The Tower of Babble

My decade of birth (1950s) places me squarely in the first generation to have a steady, daily diet of other people’s stories. Take a moment to think about this idea. Human beings have always had a fascination with other people’s stories as witnessed by the tribal oral tradition and the presence of ritual and theatre in most every culture. Telling stories has been the way we preserve our knowledge, pass down traditions, reach out to and teach each other. And with today’s technology, the stories are told with light, sound, imagery, music, and words, all of which are created and ride on the fastest vibrations/oscillational cycles that we know. In the meantime, we sit – still, focused and absorbing and reflecting all of this vibration. Perhaps that is the deeper meaning embedded in Marshall McLuhan’s oft-quoted idea – “The medium is the message.” On a quantum level, vibration is the medium of everything. Everything we experience is, in essence, coming to us in packets of oscillating waves. These thoughts have me wondering about the impact of giving so much time and attention to the daily deluge of mediated stories. Just as we are waking up to the toxins in what we eat, are we waking up to the toxic vibrations in the stories we focus our attention upon? What types of stories do you focus your attention upon?

I was raised with television. My grandfather was an avid photographer and I have boxes of slides he took of his two oldest grandchildren, me and my brother, Brad. An innordinate number of slides are labeled “Judy and Brad watching TV”. Television was the distraction I could count on when my world went topsy-turvy, as worlds sometimes do. Our family was a pop culture family and our television was on all day, everyday. So I learned a lot about the world, people and relationships from television…

and movies!! As an adolescent, I loved movies! What a special treat it was to make a plan to go see a “moving picture story” with a friend. Or better still, gather the family together in the car and go to the drive-in! What was it about the drive-in? Drive-ins may have been my first taste of the surreal. Outside at night in a field of cars, in my pajamas, swinging on a playground set under a gigantic glowing screen teaming with big-heads having what seemed to be lives, their voices clamoring around me through hundreds of tinny speakers. They laughed, they fought, they acted in interesting and dramatic ways. Underneath it all, a little girl sits on a swing and wonders about having a life of her own.

Fast forward over fifty years later and I often think if my child self could have envisioned heaven, it would be NOW! The access to moving picture stories is astounding. The forms are myriad and we seem to be amazed and mesmorised by the sheer quantity of them. Think about all of the stories you encounter during one day of your life. The morning news shows, talk shows, tweets, Facebook posts, songs, reality shows, crime shows, lunchtime conversations, movies, documentaries, theatre, performance art, etc. While I have immensely enjoyed and employed the creative juice and opportunities this “world of the constant story” has to offer, it is becoming clear that too much Heaven can become a kind of Hell.

I often think that we live in the time of the Tower of Babel/Babble. For me, the Tower is a metaphor for all of our unique takes on “Truth” that are vorasciously asserted primarily through the many forms of media. Everybody gets to chime in for up to 140 characters or show up in an Instagram picture (worth a thousand words – seems like a better deal). Inside the Tower it is extremely loud and clamorous. When I spent a lot of time there, I felt confused, bemused, frequently powerless and angry, anxious, but always trying to put on a good face. There is a lot of drama in the Tower – that is the energy underneath the “babeling”. It is a crowded, edgy place always on the verge of or in the midst of outrage. Spending too much time there eventually will make a human being sick both emotionally and physically. Before that happens, though, it can be fun, funny, enlightening, compelling, educational and bigger than all of us. (Or so it seems.) Give it one piece of your attention and it takes you all in. And it is so much damn fun- we bond and build community around the next big thing, our honored legends, latest shows, favorite sports teams and political causes. There is actually quite a bit of love and connection there, too. I don’t want to throw it all away. What to do, what to do?

That is a good place to start – with some questions. Only recently have I appreciated the power of questions. As one who thoroughly enjoys “making meaning” out of my lived experiences, I have always been a fan of speculative conclusions. Discern and figure out what it is. This collapses the waveform and reduces potentialities. Now I am working with asking questions and waiting for the answers. This process takes patience and faith, both of which I have often lacked. What stories am I focusing my attention on? How do I feel when I focus on these stories? Do I ponder any aspect of the story after it has concluded? Does any aspect of the story stay with me as I move through my lived experience? How does remembering the story feel?

Pay close attention to reveries. While this is a bit like chasing one’s tail, because reveries overtake us in the moment, once I “wake up” from a reverie, I am left with a feeling. That is the moment to stop and focus on the breath and check in with my body. If the feeling is good, breath in and release with appreciation. If shoulders are tense, back or head aches, breathe in three full breaths. Use Emotional Freedom Technique and give voice to the feeling to encourage it to pass through and release. Sleep. Cry. We move so fast inside the Tower, we forget how to slow down and be with ourselves in healing.

Pay close attention ro the stories that you tell other people. This is the mirror of the premise that we love other people’s stories, and equally as vibrant. What is the first thing I would tell a stranger about myself? Why that? Why tell a stranger anything? Create space around the stories for questions like these: what picture am I painting of my world with this story? Who do I think I am?

And no matter who you may be, give the news media as little of your attention as you possibly can. The news and the people who shape the news stories are all in a big circus together. It is obvious when the most insightful news shows of our day are on Comedy Central, that the news has become a parody of itself. And in that parody, they jump up and down and fan the flames of ANY and ALL controversy. They discourage dialogue and make news when nothing is actually there. And many of us can not look away even when the stories are ridiculous or innane. This is the place to start- these are the easiest stories to shake loose. When I focus attention on a story in a mindless, surfing the web kind of way, before I click on it I ask, “Is this really important to me?” That usually stops me. Another good question: “Is this any of my business?” That one is full of baggage for most of us because there is much confusion about what is my business and what is NOT my business. It takes continuing reflection to discern this and most of us take as our business a whole lot more than we actually own. I have always thought the Serenity Prayer was about that very thing. I can easily change what is my business; it is a struggle, an uphill battle to change all that is NOT my business.

I am making a choice to disengage from the Tower as much as possible to maintain my health and well-being. I know not everyone is in a position to do that. Creating a good chunk of time with yourself in connection with something you love can provide reminders of a world where your body is healthy, your heart is full of love and your mind is still and open. That place is ALWAYS available to us, but can be obscured by the maelstorm around us when inside the Tower.

Awaken and heal-thy self! (as my friend Omar would say)

Where is Love? – Healing the Third Chakra

The idea of, the sense of, the smell, taste and feel of…love has pre-occupied me from birth. Seriously! I came into being with an up- tight third chakra, a vunerability point for my clan. Grandfather Barnes comforted me through colic-y nights saying, “There, there, I understand.” for he too had a heaviness/tightness in the third chakra. I was eight when he died, but I remember something about pain, clots and his death coming from this part of the body. I see him in Child’s Pose in bed, doubled over this pain in his mid-section.

This chakra is called the Solar Plexus chakra, and is located in the gut. This is the chakra of will and manifestation, and it is deeply affected by shame, guilt and self-consciousness. My experience with the third chakra is as the home for grief, dread, anxiety, and feelings of deep unworthiness and shame. Who does not remember that beautiful song “Where is Love?” from the musical Oliver. Simply singing that first line can create a cavernous hole in that third chakra. It is the chakra of longing for love. At the same time, it is the home to joy, excitement, exuberance and feelings of community and connection – love in action. The difference is that the first set of feelings sinks down into the stomach, becoming a ball-like black hole that sucks everything down into it. It hurts! The other set of feelings releases, relaxes, rises up creating openness, spaciousness, and the feeling of relief. Also notice that in the first instance, there is longing for love. In the second, love just is. Important distinctions to pay attention to.

There is a symbiotic, energetic relationship between the solar plexus and the heart chakra. The heart emanates the loving vibration that the solar plexus delivers into the world. And if that third chakra gives/receives the love through filters of self-conciousness, defensiveness, need or over-sensitivity, then loving action can be inhibited or overblown or twisted in some way. Thus we see so many people acting in ways that do not seem loving, that often seem to be the opposite of love. And while the heart does not need to ask, the solar plexus does! And what exactly are the questions the solar plexus should ask?

One very important question to ask anytime you experience a powerful reaction in your gut – Is this true? Can I absolutely know what I am feeling/thinking is true? This usually pulls the rug out from under any shame, guilt, feeling of unworthiness. (These questions are effective because there is no absolute truth, we are all making it up as we go. The best bumpersticker advice I ever got was “Don’t Believe Everything You Think”.) This is the first step in waking up from the stories we tell ourselves. Those two questions (and more) are part of The Work of Byron Katie, a psycho-spiritual process that really helps ro reduce suffering and increase joy. The more I ask these questions, the more the world opens up. It gets bigger rather than smaller, and if there is one thing contemporary science has taught us it is that there is A LOT of S P A C E everywhere. When your thoughts are on your side, you build trust with and feel more comfortable in that spaciousness.

Another technique I have used to strengthen the third chakra is Emotional Freedom Technique. You often see it referred to as “the tapping solution”. I like this technique because the emotion is expressed and released in the moment of feeling it. This is very powerful and can be used with both deeply seated emotions and ones that move through quickly. There is a series of accupressure points on the head and torso that are tapped as you speak the emotion, giving it nuance and emphasis, describing it in detail. As I tap and talk, the emotion shifts – it is important to articulate those shifts as well. I am using EFT on several long term stories I tell myself that are NOT true. It has effect on any discomfort or disease.

Crying is a great relief to the heart and solar plexus chakras. Everybody has a different relationship to tears. They often overwhelm me, choke me up, and, in the past, racked me with sobs. I remember my Mother telling me she wished she could cry- this during the time when my Father’s memory was going and her Mother’s home had burned, and she was trying to get her settled in a new living situation. Why couldn’t she cry? I don’t know. She seemed to fear being out of control. There was a lot she wouldn’t talk about. I don’t know and I wish I did. What I do know is that tears well up from a heavy, cramped feeling in the center of my chest. While I have swallowed them at times, I now let them come as they will. EFT with the tears helps them move. A wise friend once told me that you can gauge your healing from old pains by noticing how quickly the tears work their way out. I have one root pain that I once cried for 24 straight hours over; and, now, all I get is two eyefuls of tears, and its gone. So if you can cry, do so. If not, don’t sweat it. Deep breathing into the chakra can be just as effective.

Meditation provides time for centering self and has a positive impact on the third chakra. Taking time each day to follow the breath in and out, in and out, until there is no more in and out. If only for a moment, to feel the tremendous expansive space inside. This space is bigger even then the cosmic heavens we can see so deeply into now. After many days and months of meditating (and not meditating), you realize that this state that you formally visit each day through your breath is actually with you all the time. We tend to get so caught up in our stories that we lose our sense of this constant companion who comes in with us, walks with us through our entire lived experience (no one else can do this) and pulls us over when it is time to leave. This realization, this knowing and hearing the guidance within, is the Balm in Gilead for the wounded third chakra.

This companion, who we let in when we are still and quiet, is the ultimate healer for depression, anxiety, worry and fear, and always comes to us on the breath. Notice how, when you are all bound up in worry and fear, a deep breath or three will cut through those bonds and make space. All the things that I fret, plan, defend, try to figure out and hope for, I turn over to that larger part of me that brought me here and is guiding me. That is where faith comes in, in that moment of turning over, of letting go. Then the most amazing thing happens – you feel lighter, more energized, and you expend that energy on appreciating something in this moment, which gives energy back to you, and the cycle of life is renewed. And that simple cycle of presence, attention and appreciation is the movement of love incarnate. Which is why you were brought here in the first place.

The companion has a very distinct voice. The voice is sure and reassuring; it is, after all, the voice of love. Any voices that create feelings of hate, fear, worry, dread, suspicion, anxiety are the ones that need to be questioned first. When those voices quiet down, the voice of love and joy that brought you here will speak loud and clear.

God is love! All the rest is human contrivance.

Addendum: And some human contrivance is useful. Here is a link to some yogic approaches to healing the third chakra. I don’t find all of these useful at the moment; they are good to know. We need a variety of maleable tools for discerning how things are with us and how they are changing. We are never done. What a relief!