Past Lives Future Time


Often when I tell people that I lead retreats to explore past lives, the reaction wavers between amusement and bewilderment. Especially now with so much that is disruptive and harmful happening in the political sphere, it might seem counter-intuitive to spend an afternoon trancing-out into the stories and metaphors that seemingly lay beneath the surface of your consciousness.

But have you ever had the experience of focusing so intently on a problem that all the energy you put into thinking just makes it worse? Or, a situation in which the more you try try to deal with it head on, you are lead you into a hall of mirrors that splinters into a debilitating anxiety and its ripple effect of insomnia?

And so you decide to give it a rest and go to the movies. And you find that getting lost in the narrative of the movie helps you to release emotions that you didn’t know were there. As you follow the characters through the plot, you are able to disconnect from what had been ailing you.

Perhaps, when the movie is over, you cry or feel that weird feeling that you are in a movie, feeling those same feelings. Then, somehow, when you return to deal with your problem, you have a new insight or approach that seems to lift the heaviness out of the situation.

Sometimes disassociating can be a marvelous thing.

And you’ve got more movies than Netflix streaming inside your mind right now — and believe it or not, they’re better than Hollywood when it comes to helping you to get insight into difficult areas of your life. And if you need to heal, spending some time with those movies can actually allow your body to relax and do what it needs to do to bring your body and mind into alignment.

What are the metaphors that open up the rich imaginative doors to the movies within the movies of our lives? Traditionally one imagines being on a boat in a gentle river surrounded by a blue mist; doorways are of course important, as are portals and tunnels.

To me it doesn’t matter if these moves are “real.” Was I actually a young boy who my family had written off/forgotten about? Did I watch from high up in a tree as my family was slaughtered by settlers, not one of them ever wondering what happened to me?

It was in the unfolding of this story that I suddenly felt better about something specific happening in my life—and if this story was my unconscious mind’s way of releasing what needed to be released so that I could move forward, I’d say that’s pretty amazing. Whether it actually happened or not is irrelevant.

The narrative of past life regression allows for unconscious searching. It is like following sign-posts leading somewhere, even if you are not sure where it is that you’ll end up. It’s reader participation–you are making your own narrative, like draping cloth between two poles. The tapestry that unfolds–the quality of the stitching, the colors, the texture–all that all comes from you. And somehow, it means something to you.

Perhaps as you reveal these narratives to yourself you’ll stumble on a story that you can then unfold into your writing or art. A character might emerge and grab ahold of you, prompting you with the energy to write into/around his/her story.

Perhaps it will be more like fragments or pieces of memory that will be revealed.

Or a feeling — unsettled, or settling.

Sometimes if you don’t like the movie that’s playing right now, you need to check out a different theater. Get a different perspective, and make changes from there.

So whatever you are facing in your life—whether it be terror in the political sphere or debilitating stress or illness in your personal sphere—take a break from it. Gather your resources, heal your body, and trust that you have within you the narratives to be strong and survive.

On Mystics and Anxiety: looking for cures only makes it worse

What, really, is anxiety and were does it come from? What makes it vanish in a moment, only to come back, seemingly out of the blue, with the force of a tidal wave?

There are many answers to this question depending on who you ask. Kierkegaard says that it is unfocused fear. Modern psychology says it is an “exaggerated expectation of negative outcomes in an unknown situation, accompanied by physical symptoms.”

You know the feeling, and it sucks.

In a recent writing class, I asked students to write about what anxiety means to them and it’s clear that the condition of it is permeable, like a consciousness:

  • Anxiety means being so far into the future in my head that I am predicting things but without any particular skills of divination.
  • It’s being driven crazy with dread. What if this happens, what if that happens.
  • Our cultural way of organizing time is anxiety incarnate. There’s never enough of it.
  • It’s not being in control, and not having any hope that I will ever be in control.
  • It’s not being able to connect the dots that make what is looming in the future known.
  • Heart palpitations, racing thoughts, sweaty palms: a feeling that the human body just can’t contain all the mental and physical pressure.
  • A literal brick wall plopped on the highway; a barbed wire fence strung across a garden, killing any meaningful arrangements.

Given that anxiety is a permanent human state, why do we spend so much time and effort trying to get rid of it, as if that is even possible? After all, it’s not as if the condition of uncertainty that most of us are dealing with in our daily lives is suddenly going to be magically fixed. We might be able to take a pill that will temporarily alleviate the horrible biochemistry that anxiety triggers, but there is very little peace and calm in the larger culture.

Not enough money, not enough time; feelings of lost potential, lost control; health problems and painful symptoms; the list goes on and on. And political candidates make ridiculous promises that they can fix all of these problems. But these problems become exaggerated when the standard we are comparing ourselves to is based on outdated concepts such as “security” and “perfect health.”

At this point, insecurity is the status quo and illness is a political critique. Neither one are mere complaints that can be “fixed” with a catch-all cure. In this this extremely confrontational and anxiety-ridden political climate, exaggerated expectations of negative outcomes are the cultural norm.

“Without cultural support, healing doesn’t last,” Dr. Mario Martinez observes, while cautioning us to be wary of attempting to heal ourselves within a culture that is itself so broken, and so sick.

The cure for anxiety? Stop looking for one within the dominant culture that is pretending that there is some “America” that we can “return” to where everything can be fixed. There is no El Dorado and looking for it will only produce more anxiety. In other words, anxiety is exaggerated by thinking that there is a singular concept/solution to world problems.

So what should we do? My personal solution is to implement what philosophers like Jonathan Lear suggest: collectively, let’s address the anxiety of living in the midst of these very fast paced and changing times by actually getting together and creating meaningful experiences. One thing the culture does provide are amazing and creative people who are actively building community within local places–from book clubs to yoga studies, public rituals to public art. There are many ways to find connection.

And as you do that, you can imagine that you are dissipating your anxiety into the larger collective sense of it. It’s not “your” anxiety — it’s everyones and you can release into the certainty that everyone is trying to balance on ground that is constantly shifting. This the way that tribal cultures, grounded on ideas of a collective consciousness, understood the function of dreaming.

“The path of the mystic is the path of chaos,” Martinez continues. In order to heal and survive,  we need to take out the part of the equation that points towards there even being such a thing as the concept of solid ground.

So go ahead. Call yourself a mystic and join the community—after all, if you’re feeling anxious, you’re already one anyway.


While you’re focusing on the bigger picture, here are a few things you can do now to begin rethinking your relationship to anxiety:



Garden of Forking Paths


Topiary by Louise Bourgeois

This Spring, the Met will show an exibit of intentionally unfinished artworks:

The show is a wonderful hommage to artworks that were left unresolved and open-ended, leaving viewers to fill in the meaning and the ending to the story. {click here for Peter Schjeldahl’s upbeat review}

There are many amazing examples of this in literature and music as well.

Bach’s “The Art of Fugue” is a musical piece that lasts for over an hour and ends on mid-note, leaving listeners to hang in the space of the vibrations that the music has created.

And although it does have an ending, Borges’ short story, “The Garden of Forking Paths” begins in the middle of a sentence and ends with the unsettling notion that there could have been many possible endings.

I’m always up for a good story, but I do love art that leaves me perplexed and open to the possibility that there are many interpretations. But the thought does cross my mind that although art and music often leave interpretation up to the viewer, the pleasure of uncertainty somehow doesn’t work as well when it comes to life.

On unstable economic ground? Anxiety!
Not sure about a relationship or job that is in trouble? Insomnia!
Feeling hopeless about a behavior or symptom? Inertia!

Not to mention the hours of despair spent imagining what other people might be thinking about you based on something you said…

The thing is, if you are suffering from emotional blocks, symptoms, or behaviors that are bringing you down…including feelings of inadequacy or purposelessness, chronic pain, or anxiety around almost everything…

…one thing that really helps is to to take the long view by hunkering down into the present. As Borges writes, “century follows century, but things happen only in the present.” And if there is any truth in that, then it’s in the present that you can free yourself from unhappy endings before they actually happen.

A good way to practice this is to look at art not for it’s ability to complete you, but rather for it’s ability to leave you breathing into bewilderment, surrendering into uncertainty, and “thinking out-loud about what you encounter.”

Sound like a weird therapy? Well, I think about myself as a coach for the long view and I help people who are struggling to find direction and a way through their forking paths.

If you’re interested in learning more about me and how I will work with you, click here:

I believe that there are many possible futures. Basically, I’m here to help guide you into the one that will allow you to survive and thrive.

The Mindfulness Game

the gameRecently, I was driving with my 11 year old daughter and out of the blue she said, “I lost the game.”

“What game?” I asked.

“It’s a game where basically if you think about the game, you’ve lost the game.”

“So the game is just the thought of the game?”

“Yep,” she said.

I started thinking about how to apply this game to obsessive or unproductive thoughts. So every time I had a thought that wasn’t the thought I wanted to be thinking in that particular moment, I’d catch myself and say, “Ha!I just lost the game.”

The practice of mindfullness is about observing thought – a key practice that helps to regulate overly-emotional responses to the mundane triggers of everyday life.

(David Nichtern’s technique of “Simply see what arises in our mind as it comes up. Just notice it” is one of my favorites.)

But sometimes, mindfulness practices seem so serious and contemplative.

The cool thing about this trick is that it’s hard not to laugh when suddenly, out of the blue, you think about a game you had forgotten you were even playing. And laughter is a great way to redirect obsessive thinking into a more resourceful state of mind.

So maybe the trick is actually to say, “I won the game” every time you catch yourself interrupting your thoughts by thinking about the game.

I ran this theory by my daughter and she said, “Well, if you win the game all the time you’ll probably loose interest in playing it.”

I told her that if that happens, she’ll need to invent a new game.

“I’ll think about it,” she said.

Kids these days…

Those Raging Hormones

At the end of the school year, 5th graders (10-11 years old) in NYC public schools got a puberty lesson and learned about their changing bodies from an emotional and biological perspective. My kid came home informing me that the gym teacher told everyone they had to start wearing deodorant.

I don’t remember learning about puberty until I was in 8th grade (late bloomer?) but the fact is that the age at which children begin puberty has been decreasing over the past 20 years. There are of course genetic and environmental causes for this, and its well know that growth-hormones are increasingly being added to milk, meat, and other food products.

I wanted to pass along this article written by Dr. Joan Hardin — an amazing clinical psychologist who treats gut and hormonal health as central to psychological health–because it seems  important that parents be mindful about the personal hygiene products we’re buying for kids.

If the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has reported that parabens (the preservatives added to products that prevent microbial growth and increase the shelf life) have hormone-disrupting qualities that mimic estrogen and interfere with the body’s endocrine system, it’s probably a good idea to keep these products away from kids in their varying stages of development:

Are your memories biological?

mustard seed DNAIn a recent study, scientists found that memories may be passed down through generations in our DNA. The study suggests that experiences are somehow transferred from the brain into the genome, allowing them to be passed on to later generations.

That’s not such good news if phobias, anxiety, and PTSD are written into your genome, but it does provoke ideas about how other kinds of memories — such as those experienced during Past Life Regression and other trance narrative experiences — can be so meaningful to people’s lives. We know that our genes can and do turn “on” and “off” when triggered — by environmental influences, as well as internal thoughts. The idea that stories are written into our DNA means that DNA can be rewritten — positive stories can also be passed down.

Of course Shamanic healers have been performing radical revisions of biological narratives for centuries. The ancient belief that disease is the fault of evil spirits who need to be banished from the body of the sick person is a kind of ritual editing in which disease is removed and replaced with a new story — one where the person’s now-restored soul can begin the healing process.

Using very different methods and philosophies than shamanic healers, poets have been the keepers of memory throughout written history. And in the epigenetic spirit, 20th-century avant-garde traditions of poetry have been un-telling old stories and re-coding them into new experiences for the reader. William Carlos Williams connects this practice of linguistic magic back to healing in “The Yellow Flower.” (Click on the link to hear Williams read this amazing poem).

Given that poets and shamanic healers have known for centuries that the body houses memory, it seems to me that the importance of this study — and others like it — isn’t the proof that ancestral memories are encoded in our DNA. This isn’t proof about destiny, or fate, or any other pre-scripted ending.

Rather it’s a reminder that memories are biology; that narratives of memory are the congealing of cells, chemicals, hormones, and blood into the moment of the telling. The passing down of memories is central to how we communicate the deeper messages — what some might call The Information — in ways that have the power to both cure, and kill us. The body is written as the memories are retold, from blood to bone, to mustard flower. 

Believe that memories are  not set in stone and that revision is possible. Then pass it on.

...the tortured body of my flower
which is not a mustard flower at all
                        but some unrecognized
                                                and unearthly flower
for me to naturalize
                        and acclimate
                                                and choose it for my own.
From "The Yellow Flower" by William Carlos Williams


(NOTE: The photograph I’m using for this blog entry was found putting the keywords “Mustard Flower” and “DNA” into Google Images. Mustard Flower is “The Yellow Flower” evoked by William Carlos Williams. The photograph is linked to a study of wild mustard weed, and the ways that it may uncover how the environment and genetics interact during a crucial moment in the life of a plant: Genetic Flower Power. Somehow,  it’s all related.)

Winter Solstice: Prepare for Amazement

fire ritualCelebrating the winter solstice with a fire ritual (no matter if by candlelight or bonfire) is a good way to honor the cycles of seasons as symbols of your own cyclical life.

One way to ritualize the solstice is to acknowledge yourself within the cycles of space and time by locating yourself within the specifics of your location. What is to the North of you, and what is to the South? Where is the nearest body of water, or the nearest mountain? Whether you live in the desert or in the Northeast, winter is symbolic of the land preparing for its Spring re-emergence.Preparing, in other words, for the amazement that Spring brings. 

This metaphor of covering/uncovering, freezing/thawing, hidden/emerging has applications in our spiritual/emotional/physical lives as well. You can think about what in you has been buried that you might release into the symbolic and transformative field of fire. Fire that transforms wood into coals and smoke also transforms your physical/psychic/emotional field.

So participate in it by conjuring up something you’re ready to manifest, to realize, to feel, to express, to be done with, to move on from, to metamorphosize…perhaps not now when it is winter, but as you symbolically articulate your intentions now, when Spring comes, comes you’ll be ready to be amazed…

Write/draw a symbol of what in you is buried that you’re either ready to manifest in the world. This is private and does not need to be shared except with the fire as it carries your intentions via smoke, skyward…

Examples of buried energies: healing, creativity, love, hope, beauty, joy, belief in your capacities, belief in the possibility for change.
Practical effects: letting go of old resentments, letting go of control over other people, releasing tightness around money, re-opening of your physical/sexual body, new perspectives on work/family/relationships, creative outpourings.

Or, you can simply think of something that you’re ready to get rid of from 2013, so that 2014 begins with a fresh start.

Or, you can spend some time reading Bernadette Mayer’s poem Midwinter Day out-loud.  Afterwards, dance!