Good enough, Day 4: Rickety sit


Sometimes, the enormity of the wrongness of things holds me in place like a pile of x-ray blankets. Other times, it triggers a feverish hyperactivity—anxious, spinny, sound-and-fury-signifying-nothing stuff. Both states feed on themselves. I can spend hours either way. Days. Weeks. Spare me your stories of single, lit candles banishing darkness; in times like these, the ability even to curse is a holy gift.

Still, I am learning tools—simple, time-tested tools I've known about for ages. Perhaps what took me so long to pick them up was that they are counterintuitive: when I am jangly, moving works (especially extremely long walks); when I am locked, the solution is to be even more still. I have a certain part of the couch where I usually do this, and an ancient word to focus on, but that is about it as far as the formalities go. I sit in whatever silly clothes I'm wearing, legs crossed, lower back supported, and let the word float up somewhere just behind my forehead. 20 minutes in the morning, 20 more in the evening. For a year now, no less.

When I open my eyes 20 minutes later, on rare occasions I am actually buoyant. (This tends to happen when I'm able to sit in the company of other sitters.) Equally rarely, 20 minutes doesn't seem to make a dent.

Most of the time, though, when I'm done with my sit, things are a bit better. Not horrible, not wonderful, but better.

What's taken me the longest to get is that any one of these three afters is not why I sit. I sit to sit, and that's it.

And that is more than good enough for me.


The skinny on, plus all previous 21-Day Salutes™.

Book review: The Shadow Effect

cover of "the shadow effect" + pix of authors + pic of human shadow

There is a truism in acting that you cannot play a villain if you view him as such, because every character is central to his own life story and never, ever sees himself as a villain. The first thing you are supposed to do as a good actor doing responsible script analysis is to comb through the text looking for ways in which you and your character, villain or hero, are the same. Only once you've grounded yourself in those do you go back through and seek out the differences, to add color.

And if you're honest, whether you're playing a villain or a hero or, most often, for most actors, something in between, you will share most if not all of the qualities of that person, although they may manifest themselves in different ways. The most common example, thrown up the first time you have to play a killer and wonder how you can do it if you've never killed, is to take yourself back to some moment of murderous rage: in the car, at being cut off; at a mosquito who will not leave you alone; at a bully who humiliated you one too many times. (Once was usually sufficient for me.) With the possible exception of sociopaths, we are all made up of all qualities and all possibilities; we just act on them, or not, differently.

The Shadow Effect: Illuminating the Power of Your Hidden Self is a collaborative effort on the part of three modern self-help authors to address the parts of us we don't or can't look at. From their individual perspectives, M.D. with a spiritual bent, recovering addict and teacher, spiritual seeker and teacher, respectively, the authors discuss the common threads in what holds us back from finding peace and joy, both as individual entities and humankind. If it can be boiled down to one thing, and maybe it can't, since the book is a little disjointed, it is that we suffer because of the way we divide and separate: ourselves, by not embracing the truth that we contain all kinds of impulses within us; and ourselves from others, mainly by denying our common humanity, looking for the differences between us, projecting and even magnifying them unduly rather than starting from the rather terrifying premise that (sociopaths excluded), we are mainly the same.

The process of re-integrating begins, as I'm finally realizing most things do, with noticing. (Damned meditators: they had it right all along.) You can start anywhere, but the authors seem to agree that a very useful place is to begin by observing how you project your own behavior onto others: he's a selfish ass; she's stuck up; they are imbeciles who refuse to listen to anyone. Very, very easy to demonize someone else. Much harder to use them as a mirror in which you view your own, horrifyingly unsaintly behavior. But really, any sort of embracing of truth will work, and there are multiple suggestions for getting started, as well as for understanding why we bury and cover and isolate in the first place.

As far as accessing the central theme of the book, that we contain multitudes, and that acknowledging the suppressed voices among them, however terrifying at the outset, is critical to becoming whole, which is critical to self-actualization, I found the first two sections, by Deepak Chopra and Debbie Ford, to be the most useful. Portions of Chopra's were actually thrilling/chilling to read, and Debbie Ford is an easygoing, super-accessible writer. Try as I might (and I did!), I can't fathom the appeal of Marianne Williamson, on the page, anyway. She seems like a lovely and compassionate human, and she certainly has a large and loyal following of people for whom her words resonate, so it's probably just me. (I feel like the same obtuse maroon reading those other giants of self-help, Wayne Dyer and Eckert Tolle, too. If someone can 'splain it to me, please do.)

If The Shadow Effect as a book is a bit fractured, the messages relayed in it are of a piece, and the range of techniques and tools fairly ensure you'll find a way in that works for you. I'd suggest letting significant time lapse between reading the three segments, and picking the one to read first that resonates with you. The very practical, carefully laid out "diagnosis/cure/prognosis" method that Chopra takes works best for me. If stories are your way in, I'd maybe start with Debbie Ford, and if inspirational writing is your thing, by all means, start with Williamson.

It's valuable work, worth doing. Hopefully, one of the ways of doing will work for you...


Image by Horia Varlan via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license. Cover © HarperCollins, designed by LeVan Fisher. Photos of Deepak Chopra and Debbie Ford by Jeremiah Sullivan; photo of Marianne Williamson by Lisa Spindler.

Legalese, etc! Book furnished as a review copy, and links to the books in the post above are Amazon affiliate links: if you click on them and buy something, I get Amazon dollars. Which is great, as it helps keep me in books to review. More on this disclosure stuff at publisher Michael Hyatt's excellent blog, from whence I lifted (and smooshed around a little) this boilerplate text.

Readers' Choice #1: The Law of Attraction


The commentors have spoken! Last Friday, I asked which of the dormant posts in my drafts folder should be brought to life, and which left to die. Results? A tie! This week, as requested, I'll talk about the Law of Attraction; next week, I'll talk about...well, you'll just have to come back next Friday and see...

If you...

  • are my friend on Facebook, or
  • tried to date me on one of the eleventy-seven* dating websites I worked my way through pre-BF, or
  • like to comb the archives for weird communicatrix tags

...you probably know that I, as I like to say, "hew to the woo". This doesn't mean I eschew science or that I'm the opposite of The Non-Believers we had to wait through 44 fucking American presidents to have someone put a name to; au contraire, I rejected the notion of the Lord Jesus as either personal savior or savior of mankind a long, long time ago. No, I like to think of myself as a "Well, hell, who knows, so arm yourself with factual knowledge, be nice and use whatever story you like as a meditation to get you through the rest of it.

A meditation? What the...?

Let me back up a wee bit.

First, much as I'd like, I'm no meditatrix. I sit, I breathe, and if I'm not doing anything else, I start to itch. I'll get there someday (and YES, I try now and again) but for now, I use the dishes or the dog's walk or even HULU hooping to let my mind go elsewhere. (Although I confess, yesterday I HULU hooped to the one episode of The Real Housewives of Orange County they have loaded, just to see what the unholy fuss is about, of course, and do you know, I actually started to get dizzy, which never happens with Dragnet.)

No, when I say meditate on something, I mean some sort of stick to wrap the loose bits of your life around so you can get them off the floor and closer to your myopic gaze. Or, better yet, a lens through which to observe things. Woo-woo stuff lends itself nicely to this, because most of it has some structure and a whole lotta loosey-goosey.

Take astrology, for example. I'm a Virgo (duh...tagline!) with a Libra moon and Cancer rising. That's about all I remember from the first chart I had done, by my first shrink-slash-astrologer**, except that I also have Venus in Leo, which means I have to be very happy with my hair, which, sadly, since the Crohn's and the meds and now middle age hormonal change, I am not. However, I am extremely happy with The BF's hair, which oddly enough makes up for a lot.

Sorry, digressing.

Anyway, when you get your sun sign and moon sign and suchlike, you can get all crazy about "Oh, I'm a Scorpio, so all I like to do is have sex sex sex and all the other signs hate me!" OR you can look at the attributes, think about how they might be manifesting (or not) in your life, and think about how you might tease out the purported good qualities and grapple with the particular challenges this system presents. It's framework for looking at something, or a way to section off a piece of your life so you can start looking at something, somewhere, rather than just woe-is-me-ing it all the way home.

All that woo-woo stuff works like this (for me, which, let's face it, is the way I think it should work). Not gospel, not prophecy, not something that dooms you to some predetermined end or even tells you what you should (or shouldn't be doing that way). Whether you are reading a horoscope in the paper or getting a fancy-expensive, one-on-one reading from an astrologer, you are, you'll pardon my saying so, an idiot of colossal proportions if you try following them to the letter.  Okay, that's judge-y; how about, you're being awfully imprudent, aren't you? Putting your life and your decisions in the hands of a third-party?

No, that's not how I roll. Numerology, enneagram, magic Chinese throwing sticks, what-have-you: they are tools to play with, and to use with caution and discretion.

When the hell are getting around to this Law of Attraction, anyway?

Okay, I'm getting to the meaty part of the post now. But the preamble is important, because I think that swallowing the Law of Attraction whole, whether served up by The Secret or the Hickses or Florence Scovel Shinn (back in 1925!) is what both gums up the perfectly reasonable underpinning works and infuriates the skeptics, a.k.a. the Non-Believers (who have every right to be kinda pissed off by the name, even as they're happy for the shout-out).

Before undies start getting themselves in bundles, let's look at what the Law of Attraction means. Well, the new age-y version. Which generally gets summed up as thoughts having vibrations, or energy, that attracts things that have similar vibrations or energy. Or, to put it in a neat, 19th-century, no-nonsense nutshell, "Like attracts like." (Which either sounds sensible or even dumber, depending on your opinion of Ye Olde Fashioned Bromides.)

People for it say it empowers people to be masters of their own destinies; people ag'in it say that at its most benign, it's hooey and at its most pernicious, it promotes blame-the-victimism, e.g., if you're attracting the bad juju, it's YOUR FAULT, weak and gormless ninny, so neener neener to you and your barren womb, terminal unemployability or string of Job-like trials.

My own take is this: it might work. Bodies in motion tend to stay in motion, bodies at rest tend to stay at rest.

Or it might not. I give you medicinal leeches and a sun that revolves around the Earth. (On the other hand, I give you medicinal leeches, so who the hell knows?)

I tend to think that if the Law of Attraction does work, for most people, it doesn't work head on. You learn a little about yourself, you learn a little about the outcome of dating cads, you learn how to start liking yourself, the cads become less attractive, you become more attractive et voila! You magically, through the Law of Attraction, and 15 or 20 years of hard work, stop dating assholes and find a nice guy.

Same thing applies to health, money, happiness or whatever. The universe may or may not be doing its thing, but either way, the thing is gonna get done hella faster if you're doing some of the heavy lifting, exercise, or eating right, or therapy, or whatever, than if you're wishing really hard for God to turn you into a fairy princess who rides a unicorn every day to her magical castle on the hill.

Using The Law of Attraction as meditation!

So what's the mashup? Pretty much project thinking, as I see it:

  1. Figure out what you want.
  2. Figure out where you are.
  3. Figure out the steps between where you are and where you want to get to.
  4. Execute.

The steps will most likely change along the way, oh, boy, will they ever. And at some point in the journey, you may even decide that you're not so interested in that destination, but this rest stop, or this detour. Personally, I think it's because we're most of us are kind of impatient dumbasses (when I'm being harsh) or ignorant flowers (when I'm being generous): really, how the hell are you supposed to know what the hell it is you want when either you haven't experienced it yet or it doesn't exist, or both?! I mean, yes, there are a few people with a vocation for, uh, a vocation that already exists, and they seem to have it from the time they're three, and it's simply exasperating to the rest of us. Doctor, nun and astronaut were on the list when I was growing up; "communicatrix", alas, was not.

As you get closer to The Thing you want, it gets a little easier, just as you relax a little when that landmark you've been scouring the unfamiliar horizon for finally appears in hour 11 of a very long drive in unfamiliar territory. Then you just, you know...go.

Pointing your guns in the right direction is kind of a prerequisite (unless you're pretty cool about being open and explore-y, which I'm not, so shut up and quit making me curse my stupid lot even more.) If you need some sort of guide to exploring yourself, there are lots of fun ways to go about it, from rigidly structured to loosey-goosey, and from free (costing only time) to sky-high expensive (we'll leave off those for now, this being a depression and all). They range in woo-woo-ness from not at all to quite a bit, so, you know, find what suits you (or what resonates, as the new age kids say) and leave the rest:

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People I'll confess that this is kind of a tedious read. (Sorry, Mr. Covey!) But there are good stories that keep you going, and TONS of good exercises. You kind of can't argue with the principles behind it, and they really will help you build up great habits that will "attract" great stuff into your life.

Toastmasters International Yes, it's a speaking club. But it offers a terrific, solid, workbook structure for systematically, incrementally getting better at something. Plus the people are so nice. And bonus! You will become a better communicator of ideas, as well as a better leader of men, if you participate. Lots of stuff accelerated for me as a result of my two years in Toastmasters. If you live in L.A., I can personally recommend the Del Rey and Joseph P. Rinnert clubs. Tremendous support for a great price.

FlyLady She's currently enjoying a spike in popularity, but she's been delivering solid advice on making a better life for yourself for years now. There's lots of stuff for sale on the site, and the design is kind of loopy and gives me a bit of a headache, but there's a wealth of great info for free. The Twitter accounts especially add a lot of value, as they say in the biz world. I've dipped in and out of FlyLady for years now, when I've needed a little clarity and action. Those little mini-cleanups she advocates (which pop up randomly if you follow on Twitter) are fantastic for getting things moving.

The Artist's Way Hands down, my fave reco for anyone who self-identifies as at least slightly creative. It's a 12-week, self-directed course of study in YOU, with some great exercises I used for years afterward. You can buddy up or find a group to do it with, if you're not a lone wolf, but I did it all by myself and it worked like gangbusters: got me transitioned from advertising to acting. Za-zing!

Move Your Stuff, Change Your Life My fave feng shui book, I used this to get me out of some of the darkest post-breakup days into the light. And a shitload of money, no lie: I feng shui'd the crap out of my kitchen (prosperity corner) and within two weeks, two individual gargantuan residual checks which the agency had been sitting on finally showed up. Might they have come anyway? OF COURSE. But this way, I got a clean kitchen, felt great about it, and distracted myself from thinking about how my life was over because my heart had been tossed into the dumpster like so much trash. (Which is bad feng shui, btw: always keep your trash can emptied!) I still crack it open when I'm feeling stuck, or like I want to pull a little goodness into my life.

Tarot, horoscopes, numerology, enneagrams, etc. These are all fun toys to play with for looking at yourself, finding patterns and even coming up with daily (or weekly, or monthly) "meditations". I put them last because they're the most woo-woo, the easiest to do badly and better, in my opinion, better as a sort of an advanced-class add-on to more practical, hands-on stuff. It's really easy to get passive about the serious woo-woo stuff, and that's always dangerous territory; everyone remembers that one episode of The Twilight Zone where William Shatner and his young bride narrowly escape the clutches of a tiny, mechanical fortune teller who casts a terrible spell upon the less fortunate couple who decide to give up on skeptical thinking and entrust their future to a devil doll in a diner jukebox.

Wait, we don't all remember it? For the love of all that's holy, drop everything and go watch it now!

As you've likely surmised by now, I'm an adherent of the belief that pretty much any course of study or action can be a meditation, and that whatever you start applying your considerable (really! it is!) will to begins to "attract" more of the same. It's Yellow Volkswagen Syndrome, if you like: you become oriented towards cattle ranching or long-distance running or pie, and you start to see longhorns or times to sneak in a run or flaky crust wherever you go.

Me? I pull stories from life. And the more I do, the more I see stories, and the more I attract the kind of people who like to read them.

Not sure they'll ask for something like this again anytime soon, though. Although, you never can tell: sometimes, the stuff you pursue pulls you in some mighty interesting directions.


Image by gsloan via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license, and you really should go look at the full-sized, uncropped version.

*new-favorite word alert!

**won on a bet! Now there's a future post for you!

You. Here. Now.


When something, or something close to the something, happens a few times, it's a good idea to sit up and take note*.

While catching up on my reading, a sense of the familiar washed over me when I spied a gem of an item from Gretchen Rubin, the Happiness Project curatrix, about using the finite to explore the infinite. She didn't phrase it that way: her post is about the fourth vow of the Cistercian monk, which, not to put too fine a point on it, is to stay put.

She talks about it from the perspective of a married person, because she is one, but I've been thinking a lot about this lately from the perspective of (a), someone bound by my own circumstances, which are a combination of love and rent control and high housing costs; and (b), of a person bound by a dog I love dearly, which requires a certain amount of daily care including, according to the whisperer, at least one (and preferably two) long daily walks.

My place, you see, does not accommodate dogs. By which I mean should I get busted with a dog on the premises, I would likely be tossed out of my rent controlled apartment on my communist ass, 10-year good tenancy be damned. So in order to be with Arnie, and The BF, because neither of us feels right leaving the highly social and infernally sweet Arnie quite literally by his lonesome, I must needs be at Arnie's, which...well, which is problematic for a whole hornet's nest of problems. Let's just leave it at "it's a five-and-a-half-mile drive each way", making it less than ideally convenient or green, and leave it at that.

Were money no object, my "problem" (in quotation marks because let's face it, as problems go, it ain't much these days) would be solved immediately: purchase a small property across the reservoir, a spot both quiet and private, relative to my current circumstances, where I could both be on my own and be with The BF and Arnie when I felt like being with them but not at The BF's. But money is very much an object these days for many of us, and housing prices here in L.A., while falling fast, are falling from a rich-people-only high that will have to fall much further** than they have thus far before yours truly can buy in.

In the meantime, if you think yours truly would move out of a rent-controlled apartment which she's occupied for almost 10 years, you have been smoking something that ain't Camels.

A few other folks close to me are going through the same thing right now; there are probably a lot of us in L.A. going through this exact thing. There is more anger and fear among the general population, and the general population is getting more and more tightly packed into less and less space as people lose jobs and move in with one another. (I've been seeing it happen for a while in my neighborhood; based on our increase in population density, it was clear at least a year and a half ago that the economy was in the shitter.) We are stuck, and we are crammed into spaces next to where other people are stuck, and it all ends up being something that rhymes with "stuck", take your choice.

One thing in particular is getting me through this, and that is a foundational principle of feng shui, variously known as the art of placement, wind-water, or "that woowoo bullshit" depending on who you ask. And that is this:

If you desire a change to something new, do everything in your power to make your peace with where you are now.

As I described it to one intimate, this means quite literally (in feng shui, anyway), that if you want to move to a nicer/bigger/awesomer space, get the one you're in ship-shape first. They say it in the feng shui book. Well, this one, anyway, which is my favorite. And the crazy thing is that sometimes what happens isn't what you expect will happen, sometimes something really cool will happen in a totally different area of your life that has nothing to do with what you're working on in cleaning up your damned living space, but something will happen. I don't know how or why, it just will. Plus your house (or apartment, or yurt, or what have you** will also end up all spiffy. And so, as the kids said at some point in distant time, it's all good.

Hawk-eyed readers will note that I did not stay in my marriage, so what the hell am I doing yammering about fixing up what you've got? To which I would humbly and respectfully reply, trust me, I feng shui'd the shit out of that relationship before I opted out. And I'll never know whether I can credit the work I did while in it, but as I was moving out of it and for some time after, I had the crazy kind of buy-a-lotto-ticket-stat luck that you idly and wistfully dream of from the depths of your personal hell.

So I sit in my place, and I work on my stuff, pulling on a thread of an idea, decluttering and cleaning surface by surface, mending and patching and making better rather than making do. And for my poor, aging, neglected body, I'm hooping 10 minutes by 10 minutes, and plotting my return to the SCD that carried me out of Crohn's and into health.

And I work in hateful QuickBooks...and then I don't...and then I do. And I get to Inbox Zero...and then I don't...and then I do.

I like to think that with each circle around the mountain, I run into the same problem at a slightly higher elevation, as Julia Cameron talks about in The Artist's Way.

But through all of it, no matter how bad it gets sometimes, and it does, even in between great days, and sometimes smack in the middle of the best of all days, I stay here, now, or if I wander, I put the puppy on the mat and start again.

Where are you now? Where do you want to go? And how can you be here now to get yourself somewhere else?



*And by "take notice," that can mean quite literally to make an actual note, especially if time and engagements prohibit you from deeper examination in the moment. On the piece of paper you always have on you, with the writing implement you always carry, make a note at the moment something has occurred to you as being like two other things, because three times is the charm, and, without getting too ominous on your ass, the fourth might be the time you don't get a do-over. In this case, as I was conveniently parked in front of the computer, I just used that as a giant (and very expensive) notepad.

**Yes? I got it right?

***A phrase my friend, Carly, who has made a lot of BIG juju happen with the feng shui, uses, and which I fully intend to start using because it is cool. And whatnot. Which is also cool.

Image by bobmarley753 via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.