Breathing Compassion in the Pitch Dark

Blessed be the longing that brought you here 
and that quickens your soul with wonder. 
~John O’Donohue

Being a visual person has its definite rewards and joys, yet I learned the other night that it also has its set backs.  Most of us in this world “see” through our eyes, being constantly stimulated by beauty and ugliness,  advertising and art, internet and the pages of a book, and it goes on and on.  The images all around us bring richness and meaning to our lives….and can also bring sadness and pain.

I have often wondered in my life what it would be like to simply not be able to see anything but blackness or shadows.  I have a dear friend who has slowly been losing her vision over the past 17 years or so and is almost completely blind now.

When asked a few days ago whether I had any blind friends, I couldn’t think of any because Vicki is so confident in her abilities to navigate the world – and she literally does as she travels by herself all over the world singing, teaching and giving key-note addresses – that I never even considered her as blind.  She would laugh about that! (click on her name to see more!)

Frequently over the years I have experimented with closing my eyes and seeing how it would be to do daily tasks, and orienting myself in a different way.  This necessarily brought to the forefront some of my other senses that get put on hold when busy “seeing” my world.  It was easy to imagine not having sight when I had my own massage therapy business, as so much is communicated through touch, and a persons voice and energy.  But it was another thing to imagine myself navigating without vision in all aspects of my life.

I remember in a college class while a classical piece of music was being played our professor asked us to close our eyes and hear the music in a different way.  Immediately images starting forming as I used all of my senses to really FEEL into the separate pieces of the music.  I also was able to sense it in various parts of my body depending on the quality of sound.

Oh, and then there was the time at the culmination of a ropes course that each of us in our group was taken one by one, blind folded, and asked to climb up a sawed off tree trunk to the top where a round disc (that moved when you stood on it) was placed.  Once you were up there you were asked to determine where that trapeze might be in front of you (and it changed with each person as the leader of the group adjusted back or forwards) and then jump off and catch it….all of course without your vision to guide you.

You were harnessed in case you missed…..but your psyche and your body did not know that!  Catching that trapeze (and I did!) invited my other senses to come on board on a level much deeper than visual assessment might have.  In fact it was an amazing experience as I breathed and sensed my way to that trapeze somewhere out there in the void!  But the fact is that I could take my blindfold off once the experience was over with.

What if you had been born blind and had never seen colors, natures beauty, or the inside of a building or home your were about to go into??  What if there was no visual memory bank to borrow from??   What if you had your full vision and then over time, or all of a sudden, you lost it?  A couple of days ago I placed myself in an environment where I could not see at all and not only that, but I was with 100 other people who were doing the same thing.

The Austin Blind Cafe in their own words is “a mind bending / heart opening experience where the audience will dine, participate in a Q & A with their blind wait staff and enjoy a concert of original music by Rosh & One Eye Glass Broken.(click here to hear some music)..all in the pitch dark! “  That is the very compact version, but as you can see I have much more to say about it here.

Our group of 5 was led into our dining experience by great humored Faith who has been blind since the age of 7.  As we lined up and touched each other on the shoulder I felt like a small child being led into a magical place in the pitch dark….and it turned out to be just that!

Delectable Vietnamese food had to be felt for, smelled and imagined as taste buds lit up with pleasure with each bite with either fork (if you could find it!) or fingers.  A little to my surprise I was immediately comfortable in the pitch black – in conversations with my table mates, listening to the Q & A session with our blind wait staff, embodying the original music played by immensely talented musicians, and culminating at the end of the evening in 100 people singing together from a deep feeling of connection – all without the distraction of visual input.

I had met only one of our group before so the conversations involved a “getting to know you” without eye contact, recognition,  and visual judgement distractions.  There was a sense of cooperation that developed at the table especially when water had to be poured and new food passed.  There was also a sense of stillness at times that gave rise to simply being present to whatever was going on in the room.  But instead of “seeing” what was going on, we were hearing, tasting, feeling and touching it.

The young woman beside me would place her hands around mine as she passed me a new yummy offering….and after a particularly moving a capella solo we found each others hands and squeezed.  One of our table mates was reported missing from his seat at one point.  It was discovered that he had been dancing to the music in the room somewhere.

Jokes were thrown about by the blind wait staff as they fielded questions, but it could not be denied that we learned more about what it was like to be blind by the openly honest answers to our questions…and by our own experience of being deprived of our visual sense.

Some sighted people in the room were obviously in a bit of understandable anxiety at being in pitch black for so long as their voices rose higher making it difficult to hear conversations at our own table.  For some it was an opportunity to let go of “being seen” in a particular way;  to embody music more completely without distractions; to completely focus on smelling, tasting and feeling into the food that was put into our mouths; to feel the rise and fall of breath; and to open to a deeper and more expansive compassion and connection.

At one point during our dining experience Katie, the young woman next to me, stated that her focus in school was International Relations with an emphasis on the Middle East.  In talking with one of my table companions after the experience I simply said, I wonder what would happen if leaders of nations or ideologies in conflict were to have a similar experience. Could much strife be averted in this way?  A friend of mine in the UK told me he thought every child should experience this at least once during the school year to encourage empathy and understanding.

So creators of The Blind Cafe,  I invite you to allow us to assist you to widen this experience globally!  Deep gratitude to The Austin Blind Cafe, and to all visually impaired individuals, for teaching us how to breathe compassion in the pitch dark…..

P.S.  No pictures have been added to this post on purpose!


Obstacles to Simply Breathing

Just fresh out of my favorite Sunday morning yoga class the peace, stillness and resonance of life energy are still palpable.  During this last month it has been my “job” to release as much of the contraction and holding as possible that has built up over the last 4 years while employed in a job that was not in alignment with my heart and soul.

It continues to amaze me how much tension and holding that is perpetually present in our bodies.   These are patterns built up over time.  So….do you have an elephant sitting on your chest?  Or perhaps a boa constrictor wrapping itself around your belly?  No probably not, but then it may feel like that when actually putting attention on the quality of your breath, the tension in your body, or whether you are even breathing at all!

What are the barriers or obstacles to a full natural breath?  This post would be much too lengthy if all were listed and discussed, so let’s just get down to the core of things.  There is an all too pervasive implant within us that wasn’t there when we first entered into the air breathing world.

That belief system is “I am essentially flawed”.  From that place comes a leaving behind of the awareness and practice of our wholeness, and at the same time a journey of struggle towards striving to be “perfect”. In yoga this is called dukha which means misery, unhappiness, and pain.

“Ring the bells, it still can ring.  Forget your perfect offering.  There is a crack in everything.  That is how the light gets in.”  -Leonard Cohen

As we travel further away from our essential heart based nature and senses we enter the world of dukha.  From this place comes a holding in areas of our physical body all fueled by fear and the false belief that we are not good enough exactly the way we are.

The Hindu religion has an elephant headed God called Ganesha who represents the remover of obstacles. What I learned recently is that Ganesha always has one of his tusks slightly broken off.

When in Bali, Indonesia several years ago I bought an amazing carving of Ganesha and when I received him via shipping from Bali I noticed that he had a tusk broken.  At the time I thought it was mishandling in the packing and shipping process….and now 5 years later I realize that this is the representation of the perfect imperfection that we all are and a reminder to look beyond form.

“Acceptance of the somewhat funny looking elephant-headed man as the divine force stills the rational mind and its doubts, forcing one to look beyond outer appearances. Thus Ganesha creates the faith to remove all obstacles, forcing one to look beyond form, removing doubts and pointing out the spiritual side of everything.”

Coming full circle this post is now an invitation to come back to the senses and out of the mind.  To move towards flourishing and away from the pain of dukha.  Our planet is going through a tremendous shift right now and the quality of feeling “at home” inside of ourselves is essential to let go of the holding onto of old deeply engrained patterns that keep us – and everyone else – stuck. Humanity yields to the wisdom of nature, the heart, and the senses – and the breath deepens.

I will end with an observation from my brother who called me today.  He was incredulous that he was the only one riding the waves out in the ocean on a summer weekend in San Diego.  He just couldn’t understand how people there seemed to have forgotten the simple pleasure of getting in the ocean and being with the powerful, wonderfully wild and fluid water – letting go into the sensuality of simply being.

Simply being removes the obstacles to simply breathing.  Enhance your breath.  Enhance your life.  Simply be.






Breath and Love

The most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched, they must be felt with the heart.” Helen Keller

One might suspect that breathing and love would be intimately and inescapably connected..  We must “love to breathe” for the alternative is not quite acceptable – not breathing that is!  As a lover who takes our entire attention for long moments at a time – are we that attentive with our breath?

Let’s pretend for a moment that our beloved is named “Breath”.  How would our present relationship with our breathing change?  If Breath became shallow and contracted we might take some moments to notice and then soften shoulders, neck,  facial muscles and belly/pelvis so that Breath could expand, relax and feel our love.

In those moments when Breath leaves us all together for moments at a time, we might decide to invite Breath out for a walk, run, or a dance around the room embracing every inhale and exhale making certain that Breath feels they are the most important part of our life.

When Breath becomes all out of sorts coming and going in short bursts and irregular rhythms, we might offer a gentle touch or massage, or share laughter to soothe the “savage beast” and open Breath back again to the natural innate rhythm that Breath prefers to live within and where your relationship thrives.

It may be sort of a challenge to have Breath as a lover since you cannot see Breath,  nor touch Breath, but as Helen Keller says in the quote above – the most beautiful things must be felt in the heart.

Breath makes love with Heart….and all is well.

Now, take a few more moments to read the answers that some very young children have given when asked the question –  What is Love?  Out of the mouths of babes….

What Is Love? Some Really Smart Kids May Have The Answer

*“When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different. You just know that your name is safe in their mouth.” – Billy, age 4

*“Love is when a girl puts on perfume and a boy puts on shaving cologne and they go out and smell each other.” – Karl, age 5

*“Love is when you go out to eat and give somebody most of your French fries without making them give you any of theirs.” – Chrissy, age 6

*“Love is what makes you smile when you’re tired.” – Terri, age 4

*“Love is when my mommy makes coffee for my daddy and she takes a sip before giving it to him, to make sure the taste is OK.” – Danny, age 7

*“Love is when you kiss all the time. Then when you get tired of kissing, you still want to be together and you talk more. My Mommy and Daddy are like that. They look gross when they kiss.” – Emily, age 8

*“Love is what’s in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen.” – Bobby, age 7

*“If you want to learn to love better, you should start with a friend who you hate,” – Nikka, age 6

*“Love is when you tell a guy you like his shirt, then he wears it everyday.” – Noelle, age 7

*“Love is like a little old woman and a little old man who are still friends even after they know each other so well.” – Tommy, age 6

*“During my piano recital, I was on a stage and I was scared. I looked at all the people watching me and saw my daddy waving and smiling. He was the only one doing that. I wasn’t scared anymore.” – Cindy, age 8

*“My mommy loves me more than anybody. You don’t see anyone else kissing me to sleep at night.” – Clare, age 6

*“Love is when Mommy gives Daddy the best piece of chicken.” – Elaine, age 5

*“Love is when Mommy sees Daddy smelly and sweaty and still says he is handsomer than Brad Pitt.” – Chris, age 7

*“Love is when your puppy licks your face even after you left him alone all day.” – Mary Ann, age 4

*“I know my older sister loves me because she gives me all her old clothes and has to go out and buy new ones.” – Lauren, age 4

*“When my grandmother got arthritis, she couldn’t bend over and paint her toenails anymore. So my grandfather does it for her all the time, even when his hands got arthritis too. That’s love.” – Rebecca, age 8

*“When you love somebody, your eyelashes go up and down and little stars come out of you.” – Karen, age 7

*“You really shouldn’t say ‘I love you’ unless you mean it. But if you mean it, you should say it a lot. People forget.” – Jessica, age 8