Category: Mindfulness

The Wake Up Festival 2013!

Dear friends, I want to invite all of you to come spend a week with us in the gorgeous Rocky Mountains this summer where we will create a holding environment of the most radical love and healing together. I’d love to see you this summer and to spend this precious time with you and our dear friends Adyashanti, Tara Brach, Jack Kornfield, Snatam Kaur, David Whyte, Anne Lamott, Jeff Foster, Shiva Rea, Reggie Ray – and many others.

Learn more about The Wake Up Festival 2013

The world’s spiritual traditions agree with the poets, artists, and healers: we can live with a heart that is fully open to the singular beauty of each moment. The Wake Up Festival is your opportunity to join more than 30 authors and teachers in community with hundreds of fellow travelers on the path to celebrate the heart’s unfolding—and the very real possibility of spiritual awakening in the here and now.

When we touch a limitless sense of being – vast, open, undivided – we paradoxically become more uniquely ourselves, more empowered and on fire to bring forward our unique gifts. We wake up to our courage, to our authenticity, and to claiming our own value in the world. The Wake Up Festival explores this awakening from a wide range of different perspectives, and is an event like no other. Our focus is on opening our hearts to an all-encompassing embrace and doing so in a supportive retreat-like environment.

Learn more about The Wake Up Festival 2013

Intimacy as the most vulnerable yoga

Can we allow another to deeply matter to us? Are we willing to take the risk to let them all the way inside – to really see, know, and touch our most core vulnerabilities; to open ourselves so profoundly that we’re left utterly naked and fully exposed, knowing that in any moment our hearts could shatter into millions of pieces? Many of our childhood biographies involved a very unstable environment, an uncertain reality where it was not safe to let another become too important, where we spent much of our time and energy learning exactly what we had to say and do in order to receive the love, care, affection, attention, and holding that we so sweetly needed. We can be quick to judge and admonish these early adaptive strategies, seeing them as “unspiritual” or neurotic or crazy, but perhaps they were in actuality the most luminous expressions of a certain kind of intelligence and creativity. Perhaps, upon deeper examination, they might come to be seen as special forms of grace, put in play by the great architect of love to ensure our own survival, as profound gifts sent to ensure the flowering of our precious hearts and nervous systems. As innocent little ones, we very naturally allow others to deeply matter; it is part of who we are. Over time, though, many of us have come to see that this sort of exposure is tremendously risky; it’s just too raw, too open, too scary. But as little ones we can’t really help it; we’re wired to connect.

Often in the challenges inherent in intimate relationship, we become convinced that it is our partner who is causing us to feel so bad. The evidence is so clear… isn’t it? They don’t respect us, they speak unkindly to us, they don’t understand us, they’re never there when we really need them, they just can’t quite connect with who we are at the deepest levels; and the big one – they just don’t meet our needs. We put a lot of pressure on our partners (and on ourselves, for that matter) to “meet our needs.” Before we know it, much of our lives become organized around getting our needs met; and there is something about this that can start to feel a bit off. It can be really helpful to take some time and look at this carefully. Of course there is likely some relative truth in these traits and behaviors in our partners, and they are worth exploring. This is not to say that the other person isn’t actually speaking and acting in unkind, overly defensive, or critical ways, and that this shouldn’t be related with. But we might also come to see that just by being in relationship, we will be forced to feel feelings that we really don’t want to feel.

To allow in those intense and challenging emotions and sensations which have previously been lodged in the body can be terrifying. Do we really want to do this? Maybe tomorrow; for now, it’s best to go take a walk, listen to some music, write another rambling facebook post, contemplate how awakened we are, make another cup of tea, or do some meditation. It’s not so much that our partner is doing something *to* us, but rather when we open ourselves to love, there are previously unmet emotions and sensations there, lurking in the unconscious, seeking the light of day. For many, it is in the context of a vulnerable, naked, intimate relationship where that which is still unresolved will most powerfully present itself to be metabolized and healed. If we look closely, perhaps we can see how we organize our lives around not having to feel certain feelings. To see this can be quite illuminating – and often very disturbing. It is easy to then fall into our old habitual patterns of self-aggression or avoidance, to start to become unkind to ourselves, falling into spiritual superegoic judgment, self-hatred, and shame.


Another option is to make the radical commitment to practicing the yoga of love, of holding ourselves in an enormous environment of kindness. We stay unconditionally committed to the truth that whatever arises in our experience – no matter how disturbing, anxiety-provoking, “unspiritual,” confusing, painful, or difficult – that it is ultimately workable, that it is a precious part of our own hearts that we wish to know deeper and to integrate into the entirety of what we are. We can be grateful for the gift of clear seeing, even if what we see is disturbing and anxiety provoking, for it is a certain kind of grace which allows us to finally see the ways we organize our experience, and how all of our neurosis and our strategies were our best efforts at the time to take care of ourselves. We are being given a gift, a fierce gift you could say, and an opportunity to let love dismantle those protective strategies that once served us, but no longer are.

Let us all hold those we’re in relationship with, including ourselves, by committing to taking love’s journey with them, knowing nothing about the route or the destination. Let us be kind to ourselves and our partners if we decide to truly take up the most vulnerable yoga of intimacy, knowing that it will take everything we have and are to navigate, as it offers fruits beyond this world.

Painting by Albena Vatcheva


Accompanying each other

Recently, someone who works at Sounds True asked me if I would be her “buddy” in an experiment. She is getting married in June,and she has historically been a nail-biter. She wants her finger nails  to look beautiful and elegant when she reaches out her hand and her husband-to-be places the ring on her wedding finger (perhaps you can see the photograph of this moment in your mind?). Her question to me: Would I stop biting my finger nails (I have been an engaged nail-biter since childhood….it’s all coming out here on the ST blog site) as a way to support her in this goal?

At first I thought, forget it. I have never been successful at stopping biting my nails for very long and why should I bother with this. And then I thought, I love this person. And she almost never asks of anything of me. And she is getting MARRIED after all. I have to say “Yes” without giving this another thought. So I quickly took the leap and agreed.

Now here is the interesting thing: It has been almost a month since we made this agreement,  and so far, I have been supremely vigilant in upholding my word (one small nail was ripped off, but otherwise I am ready to scratch anything with 9 long nails). Why is this approach working? Obviously, it’s not because I care about having good looking nails (since I haven’t for decades). It’s because I care about this person. I feel inspired by my love of her and my desire to support her in any way that I can. And beyond that, her goal matched a goal that I have that has been lingering under the surface.

And this has made me think about all of the support groups that exist for all kinds of things (from Weight Watchers to AA), and the tremendous power of creating a resolve not on our own but in relationship with another person. This is such an OBVIOUS point, but I have never seen this so clearly before. And as the Publisher of a company dedicated to transformation, I am asking some new questions: How can we help the Sounds True community link up (“buddy up”) with people who share similar transformational goals? Perhaps we could create “practice partnerships” where people check in with each other on a daily basis for a period of time in order to follow through on a commitment to a specific spiritual discipline? What type of vulnerability does it take to reach out and ask for support and how can we encourage people to do this? What other areas of my life do I want to “buddy up” with someone (whether that be a friend or coach) to achieve certain outcomes?

And at another level, I am reflecting on how much we simply need each other to grow and change. How another person’s love and presence can inspire us to stretch and do something differently, perhaps something we have always wanted to do but just didn’t have enough forward-motion on our own. And how this is the power of being accompanied and is something readily available we can offer and receive from each other.

And to take this even further, there are certain Sounds True authors who I feel are “accompanying” me on the spiritual path. Some of them might suspect they are playing that type of role in my life, others probably have no idea. These people are inner “touchstones” — their life and work inspires me to continue with my own life and work.  Occasionally, during a difficult moment, I invoke their name or their face, and I feel heartened.  And since this is all happening in the inner chambers of the heart, it is very possible that we don’t know who is feeling “accompanied” by our life, who is deriving strength and perseverance and follow-through from invoking our name and presence. I feel so grateful for all of the writers and teachers, past and present, who I draw on as “buddies”. It sounds trite to say “we need each other” and it is not strong enough language. My sense is that we actually exist for each other and because of each other. And the more wildly and passionately and freely we can acknowledge our companionship, the more daring we can be. We become supportive and supported risk-takers. We become fellow travelers on a journey where our love for each other calls us ever-deeper.


Short-cutting the unfolding of love…

I was speaking with my friend and Sounds True author Tara Brach a few weeks ago about the many ways spirituality can serve a defensive function, resulting in the avoidance of unresolved emotional wounding. During our conversation Tara used a phrase “premature forgiveness,” where she was pointing to how in the rush to do the right spiritual thing – sending love, kindness, compassion, or forgiveness to a person who has deeply hurt us – we can act prematurely, before we’re ready to do so in a deeply embodied way. We to want to replace our yucky feelings of aggression, anger, and hatred with those noble qualities of love, kindness, and understanding. We want to transform the negative into the positive. This is so natural, of course. None of us want to hold these darker energies in our hearts, in our psyches, and in our bodies.

But when we move straight to forgiveness, compassion, or kindness, without first metabolizing those feelings of hurt, shame, pain, and grief which are inside us, perhaps we shortcut the unfolding of love. When we are able to first digest the deep hurt we have felt, resisting the temptation to transcend it or even heal it, we cut into a lifetime’s organization of turning from immediate, embodied experience. We see that we can begin to make a commitment to becoming deeply intimate with all parts of ourselves that seek our attention, holding them closely as guests of our hearts, as potential messengers from beyond. We do not need to ostracize our pain, orphan it, and send it away as part of our spiritual journey, for all is welcome here. There is no timeline, but only the one that our own hearts reveal. We can discover that what we are is an open, luminous, holding environment of awareness, a capacity to allow ourselves to be touched and transformed by whatever appears. It is not always easy, rarely fun, oftentimes terrifying; but we might come to see that by meeting these energies directly, they are able to show us the way Home; that, in fact, at the core of every emotion, every sensation, and every feeling that could ever be is the substance of love itself, the nature of awakened consciousness.

sunrise_mountainsThis energy or movement of forgiveness, which is of course an important and noble one, has a way of arising naturally, on its own, when our pain, grief, and hurt is metabolized in our hearts and bodies, when we allow it to be touched by the light of our awareness. In this sense, forgiveness is not so much a “practice” that we do or even the result of an intention that we’ve made; it lives and breathes and moves outside of the conceptual world entirely. We see that it is a somatic process, one that is effortless in a sense. As our pain and grief is processed, in a deeply embodied way, according to a timeline that is unique to each human heart heart, forgiveness may naturally be there waiting for us on the other side. Forgiveness, then, may not be something that we “do,” or try to do, and is no longer seen as evidence that we are a “spiritual” person and so forth. Many people that I speak with have concluded that they have “failed” because they have not forgiven, they feel shame that they are not good spiritual practitioners, that somehow the mere presence of sensations and feelings such as anger or rage or grief indicate that they are lost, unspiritual, and unworthy of love.

Forgiveness is not something we need to take on as a project. We come to see that there are times when forgiveness is not actually the energy that is being called forth in a particular situation and may not be the most skillful or, ultimately, the most loving or the most kind. It is very important to explore this. Setting boundaries, taking space, honoring the call of the body, listening to the heart, being angry – the total mandala of our situation may be calling for a different response. This call can be acknowledged and honored, and in this way these other responses can be just as “spiritual” as forgiveness; in actuality, more so, especially if the forgiveness is “premature.” It is possible the anger that is there, the shame, the hurt, the embarrassment, the jealousy, the grief, the terror, the fear – that these feelings, sensations, and qualities are inviting us to explore them deeply, to touch them, to hold them, to allow them all the way in; to honor them. Often, in our rush to forgive them away, to be good spiritual people, we lose touch with their essence, intelligence, and the gifts they may have to offer, thereby losing touch with our own hearts.

For those of you who are interested in the areas of self-compassion, working with shame, self-acceptance, and self-love, I really recommend Tara’s work for those who may not be familiar with it. Her audio programs – Radical Self-Acceptance, Finding True Refuge, and Meditations for Emotional Healing – are important and ones I recommend often. I’m really happy to note that Tara will be joining us at this year’s Wake Up Festival!

Buzz on, buzz off

While visiting a friend in Denver last summer, I was amazed to see in her front garden hundreds of honey bees dancing in the perfect dusk light. Luckily, I had my awesome new high-tech pro digital SLR camera with me.

“Ha!” I thought, “Finally a chance to use this baby’s rapid-fire, super auto-focus, image-optimizing, mega-sensor, anti-shake, bla-bla BADass-ness!”

Among photographers, the sure sign of an amateur is a behavior called “chimping”—bobbing your head obsessively from viewfinder to LCD screen to see if you got the shot. Well, I was chimpin’ like a National Geographic fanboy (oh wait, I AM a NatGeo fanboy). Anyway, half an hour and about 200 shots later, I did not have the perfect apiary masterwork. I had a camera full of blurry and out-of-frame bugs.

When I visited my friend again the next week, all the bees were gone, except for a few late summer stragglers. And it was gloomy overcast. And all I had in my bag this time was an old film camera—the kind that you have to focus and crank by hand and then apply “percussive maintenance” (i.e., smack hard) just to get the light meter working.

And there were exactly three shots left on the roll.

“Forget it,” I thought, “nature photography is for wussies.”

But the next thing I knew, the ancient Nikon was in my hand.

clickity click click!

Cut to one month later. I’m standing at the drugstore photo counter, and in ye olde-school stack of 4-by-6’s (remember “prints?”), this appeared:

Andrew Young Photography

If you’re not impressed, okay fine. But I was. Not by any proof of my artistic prowess, but by what I learned.

Am I about to wax scholastic about master street photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson’s “decisive moment?” Or reflect on the Tibetan teacher Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s love for miksang, photography as dharma art? Nope, though both luminaries came to mind. What did in fact leave an impression were these thoughts:

1. When I realize that each frame in my camera—or day in my life—is precious, I get MUCH more out of each one.

2. All those restless hours of meditation practice and shoeboxfuls of crappy contact sheets may have led to a mastery that shows up, when it matters, as effortless flow.

3. Between the two poles that I call “intense concentration” and “effortless awareness” lies the vast majority of my life’s geography, and that I might want to enjoy the scenery regardless of the mode I’m in.

4. I am SO done with insect photography. No, really. Bugs are disgusting.

Okay, your turn. Was there a time when your years of practice paid off, effortlessly and unexpectedly? If so, do post a comment, I’d love to hear about it.

May love be resurrected in your heart today…

May love be resurrected in your heart today, and may it wash through each and every cell of your most sacred body, dripping out through your words, your presence, the way you listen, your willingness to care and get gooey messy and sticky in love, and through the way you touch and hold another. May love make use of your eyes to see, your ears to hear, your words to speak sweetness, your body to hold and touch; and may that love that keeps the stars from falling out of the sky guide you and show you the way home.

May it be revealed to you that this love is not something that you will find one day, something that will come to you, or something that you will finally reach as part of your quest. Love is not and never was separate from what you are, but is what this precious body is made of. It is the substance of every cell of your heart, every synapse in your outrageously miraculous brain, every strand of every light particle of your miracle-DNA, and of every petal of every flower in this and all universes.

Wishing all of my sisters and brothers the most precious Easter, and may each one of you – whether gay, straight, transgendered, or utterly undefineable as we all truly are – allow love to have you, finally, once and for all, as we are told Christ did… to take this body, this entire sensory organism, and to make use of it to scatter its secret essence in the four directions.