The science behind ocean love

Ocean sounds create pink noise which breaks up vibrational patterns. For example, if you are holding a stressful thought that is taking over your system, pink noise will literally break it up. This is why it’s hard to hold a thought when listening to pink or white noise. (Pink noise is white noise with more bass frequencies.) Have you ever found yourself mentally checking-out while drying your hair? The hair-dryer sound includes white noise.


Image(China Beach, San Francisco)

Unlike standard sounds, pink noise is made up of fragments of sine waves instead of complete waves. The brain tries to piece together the frequencies into a complete wave, and this effort drowns out any other vibrational patterns that try to occupy it (such as thoughts, other sounds, etc.). Since the sound of crashing waves is not constant, we can still put two thoughts together when are at the beach. But with each incoming wave, the ocean is rinsing your brain and literally cleansing stagnant, vibrational patterns away. This allows space for creative thinking, and leaves us feeling renewed. The therapeutic sound, combined with the fresh air, beautiful scenery, and soft sand beneath bare feet, makes for the perfect sensory experience.

DSC_0741(My childhood front lawn)

I’ve loved the ocean way before I understood the vibrational science behind why. Living on Cape Cod, the ocean was my playground and front yard. Since then, it’s been a necessity for me to live within 10 mins from the beach.

From Fort Lauderdale…


IMG_0122 - Version 2(J.D. MacArthur beach, North Palm Beach)

to San Francisco:



20130119_172443(Ocean Beach, San Francisco)

I’ve cherished my beach time to relax and rejuvenate. Even during the rare times I take a vacation, I usually plan around a beach destination.

DSC_0036(Sayulita, Mexico)

What I love most about the beach is the inner child it awakens. With all the mental clutter cleared away, all that is left is joy and liberation. Watching children on the beach is one of my favorite things. Screaming, laughing, running; they reflect the essence of joy.

IMG_0840(My nephews playing on the same beach I grew up on.)

It’s hard to not be happy when at the beach. What’s there not to love?

To keep or not to keep

So what’s the protocol for keeping stuff from past relationships?

I was wondering this as I sat sifting through ticket stubs, cards, vacation memorabilia, and CDs that I had accumulated over the last several years. At some point I had deemed each of these things as “worth keeping”, and stuffed them in an overflowing box under my bed. But in a recent effort to improve the feng shui of my tiny apartment, I cleared the space from under my bed. The box had since taunted me out in the open, daring me to do something with it.

So here I was, intending to turn this stuff into some sort of scrapbook in order to give it a proper home. I started by organizing the things by year, carefully reading and considering each piece: tickets from recent concerts, the fake ID that allowed me to see my favorite band for the first time, CDs made for me by an ex, cards of people I met while in acting school, letters from friends I have since lost contact with. Going through it all, I started to feel emotionally heavy.

Why are you holding on to these things?

It wasn’t until my friend Karen called me mid-sifting and asked me this question that I began to ponder it. It had seemed so natural to hold on to this box, to value it, that the question didn’t even cross my mind. Why was I holding on to this stuff? I explored my reasoning:

  • At one point I had made the decision to hold on to it, so shouldn’t I trust that decision and hold on to it? It was as if the longer it I held on to it, the more value it accrued, since it was the one tangible thing that would remind me of an event that would otherwise be lost forever, buried deep in my consciousness by accumulated experiences.  If you don’t remember your past, who’s to say it even happened? Without a past, what’s your basis for knowing who you are? These physical objects were providing a record of  life experiences, and in doing so, reminding me of who I was.

This need to collect memories started in childhood; I’d collecting rocks and tidbits from school, and keep them in a metal box under my bed. Included was a wooden piece of a field hockey stick that I broke in pieces during a strong drive, a plastic necklace, scripts from my first plays.  In fact, that box was still in my mom’s home in the closet.  

Although I knew logically that I didn’t need any of these things to validate my existence, the thought of parting with them sparked an initial pang of panic. If I get rid of it all, what would happen? Well…nothing. The fact that those experiences occurred cannot be reversed, nor does keeping physical tokens from them make them any more true. At this point, engaging with most of this stuff made me depressed, as I was discovering. So what do I do with it? Is any of it worth keeping?

“Well, do any of those things inspire you?” Karen asked. Inspiration. Of course. How do these things make me feel? The metal box at home made me feel good when looking through it, because it reminded me of all those qualities I liked about myself as a kid. It reflected back to me happy memories, and reminded me of the early experiences that made me who I am today.

As for this cardboard box, most of it was from the quarter-life-crisis part of my life, when I was learning and testing who I was. In truth, most of the things still held the stuck, challenging energy I was experiencing at the time, and I felt this when going through them.  That included the stuff from the past relationships of the time.  As much as those relationships grew me, they gave me no value in thinking of them now.

All that inspired me in this box was the thoughtful letters from good friends, items from favorite musical experiences, and several beautiful cards. Using inspirational value as the discerning factor made sorting out the worthwhile stuff from the rest a breeze.

By the time I got off the phone with Karen I felt as though a load had been lifted from my body. Removing the sense of value from these things broke the spell of attachment I was under.  I had choice in the person I wanted to be, and therefore was free to get rid of anything that did not serve that intention. The box itself did not hold the puzzle pieces to who I am.  Similarly, I held no obligation towards the person I once was, nor towards the prior expectations I held for myself.  We have the ability to recreate ourselves each moment – a constant evolution, and sometimes, a metamorphosis

So we hold on to those memories and those physical items that remind us of the best part of ourselves, of lessons learned and important life milestones we identify with at that moment, of amazing experiences that touched us in some positive way. And as we continue to revaluate ourselves and shed old versions, so can we shed the physical representations of those things.

And shed I did, until the box of stuff melted to 1/4 of the size. I had no idea idea how much energy was stored in that box, and how cathartic it would be to let it go.  As for the remaining things…I guess I’ll make a scrapbook.

10 ways to improve the feng shui of tiny places

I live in a 400sq ft apartment. So space is limited. After a couple years of contently living here, I began to feel claustrophobic and frustrated by the restrictions of my space. It escalated to where I hated coming home. After ample complaining to friends and thorough discouragement from Craigslist, I gave up and decided to make the space to work for me. If I can’t move, then what can I change to create a better home for myself?

The below tips are the result of thorough feng shui research and conclusions I came to on my own.

1) Consider whether your space is being best utilized to meet your needs

  • What are the most important needs you want your apartment to serve? Is it meeting those needs? If not, figure out what things you need to make space for.
  • What are the things in your apartment you don’t use enough to justify them being there? These are the things you get rid of.

For example, I had a futon that was taking up a large chunk of wall space. I didn’t sit in it because it was too small and uncomfortable, but it folded out into a decent mattress for visitors. Given that its main job was accumulating clothes & books, I got rid of it. The extra space allowed me room to bring out my comfy sitting chair (that had been hiding in the closet). Visitors could find a hotel.

2) Commanding corner

  • One of the main principles of feng shui is proper use of the “commanding corner”, which is basically the corner that is farthest from the door. This is a great place to put your main sitting furniture, or where you spend most of your time, i.e. desk, couch.
  • If this corner is not up against windows like mine is, then you can consider putting your bed here as well. I chose to put my desk here.

3) Bed hygiene

Here are basic feng shui principles for the bed that are easy to implement in any apartment.

  • Have a solid headboard. This is great for grounding.
  • Have space around all other sides (even if just 6 inches from wall). This allows free flow of energy. Do not put up flush against a corner wall (like I did initially!)
  • Keep space empty under the bed. This means no platform bed frames or the like that go down to the ground. You want at least a several inches between your bed frame and floor in order to keep energy flowing freely under your bed. This required me to get rid of lots of stuff that was stored under there for years.

4) Keep corners clean

  • Be sure corners are cleaned regularly, free of clutter and dust. Again, it’s all about the energy flow.
  • Energy accumulates in the corners. Especially in 90 degree corners, as this is an “unnatural” corner that is not prevalent in nature, and therefore energy does not flow through it easily. (Would reference a sacred geometry article here but not finding a good one at the moment.)

5) Get rid of clutter

  • If you haven’t used or looked at it in over a year, do you really need it?

6) Have system for keeping things tidy

  • Have a designated area of everything. If something doesn’t have a “right” place, do you need it?
  • Make an effort to put things away after you are done using them.

7) Clear the dishes from the sink

  • A full sink makes your kitchen feel smaller than it is, which adds to the feeling of restriction. Make an effort to clean the dishes every night before bed.

8) Make your bed every day

  • Your bed is likely the largest piece of furniture you have. Making it look neat is an easy way to make your place feel in order. Otherwise, it can have the opposite effect.

9) Only keep things visible that are inspiring to you

  • Have a painting on the wall that was a gift but you’re not in love with it? Take it down! Why look at it?
  • Is your desk a boring color? Liven it up with some colorful paint. Or new fun knobs.
  • Keep utilitarian, not-so-pretty items in a closet.

10) Keep fresh & clean

  • Small places get dirty quickly. Schedule a weekly cleaning time to avoid build up and annoying “big cleaning” days. It will make the days in between more enjoyable.
  • Open windows to let in fresh air during the day.
  • Consider using essential oils to purify the air.

Small spaces means getting creative with space – let the space restriction expand your imagination for how to meet your needs!

I found that this process was as fun as it was necessary. It felt great to move out stagnant energy and bring in the new with the rearrangement of furniture and discarding of old things. In the end, after getting rid of my futon, replacing my falling-apart desk with a wooden blue one, making room for my soft yellow chair and altar, and cleansing the energy of my bed, it felt like a new home. I was able to breathe comfortably in my comfy yellow chair while feeling content in my tiny little apartment.

Accept your truth

Imagine an old friend starts calling you by the wrong name. At first you’re puzzled, thinking it was a slip of the tongue. But then it happens again. Confused, you correct him:

“Um, you mean Katie.”

“Right – Nancy,” he replies. You are no longer just confused, you’re getting really annoyed. Then it gets worse. He turns around and introduces you to someone by this wrong name. You look at him incredulously as you quickly correct him, “No, I’m Kat-”

“She’s Nancy, don’t listen to her,” your friend interrupts, and laughs it off as if you were talking silly talk. And every time you try to speak up for yourself he interrupts you, shoots you down, or downright ignores you.

How would you feel in this situation? Likely angry, alienated and offended. What would you do? Perhaps raise your voice in an effort to make yourself be heard. Or, maybe you’d tune out and stop engaging in the conversation altogether. Or maybe still, you’d turn around and walk out, thinking “eff this, I’m outta here!”


This is what we do to ourselves when we refuse to acknowledge and accept the truth of who we are. Part of us gets ignored, unseen, forgotten.

If we wouldn’t tolerate that treatment coming from an old friend, why should we tolerate it from ourselves? When we pretend we’re something we’re not, we are blatantly disrespecting and devaluing ourselves. Sometimes we may even ignore the distress signals our body gives us as it shouts out to be seen and heard, and these signals often manifest into physical symptoms.

Our essence may get so frustrated from neglect that it simply decides to give up and check out. At that point, we may feel like we’ve completely lost touch with who we are. Listless, tiered, and apathetic, we roll through our days trying to fulfill this idea of what we pretend to be. Meanwhile, we may be suffering from physical disease, and there may be a faint feeling of loneliness creeping in the background.

If you hurt a good friend, how would you mend the relationship? First, you’d ask for forgiveness. You’d reach out humbly from the heart, acknowledging her hurt feelings and apologize. You’d establish that you respect and value all of who she is. You may even listen quietly as she vents her feelings to you, and they may be uncomfortable to hear. But you listen all the same, since a healthy relationship relies on honest, open communication. That’s what makes it a relationship and not a dictatorship. Once you regain each other’s trust and reestablish that open channel of communication, you’ll be sure to be more attentive to her preferences and needs going forward. This bump in the relationship allowed you to learn more fully what those preferences and needs are. The relationship is now stronger with this healing.


Relating to ourselves works in the same way. If we get the signal that something is amiss, we first call in gentleness and lovingly acknowledge that something needs our attention. Listen closely to what you really need in order to rebalance the relationship. Whatever the issue, forgive yourself for it and focus on what can be done to remedy it. Are there actions do you need to take to properly express or care for yourself? What things/people/thought patterns/beliefs do you need to let go of, and what do you need to call in? Are there deeper themes of core truths that are trying to be revealed?

In lieu of having conversations out loud with myself, I like to journal my stream of consciousness to uncover the truth that requires attention. Sometimes, simply acknowledging the truth is enough.  Just “being seen” is powerful on its own; we don’t always need to “do” something about what is revealed. Other times, a realization may mean the time is ripe for decisive action.

I’ve been learning how to acknowledge my truth for years, and am still working on it. For a long time, ignoring foundational truths about myself caused digestion and stress issues. And realizing them were life-changing: You are a free-spirited, creative being! And it is OK! It is OK to embrace what you desire! You actually know what is best for you! (Some of these truths were more basic, universal ones.) Or, Florida is killing you, so move out!

Now that I’ve worked on listening to myself and keeping this communication channel open, truths grab my attention regularly as road-signs for moving through my world: You want to sing! You want to dance! That is the frantic energy you feel right now. You can’t go a whole day without moving your body, so I’m going to teach you by making you feel lethargic next time you do. And let me show you how highly sensitive to energy you are by making you feel claustrophobic on the muni home today. Uncomfortable, right? That’s my way of telling you that you need to make more space for alone time and energy work!

I may not act upon every tug at my sleeve, but I have come a long way from blatantly ignoring or criticizing my truth. I find that life is easier this way. Acceptance allows for a path of least resistance in day-to-day living. Each new truth adds texture to the ever-evolving tapestry of “self” that hangs from our consciousness.

Life lessons through boxing

It was 5:45am and D.J., a vegan yogi whose first impression would have contrasted sharply to the boxing coach stereotype were it not for his covering of tattoos, asked me to choose a color for my gloves and wraps. Learning that boxers wore wraps under their gloves was the first of many things I came to learn over the next 4 weeks of boxing bootcamp. I found the bootcamp online 2 nights prior, and in my usual impulsive style decided to sign up on the spot.

Park Gym

At work we were awaiting an impending rumored layoff, and the stress of being in an energetically failing and unhappy space for 8 hrs/day was weighing on me more than I cared to admit. Ultimately, the cause of my anxiety was the marathon-long holding of both discomfort and uncertainty. It was like having to pee while in a car without knowing when you’ll be able to stop; I had to just patiently hold it. I told myself to be patient and trust – in myself and the greater energetic forces that determine our paths – but I needed a physical outlet to alleviate my internal restlessness.

Gloves & Wraps

I hadn’t exactly thought through how I was going to manage 6-7:30am classes 5x a week on top of full-time work and evening fun time. My plan to bike to the classes each morning was quickly foiled by my inability to bike up hills following the 2nd class. I had a car and I decided to use it.

Boxing is all about grounding into your legs and maintaining a relaxed body while throwing focused punches. Relaxing into my body was especially difficult for me, and “smooth” was the main directive that D.J. would shout at me as I pummeled the bags with disjointed punches. “It’s like dancing,” he’d say, trying to get me to connect the technique with a familiar point of reference. I was startled by how difficult it was. What came naturally was jerky, disconnected movements with lack of awareness of my feet or breath. Having to focus inwards on my body instead of outwards on the bag took a lot of mental strain.

I'm ready

Everyone watch out

It then occurred to me why this was so difficult – because I had yet to learn how to act from a relaxed, grounded body in my general daily life. This was especially true for actions that were new or came with high stakes (landing a new job, making a good first impression, etc.). I was conditioned to focusing outwards instead of inwards. This realization was a powerful one. This habit directly impacted how I approached and managed life.

By focusing on the external world (other people’s judgements, actions, opinions, criticisms, worldly happenings, media, you name it), we can easily lose ourselves as our energy becomes outwardly dissipated. We lose our footing of how we feel, our opinions and needs, and ultimately lose touch with our own authenticity, since we are so focused on the needs, desires, and judgments of others. It’s these external circumstances that end up driving our emotions, actions, and perhaps sense of self-worth. We end up making flailing, desperate movements toward a goal while losing our balance. And we may not even know why we have chosen the goal in the first place.


On the other hand, if we approach our waking world with a firm pulse on our internal world (our own feelings, thoughts, emotions, breath) we can interact with outside circumstances while not losing ourselves. We recognize where we end and the outside begins. This helps us to avoid groupthink and stay grounded in our convictions. And if we become aware of the interaction between the two worlds, we notice how our internal world responds to external circumstances, and these responses become clues on how to navigate the outside – they tell us which people we should or should not engage with, what activities to partake in, when to eat and when to sleep, what choices to make. They become our inner compass. And the more we tune in and listen to it, the better able we are to recognize who we are and what we need, empowering the healer within.


JC was a great motivator.

It takes a deep trust and commitment to oneself to stay grounded in our bodies, especially in the current world that is a never-ending onslaught of external opinions, judgements, and imperatives. It becomes tougher still when facing a stressful or risky action. In these situations it is tempting to abandon all hopes of disciplined inner presence and resort to desperate, panicked flailing, especially if doing so is such an ingrained habit that it appears to be the easier choice. But in the end, whoever is left standing becomes the ultimate test for the better approach. And I can say with complete certainty that a grounded stance, steady breathing, and focused, fluid movements stemming from your core is the only way you’ll keep your balance and win.

Dia de los muertos in SF

One of the reasons why I love San Francisco is that the people here know how to live. Most any reason becomes an opportunity for people to come together, dress up, and simply celebrate. The most magical of celebrations, for me, are those that are mired in deep cultural tradition.


I felt the stares on my face paint and crown of gerbera daisies as I walked through the streets down to the Mission district for Dia de los Muertos. The stares were even more apparent in the bar I stopped in at to meet friends for a cocktail enroute. But once I arrived within a few blocks of the parade, I felt more at home.



Dia de los muertos (Day of the Dead) is a traditional Mexican holiday (that aligns with the Catholic All Saints Day) to honor all those who have passed. Each year in San Francisco, people dress up in traditional and not-so-traditional costume and parade through the Mission district to celebrate the holiday. Some carry candles, pictures, or altars of their beloved deceased. The celebration is an invitation for those souls to commune with the living and hear their prayers.


In quintessential San Francisco style, it is a free, open event to anyone who wishes to partake in the festivities, and people are free to join and leave the parade as they wish as it moves along its pre-determined route through the city.



What struck me was how carefully planned and executed many of the costumes were. While death is commonly looked at as a grotesque and ugly thing, this holiday is a chance to honor it with beauty. It was interesting to see how people expressed this artistically. My minimal face paint was nothing compared to some of these costumes.





And of course, it culminated in a dance party as a drumming group assembled in the center of the parade. I would have taken pictures of it, had I not been too busy dancing it down.

The night ended when cop cars drove up from behind and parted the crowds from the street. I guess SF can have all the fun it wants, just not past quiet hours.

Allow this book to be your friend

Amidst the pulsating music, dancing, and low-lighting, a surge of emotional energy took over and I buckled to my knees. Within minutes I felt a light touch on my shoulder, breaking an internal dam, and immediately tears began to burst forth. After several minutes I felt a huge weight lift from my insides. Though I felt exhausted, I was also calm and serene. Cleansed. And so very grateful.

This was the first time I experienced Staci Boden’s energy healing, performed during one of the Sacred Dance circles that she co-facilitates with the wonderful Jill Pettegrew. During each circle, Staci consistently shares striking insight and wisdom that supports whichever challenges the women in the circle are navigating. So when she announced to us that she was publishing a book, Turning Dead Ends into Doorways, I knew it would be be more than just a worthwhile read. All of her 15+ years of energy healing wisdom neatly organized into one book?? Hell yes!

Turning Dead Ends into Doorways is an invitation to dive deep inside, sit honestly with yourself, and face what arises. Oftentimes this practice brings about a hazy, overwhelming confusion that quickly scares us away, possibly to self-destructive habits that we lean on as relieving distractions. But Staci does not lead you to deep places unattended, and by following the “8 teachers” as guideposts, she offers a supportive path to navigate these scary places. These “8 teachers” are fear, awareness, choice, body, intuition, energy, intention, and surrender. Though easily heady topics, Staci is able to present them in a way that is easy to digest and grasp by the reader.

Following her energy healing style – where the one receiving the healing ultimately guides the process – Staci does not impose her ideas on the reader, and instead encourages you to engage the 8 teachers to empower your own healing path. By exploring these powerful tools and participating in the provided exercises, the reader becomes an active participant in what feels more like a personal workshop than a thought-provoking book.

As Staci says, “The only way out is through,” and sometimes we just need some support to make it there. Her supportive touch is what allowed me to surrender to the tears that cleansed my body that night at Sacred Dance. I encourage you to let Turning Dead Ends into Doorways provide a loving hand in guiding you through your own personal depths.

 To connect with Staci, you can visit her website, or find her on facebook or twitter.

Learning patience

“Oh look, your favorite tree, and it’s full of fruit!” my friend exclaimed as we got out of the car at our Russian River destination. I had told her on the drive up how obsessed I was with figs, and how happy I was that it was finally fig season. I went over to look where she was pointing, but my excitement waned as I realized that all the figs that covered this tree like christmas ornaments were still too green to eat. Not a single ripe one. In a few weeks they would all be ripe for the picking, but alas I was too early. As I stared at one of the green bulbs that seemed to mock me, my disappointment dissipated into amusement as I realized that I was once again being faced with the lesson that was front and center in my life right now: patience. From my career to relationship to digestive health, I had been cultivating tender sprouts for a healthy blossoming, but none had yet to show their bright petals. Instead of appreciating the small (or in some cases large) steps I had made in each of those departments, I tend to get restless and internally throw a fit, like a small child wanting ice-cream “noooow”.

I guess a large part of my anxiety stems from the fear that no flowers will actually bloom, that all my work in cultivating fruitful areas of my life will fail, leaving me not only barren and exhausted but also cynical. Because in the end, there is no guarantee that fruits from our labor will actually ripen and make it to our mouths. There could be a drought, a plant plague, or some thieving animals that will squander all your hard work. In order to not go mad over the risks, it is necessary to have trust and faith that the fruit will in fact come. One needs to detach from the needless worry, and surrender to what will be. Water the plant, give it your love and best intentions, but then let go. You may find that all that positive energy you’ve directed to your sprout will actually encourage it to push through and bloom even more beautifully than you imagined.

At least, this is what I’m telling myself right now. Only time will tell for sure. Until then, I am doing my darndest to wade patiently in the unknown and appreciate my seedlings.

The power of letting go

“Oh boy, your legs are as tight as a marathoner’s!” My alexander technique practitioner was working on manually loosening my legs, which were dangling down with gravity as I straddled a wooden vault she referred to as “the horse.” The surprise in her voice, and the fact that I hadn’t gone for a run in over two years, made it clear that this tightness is not normal. For as long as I can remember, neither leg has ever been able to lift past 90 degrees of the other when lying down on my back. I’ve always blamed my skinny legs, and subsequently tight hamstrings and leg muscles, on my Mom. It’s been said that my Dad married her for her legs and mean pasta dishes, but while skinny legs may help win you a man, they prove a disadvantage for practical uses.

(My parents enjoying a picnic during their honeymoon road trip, Italian style.)

At 27 I am battling patella tendonitis that prevents me from running, steep hikes, or any other activity that requires strong knees. Despite yoga and strengthening exercises, the familiar aches have not gone away, and after a frustrating 2 years, I had decided to try Alexander Technique. Unlike previous physical therapists I worked with, my AT practitioner’s focus was on relaxing and loosening the legs as opposed to strengthening them. The main exercise that she stressed I do at home is called “constructive rest,” where you lie on your back with your legs raised up on a chair. That’s it….you just lie there for 20 mins. She said this exercise was important to allow my knees to relax and heal.

Relax. Interestingly enough, this was the one exercise out of the several she gave me to do at home that I had the hardest time completing consistently. And each week she would emphasize its importance again and again, as if psychically knowing that I wasn’t doing it. Why wasn’t I doing it?? I wasn’t consciously avoiding it. It didn’t hurt, nor was it at all difficult. But it required 20 mins of stillness, 20 mins of doing nothing, 20 mins void of multitasking or completing something. And carving out those 20 mins proved harder than I realized, since there was always something “more pressing” that needed to get done instead. I would always relegate it to the last thing to do before bedtime, but by the time I was ready to go to sleep, I was so exhausted that I climbed into bed instead.

More interestingly, when I did actually do the exercise, I’d feel my whole body relax (including my stomach area which so often gives me strife), and after 10 mins or so of just lying there, the usual bloating or stomach discomfort I had would dissipate. While this is designed as a physical body alignment exercise, for me it basically became a meditation (or you can formally make it into one as you have nothing else to do!). Oftentimes I would just sit there and breathe, and consciously put my focus on my stomach area, and then my knees, and just think about healing them. Each time I went through with the exercise I would be surprised how much more tranquil and rested I’d feel afterwards, from my head down to my toes.

And I would again be reminded, like so many other times during my healing journey, that the root of my physical woes was ultimately tension. I laugh at all the time and money spent on various healing modalities for my stomach and legs, when at the end of the day the main cause of all of it is my stubborn refusal to relax. “Stress” seems a cop-out cause for any issue, as it is an illusive thing that is as simplistic as it is hard to manage. And for some reason, it is preferable to have a complex explanation for our issues than simple ones. Instead of sitting with myself quietly, tuning in and breathing deeply into my body, acknowledging how I feel and providing a safe and attentive space for listening, I much prefer rushing around to appointments for virtually every healing modality under the sun, no matter the cost. Not that they haven’t all been wonderful learning experiences, but in the end the core issue is always the same one. Regardless of how many doctors I see, the tension will not go away unless acknowledged up front – and I need to be the one doing the acknowledging.

(Have the courage to face the light. Photo taken in a park tunnel in Berkeley.)

So how does one deal with tension? What does it mean? I see tension as a holding on, a grabbing, a refusal to let go. It is ultimately stagnant, stubborn energy that works itself up in knots in your body. Like any issue, acknowledgment is the first step to healing. And sometimes listening is enough. An inspirational writer and coach, Kim Childs, talks beautifully about the power of listening here. When you listen, and are simply receptive to what is without judgement or racing thoughts, you are able to fully see things as they are. No distractions. And in that state of observation, free of attachment, judgment or expectation, the need for “holding on” evaporates. This space of presence is an excellent place to recognize what specifically we are holding on to that is causing the tension in our legs and stomachs – what fears, relationships, expectations, judgments, or traumas we have been desperately clinging to (likely subconsciously), that will continue to drag us down unless dealt with and “digested” fully. While tuning-in may seem an easy process, it is actually a difficult one that requires courage. It takes courage to dive into discomfort with oneself, to be honest with how we feel and what makes us vulnerable. It takes courage to face these vulnerabilities full-on and perhaps allow tears to flow as we finally acknowledge them and release their hold on us.

Of all the healing modalities I’ve tried, those that allow you to face yourself honestly and release stagnant energy (tension), whether it be through crying, dancing, singing or screaming, are the most productive. Ultimately, it’s about recognizing tight holds of attachment to things that no longer serve us (and are causing dis-ease in our bodies as a result) and detaching from them.  This is why cleaning out a closet or home can feel so good. We are constantly getting bombarded with information and experiences every moment. Just as a kitchen sink fills up with dishes, we need to digest and cleanse our systems of the thoughts, feelings and judgments that get processed along with our experiences.

At the next sign of unidentifiable physical discomfort, I urge you to take a few minutes and tune-in, and see if it’s simply a form of tension that needs to be let go.

Detachment from labels

I’ve always considered myself a “music lover.” Not a music expert, per se, but someone who is passionate about music and takes it rather seriously. It is really hard for me to sit through a song (or god forbid playlist) I dislike. (Maybe this makes me a music snob?) This can make riding as a passenger in a car uncomfortable at times.

One of my reasons for moving to San Francisco was to have good live music available within a walk from my apartment. Over this last year I’ve made an effort to be on top of live shows that were happening – how could I call myself a music lover if I’m not regularly going to live shows? – and once I discovered music festivals, attending as many of these as possible also became a goal. By living my definition of what “music lover” meant (which included going to shows and music festivals), I was actively expressing who I was.

The world seems to run on labels and categories, as it seems to be the only way to make the least bit of sense of all craziness that encompasses it. I mean, isn’t that what language is after all, a socially recognized system for labeling things? Each word is simply a label, a commonly recognized set of sounds that corresponds to a thing (or action, descriptor, whatever). But what makes this tricky is that our definition of words and labels cannot help but be influenced by our prior experiences with those things we are referencing.

Now, this is not a problem for simple communication like “the door is locked”. Little room for interpretation there. But ask any two people in SF what the word “hipster” means and they each may have different connotations of the word. I can’t help but feel that our linguistic system of communication is simply archaic. If we can’t even agree on the exact definition of a noun, how are we to effectively communicate abstract concepts like feelings, dreams, or even who we are? How about creating an identity for ourselves, a definition to which we can ascribe and use as guide posts for how we live our lives? How can one even attempt to translate these ideas through the switchboard of language?

In the sound healing program I completed, our teacher would have us “make the sound” of our day at the beginning of each class. No need to search for words or navigate the linguistic code. Simply tune inwards to find the vocal sounds that best resonate with whatever you are feeling or wishing to express.  It takes almost the full hour of my therapy session to just catch my therapist up with how I’ve been doing since our last session. Putting all that in a 2-minute soundtrack, that is completely unique and authentic, is so much more efficient! (It should be noted that the concept behind sound healing is that all things – thoughts, feelings, objects, etc. – are simply energy, made up of vibrational waves, that have their own resonant frequency. So, by tuning into and sharing the “sound” of what it is we want to express, we are communicating the very essence of that thing.)

This is all to say that until this past weekend, I was still ascribing to the “music lover” definition I had mentioned earlier, which included festival-going. This was not a difficult conclusion to come to, as my four experiences with music festivals (each at the High Sierra and Harmony Festivals) were amazing. Based on those experiences, I concluded that I loved music festivals, and attributed that to the fact that I loved music. And I was very excited to finally make it to Outside Lands this year. I had not been quick enough to purchase tickets before they sold out last year, which had made me very bitter. I planned ahead this time and cleared my calendar for the day and time those puppies were going on sale, and made sure to get myself a 3-day pass. Nothing was gonna stop me now.

The terribly long walk from the Golden Gate park festival entrance to the actual concert entry gate was annoying, but I dismissed it as one of the necessary costs of attending a large festival. The fact that they made me pour out the tap water from my water bottle upon entry annoyed me more. Especially when I realized that they were charging for water refills, and the stations were very few and far between. Enter in the hopelessly large crowds that stood between me and the water refill stations, as well as my growing thirst as I navigated them, and my annoyance level was quickly rising.

But all was well with the world because soon I’d be seeing Beck. I’ve been listening to Beck since middle school and had yet to see him in concert. Odelay was in constant replay in my car as I drove to high school senior year, and I continue to be amazed by the variance of his music. Each album has a different sound, and he seems to collaborate with a different artist each month. Because of this I was willing to be pushed and jostled a bit by the crowd that filled in around me at the main stage 20 minutes before showtime. Those 20 minutes were uncomfortable, yes, and the people in the bear hats behind us who were talking obnoxiously loud were irritating. But they were also drunk. And this was a music festival after all. How did this not annoy me at High Sierra? Oh right, because the people there respected personal space and they were more chill and high than drunk and obnoxious. But no matter, I was a music lover and willing to put up with this to see Beck.

Beck fired up with Devil’s Haircut, and I was so excited and immediately started dancing. But something was not right. Aside from the two ladies in front of me, no one else around me was dancing!  All these people who felt compelled to push themselves toward the front and nearly run me over in the process seemed unengaged and bored. What was going on? Aside from the popular “two turn tables and a microphone” song, the climate of my immediate surroundings remained unchanged for the entire set. I could not help but feel irritated. I realized then that for me, music festivals were only as good as the crowd that attended them. The energy of a performance goes both ways between the artists and the crowd. And I like it when the crowd around me is as enthusiastic about the performance as I am – especially if they are taking up valuable personal space. My critical voice that sometimes rears its judgmental head could not help but conclude that a lot of those people were there more for the scene, and to have something cool to post on facebook, than for the music itself.

(Beck. Do you see anyone dancing?)

By the end of the night, the freezing weather, overpriced food and ridiculously long waits for the port-o-pots completely deflated what was left of my tolerance. The following morning, I sold my ticket for the remaining two days.

Though I had not consciously registered it, I had somehow connected going to Outside Lands as validation of my hardcore music-lover status. Over the last few months I was surprised to learn that many of my friends were not going, and I assumed that they simply did not care about music as much as I did. Because why else would you turn down a music festival? But as I stood freezing, looking at the 25 yard-long line for $8 hot chocolate, I understood. And I also realized my mistake. I, nor anyone else, has anything to prove when it comes to identity definition. No need to meet some fabricated definition of a label, even if you yourself fabricate it. I still love music (and therefore remain a music lover) and the fact that I will no longer go to Outside Lands does not change that. What has changed is my understanding of what “music lover” means, and my relationship with that label.

Each day, each moment, we are evolving beings with new thoughts, emotions, and experiences that shape who we are. How can you put a label on that?