dance Manhattan, a dance studio that has been around for 20 years, and I found out about beginning classes. They suggested I try swing dancing first. I took one class in November and then kept dancing in December, taking two classes, then three, all winter, all spring, all summer and I am now completely hooked on dancing. The music alone is joyous and upbeat, and I've met so many people who are as obsessed with dancing as I am. I have a new community, new friends, and my passion for dance has absolutely changed my life. It's opened my chakras, my feelings, made me love men again, and given me ridiculous amounts of pleasure.
You can't buy joy. You just have to feel it. You may have work that gives you great pleasure, but feeling it in your body -- whether it's dancing, playing a musical instrument, running, biking, hiking, rock climbing, whatever it is (obviously sex is great, too). I believe that dancing saved me from antidepressants, got me out of the hole and literally changed my life. Even if all you do is put on music in your living room and take a dance break, I promise you, you'll feel better.

Lately, I've also started doing a new form of movement called Qoya, which combines yoga and dance. My fabulous Qoya teacher read this beautiful poem by Rumi to us at the end of our last class:
Dance when you're broken open.
Dance when you've torn the bandage off.
Dance in the middle of fighting.
Dance in your blood.
Dance when you're perfectly free.
Struck, the dancer hears a tambourine inside her,
like a wave that crests into foam at the very top,
Maybe you don't hear that tambourine,
or the tree leaves clapping time.
Close the ears on your head,
that listen mostly to lies and cynical jokes.
There are other things to see, and hear.
Music. Dance.
A brilliant city inside your soul!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Dark Nights of the Soul

I have been writing and reading about spiritual teachings for several years and I always love to share what I am reading. There are several books I'm reading now, one is Brene Brown's new book "Daring Greatly" which is wonderful and the other one is "Dark Nights of the Soul." I love this quote from the beginning of that book and I find that it so relates to my own life and also Pema Chodron's work about happiness and acceptance:

Many people think that the point of life is to solve their problems and be happy.  But happiness is usually a fleeting sensation and you never get rid of your problems.  Your purpose in life may be to become more who you are and more engaged with the people and the life around you, to really live your life.  That may sound obivous, yet many people spend their time avoiding life. They are afraid to let it flow through them, and so their vitality gets channeled into ambitions, addictions, and preoccupations that don't give them anything worth having.  A dark night may appear, paradoxically, as a way to return to living.  It pares life down to its essentials and helps you get a new start.  

Here I want to explore positive contributions of your dark nights, painful thought they may be.  I don't want to romanticize them or deny their dangers.  I don't even want to suggest that you can always get through them.  But I do see opportunities to be transformed from within, in ways you could never imagine.  A dark night is like Dante getting sleepy, wandering from his path, mindlessly slipping into a cave.  It is like Odysseus being tossed by stormy waves and Tristan adrift without an oar.  You don't choose a dark night for yourself. It is given to you. Your job is to get close to it and sift it for its gold."

Thomas Moore

I didn't choose my "dark night" three years ago when everything I believed were the most important parts of my life left me, my family, my home, my job.  Those things defined me for many years and suddenly I had to "re-define" myself - during my dark nights.  It was the greatest gift, the time I spent and continue to spend, sifting for the gold. 

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Three years

One year ago, I signed my divorce papers and it was the beginning of a new life and an entirely new chapter.

In November of 2011 I found dance.  I'd started dancing (as I wrote here) in a couple of flash mobs, but then I decided to sign up for dance classes and ever since then my life has changed in many profound ways.  First of all I found something really joyous that I love to do.  I've met many people who love it too and many really great men.  Men to dance with - not necessarily the love of my life, but men I really enjoy.

My morning practice of reading, writing and meditating has changed a bit.  I've been chanting in the morning, which is very peaceful.

In August, my daughter Zoe moved back to New York after three years of living in San Francisco.

She arrived the first week in August, which is when my first piece appeared on the Huffington Post.

I've now had five pieces published and yesterday Zoe and I did a Huff Post Live on adult children moving home with their parents.  She did find a great apartment with a roommate and they are happily living in their own place now.


If you're new to this blog and you or anyone you know anyone who's going through a difficult time, go back three years to April 2009 and start reading.  There is a great deal of information about how to get through loss and grief a day at a time. 

And the present feels very exciting!  So stay tuned.  I never expected any of this, so it will be interesting to see what unfolds next.  If you've had any interesting surprises lately, I'd love to hear about them. 

Sunday, September 2, 2012

A husband, a house, a mortgage, a baby, a lightbulb moment

 My latest HuffPost:

I had it all. I had the American dream. I lived in a beautiful loft in the heart of SoHo (okay, I know some of you want the house and the picket fence, I wanted a loft in New York City).
And I had the baby, the most wonderful daughter. And two dogs. I had everything I'd ever dreamed of and I was deeply, deeply grateful.
I had the wedding, with a beautiful dress from Paris with lace, made in the 1920's -- very much my style. I had a honeymoon at a lovely resort in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.
We moved to New York City a few months after we got married to pursue our dreams. I was 34, not that young, but old enough to know what I was looking for. It had taken hundreds of dates, blind dates, fix-ups -- there was no internet dating in those days. I'd lived with other men. It had taken hard work, but I was determined to find the love of my life and have it all. My career was in television writing and I was about to break into films. I could hear the biological clock ticking and I desperately wanted to have a baby. I had dated men in my business and I finally found someone who was an artist -- intelligent, talented, articulate -- and he made a living. He was a bit lonely and depressed, but I was going to rescue him and make him happy with a family and a home and everything that would answer all of his prayers -- and mine -- and we would live happily ever after.
And we did, for a time. It was great.
It lasted until about a week after the wedding. And then, subtly, I sensed a shift. He had been attentive and available before, and within a few months after the wedding, I felt the door close. It wasn't obvious, but in the first year of our marriage I wrote an essay that was never published called "The Myths of Marriage." And the funny part was, I had taken a course years before about dating and marriage and one of the main points was that we present ourselves one way when we are trying to "get" someone and then once we "have" them; we let our guard down and we show who we really are.
I knew that and yet, I acted like I really enjoyed cooking though I hated cooking. And he acted like he really enjoyed spending weekends with me, when he really wanted to work seven days a week. But we made a commitment and we worked at it and we became a family.
There are few things in life more rewarding than finding someone you love, who loves you, who knows you and over the years, through all the difficult life experiences, is your ally and your friend and your sounding board and your lover. Those kind of relationships are hard to find.
But after 23 years of marriage, we got divorced. I deserved more and he deserved to be who he was (turns out he didn't really want to be rescued). And my beautiful lace dress from Paris? I had rented it from a costume house in Hollywood. Maybe even then I knew that you can't hold on to some things forever, no matter how beautiful they seem at one time in your life.
Here is my suggestion: Be you. Don't try to be anyone else.
Also, live your life with pleasure and do what you love and what is important to you. Work hard, play hard, don't be waiting for someone to complete you. Complete yourself.
A great marriage is really a dream for most. It takes honesty -- knowing and presenting who you really are. It isn't for everyone; it takes effort and a great deal of compromise and patience. It is not the Nobel Prize of life. It is no longer even the American dream, or any dream. Perhaps you saw Eric Klinenberg's piece in The New York Times about living alone in which he reports, "More people live alone now than at any other time in history... In Manhattan and in Washington, nearly one in two households are occupied by a single person... In Paris, the city of lovers, more than half of all households contain single people." Even in Paris -- my beloved city of lights -- even they had a light bulb moment: living alone, or at least unmarried, need not be stigmatized or pathetic or necessarily lonely.
I don't know if I will ever get married again. Divorce was one of the worst experiences of my life, which led me to one of the best and most productive periods of my life. I am not waiting to meet the next man to love; I am busy, working hard, grateful for my life, dating, dancing, enjoying my daughter, my friends and a rent-stabilized loft in SoHo, which I share with a good friend. Not a man. With men, I dance. And right now, that's working really well for me.
Dreams are for when you are asleep. Life is what happens when you are awake. It's never what you expect. Enjoy it.