Adventures in Meditation…

ImgresI just drove back from a three-day Vipassana (insight) meditation course. And boy are my arms tired! Oh no, wrong punchline. Hmm. And boy are my observational faculties tired! Doesn't work quite as well. And boy am I sick of spinning my wheels! Ha. 

It was a short course. My first, at age 20, was 10 days, silent. You have to do the 10 days before you can do the 3 days, and when you complete it you realize why it's so frickin' long. It's because it takes 10 days to actually get a toe-hold in learning the practice. 

The first part of the practice is just observing the breath. It's crazy to realize how much you breathe–but it's even crazier to realize how much you think. We're sitting (read: meditating) for 6-10 hours a day (sometimes I was sleep-atating in my bed when I was supposed to be upright) and about every other breath I would catch myself thinking again. And about really dumb stuff.

Many of my thoughts centered around my Amazon sales rank for my eBook and schemes for how to raise it. I'd catch myself and reason the whole thing out. "Why am I thinking about this dumb thing? Again?" I'd remind myself that life is really short. Imagine myself in a car accident or frozen under a layer of ice (it was cold down in North Fork), and think, is that the way I want to spend the rest of my time alive on this precious beautiful earth with the birds and the sun and the moon? And then I'd remember a few more people I could invite to download my book. The mind is a tricky trickster.

By the third day, I was really getting in the grove. Even though you're not supposed to, I would talk to myself to keep coming back to the breath or the sensations. "Good," I would repeat over and over again. Or "Keep coming back," just to return my attention. That seemed to help. A song that was featured in my meditation: One of These Nights by the Eagles. Why? I was not turned on or anything. But now I'm listening to the actual lyrics and it seems pretty interesting. More appropriate for a shamanic medicine journey than a Vipassana sit. Or more acurately, the meaning and interpretation would just be a lot different depending on which thing you were up to.

Also, on Day Two, two wolves appeared as I was walking around the pond. Or were they coyotes? I turned the other way and walked as slowly-quickly as I could. One of them started to follow me. "Don't turn around. Don't seem afraid. He can smell your fear. Make noise to scare him away. No. Just ignore them." My heart started to pound. He was two feet behind me, panting. Panting. I finally arrived at the clearing. I was about to yell out, even though the retreat was silent. He darted in front of me, sniffing around for food or water. It was a stray dog. And clearly, this was animal medicine coming right up to me. A sign. A metaphor. Something meaningful. But I don't know for what.

Actually, I'm looking at pictures of wolves online now, and he really didn't look that different from a wolf. Well then. A very personable wolf. 

Green with Envy or Making Yourself Sick? (Let Go to be Well!)

A newswire article interviewed stress expert Lauren Miller about how jealousy can poison health.

If you know me, you know jealousy has always been my biggest "sin." Oh, God, it's a really juicy hook for me. I'm a 4 on the enneagram–and jealousy a big feature of 4's. (That and being incredibly charming and lovable.) But I read this article and realized it's really killing me in a way. She says it paralyzes productivity and kills creativity. It's true. What do we do about it?

So Miller says that recognizing your own value is the key to untangling ugly stress that stems from envy. She encourages people to list what they are grateful for in their daily lives. Returning to what is good about yourself and your life relieves stress.  As a cancer survivor, Miller believes reducing stress is essential to feeling better and staying well. Studies have linked stress to a stressful string of physical problems. One study demonstrated that elevated job stress leads to an increased risk of heart disease in women. 

I recently took a workshop called Ending Jealousy Permanently, and it really shifted my whole way of being in relation to those emotions and stories. Highly recommend it.

What’s in a Birthday? Notes on turning a thirty-something

Guess what? Today, I turn the ripe old age of 34! I was just starting to get the hang of 33. "The Jesus year."  

Now, it might be hard to believe… but I wasn't always the comedy rock goddess you see before you today. It's hard to admit that some things have been tough for me – except when I'm on stage… then I apparently love to admit it. But we all want to look good, myself included, and to be respected and to make a good impression. But by doing so, we essentially lie. And my job as a comedian has always been to tell the truth. So here it is.

Yes, I've spent a over decade performing comedy, but it was largely unpaid and for give minutes at a time. It was easy to sleep in until 10am every day. Working day jobs that I didn't really feel passionate about. Since I was little, I had always felt like there was something different, something wrong with me, some way I didn't fit in.

I struggled for many years with an eating disorder, with a love and relationship addiction. It was easier to fall in love with men who had some quality that I wanted to possess, rather than actually developing my own self. Continually disappointed that true love was not forthcoming, I'd eat myself into a fog. And it's hard to pursue your life's purpose and make a real living when you're suffering from a love hangover and a food coma. The emotional vicissitudes were so intense–nothing felt stable or lasting or fulfilling, and I never really managed to create the kind of sustainability or impact or sheer good quality work I longed for, and was afraid I could never have. 

Seven years ago, I hit bottom. Not human bottoms. Ok, I did hit human bottoms. But I also hit low points. And I went into recovery for these various addictions. I've now done volumes of spiritual and growth work, from learning swing dance to doing a series of shamanic medicine journeys, to 12-step recovery programs.

And the most amazing thing happened four years ago. I became ready to cut the crap, and get serious about my comedy career. But this time, I had to walk my own path. And I had to let go of all my ideas and concepts about what "real comedians" do… real comedians perform at dark and drunken comedy clubs where you can literally smell the bitterness and competition… "real comedians" aren't spiritual. "Real comedians" eat ramen and live with 6 roommates. Well, my path, it turned out, was to take what I had learned through 10 years of standup and years of acting classes, and start telling the stories of my life in my own way, injecting humor into the pain and healing with laughter. And, often, inspiring others to take themselves less seriously. 

Last Wednesday, I put on my show "Eat, Pray, Laugh!" at my friend Jim's house. It was one of the best shows I've ever done… and one of the most fun. At the end, they brought out a cake and sang happy birthday. What a gift. That night, I realized: I have worked my ass off to to find my own comedic voice, one that is truer to my spirit than ever. Wow, it's okay to be funny AND earnest AND vulnerable! And I found my true audience–not in comedy clubs, but in alternative venues, theaters, yoga studios, and the houses of friends. God, it feels good to speak the truth and make people laugh like this. It's taken over 20 years to figure out how to embody this kind of truth and humor on stage, but it was worth working for.

 And it's amazing to have it pay off. This past Saturday, I played my highest paying gig ever at the Iowa City Yoga Festival, plus all those expenses paid (!! – flight, hotel, etc.) and they brought my boyfriend out to teach a workshop as well. That, and winning awards like "Best Local Comedian", "Best of the Fringe" and "Best Storyteller" confirms that I actually have found my path, and I'm walking it. But what's most exciting is that I know that, even with all the years I've spent working at it, it's just the beginning.

I recently met Julia Butterfly Hill, who has a totally amazing life story and a powerful impact on the world, and she confirmed for me something I'd been thinking. That we don't have to stop being who we are. Those of us who are different, who don't fit in, we are gifted. We are can be sensitive, intense, frustrated, angry, sad, and we sometimes overflow with passion and desire. And we don't have to change who we are–we just have to learn how to focus our energy in the right place. 

This has become a passion of mine to now share with others. I've developed a new coaching technique that allows you to accurately tap into your higher self, your soul’s deepest source of wisdom. and show you how to integrate it into your life – powerfully, compassionately, & effortlessly. I'm currently calling it Higher Self Coaching – which is designed for people who are tired of going to others for answers, and who just want to be able to access the real answers they know are locked somewhere deep inside, and move forward with clarity certainty. Some of my specialties include life purpose, relationships, and recovery. 

 If you're interested learning how to focus your energy in the right place, to find your own path, your own voice, your own gifts, let's chat – we'll set up a "Get Your Own Answers! Session." Email me, or you can schedule a time online here

Finally… I have several projects in the works that I'm excited to share with you soon. For now, enjoy a little feel-good music, on the house. This is a song I recorded, and it's dedicated to you. 

No matter how well we do or don't know each other, you've been an important part of my path. Thank you for joining me on this journey, and I look forward to walking on the road of life with you. 

Sending blessings for a year filled with laughter and light!

Alicia

Laugh Away the Pain? It’s Evolutionary.

Once upon a time, Charlie Chaplin said, "Laughter is the tonic, the relief, the surcease for pain." Last week, The New York Times agreed. The reported on a recent study which found that,"laughing increased pain resistance." In this story, the science of modern times sides with the clown. The Oxford study also suggests that laughter has provided primates with an age-old evolutionary advantage.

Oxford evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar concluded that laughter triggers endorphins that allowed test subjects to resist pain longer. Test subjects watched a variety of video. Some subjects watched "The Simpsons," Eddie Izzard routines, and other comedy clips. Other participants watched  footage considered feel-good without being funny, like nature programs. Others  were subjected to boring- er- 'neutral' golf and pet training videos. All participants were monitored for laughter during the shows. The participants who laughed proved better able to withstand pain resistance tests adminstered after watching the videos. Another experiment, conducted live at an Oxford Imps improv show, supported the findings that laughter eases pain. 

The study reports that laughter, not just a general sense of well being, is key to the endorphin response and pain relief. Dr. Dunbar hypothesizes that laughter has been key to the social evolution of primates. Like singing, dancing, and other physical activities, shared laughter strengthens group bonds. A laugh today may play tonic to your pain, and shared giggling echoes age-old evolutionary rewards. I think may be time to rewatch Charlie Chaplin…

Dunbar's study was published in the proceedings of the Royal Society B, Biological Sciences.

Laugh it up!

Alicia

How many chuckles = a chinup? (No joke!)

Laugh-with-abandon_14-things-adults-can-learn-from-children Growing evidence confirms suspicions that laughter is not only fun, but good for us!  WebMD reports that laughter and moderate exercise share a host of healthful effects. According to Dr. Lee Berk's research, appetite hormones behave the same way after a good giggle as they do after a few workout reps. In science-speak: leptin goes down and grehlin goes up. Berk's volunteers watched stressful videos and hilarious videos (in no particular order) while their hormones were monitored. The results show comedy may be good for more than a chuckle.

Berk hopes his findings can assist patients who have lost their appetite. The elderly, handicapped, depressed and ill might benefit from repetitive laughter research. Overachievers may well enjoy a chortle during exercise for added benefit. Though a small study, Berk's work joins other science in supporting laughter as good medicine. More conclusive work may cause this writer to re-evaluate the association between 'cackles' and 'evil'. What can't hurt may heal!

Wanna come try laughter yoga with me?

__
The original study

Is your laugh genuine or strategic?

Did you know we've been laughing for 7 million years?

The Quarter Review of Biology recently published a study on laughter.  There are two kinds.  (Of course, Osho wrote about four kinds, so science is still lagging behind on this front…)

Thee first kind of laughter is a) spontaneous and b) stimulus-driven.  The study says that just because someone is laughing with you, doesn’t mean that it is spontaneous or stimulus-driven, which is the natural kind of laugh that mirrors ape play, which arose around seven million years ago.

The second, “dark side of laughter” kind of laugh is strategic and sometimes can be cruel. "One type of laughter arises spontaneously from the perception of a certain class of events, while the other is used strategically in interaction to influence others or modulate one's own physiology," said Gervais, who is a researcher in the Evolutionary Studies Program at Binghamton University in New York.  Here's where I read the article.

In laughter yoga, I aim for my laughter to always be the first kind of laughter.  But I don't think this study gets at the whole picture.  Laughter needs to be practiced to become part of one's life if it's been missing for a long time.  That's why in laughter yoga, we encourage one another to laugh, through exercises designed to create that spontaneous first kind of laughter.  Don't feel discouraged if it takes time to remember how to laugh spontaneously.  It's still a practice for me.  I'm even starting to laugh at standup comedy again after years of training myself to slap the table with a straight face and say in a deadpan tone, "That's funny."  But it takes practice.

So come practice.  Come take a laughter yoga class with me.  Or come see a standup comedy show!

-Alicia

The Ganga is a Local Call

I'm now at Santosh Puri Ashram in Haridwar.  I took the train, and at Haridwar, and took pictures of some monkeys on the train platform.  One of them beared her teeth and tried to grab the shoes hanging from my bag, but I stepped back and she stopped.  I walked across the street from the station, had a pratha with cheese and a chai with no sugar and a lime soda, put stevia in them both.

Took pictures with some engineering students, one who graciously kept me company, although I did not ask him to.  Indian boys want to be nice to you though you haven't asked them to.
I took a rickshaw to the ashram, but they told me it was full.  A man with very long but well-groomed ear hair was the only English speaker.  I said "hello" and they said, "no hello" so I said "Namaste, hare om."  And they said, "Namaste."  I told them about Mandakini and how I had emailed her, and then I realized it was the wrong ashram.

They pointed, and I walked and walked, asking for directions every few minutes to this small ashram with my over-packed backpacks in the midday sun.  I got closer and closer it seemed when I hear two bearded sadhus singing bajans inside a gated home.  "Ram something Ram" was all I understood.  I let myself past the gate, shed my bags and shoes, bowed, and sat in the little room where they were playing a harmonium and drum, passing the melody back and forth.  I lovingly ignored the thoughts in my mind suggesting I should leave and also suggesting I should stay for as long as possible.  After a while I began to hum along with them.  After a longer while I realized they were singing "Sita Ram Sita Ram" and began to sing with them.

The singing became very pleasurable and I began to smile in my heart, and also thinking of Jai Uttal and Aharon.  After some time, they spread out a mat, interrupting the chanting to point it out to me that I should sit on it instead of on the cement.  When I felt it was time to leave, I got up, and they motioned for me to give some money.  But because they hotel only took cash and the rickshaw driver had no change I had nothing but 500 rupee notes left.  I motioned that I had nothing but bowed in gratitude.  Then I remembered I had a dark chocolate pretzel and a granola bar from the airplane, which I didn't eat because I'm not having white sugar.  I gave them the sweets and walked back out of the gate.

I walked to the next door and realized that ashram was next door to Santosh Puri Ashram.  Guru Mataji's daughter, Mandakini, greeted me and showed me to a room.  We talked about our friend Erin, who suggested I might come here if I was looking for a peaceful and secluded ashram.  Erin left only two days ago, and they said she mentioned to the people staying here that I would be coming.  Very kind of her.

Some people were going to the River. Stephania from Italy told Mandkini she was going and asked if she should take the dogs with her.  The dogs were too hot for a walk, so she went alone. Though I hadn't slept much in 48 hours, I wasn't so tired, and I wanted to go to the Ganga as well.  I walked along the path a passed a number of sadhus in the woods, speaking only briefly to one younger man with matted hair folding an orange robe, who asked my name and told me he is called Gopi.  Then I saw the three other foreigners from Santosh Puri wading in the Ganga.  It's so dirty in Varanasi that I didn't dare go in, but here is much closer to the source, and people aren't creamated and sent into the river.  There's very likely less defication here too.  I mean, if you're not allowed to go in the river and leave your shoes on, it follows that you shouldn't go in and leave your shit there as well.

I slowly walk into the water with my clothes on.  The riverbed is silty, a smooth mud, and I slip on it, falling in up to my shoulders.  Blessed by the Holy Ganga.  I hold my nose, relax my knees, and dunk my whole self in.  It's dark brown and big river plant parts are floating past us the whole time.  This is because it rained heavily yesterday.  I climb out and Antoine ask Krishnabai, who looks very familiar to me, "How long were you in Oregon?"  "We were there four years."  Osho was in Oregon for a few years, and I immediately assume this is who she was with.  They continue talking and I ask if it was Osho.  She says yes, and then I ask if she knows the American man I met in Tiru on my first trip here, who told me he was with Osho for twenty years.  "Yes, very well." she says.

We walk back to the ashram together, and I'm still not tired.  In the library I send an email to my parents to tell them I've arrived safely and where I am.  The shelves are full of books in different languages, and the one that pops out is titled, The Way of a Pilgrim.  I pick it up.  Where have I heard about this.  It's by a Russian man in the nineteenth century who sets about on a journey to learn the practice of incessant, interior prayer.  J.D. Salinger places it in the trembling hands of Franney in Franney and Zooey.  I placed Franney and Zooey in the hands of RM.  On Independence Day, July 4th, 2006, an hour before we saw the fireworks, on the steps of the Maritime Apartment complex in San Francicso, he told me that he had read The Way of a Pilgrim while traveling in India these past seven months, and this might be more than a coincidence that we are reading Franney and Zooey together.  Though we parted ways several years ago, strands of our conversation are still finding their other end and turning out to be incessant loops.

I'm still not tired, and after dipping in Ganga, I pick up The Way of a Pilgrim and sit with a guy outside the gate of the ashram.  He is building a set of steps out of bricks and dirt, sandbags, wire, and old pieces of wood and concrete.  Since the path to the Ganga is not ashram property, it's illegal to make a proper stairway, but the path is difficult to traverse and Mataji has asked him to make something a bit more sturdy that the monsoon won't wash away so easily.  I sit and read The Pilgrim while he chain smokes and builds and I feel both an affinity for him and a desire to help construct the stairs.  He says it's his third trip to India and he has stayed for almost a year the past two times.  He had lots of complications in his home country; his mother fell ill, but he found himself counting the days until he was to return in January and finally decided he couldn't wait any longer, that no matter what happens, he's coming here in May.  I tell him the same thing happened with me, and I had to come now.  He remembers Erin, "Covered with tattoos?" "No.  Tall, curly hair."  "Oh, yes.  Black hair.  Very strong and clear internally.  She does astrology."  "Yes."  I tell him how Erin suggested that it would be astrologically fortuitious for me to travel immediately instead of waiting, and then get back to working on my career punctually on July 31st.

He and I agree that the West is materialistic, and he says subtly that the stars might not know better than my internal guidance.  He suggests that if I want to be in India, I should focus on India, and see how I feel then.  We agree that we shall see.  I feel judgment that my internal compass is not louder and stronger like his or like Erin's.

A woman here wears a white cotton sari, and she reminds me of someone I met at Anandashram, on my last trip here.  I found myself at Anandashram because during a medicine journey my guide played a bajan sung by Krishna Das, and was in tears at the ecstacy of God Realization.  I asked Krishna Das after a concert about this prayer, and he told me this song is sung day and night, incessantly, at a place in Southern India called Anandashram.  On my first trip here, I went to Sivananda Ashram upon the suggestion of a friend I  had met, and I write a little bit of comedy about my trip so far, which I get up and perform for the two hundred yoga students and the swamis on talent night.

One fellow there, a fellow Jew now living in Boston, lived at Anandashram for several years, and he tells me, yes, go there and you can chant Sri Ram Jai Ram day and night.

At Anandashram, Thuli Baba is making a rare appearance, and I just happen to arrive while he and his devotees are there, though I have never heard of him.  A devotee of his invites me to attend his satsang, during which we chant the Rhibu Gita and receive the prasad of his his left over food.  It's not really left over, it's more like they make food for him and he gives us each a bite from his plate, and this is very holy.

I fell asleep after reading and awoke to hear the chanting of Arti.  At dinner last night, K has just bought a new handloomed thick white sari because she is headed north to Badrinath to the holiest city in India, to be with her Guru.  "We are not averse to the cold up north, and we are very ready to be out of this heat."  I ask the name of her Guru.  She says he is not famous, and I think, well, I don't even know the Gurus who are famous.  "His name is Tuli Baba."  "I met Tuli Baba at Anandashram.  You must know M!"  "She is a good friend of ours.  Babaji gave her a new name, Gagi."  "I thought you reminded me of her.  You must also know C, who is now in San Diego and came to my house in Oakland a couple of months ago to give a satsang."  "Yes!"  K says that her name came from Thuli Baba, after the Mother of Anandashram.  

This morning they served chai and fresh homemade bread and butter made from their cows' milk.  S and Mandakini are talking about herbal medicine and Erin's astrology reading for S.  A new woman keeping a vow of silence has arrived, named L, and she's wearing a shirt that says Omega.  I tell her how my father was a sort of acquaintance of Stephan, the founder of Omega and how we used to attend retreats there when I was a kid.  We get up, and she hugs me, which is a surprise, and I hug her back tightly.  I give her some of my neem oil, and she silently says thank you.  I'm hoping it will rain soon.

**

Today,  I went out to sit and read Pilgrim by the steps to the path to the Ganga.  A band of monkeys came and hopped past me.  A and S were going to the River, so I followed them.  On the way, a herd of cows, apparently led by no one, were crossing the River…  probably twenty of them waded in and about halfway they would begin drifting, over their heads, diagonally toward the other side.

The current would carry them quite far, and then they each reached the bank and would begin walking again.

The river was rushing pretty fast, so we found a spot where it was calm, and some Indian guys about to go swimming pointed out a snake in the water.  I was scared, saying "Om Namha Shivaya", but crossed this little tributary behind S anyway.  We waded into another part of the river and it was incredibly refreshing.  A couple of young guys asked if we would take a picture with them, and I really didn't want to but feared it would be very rude to say no.  "One snap?" they said.

A. took a picture with them, and then it seemed to be our turn.  They waited an awfully long time for us.  I sat in the flow of the river, imagining what these guys would do with their picture of them standing between two white women in wet clinging clothes.  We very gently said we'd prefer not to.  Ok they said, and it was a relief.

S. decided to go back, and we followed her.

On the way, A told me a joke:  "There's a swami, and he goes to Rome to meet with the Pope in the Vatican.  They talk about God and spiritual matters.  'Dis gold phone  hotline for God?' 'Yes,' The Pope says.  'I talking God?' The Swami speaks with God for a minute, hangs up, very happy.  The Pope says, 'That'll be $3000.  We have to pay for the calls… it's long distance.'  Some years later, the Pope is in India and meets the Swami at his ashram.  The Pope sees the swami's phone, says, 'God call phone?' 'Yes.' He talks for 30, 40 minutes, and swami says, '20 pace.' The Pope says, 'Only 20 pace?'  The swami says, 'Local call.'"

The train to India (to Haridwar)

I’m on the last part of a six hour train ride from Old Delhi Station to Haridwar in Uttarakhand. Anjou and her son are in the berth across from me and Raj Kumar was in the berth above.  I boarded at 5 am and the train left at quarter of.  Booking my trip to India only a couple of weeks ago, I only just got around to checking for train tickets.  Hadn’t really decided where to go.

Imagine coming to the States with a ticket to New York and contemplating upon arrival if you’re going to hop a train to Baton Rouge or North Dakota, because, what the heck, it’s all an adventure, right?  So I booked a train for the last night, and got waitlisted.  Assuming I might not get off the waitlist, I booked this train for 5:50 am as well, but I didn’t go so far as to book a hotel, meaning I did the dumbest thing possible: flying into one of the most expensive and dubiously treacherous cities in India with no actual place to go upon arrival.

I just need to check the website to see if I should go to the train station an hour north of the airport to catch my train or if I should find a hotel for the train station an hour south of the airport where my morning train would depart from.  The tourist bureau in the airport has no actual suggestions of where I can get on the internet, I take a taxi to the hotel area, then to the tourist beaureau, then to a hotel.

I’m still waitlisted so I’ll take the morning train.  I slept from 3 am to 5 am before my flight, took a six hour flight and a twelve hour flight, on which I slept three more hours. Passed through 11 time zones, slept 4 hours at the hotel, and now it’s morning time again.  How does it keep being morning again with so little night?

My going-away dinner for my third trip to India was very casual.  I haven’t written pages and pages of intentions for my big journey.  There’s something very casual and very natural about coming back here.  People can tell it’s not my first time here.  I’m already back to speaking the broken English I have found to be highly understandable in communicating with people here.  I paid for the hotel with left over rupees from my last trip.  There was a minimal amount of nausea in the death-defying road race of Indian traffic.  I even forgot to pack toilet paper.  Part of me is afraid that it’s almost too natural, that the parts of me I’m hoping to leave behind have come along for the ride. Though I know it is delusion to thing that I left them behind the last time.  We come with who we are, wherever we are.  Sometimes it just feels a little more momentous.