Friday, September 2, 2011

Challenges in Real-Time

by Miki Kashtan
You may have noticed that I haven’t posted anything on my blog for some weeks now. This is a first since I started my blog. This is no accident, and not even entirely based on having a lot on my plate. These past weeks have been very challenging in multiple ways. The effort it would have taken to pull myself out of that state in order to focus on writing was beyond my capacity given the external stressors that were present.
I have written here more than once about how the path of vulnerability has been my primary spiritual practice in the last 15 years. I have also expressed myself quite vulnerably on a number of occasions. What I don’t recall having done is to share, publicly, my challenges while they are active and ongoing, before something gets resolved, addressed, settled. This is what I am about to do in this entry.
What makes it possible is a change in my outside circumstances. Right now I am sitting in an airplane, on my way to Poland and then the UK, where I have been invited to teach. There is something about being locked up in the air, without any possibility of being accountable to anyone, that feels freeing to me, even though the space is narrow and hugely uncomfortable and the options are so limited. In this space I can almost imagine that I am writing only to myself, or to a few trusted friends, rather than to several hundred people who read my blog.

My deepest challenge of all is one I have mentioned here more than once: I don’t believe, or experience the option, that there can be room for me in this world. Yes, there is room for me to contribute, to support people, to write, to inspire people, to do tasks, respond to people who want things, initiate projects, or even envision a new world. What I don’t believe there is room for is my deep authenticity, my difference in how I interact with people. Even more than that, I don’t experience the option of being fully myself, putting out in full what’s true for me and what I want, and having that received in a way that’s not at cost to others.
I’ve been feeling enormous discouragement. I’ve been working on myself for decades already, and I still struggle in such fundamental ways. I’ve had such clear visions for the world for so many years, and I don’t have a sense of having moved closer to accomplishing anything other than supporting individuals in having a better life for themselves. I’ve created an organization, and I don’t know how to influence it to be the shining force in the world that I long for it to be. I’ve articulated so clearly ways of working together with others to collaborate for everyone’s benefit and I haven’t had the significant effect I’ve wanted to have in supporting organizations to shift into this way of operating.
In all these areas, the gap between what I see as possible and what is actually happening is larger than my organism can tolerate and remain whole. On top of that, my fundamental way of operating is to be stretched slightly beyond capacity. I haven’t learned how to really and truly move from what I want, moment by moment. I have gotten much better at recognizing my limits, not at knowing what I want and trusting that I can go for it. Limits are not enough. I want to thrive. I don’t know how.
Then there is everything that’s larger than my own personal life. For as far back as I can remember I regularly fall into pits of despair about what’s happening in the world. At its most basic, the question that haunts me is this: How can we, collectively, continue to make choices that inflict so much suffering on so many people? I am not even sure which is more painful to me: those who don’t make the links between their actions and their effects, or those who are aware of the links and still make the choices. I personally fall more in the latter category. I delude myself, perhaps, by thinking that I inflict relatively little harm, and that I am dedicating my life to transforming the conditions that make such suffering possible. Still, in actual fact, I haven’t really done anything to reduce suffering in the world at the scale and in the places that matter to me most. Which then brings me back to the personal sense of inefficacy that I already spoke about.
Perhaps you can see, now, why it’s been difficult to know how to write. While all this has been going on inside, I’ve been immersed in an intensive family visit that was primarily joyous. My nephew Yannai had his Bar-Mitzvah, and we had family over from several states and from across the Atlantic. Then, on the tail end of that, I was completely engrossed in a major effort to find a drug that’s nationally out of stock in the US for my sister’s cancer treatment. Just keeping up with the activities of each day left me with no energy to wrestle with the difficulties inside me and find my way to write something.
Perhaps something is starting to shift, though I am far from certain. Two things happened in the last few days that give me some modicum of hope. One is that I am finding a readiness to create a new core practice for me: learning to identify what I want and make my daily choices based on that. Just as with the path of vulnerability, this will require many micro-steps. I won’t be able to jump start myself to where I want to be. It’s micro-steps that will get me there over time. I want to use any sign of knowing anything about what I want as a wake-up call, a mindfulness bell, that reminds me that I matter, that there’s room for me even if I can’t discern or experience it, that I am human like everyone else. The other occurrence which gives me hope is that in parallel with this insight I received a daily practice from a practitioner I see for bodywork. He suggested that I dedicate 10-15 minutes daily to wasting my time. I immediately saw the beauty and wisdom in this suggestion and decided to adopt it. Not even meditation, he said. Simply stopping any activity designed to create or contribute anything. The first day I managed to tear myself away from what I was doing, even despite the internal habitual chatter that suggested I finish first what I was doing. I knew better. I stopped, and I went and sat on the couch, and looked out my window on the sky, the birds, the houses across the street, and the hills extending up from the houses. I can see how within that fallow space of nothing a possible awakening of my knowing what I want can emerge. I know I want that.


  1. Oh wow. That really spoke to me. It reminded me of how much more I want connection than answers. I connect with your confusion and pain here, and in that connection, I can start to find my own answers. Had you waited until you'd resolved something, then posted the "answer", I'd not have had that opportunity. Thank you. I really want to remember this lesson: that I don't have to give people answers, I don't have to fix anything, I just have to connect with my needs and theirs, and the solutions will find us. Bless you.

  2. This blog has touched me deeply.

    I'd love to share what it stirs up in me:


    The 'ruthlessness' of walking the talk...the courage it takes.

    The joy and the deep deep exhaustion that that walking of talking can lead too.

    And the relief and hope that can be found in just doing 'being' :-) Basking in the sun and doing absolutly nothing 'useful'or 'meaningful' at all.

    How often I forget this in my other 'doings'. And how when I forget I just need to look at my dogs and my cat :-) They have their Masters in this skill of 'being' not 'doing' :-)

    I am so looking forward to meeting you, Miki, in the UK.

    warm wishes,


  3. Miki, Julie, and Elkie,

    Your words and thoughts here are so penetrating that I hesitate to add to them; they resonate so deeply just as they are. I'll just add that this "personal sense of inefficacy" rears its head in my life too. Yesterday, after receiving another rejection of my (admittedly flawed) book proposal, I wondered whether I was devoting a large part of my life to something that the rest of the world has examined and deemed irrelevant, or impractical. It is an uncomfortable place.

    All of this is a long way of saying that I wish simply to stand with you in what you have expressed.

  4. Miki,
    I just wanted you to know that I'm here. I went through a myriad of emotions as I read your latest post, and normally, when I'm video-chatting with my empathy buddy, much of what is needed is just a knowing or a loving glance, when the other person is sharing their vulnerability... clearly, without the ability to share the glance, I wanted you to know that I have that look on my face!! (my hope is that you trust it's true) :-)
    with love,

  5. Deep gratitude and resonance for what you have written. I am once again reminded of the power of vulnerability - especially in the moment that it is happening. A huge challenge for most of us, and the more so for those of us who teach and lead! Such an enormous gift to validate the unknowing we all (I believe) so often swim in. With you in my heart.

  6. Like Andy, above, I seek to be a loving witness to the whole of you, of your sharing. I have of late been yearning for Miki time, largely because there is a sharedness to that longing to the experience of the gap between vision and what I can make happen.
    I also share the pattern of operating beyond capacity, and I love that you are willing to take on the practice of wasting time. Revolutionary...
    I feel a surge of love/inspiration/want in your direction right now, wanting for your wellbeing, for offering external support and for your finding what you seek inside and out.
    thank you for being visible and audible in my life, through this blog.

  7. There is a lot that resonates in me from this post, as i have been struggling to figure out how i can make a dent in this culture that, in my observation, creates so much suffering. It often feels so overwhelming, so hopeless.

    There are a few things i am struggling to understand. I don't quite get the paragraph about there not being any room for you in the world. What i am hearing underneath seems to be a longing for simply being worthy as you are, whether you "accomplish" something or not. Just like the peace you experienced sitting on the couch not doing anything, "wasting" your time. Is that there or am i completely projecting my own associations between worthiness and contribution/accomplishment?

  8. I want to sit in your lap Miki... Please read my inspiration below.

    Author & lecturer Leo Buscaglia once talked about a contest he was asked to judge. The purpose of the contest was to find the most caring child.

    The winner was a four year old child whose next door neighbor was an elderly gentleman who had recently lost his wife. Upon seeing the man cry, the little boy went into the old gentleman's yard, climbed onto his lap, and just sat there.

    When his Mother asked what he had said to the neighbor, the little boy said, "Nothing, I just helped him cry."

    Good for you, you and I can't fit in one airline seat! Sending you lots of love and companionship for your overseas trip...

  9. Hi Miki
    My experience as I read this is that you are demonstrating creating room/space for yourself in all your authenticity and uniqueness. I ask myself, "does she not see this or am I missing something?" You are putting out so much of yourself right here. I see so much courage here. And the more I see, the more I just fall in love with everything about you.

    For me this post is so juicy... I am most wanting to hang onto the piece of seeing what's possible and the gap with what is happening...I know this can be a source of despair but for me it means there is so much more that we can do to make things better and I want to focus all my energy on that possibility and make it bigger and bigger... It's the only way I can find the energy to go on.

    Thank you for all that you are. All of it, really.

  10. Hi Miki :)

    I somehow hear how you long to "be" as you are rather than "do" things.

    Or long to be-long?

    How you struggle to find balance of "fully being you" with "us" and experience it as connection/flow?

    Wondering if you long for more models to inspire you to nurture your dreams? Maybe yearning to experience more personal encounters of that "sacred space" with others as you do right now?

    I celebrate you taking the time to just "be".
    I wish for you that this time will give you the spaciousness to be, trust, and sense in your heart how much I believe you do be-long.

    Avec beaucoup de tendresse (With tenderness),


  11. Miki, in this post I hear you describing an inner state that sounds like a lack of fulfillment, “inefficacy,” and a possible moving between depression and restlessness. Your message could, also, be suggesting, as I hear it, a disappointment in the “results” of your “path of vulnerability,” hence, your considering creating “a new core practice for me: learning to identify what I want and make my daily choices based on that.”
    You earlier say, “I have gotten much better at recognizing my limits, not at knowing what I want and trusting that I can go for it.” Maybe I’m am not understanding well what your identification with wanting is. However, what I have come to understand through my spiritual practice is that wanting, maybe more than anything else is a root cause of disappointment, restlessness, discouragement, and impatience. I have come to see that taking my wanting seriously has never contributed toward peace or happiness for others or myself.
    This subject of wanting seems to be off the table in new age self-help circles. My guess is that so much of the movement is commercial.
    You say, “I don’t experience the option of being fully myself, putting out in full what’s true for me and what I want, and having that received in a way that’s not at cost to others.” My experience and conviction is that the True Self, from which I remain unrealized but in relationship with, is All-Knowing, All-Loving, All-Sufficient (without want), and Perfect Being. What could be called the “authentic” self is a false sense of self no matter how honest I have dared to be, and, don’t get me wrong, honesty and daring are the way to realization. The limiting ego-mind is a tricky customer. If I don’t watch closely he’ll pinch everything he can get his little hands on.
    Clearly this response I offer is totally different from all the others, but, to be frank, I was not uplifted by them as I so often am on this wonderful blog of yours. They seem to say, Wow, dear Sister, I feel the inefficacy and discouragement, too, but it is certainly great to know I am not alone with this experience, and that alone (somehow) makes me feel comforted.

  12. I am moved to share two inspirations that come to mind when reading the post and comments:

    1) This week I was hiking in Watkins Glen, NY, and witnessed the loudest and most determined waterfall I've ever seen. Having been pounding against the rock walls for centuries, it has now carved out for itself a vast and beautiful gorge that twists and turns through the valley. I see the human spirit mirrored in that powerful water.

    2) A quote from "A Path With Heart" by Jack Kornfield
    "One old teacher of mind said, "The problem with desire is that you do not desire deeply enough! Why not desire it all? You don't like what you have and want what you don't have. Simply reverse this. Want what you have and don't want what you don't have. Here you will find true fulfillment."

    In peace,
    Shira P.

  13. Nathaniel Branden has written extensively on this, in books such as Honoring the Self or The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem.

    Feeling fundamentally unfit for life, along with having trouble identifying what we want, are consequences of growing up in an environment where we had little choice but to silence our own feelings and wants, out of fear of being rejected by our parents if we didn't conform to their expectations.

    Best wishes,
    Marc Moini

  14. Miki -
    You are such a blessing to those who struggle.
    You are a blessing to me.
    You are a blessing to those who do not even know you are!

    Thanks be!!

  15. Thank you Miki, for sharing yourself with honesty.

    While there is no "remedy/quick fix", opening and feeling and knowing what you are feeling created a door of its own. It's a door into you.

    . . .and that has been, in my experience, the doorway to compassion and humble living--as one of the many who do not know much and certainly do not know enough to change the world(in any way of looking at life), but know a little more of some things through simple presence, reflecting on living, and most of all, loving.