We could make a game of picking them out of the crowds, they are the creatures who glow, in their spritely luminescence you may notice an impish glint in their eyes. The poised and if well-seasoned, they may even be able to levitate from the terrestrial sphere and stand upright on their heads. They are yogis and they could very well be taking over the world as more and more studios are popping up and raving about the benefits of doing yoga. Want more strength, endurance, balance, a physical routine which simultaneously calms and invigorates you? Then yoga may be worth a try for you. If you pop into a class and observe the blend of beginners and experts the stunning postures are dazzling to behold. When I admire the graceful transitions, forward and back, up and down, down and up, yes, these are indeed the subtle and dramatic motions of life. The sequences of Sun A’s and Sun B’s attracting and sustaining huge crowds of devotees, could it be that those postures and their meaning mirror the major stages of the life cycle itself? Were those ancient yogis offering us a message far beyond strong muscles and calm breathe, were they providing wisdom to better navigate the circle of life?
The basic structure of a Vinyasa class begins in a child’s pose or downward facing dog, like an infant sensing its basic surroundings we begin to notice the sensations within our bodies. Attunement to the heart rate and its responsiveness to expanding the lungs upon a full breath, the very first moments, linking motion to breathing in an effort to create an inner harmonization of our self, and attention guided inward.
Once breathing has been linked to subtle motion we begin Sun Salutation A, these poses are often fast paced and designed to build the heart rate while increasing strength over the long term. In the beginning of life as energetic toddlers we are at once eager to move and flow with the height of our energy and the wonder which beckons each motion. Even the term, Sun Salutations implies waking to a new day, greeting the glorious morning sun with the heightened morning chi. At times we may notice that we are struggling to maintain our breath as a focal point, the breathe is the powerhouse which energetically fuels each motion.
Sun Salutations B, or Surya Namaskar is an elaboration upon the budding strength of the Sun A sequence. Here we continue to reach for the heavens with our arms our stretched, and with our hearts open in faith; we fall bending into ourselves before finding our bodies completely upon the earth. Remembering to be strong while we stretch sending breathe to our trembling muscles when they want to give up. The instructor stands at the front reminding gently, just breathe, with the fire of the breathe all strength becomes energized and relaxation is possible even in the most complex posture. All of this motion to build the strength much as the child ever growing taller and stronger as she moves through the stages of life.
From the strength and exhaustion cultivated through the sun salutations many instructors will move on to a balancing series. Balance takes even more strength and ideally our youth and teen years have afforded us the strength to stand up and fortify the balance which is sustained by our budding strength. Flowing through Crow, Balancing Half Moon, Airplane, Dancers Pose we breathe with our drishti or point of focus alignment, allowing ourselves to tremble while holding our poise. There will be times when you fall, the postures are complex and each day is different-sometimes our muscles feel weak and our balance is wobbly, no matter how hard you fall you must get back up, it is not yet time to quit or rest states your inner yogi. Invariably you may learn in early and middle adulthood as you aim to acquire the balance of spouse, children, career, aging parents, we realize that balance does indeed fluctuate on a daily basis, we do our best. We hold our strength trying to remember to breath, enjoy the opportunities to smile, and remain present throughout while flowing through these roles of life.
As we gracefully propel ourselves to the hip opening sequence we are subtly reminded that all things which stand erect will eventually fall back to the ground. In our hip openers we are able to relax into all of that strength and effort which has been building in our bodies. All of the tension which we build is actively released as is this thing that we call life. Sometimes the greatest challenge that we have is to remain within stillness and unlock the pain and stress which is stored deep within the memory of our muscles. Oftentimes the most unusual thoughts may occur as you are settling into the tight hips, during the hip openers allow your mind to become aware of what it is thinking, it could be a great thought to journal about at a later time.
One of the final sequences to a yoga practice are the inversions such as head stand. Please do not fret, if you have not yet cultivated the ability to balance your entire body upside down upon your forearms then the less challenging shoulder stand is a great option. The most essential component of this series is to yield your freshly oxygenated blood towards the brain while simultaneously slowing one’s self down, towards the limp bodied finale. In very old age, we often invert ourselves as the realities of changing bodies are stated with cosmic exactitude, we feel ourselves slow. Inverting oneself with legs in the air, balancing precariously on one’s own stamina can be a source of much pride. It takes much strength and repetitive falls to experience the of glory of gravities defiance, just as any worthwhile life accomplishment it must be worked towards in increments after developing strength and balance.
The final pose for every last thing within the known universe, it comes after we have known the exhilaration of a hastened heartbeat, the process of learning to melt into the matt until we are able to find comfort in stillness. Final relaxation, Dead Man’s pose or Shivasana in Sanskrit. If your practice has been done well and you have taken advantage of each opportunity for movement then your relaxation may be approached with gratitude as the heart beat slows. Those sweat beads ebbing and drying, the body cooling down, and as the mind meanders in meditation you may recall that within this hour on the yoga matt you have experienced the very rhythm which hallmarks life. From the moments of your infancy where you are crawling on your hands and knees, discovering balance and learning to walk and the greater complexities of those balancing series. Later in life relaxing into the self during later adulthood until the very last breathe of shivasana, final relaxation. As your instructor beckons from this highly restorative pose and the body is summoned to bow while uttering “Namaste,” meaning the goodness in me salutes the goodness in you. Perhaps the rest of your day will somehow be a bit lighter, a bit more enthusiastic after working out those internal stresses and calming the breath. The intimate yogic knowledge that today is yet another day of life, fully colorful and abundant life which is to be expressed joyfully in all of these motions before that cosmic and eternal, final relaxation.
by Stephanie McCrackenJune 10, 2013 counseling, mindfulness, personal growth, Uncategorized0 comments
The Life Inside
Standing in the grocery store checkout, there is much more to do here besides the typical exchange of money for some organic fruits and veggies. With a certain measure of guilt, my eyes invariably peruse the tabloids which today, are making “news” of Kim Kardashian’s pregnancy weight. While I am outraged by the headlines declaring “200lbs and only 6mos” they crassly mock her maternity wear as “A fashion No, No.” Ms. Kardashian has seldom been the object of pity but when taking a moment to reflect upon a nation that is so completely obsessed with beauty, weight, and plastic surgery that is has become acceptable to ridicule a pregnant woman’s’ weight? This “news publication” makes a headline out of each pound of her growing form so that it may be scrutinized by millions of grocery isle readers as they, much like me, stand next to an abundance of Snickers and Reese’s Cups? I must ask, have we forgotten the sacredness to her growing form? There is a life inside of her you know, a life which in its quest for sustenance beckons Ms. Kardashian’s appetite for nutrition, despite what her thighs may want. Yet this obsession with physical form and aesthetic perfection is an epidemic of worldwide proportions, while reading my musings I would like you to consider one question. If our televisions and popular reading material are any indicator, it seems that our culture mandates us to manicure our exterior images until they are perfectly reflected from the mirror. My question is this, what are we avoiding while we daftly reflect upon our aesthetics which blankly stare back at us from those glassy surfaces?
Once while I was journeying through the Peruvian Andes, I observed a tiny, wrinkled, and ancient woman heaving buckets up a dangerously slopped mountainside. Earthen and bound by a foreign code of conduct she carried her load one small step at a time, graciously imparting a smile of browned and cracked teeth to anyone who may pass her direction. At once I realized why I hadn’t seen a single fitness center in the entire village. Most people throughout the world struggle to maintain health or as many Americans would be compelled to describe, “stay thin” by participating in activities which sustain their lives. The people in the 2nd and 3rd worlds think not of “staying thin” but of maintaining health by eating enough food so that they do not perish. The whole, “thin is in” paradigm has ironically had its grips on Americans for a century despite the fact that many within our nation suffer from the dangerous epidemic of obesity. All of those diet pills marketed to the western world would be a misnomer if you found yourself in Mauritania. In this nomadic tribe the cultural norm proclaims that “bigger is better.” For a Mauritanian beauty is found within grand and bulbous layers of plump flesh. Can you imagine if the grocery checkout was filled with magazine images of women in their bikini, proudly flaunting bulging tufts of cellulite and fat rolls?
Alas this is America and we exalt the skinny girl, svelte body, fat free kind of look except when it comes to our face and our lips because for facial contours plumper is better! Even beyond the multiple lip glosses and creams promising to give the user full and pouty lips the medical community has revolutionized a whole line of “fillers.” For the price of a luxury car payment one can have hyaluronic acids injected into sallow contours of the face all in an effort to fill up that fat loss that happens as a result of normal aging. What is it that we want to avoid by covering up those wrinkles, filling in the signs of age? Why would life be like if we allowed it to be what it really is?
Imagine what it would be like to live life in the Eastern part of the globe, countries where some women do not enjoy dark skin tones. While I was backpacking throughout Thailand, I noticed an array of dangerous bleaching creams and bleaching powders intended to morph flesh into the most albino shade of white that almond shaped eyes had ever seen! It’s not just the Thai culture but many Asian and African cultures that want to turn their skin from chestnut, cinnamon, and chocolate shades to pale and creamy tones. Yet, in America, many of those that possess those milky white skin colors read the pages of Vogue and Cosmopolitan to instead learn how to turn the color of their flesh into the “perfect golden bronze.” If powders and cream aren’t enough one could always submit to a bout of “tanorexia” and bake in a tanning booth until cancer has sprouted from the flesh. Why are humans all over the globe attempting to change the color of their flesh at the risk of their health?
Until the early 20th century foot binding was a common cultural practice in China. Girls as young as 4 would have their toes broken and wrapped in such a way that they would cease to grow as men found these tiny feet to be most beautiful. What a paradox for those here in modern America, we offer heels so high that a lady will be able to sniff the heavens while cautiously lurching onward into the day or night. If you attempt to sport a pair of these stiletto heels it very well may end up being an evening spent grasping for the nearest handrail until your blistered and raw toes hurt so badly that even though you look incredible by today’s smoky eye, stilt walking standard, you cannot possibly take another step. Remember the wartime mantra as you plod onward, “beauty is pain, pain is beauty.”
I imagine you seated somewhere reading this little essay, squinting in disbelief at the paradoxes inherent in the world of glitz, glamour, and beauty or perhaps you are not squinting at all! Facial expression has allowed humans to evolve by our ability to communicate subtle and intricate emotions. Consider all that is communicated in the raise of a brow or narrowing of the eyes, nonverbal conveyances employed by the human species for the last few hundred thousand years, but forget about that because according to the latest polls smooth foreheads are “in” and there is a full scale attack upon “the squint.” Cosmo states that facial expression is soooooo out of Vogue! Please don’t worry your pretty little faces or attempt to bat your frozen lashes! We have a quick fix for that and all other things! Doctors are able to inject your forehead, lips, and eyes with botulism. Yes, that’s right; the historically toxic and even lethal bacteria “botulism” is now bottled and sold under the name Botox. Men and women are paying enormous sums of money to have this substance injected into facial nerves, with a promise that their formerly fluid expressions will now remain immobile. Paralytic motion is the aim of treatment because motion causes wrinkles and wrinkles mean, umm…that you’re aging????? The FDA has also approved Botox as helpful for profuse sweating, while humans sweat to detoxify and cool their bodies but alas sweat must go because sweating may interfere with one’s ability to be seamlessly “pretty”.
If anyone out there still has a mobile eyebrow you may raise when you learn that in 2007 Americans spent 95 BILLION dollars on beauty, hair, and skin products! With the myriad of options to alter oneself, thinner, plumper, whiter, tanner, taller, smoother, oh how the list could go on, there are options for you! It seems however, that in all of this exterior rebuffing there is still something that many of us are neglecting. You won’t find this on the label of your favorite designer, “The most invigorating sensations are far from the cosmetic isles or fashion boutiques!” Has the color palette of your eye shadow trio ever mirrored the feeling that you get when you stop to watch the Atlantic crash into pebble and sand beaches? Do you ever make time to admire that fiery orb dip below or above the horizon, or consider the wispy tufts of clouds meandering across the sky submitting to some cosmic law that defies definition or human intervention? Take a moment to see beyond the compact and notice that the best place to reflect is a some quiet and placid place on a newly discovered pond hidden deep within the forest. Nature has some mystical secrets to teach you. Today seems like it’s a wonderful day to leave the heels in the closet and choose todays outfit solely on its ability to offer comfort. Allow your brows to form joyously contorted expressions while looking out at the world or into your heart and mind. A small message to close, whether you’re like Miss Kardashian and 8 months pregnant or not interested in ever having a baby, please remember that there is much more to the eye than the fleshy surface, for each and every one of us, THERE IS LIFE INSIDE. It is my hope that we can each create the day where we use the majority of our time to polish the soul, exfoliate the heart, and bronze the emotions. A shiny self-reflection begins when we take a moment to look inside, what and how does your mind do its thinking, what kinds of emotions color the terrain of your perception, what types of words do you use to describe your daily experience, what is the quality of your relationship to your friends, family, coworkers? Let us all find that behind those manicured reflections, the most sacred place is the one that exists deep within you, and when you encourage yourself to take that glimpse into your inner sanctum, just what does your mind say about what it sees?
In health and Wellness,
Stephanie McCracken MSPC
Reviving Minds Therapy
Offering Psychotherapy and Marriage Counseling
1010 Western Avenue Pittsburgh Pa 15233
Being mindful of your breathing is one of the easiest and fastest ways to evoke a sense of calm, become centered, and re-energize. Our regular contributor and resident wellness guru, Stephanie McCracken, shares her insights and techniques on breathing and its meditative powers and benefits. Enjoy!
In Good Health,
Don Laird, MS, NCC, LPC
Breathe By Stephanie McCracken, MS
Everyone does it. So if you don’t mind my asking, when was the last time that you really did it? When was the last time you allowed it to propel you to the heights of Nirvana only to have it gently slide you back down into limp flesh, relaxed? I bet many of you didn’t even know that it could be so good, like sweet cream on a warm summer’s evening. After all, this very act sustains the life you are living.
I want to share with you the secrets of doing it really well. I will warn you, it’s not as simple as it seems. It takes training, discipline and wisdom if you really want to experience its full potential. Take some time for yourself. This time will give you the chance to develop tools that will offer an opportunity for clarity, strength, calm, and wisdom throughout all parts of your living and being.
Come. Take some time. Breathe with me.
There is a common misconception that we know all that we need to about the breathing process. After all, isn’t it our first physical act once emerging from the warmth of the womb? Yet, there are gurus, yogis, monks and other wellness facilitators who devote a lifetime of practice to this complex and exhilarating act. As with most everything, what you see is not what you necessarily get because there are many layers of power to be harnessed and experienced within the act of breathing.
Let us journey to our core. Begin by sitting in a chair in an upright position. Now close your eyes, allow them to gently block the outside world. Find yourself in a warm, tranquil space that exists on the backside of your eyelids. You notice the beating of your heart as it pushes warm, oxygen rich blood to the rest of your body. Begin to connect with the rest of your physical self. Notice the distinct calm feeling in your hands as they rest on the tops of your legs. Open your palms in a position of reception for the energy that is coming toward you. Accept this as a gift, a connection from the universe to you. Your feet should be planted flat on the ground. Notice how the floor feels beneath them. What does it feel like to be connected to something as grand as the earth?
Now that you are settled in a peaceful position, we are going to go even deeper inside. Take a slow and steady inhalation through your nose. Feel the warmth of the air as it makes it ascent from the tip of your nose and fills the back of your throat. Feel your shoulders rise as the air continues to spill inside of your chest, filling you down to the bottom of your belly which has expanded to allow the air space inside.
This breath feeds and nourishes your body as you hold the inhalation and very slowly, let it go, let it go, let it go. The act of taking in should match the process of letting go, equal strength and time allotted to each of them. Notice how your body softens as you exhale, feel your shoulders falling as the tightness disappears from your neck and your brow. Now let’s fill our lungs again, taking in the rich air which surrounds us. All that is full of life and power brings the breath into us until we are full. Now hold the breath as your chest expands and your belly begins to soften on the release. These sacred breaths allow everything within you to fall naturally and evenly away, as you savor in the calm which washes over you on the exhale.
Take attention to your body. Feel the energy coursing through your hands and legs. Such supple feelings of softness as you float in the space behind your eyes. Whatever you are noticing, you are exactly where you should be. You are comforted and cradled in warmth. You are present and you are calm in this moment.
Spend time at least once a day to focus on your breathing and the physical sensations related to it. If you can dedicate 5 or 10 minutes of your hectic day to breathe in this manner, you will notice a greater calm and clarity in the rest of those moments where you are devoted to work and family and all of the other tasks related to living life. Always remember the importance of your breathing. Notice the ever evolving shape and speed of your inhalation and the physical sensations attached to this. Close your eyes and for a brief moment, escape, soothe, relish. There are so many ways to do it simply and elegantly.
Love, peace and happiness,
Audrey Hepburn was once quoted as saying, “Nothing is impossible, the word itself says ‘I’m possible’.” And so our need for a language of creative and global understanding marches on. We are meaning seeking creatures. We need to know what happens when the lights go down and only shadows remain. Words help fill that void. They have the potential to create, cultivate and sustain our souls. Our resident contributor and wellness guru, Stephanie McCracken, taps into the power of language and words in this week’s beautifully simple posting, “The Word.” Enjoy!
In Good Health,
Don Laird, MS, NCC, LPC
The Word by Stephanie McCracken, MS
The written or spoken word, each of these is an abundantly powerful entity. Upon subtle examination we can begin to understand and then perhaps harness their infinite power. Find assurance that words, whether verbal or written, are the building blocks to our relationships with others, our relationship with ourselves and ultimately how we relate to the rest of the known universe. There are countless overly used and somewhat trite aphorisms that guide one toward the powerful secret to which I write, “Think well, speak well, and be well.”
It sounds simple, but what does all of this wellness really mean? For those of you who have already discovered this transformational tool the lesson will be unnecessary, but it will seem the majority of people who I interact with have yet to take note of the vast difference between positive speech and negative speech. This difference draws the distinction between effective and ineffective communication. In the expanse between speech and action we are given the opportunity to enjoy the magnetic and expansive power of attraction which will repel or manifest thoughts, feelings and blessings.
Read the following two passages very closely and unveil the differences inherent in the words…
1) I can’t show you the power of attraction, if you don’t already know its mechanisms then you are living without its effects.
Read closely and notice what you think and feel about the following statement compared with the previous one.
2) The power of attraction is an invisible force, if you are in the process of discovering its components you are on the road to enjoying its effects.
Do you notice that these two sentences are fundamentally similar in their meaning? Yet, by using a few contrasting words the feelings associated with each of them are very different. We would likely find the first statement within a dialogue spoken with any number of words such as: “can’t, won’t, shouldn’t, don’t, never, less.” These words frame the way one perceives the world. They are the words that are used to color interaction with others, and they invariably become part of the way that others remember us and the way that we feel about and understand ourselves. “I can’t ever catch a break in life!” “I never have any luck with men/women.” “I have no money, I’m always broke.” I know a few people who make it a regular habit to speak and think in these terms and interestingly enough, they are almost always right about their poor luck, lack of love, and nonexistent portfolios.
Now think for a moment upon the other end of the spectrum. Do you know any people that typically seem to be in great spirits? That person who is usually smiling and has seemingly good luck? The people who remain confident and calm even when dealing with challenges? Who are these people and how do they develop the skills necessary to enjoy the universe instead of becoming overwhelmed by it? I will share with you a skill that they utilize, perhaps even unconsciously. They think and interact with others in terms of abundance, strengths, and abilities, simple constructs that make all of the difference.
Imagine the person exemplified in the aforementioned paragraph. In communication they would think, “I am going to enjoy the better luck that is waiting for me around the next corner.” “I am ready to enjoy a positive, loving relationship with a man/woman.” “I am working on my money management skills and or finding new employment.” What simple differences in which these individuals order their universe. In the first example there is a sense of helplessness, a poignant hopelessness that says the universe is against me. The latter example highlights someone who has learned the power of words. This is not semantics or simple reframing. This is buying into the words we use to ourselves and others. It is speaking in ways that are constructive and aligned with faith, trust, hope and growth. I ask you to try this small exercise the next time you are feeling overwhelmed and helpless in life. Reclaim your intentions by re-sculpting the terra nova of your inner sanctum and make a change toward the positive.
Even if you don’t necessarily believe everything that you are saying at first, it will be helpful to view yourself as someone developing unto your desires. If you were to choose, right now in this moment, which potentials would you like to expand upon? Choose what feels right for you. Grow, move, release your dreams, hopes and purpose into the ether.
Love, expression and happiness,
by Stephanie McCrackenMay 6, 2013 counseling, couples counseling, couples therapy, marriage counseling, mindfulness, Uncategorized0 comments
Eros, Cupid, and Heart Shaped Boxes of Chocolate
“The Task is not to seek for love but merely to seek and find all of the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” – Rumi
Ah, February. That time of the year when the days slowly begin to increase, while the climate gives us a pining glimpse of why we love the summer months. Yet, in spite of the frostiness outside our bodies, there is warmth in our hearts. They pitter-patter or maybe they simply ooze with affection and reflection, indicating that now is a fine time for us to consider love. Eros in Greek and roman history is the god of passionate love, yet Carl Jung who later uses the work meant something very different by it.
Since the earliest times we have always been fascinated with the topic of romantic love – think Cupid, spritely son of Venus in Roman mythology. His message was quite simple; love is something that simply happens to us. It happens when we meet the perfect person who is our “soul mate.” We are always looking for our other half, the half that the Gods took from us. When we fall in love at first sight, then we have found someone that “fills” our anima or animus archetype particularly well. This match, cut from the same archetypal cloth, will make all of our short comings suddenly dissipate with the fulfillment of this perfection…uh-oh! With such a wishful perception of what it means to fall in love and linger in love, it is no wonder that Cupid’s arrows often result in more pain and disappointment than pleasure.
The desire to be a part of a romantic relationship is a very healthy one. Psychologists, philosophers, media outlets and the public chatter on endlessly about love. Yet sometimes this healthy urge can bring us to the pits of repetitive despair. There are those who seem to be in a new romantic relationship every month. Each liaison is asserted to finally be “the one.” However, as soon as true intimacy begins to take form emotional fears emerge and the person is off to find the next “one.” How about the friend who continually falls for “the one” that she ends up loathing? She embraces an idea of love that soon resembles a battlefield where tears replace laughter and frowns are misaligned, forced smiles. With the advent of social media there are those who increasingly hide behind keyboards instead of taking the risk to experience meaningful human interaction. Perhaps they are so afraid of the risks of love that they choose to stay far away from its possibilities and responsibilities?
Are there those who are simply addicted to love? The Top 40 catalog of popular music for the past 100 years would have us believe so. Recently neuroscientists have identified that there does seem to be a similar pathway which is involved in the formation and sustainment of all addictive behaviors, including an unhealthy need to always be “falling in love.” We know it is there, those who are suffering know that it is unhealthy, yet how do we move beyond the despair of repeatedly engaging in patterns that debase our sense of personal strength and hope?
So, what then is this thing called love? Love is a mutual interest in each other and in other things yet love is also maintenance of individuality and solo pursuits. Love is compassion and care for the self and for the other. Love is respect of the other and of others-in-the-world. Love is both, “I want to append to this person’s happiness and I will continue to be my own happiness.” Love is taking the time to listen and hear, being present with the other. Finally, love is speaking with positive clarity and authenticity to the values wants and needs of me and the other.
Remember when someone told you that love begins where and when you love yourself? Mature love will not sustain itself by an unhappy person trying to bring happiness to another—only the unity of the two nurturing mutual wholeness and happiness can ignite the chemical reaction of true and meaningful love. So if you are plodding along anxiously waiting for “the one” to appear, “the one” who is going to change the gloomy trajectory of your life, you may be waiting a while.
Seizing this moment to respect yourself, to love yourself in an authentic and mature fashion, will eventually ripple out into the ether and present an opportunity for you to experience the love of another in a new and significant way. Perhaps you have some thoughts about love that you would like to share?
by Stephanie McCrackenMay 6, 2013 counseling, couples counseling, mindfulness, personal growth, psychotherapy, Uncategorized0 comments
The Delicate Dance
The delicate dance, our human nature eternally pirouettes. A melodic sway, a hip sashay, and life is brightly illuminated by the sun’s luminosity. Soon the night falls, and we are left contemplating the sepia toned shadows outlining the nocturne. Darkness and light, yin and the yang, animus and anima, life and death, each of these do flow within us, watering the gardens of our souls. There is more to consider as our ever present opposites are further knotted by the presence of a shadow. This opaque sum of us that follows the persona, as it is cast to the ground for all eternity. How is it that we seldom bring our shadow to the truth of light? Instead, we tend to leave it bereft in the unconscious parts of our selves where it unleashes even greater power in an effort to be noticed and heard. Allow us to remember that there is wisdom in the darkness.
As a woman, my family and friends, indeed culture at large, exerts a strong influence upon me to nurture the archetypal image of the “Great Mother” female. For a woman this means that we are to be social, nurturing of our close friendships and the cohesive glue and bleeding matriarch for our families. She is the ever doting caretaker who will sacrifice any moment of indulgence for her husband and children. I applaud these women. Yet, it took me years to appreciate this domestic scene. As a child I did not prefer to play with toy dolls and strollers. I was most happy to run, imagine, and read books.
Primavera by Botticelli, courtesy wikimedia.org
We should always remember what a challenging duty being a mother is. To nurture a family and watch it grow is one of the greatest gifts of all. Yet, even for the most tireless caregivers, balance is always the highest function. My animus has always been a bit more developed. I am driven toward increasing my abilities which remain outside of our conventional domestic sphere. Female executives recognize the trade-offs and cultural misgivings of assertiveness and flaunting success outside the home. These women are often relegated to the social sidelines as “bitches.” Sadly, there are still many who have a difficult time understanding women who do not subscribe to the preconceived notion of “what they should be.” Now we see the “doing it all” woman who will raise her family and nurture her career simultaneously. While some argue that these women are wearing themselves thin, there are others who recognize the importance of achieving a healthy balance between self-interest and familiar nurturance.
Dichotomies are present in most every facet of life, and the greater understanding that we develop of them, the better able we become to integrate competing impulses into a harmonious whole. As social creatures we all, to varying degrees, crave the comforting sensation of intimacy and togetherness. Yet this reminds of a parable involving porcupines which Arthur Schopenhauer originated. Later, Sigmund Freud was known to have been so stricken with this allegory that he placed a porcupine figurine on his desk as a reminder.
Schopenhauer’s story goes something like this: Porcupines live together in close social groups to brave the bitterness of winters. Cold, they inch closer together. Yet, as they draw increasingly nearer to each other their quills protrude. Their most important defense mechanism which prevents them from being hunted by other animals is activated. Inevitably the agony of being poked by the quills is painful and thus the porcupines move further apart to avoid the pain. This does not last long, as the chill of the air brings them back together in an eternal dance of seeking warmth and avoiding pain. Freud believed that human dynamics mirror this dance. My own personal experience allows me to recognize the validity to this simple theorem, a delicate balance between emotional intimacy and isolation. Yet the sad truth is a back and forth dance is an ensemble which should be conducted with precision and elegant beauty. It is by bringing the need for both isolation and intimacy into our awareness that we can begin to dance with greater ease and harmony. I know of relationships where the couple spends so much time bandaging their wounds from those pesky quills, in fear that there may be another jab coming, that they seldom remember the joys of enjoying each other’s warmth. The joy of togetherness, with recognition of the importance of solitude, will bring this shadow into focus thereby strengthening the relationship.
As we continue to consider all of the ways that dichotomous energies influence our essence on a moment to moment basis, we may experience a deepening empathy for our nature. As any artist or writer would fully understand, great creativity is birthed in the silence of introspection. In those times of meditation for the comforting quietude of the infiltrated mind, the artist is able to glean her energy in the creation of elegant sentences superb in their meaning and syntax. Just as a composer, singer, or songwriter intuits a masterpiece by utilizing both the wisdom of the notes and the silence in between the sounds. Indeed, silence and sound both lend their power to the creation of music. I have known people who are so terrified of silence that they prattle on endlessly, perhaps afraid that they may fall into a void of nothingness if not for the sound of their own voice. Ironically, such people never say anything of importance and invariably run out of audience, producing the silence that is so feared. Perhaps such a person could strengthen the ability to pause for just a moment and reflect on their words and instill them with some meaning.
Finally, the energetic shift of the animus motions toward the furthest reach of the spectrum, to the spaces where stillness remains but a memory. Culturally, it seems that the majority of our population is bound by the unwritten code which encourages or forces our motion, progress, and intent, into a faster, frantic pace that produces unhealthy results. It is no wonder that stress related illnesses continue to rise as our bodies sputter out due to the ever increasing demand for progress, it seems that deadlines loom like executioners to our health.
Dance at Bougival by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, courtesy wikimedia.org
Within the 3 x 6 span of my yoga mat, I have developed a vital valuation to actively seek comfort and peace. Surrender within moments of quiet and stillness. It is easy to note how the shadow can overwhelm the stillness. When we see one who spends all her time at the gym, training with weights to make the physical body larger than nature would have intended for it to be, we are witnessing an overindulged animus. Often people use steroids and other regimented combinations of compounds to tweak their physical form, but no matter what the compound their physical body is pushed beyond its natural limits. Our muscles are not intended to train 5-7 days per week and the creation of this sort of body build is symptomatic of far too much use of the animus’ energy. Such a female would do well to allow the anima to guide her toward relaxation and wellness. Even more than meditation, such an animus driven person would do well to perform an in-depth exploration of the energies that propelled her to desire such goals. The inverse of this would be one who allows the anima to overtake all motion leading to utter stagnation. Perhaps the most dramatic form of this would be a person who has been lying in bed for years at a time. This person has suffered from an extreme case of the anima releasing itself into the shadow and they must desperately balance with the animus for their health and wellbeing. Now the fact is that the majority of people do not fall within the dramatic outliers of such disharmonious alignments of their energies. Most of us vacillate between more subtle surges of motion, stillness, sound, quiet, intimacy, and solitude. The key to navigating life’s motion most successfully is to be aware of these nuances within the animus and the anima as there is infinite wisdom to be found within both. I ask you to ponder this question to yourself today: in what ways is my animus serving me and in what ways is my anima serving me? Keeping in mind all of the ways that the masculine and the feminine exist within each of us. Consider this as follow-up, in what areas are my energies crying out for greater balance? Where could I develop greater balance in my life? Consider these in the eternal quest for your happiness, by way of mindful, healthful, bountiful, wellness.