Above the Clouds

One of the most powerful visuals I remember learning when I was first learning how to meditate was the idea of your thoughts being like passing clouds. Usually you hear this when you’re learning Buddhist-based meditations, which I probably was. But the truth is, so many good meditation teachers this same idea (and I’ve always been pretty voracious about learning so I like to learn multiple styles at once…so who knows where I first heard this).

It’s often been repeated to me. I’ve always loved it. I’ve loved the idea that if you allow a thought or feeling to enter, you can simply observe it as it passes through your mind, letting it pass as easily out as it did in.

I’ve always found a calmness in looking up at the sky and the clouds. Even when the earth itself seems dirty or chaotic, there’s a calmness to the clouds. In their meanest form  (like thunderstorms or hurricanes or lightning) they’re still incredibly beautiful.

I’ve been back at traveling season for me lately (hence the belated post today). Traveling is not easy on the body. It’s not easy to find good nutrition. It’s a lot of weird hours and time spent in cars. It’s a lot of negotiating with your travel companions and attempting to find balance when and where you can. I didn’t get any (any!) yoga classes in this year. (I did a couple small sessions on my own in my hotel room, so I did something but stillllll) I didn’t get too much sightseeing in the beauty of nature. I got a few adventures and stolen moments away. But I’ve got a lot of projects on my plate and a lot of personal ambition to satiate. So I often felt frustrated, even if it was just an undercurrent.

When I travel, I have to be in a lot of airplanes. I’m a decent flyer. I’m not great, but I’m not terrible. I can handle it. I’m usually the first one to jump at the slightest turbulence and like to grab my seats to help the pilot concentrate to get us through it… but otherwise I’m alright. I have my methods for getting through it.

But as I was flying this time and letting my brain wander while staring out my window seat (my preferred seat so I can see we’re still in the air during turbulence), I had a thought that connected my love for meditation and my frustrations on the road. I remembered that every small frustration is something that can simply be observed, learned from, and let go. I realized that the frustrations are often a result of my own expectations or something happening in my own personal life or from my own personal perspective. They have nothing to do with anyone being “out to get me.” They just exist. And if I see them, allow them to come in, and let them go, I’m giving them as much power as the thought I treat like a temporary cloud during meditation.

And…get this.

When you fly, you’re often relatively smooth after you get up above the clouds. Even if you’re escaping rough weather, it’s typically close to where the cloud cover is. And some of the roughest parts of even smooth flights are when you’re getting just above the clouds.

Because… you guys the clouds are what keep us from seeing clearly.

Sure, I’ve been in intense thunderstorms where I saw our big plane hit by lightning on the wing several times and have often prayed to whatever god was listening for a second chance at life even when my plane was above the clouds. But typically the meanest weather and the roughest air is when you’re at or below them.

So I’ve been forcing myself to see every frustration as a passing cloud, even outside of my meditations. When I’m really in a good headspace, I become genuinely curious about the frustration. I wonder where it’s coming from. What underlying belief is it bringing out in me? Do I really believe that or is that something I’ve been programmed to believe? And do I want to keep thinking that? What does this emotion feel like in my body? Where does it live? Have I ignored it before and there’s a lot of residual emotions in that particular location? And so on…

Once I had the cloud realization about flying, I’ve been able to approach it with a lot more patience and surrender. The air will be whatever it wants to be. I can’t control it. I can simply experience and learn from it. And I can wait for the moment we clear the clouds and enjoy the “cruising altitude” for however long it lasts.

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Interruptions

The more you learn about listening, the more you realize what a skill it actually is. It’s something everyone can do, sure. But it’s not something everyone is necessarily good at.  And I’m not just talking about listening with your ears. There are lots of ways to listen. Yet we often do whatever is the bare minimum and whatever is easiest.

Have you ever been listened to? Like, really really listened to? The type of listened to where you can feel it in your bones? Where when you’re done speaking or communicating (however it may be) there’s a pause while the recipient takes it in and further validates that you were really listened to and not just heard?

So many times in conversations we just wait for our turn to talk. We may be thinking of something or want to steer the dialogue in one direction, so we obsess with getting our thoughts out so that we can talk about the thing we want to talk about. It’s not listening. It’s patiently waiting for your turn to scream into the void towards a specific person who is also only hearing you while they patiently wait for their turn to talk.

I hope you get listened to. It’s a wonderful feeling.

I make it a point to listen often and as much as I can. I don’t always nail it. But I do make a consistent effort. And because I’m often willing to be more patient and listen more intensely than your average bear, I find myself often interrupted by people who are so eager to get their thing out, they can’t wait another moment. My usual immediate reaction is to defensively and interrupt them back to steer the conversation where I wanted to go. My other typical reaction is to quietly get frustrated and judge the person who interrupted me. Who are they, after all, to think their ideas are more important than my own?

But I’ve recently changed tactics a bit. I’ve realized that by getting frustrated at people who constantly interrupt and judge them, I’m wasting energy wishing for them to be someone they are not. Or I’m wasting energy putting too much clout into their thought process behind the interruption. As if they meant to do so as an outward act of aggression. Or by actively waiting for them to stop talking so I can get back to my thing, I’m wasting energy sitting on pins and needles rather than just going with the flow of the conversation.

So I’ve been making an effort now to stop wasting energy. Instead, I’m going to view interruptions as an opportunity. They’re a chance to actively work on staying present. They’re a chance to practice my flexibility and willingness to just go with the flow.

And they’re a chance for me, most importantly, to listen.

The Power of Silence

When I perform, my favorite sound in the world is laughter or giggles or some sort of visceral response (ideally not a “boo”). I like to hear it. I like when everybody hears it. I like when people hear themselves.

I like that the organized noises I make with my mouth make other humans make noises with their body. It’s fun.

I don’t usually think of performing comedy like that. It’s a weird way to phrase it, sure. But I was thinking about it in the context of silence. Of pause. Of quiet. I was thinking about how I’m obsessed with responses. I want a giggle, even if holding off a little bit might get me a bigger laugh. Over the years, I’ve had to learn to pace myself more. To slow down. To enjoy the pauses. To…

…wait for it.

Sometimes when I see excellent performances, I’m reminded of how powerful pauses are. But over the weekend, I saw a show that was done by people who never actually spoke. I saw The Blue Man Group in Las Vegas. Without ever once saying anything, they made me laugh heartily for the full show (they did have a little monitor that spoke and a voiceover every once in a while to forward the bits).

It was magic.

Throughout the course of the performance, I often had to remind myself that they had said nothing. They communicated so much with their expressions and with the games they were playing and their physicality, that I was never at a loss for what was happening. And they relished in the silences. Maybe partly because they only exist in a curious silence themselves, the quiet doesn’t bother them. Or maybe cause they so trust in the show and in themselves that they know a little quiet is just a set up for a huge laugh. Whatever it was, it was pure delight.

There’s a ton of audience interaction in the show. The fact that they never once say anything makes the interaction even more satisfying. You know what they want without them actually asking it. And seeing people play along made my little imagination squeal with joy.

I even got to go onstage and interact with them for a while.

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One of the Blue Men kept eyes on me as they wandered the crowd. I was cracking up at it and said, in my head, “Yeah sure I’m down to play if you all want.” I guess he heard it because before I knew it, I was having a bizarro Twinkie dinner with the three Blue Men onstage.

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I know I was the only one talking. Usually I was just cracking up or saying “okay, okay, okay, sure.” But at no point did I feel like I was the only one communicating. Without saying anything, they got me to (attempt to) light a candle. They got me to open Twinkie wrappers for them and then subsequently clean them up. They got me to bop my head along to some music. They got me to eat Twinkie bites with them and even feed them Twinkie bites. And they even fed me some weird banana stuff that I tried not to eat at first then was like, “Yeah, sure I’m down to play if you want” (which happened to be the very thought that likely got me onstage in the first place).

They took a picture at the perfect moment, of course.

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After the bit was one, they helped lead me offstage and two of them squeezed by hand twice as a signal that I felt like was a “thank you” or “good job.” Whatever it was, I just played along and continued to enjoy the rest of the show.

When the show was over, we were meandering in the lobby and one of the Blue Men ran up dramatically. He smiled and I said “Hello! I’m married but that was the best date of my life!” He smiled again (maybe it was just with his eyes? I don’t think they actually smile now that I’m thinking about it. Anyway, we took a picture and then he turned to me, covered his mouth and quietly said “That was amazing.”

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That’s all he said. That’s all he had to say. Because he had spent so much time silent, the power of those simple words were enough. I felt like my goal of being present and playful was achieved if this Blue Man was willing to break his vow of silence to let me know the energy was appreciated.

I thanked him profusely for the opportunity and the incredible work they do. He just nodded and continued pictures with the crowd that had formed around him. I then showed off my blue paint to my husband and threatened to leave him for the Blue Men.

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My point is, I’m a talker. Sure, I’m expressive and use my expressive face to get my points across and make people laugh. But talking is my security blanket. It’s the way I trust myself most to communicate. And getting laughs in response to what I’m saying makes me feel safe. Drama is terrifying to me because you don’t get laughs, you get silence. Things where you have to wait for a payoff are terrifying because you don’t get immediate responses, you have to wait in the delicious silence for the gratification.

I guess right now my life is in a bit of a silence. I’m doing things, but it’s not making enough noise to get the responses I’m comfortable with. I don’t feel validated in the ways that I get to feel when I’m onstage and throwing out jokes or listening to people laugh at something I’ve created. I have to just trust in the process. As an audience member, I enjoyed the silences. I wasn’t thinking “when’s the next laugh?” I was simply thinking, “This is wonderful I hope they keep it up.”

Maybe I should start thinking of myself as both the performer and the audience member in my own life. Rather than desperately needing the immediate validation, recognize that there are times when it’s necessary to relish in the quiet. Sometimes a little quiet for a good set up means a bigger response in the future. So just sit back and enjoy it.

And, of course, keep working.

 

Thinking Your Own Thoughts

I was on an airplane the other day having a hard time. I’m not a great flyer. The stress of nearly missing the flight did a toll on my body. I hadn’t slept much the night before. I was on a different timezone. The only food I had that day was hotel breakfast, coffee, beer, and some fried mac and cheese balls. I needed real food and space to move. My body was pissed.

I decided rather than trying to work or be productive on this late night flight where I felt like garbage, I’d just watch movies. I normally let a movie or a TV show on a flight be a treat rather than the norm. But on this flight, I needed to just keep my mind distracted from the various (understandable) whining happening in my body.

The only movie that looked interesting was “Leave No Trace.”

It was slow. The acting was great. The writing was refreshing. The cinematography was beautiful. And it was so different than so many blockbuster films I’ve recently seen. I loved it.

More importantly, it kept me from murdering my seat mate out of pure hungry rage. So that was nice.

leave no trace 2

There was a line in the movie that stuck out to me and has been in my head since I heard it (the sign of a really good story). In the film, the father and daughter purposely choose to live on the outskirts of society, wandering in the woods and staying off technology. At one point, their circumstances change and they have access to more technology. The daughter, who has spent more of her life completely off-the-grid, is somewhat anxious about what this means for their relationship to each other and to the world. The father assures her that, even with the distractions presented around them now, they can “still think our own thoughts.”

That line resonated with me. I’m by no means anti-technology. I participate (albeit often begrudgingly) in social media. I have a phone. I take my laptop on every trip I go on.

But I’m part of that older millennial generation that grew up in our formative years without it. I spent a lot of time looking out windows, playing in my back yard, creating stuff for the fun of it.

This is weird, but whatever – you’re here and reading this so you deserve a fun little weird tidbit. I used to love to lay upside down on a recliner and imagine that the world was flipped and the ceiling was the floor and the floor was the ceiling.

Yes, really.

The point is, I spent a lot of time thinking my own thoughts. I let my mind wander. My brain grew up with the understanding that it’s important to be present and it’s important to formulate your own thoughts and choose to spend your time in ways you feel drawn to (rather than are accidentally addicted to).

Like many people my age, I was an early adopter of texting and cellphone technology. I’ve been on YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram all almost since they started. I was even part of that generation that needed a college email in order to get a Facebook account.

Stories for another time.

The point is, I’ve let social media and technology interweave and change my brain and my lifestyle without much thought. And now that I’m realizing the repercussions of that, I’m trying to give it some thought. My own thoughts. Not the responses or reactions of other people that the web is inundated with.

When I heard that line from the movie, I realized that, out of habit, I tend to let my mind wander on other people’s thoughts and creations rather than letting it wander on my own musings and observations like it used to. I’ve swung the pendulum far too far in one direction and it’s time to come back the other way.

not a drill

A world without social media or technology isn’t a world that exists anymore. But I can choose to create a world that better balances its existence with my own priorities. I can create a world where I participate in technology but don’t let it control me.

I can choose to create a world where I still think my own thoughts.