Building Flow Part 2 (revisited)

Last week we worked on the centered breath. Before we begin this week’s lesson, center and take 5 breaths.

Did you feel the breath rise effortlessly through the body? Try again and really allow yourself to feel the breath rise. Notice how the system relaxes into the breath and the breath flows throughout the body effortlessly. Try it again. Really pay attention to that sense of flow and ease as the breath rises throughout the body.

Now, I want you to pick a mundane chore that you perform all the time. Something like sweeping the floor, vacuuming, dishes, etc... Center yourself and practice breathing while doing the chore you picked out. Notice the flow of breath and the sense of ease in your body while doing the task. Notice how the work progresses and how your body feels. Try to re-create this feeling with each chore you perform this week.

Don’t work too hard at it, just allow yourself to find the flow and the breath within the process of being centered while doing the chore.

Note - This piece was originally published in April of 2016. The ability to find and create flow is essential to creating health and balance. It can also be used for finding out what is right and true. Now, I’m not talking about “truth” that agrees with our logic or how we have been programmed to think. I’m talking about the essential truth of things. For instance, go back and read Ben’s piece from Friday. Center and feel the ideas behind and the truth of the words – WE THE PEOPLE.

We’ll continue to build on this idea next week.

Three Words

I need to interrupt my series of pieces about my guiding observations. I'll resume that series next week.

I keep seeing this happen: an actor (or a comedian, or a musician, or a sports star) says something political. Someone somewhere--this happens all the time on Twitter--tells that person to stick to acting (or comedy, or music, or sports). Wednesday morning I watched the talking heads on ESPN debate whether or not it is appropriate that Steve Kerr, head coach of the Golden State Warriors basketball team, has recently been outspoken on political issues.

This is very very important so let me say it as clearly as I can:

The essential core of our republic lies in the first three words of the Constitution.

Those three words are: "We the People."

Our whole society rests on the foundation of those three words. We the People means that the government is not a thing outside of us that we have no connection to. Our government is directed not by kings nor emperors nor popes nor ayatollahs nor führers. WE ARE THE GOVERNMENT.

We, the People.

So understand: in our country, it is not just your right to speak when you feel called to speak. It is your responsibility.

Building Flow – Revisited

There are many ways to build flow within a system. Over the next few weeks I’ll be sharing these techniques with you. The first and most important is the centered breath.

Seated Center

Wherever you find yourself reading this – take a minute, notice where your feet are. Notice your posture. Where are your shoulders in relation to your hips? Is your breath deep or shallow? Are you breathing consciously or unconsciously? How aware are you of your surroundings?

Now take a minute, put your feet firmly on the ground hip-to-shoulder width apart.
Have your knees bent 90 degrees.

Sit up so your shoulders are directly over your hips.

Now, gently raise your diaphragm – notice how your shoulders drop when you do this.

Relax your feet by wiggling your toes and letting your arches soften. As your feet relax your legs will relax.

Now, take a nice easy breath up through your hips and into your upper chest and shoulders. Did your breath rise? Try it again.

Notice your breath as it moves up through your pelvis, past your belly button, through the diaphragm and into your upper chest. Now, take another easy breath. Allow yourself the luxury of feeling what an open flowing breath feels like.

When your breath flows freely from your pelvis into your upper chest and shoulders you are CENTERED.

Centering when seated is the starting position to begin a meditation practice.

Practice maintaining this position and focusing on your breath for 3-5 minutes once or twice per day.

On Observation 2: Ignoring, Working Around, or Fixing the Blockage?

Observation 2: We're past the point where this blockage can be ignored or worked around. We're also past the point where this blockage can be easily fixed.

First, a couple of assertions: As a nation and as a species, we are facing some grave problems. These problems will take political will to solve--market-based approaches are pipe dreams.

"Political will" is an abstract term, but at its heart it means "a coming together of the people." This is true everywhere. No matter how autocratic the government, nothing gets done without some acquiescence of the people. In the United States, this coming together is explicit in our system of governance. It's significant that our Constitution begins with the words, "We the People."

Can we ignore the energetic blockage at the heart of our political system? To successfully ignore the blockage in our political system would require a system that is actually functioning. But think of the last thing that Congress did that (a) seemed like a serious attempt at a solution to a serious problem and (b) featured both parties working together to find that solution. The last bipartisan success I can recall was when Congress retroactively legalized the bulk spying on the American people that Edward Snowden revealed. But "let's cover our asses" in the face of government law breaking is not a sign of a functioning system but the opposite.

Can we work around the blockage? On this front, my observation might be wrong: working around the blockage may be possible. With Republicans having control of both houses of Congress as well as the White House, the only thing that should be preventing them from steamrolling their opposition is the Democrats ability to filibuster in the Senate. It's furthermore possible that the Republicans could end the filibuster completely to get their agenda passed. So we could see a conservative agenda make a strong advance between now and the midterm elections.

But consider the evidence to the contrary: We are almost one month into Trump's administration, and what we are seeing so far is not unity between the Legislative and Executive branches of our government working to advance some kind of consistent agenda. What we are seeing right now is utter chaos.

From an energetic perspective, this chaos makes perfect sense. Blocked systems do not flow. Blocked systems succumb to illness. I admit, it's early yet and there's plenty of time for things to change. Perhaps the Republicans will find a way to stumble or surge along. But the dynamics of flow of energy suggest otherwise.

Can the blockage be easily fixed?

Let's define "easily fixed" to mean that it will fix itself--that the government's dysfunction, which has been growing since (at least) the Gingrich revolution in 1994, will start to ease and reverse.

To discuss the possibility, let's talk about the single most contentious policy of the Obama administration, the Affordable Care Act a.k.a Obamacare.

The Republicans have opposed the ACA furiously since it was passed. They saw validation of their approach in the election of 2010, which certainly served as a stunning rebuke of the Democrats. (Democrats lost six seats in the Senate, an astonishing 63 in the House, and six governorships.) As it was the ACA which had dominated the shouting class in the run-up to the election, the view that the American people hated the ACA cannot be dismissed. But I want to propose that ire towards the law had very little to do with the quality of the law itself, but was instead a proxy for a deeper anger, namely, a sense that the people had been betrayed by Wall Street in causing the financial crisis, and that the focus on health care instead of a serious look at reform of the excesses of the financial industry felt like a further betrayal. In the midst of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, the Democrats were not given an electoral mandate to put their energy elsewhere.

Since then, the Republicans have engaged in endless theater around the ACA. You can remember the infinite number of times House Republicans voted to defund the ACA, a tedious piece of political theater which never had the slightest chance of succeeding while Obama remained in office.

But now Republicans control both houses of Congress and the White House (to the extent that anyone is currently in control of the White House). They have been promising to end "Obamacare" since it was passed and now they have the means to do so. And yet there's been essentially no forward momentum to do so. Why is that?

It's because the current situation is better than one in which the ACA is repealed without a replacement. The ACA is genuinely better than nothing at all, and the Republican have been forced to admit it via their actions (though obviously not their words). And so to make significant changes in the law without being totally harmful to the many millions who have benefited since the law went into place, and, let's face it, harmful to the fortunes of Congresspeople who will have to answer to their constituents in a couple of years, puts Republicans in a tricky situation.

To deal effectively with what they're trying to do would require them to challenge some of the beliefs that they have been shouting about for (at least) the past eight years. Maybe not all taxes are bad, and well-designed taxes levied for a specific purpose are worthwhile. Maybe a system that substantially increases access to health care, even if flawed, is better than a system that doesn't allow that access. And maybe the initial problem was correctly diagnosed: that in a country as wealthy as ours, there is a something morally problematic with a system in which as substantial minority of people--many millions of them--lack access to even basic health care.

Given all of that, please consider this remarkable quote from Rep. Raúl Labrador, R-Idaho, from a couple of days ago:

Something that Republicans need to be concerned about is that [if] we're just going to replace Obamacare with Obamacare-lite, [it] begs the question, were we just against Obamacare because it was proposed by Democrats? And if that's our position, then we're very hypocritical. Then we really were just taking a political position, not a policy-based position. If we're going to come back with something that does exactly the same thing as Obamacare, but change a couple of things and just call it Trumpcare or Ryancare, then what was our fight about for the last six years?

To fully understand this quote, you have to know that Rep. Labrador is a member of the Freedom Caucus, a group of the most conservative lawmakers in house, closely aligned with the Tea Party. Labrador is not following the evidence to the obvious conclusion--that the Republican position on the ACA was never anything more than a political position. He's doing the necessary mental contortions to continue to hold on to his opinion that Obamacare is a travesty. In other words, his identity as a conservative trumps any evidence that he and his party might be wrong about the ACA.

To be able to utter sentences like this and then hold on to the opposite conclusion is exactly what I mean when I say that the blockage we're seeing cannot be fixed by any normal means.

In short, the only way forward to a working system will have to derive from a profound shift in consciousness.

Energy Dynamics

Last Friday, Ben very elegantly painted a picture of how one’s perspective changes as they become more centered, grounded and energy aware. How the centered breath acts as a reminder of the inter-connectedness of all things. The fact that we are all energetically connected makes dealing with our current circumstances difficult.

In my 50+ years on this planet, I have never seen so much derision and plain hatred toward people simply based on their color, political affiliation, religious beliefs, and/or sexual orientation. It seems to me that ideology has replaced the idea that we are all on this planet and in this together. That we all need fresh air to breathe and clean water to drink, not to mention a safe place to lay our heads and raise a family.

I feel that if we were in a state of flow as a society, these ideas wouldn’t sound foreign to so many. But, as Ben stated on Friday, our political system is blocked energetically on a very fundamental level. The real problem here is that any system that has been denied flow will begin to stagnate. If left in this state long enough, the system becomes corrupted and begins a disease process that if left unchecked often leads to the death of the system.

A perfect example of this a pond. As long as a pond has fresh water flowing through it, it will thrive. The wildlife that uses it as a home and/or a source of drinking water also thrives. Cut off the flow of fresh water and watch what happens to the system. First scum will begin covering the pond and slowly the water becomes toxic and the wildlife either begins to die or moves away to another water source. If left alone the pond will begin the putrefaction process and die.

During the election process, Trump often said that “when he got to Washington, he was going to drain the swamp.” Although the analogy of Washington as a swamp was a good one, the man has no idea of how to create flow. Unfortunately, if we don’t create some flow within our political system, it too will die.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be rehashing a series of posts from last year that works on the idea of building flow. As individuals, the more flow we can create within our lives, the greater the positive effect we can have on our society. The change has to start with us. Not by creating hate and derision, but by creating flow.

Observation 1: Our Political System Is Blocked on a Fundamental, Energetic Level

One of the key understandings that arises as you practice becoming more centered, grounded and energy aware is that our separation from the world around us, our sense of an existence discrete from our environment and each other, is an illusion. This is as observable a reality as that grass is green, the sky is blue, and water is wet. For some reason, one of the key traits of modernity is that we've suppressed our sensitivity to this reality. It's no more something I can prove to you rhetorically than I can prove that fire is hot. But breathe and center: soon enough, this truth will reveal itself. You'll find yourself stunned that you ever experienced things any other way.

Our political system has divided into two camps: Us, and Them. Consider: On Wednesday, Jeff Sessions was confirmed as Attorney General on a vote that saw exactly one senator, a Democrat, break from the party line. On Tuesday, Betsy DeVos was confirmed as Secretary of Education on a vote in which she was opposed by every Democrat and exactly two Republicans. Flip the party of the president around: During the Obama administration, on issue after issue, Republicans were unified in their opposition.

Does this strike you as natural? Or does it seem more likely that we've come to determine our beliefs not by thinking but by through our identities as Democrats or Republicans?

Imagine, instead, if we approached issues from a sense of flow, a sense of ground. I'm not suggesting that we'd all agree on everything--our differing backgrounds would still lead us to think in different ways. But by finding our way to our answers through our own bodies, we'd overcome this unthinking, unfeeling tribalism that passes for political awareness.

The symptoms of this tribalism are all too obvious. The mutual antipathy on display corrodes all discourse. Indeed, it has become the dominant feature of our current system.

And how well is our system actually working? Are we getting things done? No, we are not. We are not capable of doing anything productive, only destructive. Republicans spent the last seven-and-a-half years screaming about Obamacare, promising they'd repeal it right away--but you notice how little forward movement on that front they've actually managed, because, while Republicans are unified in their opposition, they have no creative ideas, no ideas for something better.

These are the manifestations of the energetic blockages at the core of our present political system.

The Fray

Last week I decided that it was time to enter the political fray. After publishing my piece, I began reading and doing some research. Holy crap, there’s a lot going on!

I found that as I read, if I didn’t really ground myself and stay centered, I would get really wound up. Now, I work with and teach these skills every day, and I found it a challenge to stay grounded and centered. I can only imagine what it’s like for people that haven’t developed these skills.

As part of this process, I began discussing issues and generally talking about the state of things with some of my clients. I got some useful information and resources from them, but I found that if I wasn’t careful they would become over-activated and emotionally distraught. Although this provided a great opportunity to reinforce their grounding and centering skills, it wasn’t necessarily why they were there to see me.

I quickly realized that I needed to establish some rules and boundaries around staying informed and sharing and discussing issues with others. After witnessing and even instigating some uncomfortable interactions between people, I thought I would share these rules with you.

  1. Don’t assume everyone thinks the way you do.

  2. Take time to ground and center before reading or watching the news. Preparing yourself mentally and emotionally will allow you to control your response to what is going on, while taking in more of the actual information.

  3. Use multiple sources for information. Most news outlets are slanted one way or the other. Know where your sources are slanted towards and try to get fully rounded views. Challenge yourself by reading from sources that you generally disagree with.

  4. Take the time to fully understand the issues. If something is being repealed, know what it was meant to do, and who benefits from the change.

  5. Be diligent, but watch your emotional responses. There are going to be lots of changes and reasons to be upset. It’s important to stay focused. If we respond to every potential situation, we’ll burn ourselves out and not be able to respond when it’s needed the most.

  6. Stand up and be counted. If you feel the need to protest or make a statement, do so.

  7. When in public or in a group, make sure that a political discussion is ok with the group. There is a time and a place for these discussions.

I hope these basic rules are helpful. I find that it’s easier to stay informed and protect my mental and emotional energy by following these simple rules.

Guiding Observations as We Move Forward

I want to be clear about what I'm doing with these pieces. Our society is collapsing in conflict. Therefore it is important to me to do my best to write in such a way that someone who disagrees with me politically will at least listen, and perhaps even will take what I have to say into consideration. I freely admit that my political views are well to the left of the political mainstream in this country. Still, I'm doing my best to speak in the least partisan way that I am able, guided by a perspective in which I have a certain expertise, namely that of energy flow within a system. I have opinions about what to do about climate change, and immigration, and our tax system, and so on, opinions with which you may or may not agree. But our problem is not that we lack opinions, or that mine are right and yours are wrong or vice versa. Our problems run much deeper than that. So today I'd like to outline a series of observations that will guide my writing and my actions going forward.

Observation 1: Our political system is blocked on a fundamental, energetic level.

Observation 2: We're past the point where this blockage can be ignored or worked around. We're also past the point where this blockage can be easily fixed.

Observation 3: A clear manifestation of this blockage is that our system is no longer capable of bringing about outcomes that are for the good of the majority of Americans. More accurately and more strongly: only a small minority of Americans are benefiting from the system as it is operating now.

Observation 4: There's a growing awareness that something is deeply amiss, that the problems run deeper than just who's currently in office.

Observation 5: Hyper-partisanship is not just making things worse, it is leading inexorably to the collapse of the current system.

Observation 6: To solve the overarching problem, we're going to have to create a new way of engaging with each other both politically and personally. That means building on an understanding grounded in flow of energy.

In coming weeks I will explore all of these observations in greater depth.