Wednesday, September 5, 2012

What Have I Done?

I’ve been having a mid life crisis of sorts.  How did I end up here?

So many things I wanted to do with my life and really, I haven’t done most of them.  Where is my Oscar?  Where is my Emmy and Tony Award, side by side on my mantle?  Where is my mantle?

Like many over the age of, say, 35 (yes, let's say 35), I wonder where the time went.  And if I could have spent it better.  And if I had spent it better, been better, done better, would I be in a better place?  Like where I imagined myself to be when I day-dreamed at age 12?

Living in L.A., one is faced daily with the nagging feeling that one has not done enough.  That others are doing more.  That something is missing.  That maybe it's too late.

One big mind fuck.
My mind is in such a place right now.  I place my head against my pillow and close my eyes.  I scan my entire life and what I’ve done.  Like a meditation, my life passes before me as I breathe in and breathe out.  Images, memories, familiar feelings.  A home movie in my mind.  And what I’ve done - what I’ve experienced - isn’t so much about what I have printed on my business card or my resume.  

I’ve gone camping, I've skinny dipped, I’ve fallen in love, I've climbed trees, I’ve driven in a convertible with the wind whipping my hair and the sun on my shoulders, I've crashed that same convertible in to a barn hurting nothing but my pride.

I’ve awakened feeling rested and content, I've awakened hungover, I’ve spent sleepless nights excited about the following day, I've spent sleepless nights worrying, I've spent sleepless nights with the one I love, I’ve had orgasms - lots of orgasms - I’ve felt bliss, I’ve felt joy, I’ve experienced deep and profound peace, I’ve felt connected to every living thing in the world, I've felt connected to myself, to God; I’ve had transcendent experiences while acting, while singing, while meditating, while teaching, while making love, while laughing.
I’ve made an audience cry and an audience laugh and often I’ve made the same audience do both. I’ve known deep sorrow, I’ve felt alone and I’ve felt connected to everyone in the world through this suffering – through knowing everyone has suffered and everyone will again and how this very fact connects us all.  I’ve swam in the ocean, I’ve been stung by jellyfish, stung by bees, stung by others’ words; I’ve wanted to end it all and I’ve also wanted to share my bursting happy heart with the world. I’ve eaten food off a taco truck, a dosa truck, I've eaten food off of someone’s body, been handcuffed by my own volition, gotten sand in my shoes and my pants, danced till my lungs hurt, won a spelling bee, won acting awards (no Oscar yet), won someone’s love, won $10 from a Lotto ticket, made money, spent money, lost money, ridden a horse, ridden a pony and ridden the family collie when I was 3.
I’ve held kittens and puppies and baby horses and baby rats (yes, rats), and have loved, been loved, been grateful, been present, been hopeful, wished for more time and wished for less.
I've been confused and been filled with insight, had my cheeks pinched, my feet tickled, my hair pulled, my various body parts attended to with delight; I've been proud, I've been humble, I've been humiliated, I've tripped and fallen on my face in front of people (mostly on purpose while doing pratfalls).  I’ve written stories and songs and theatre and comedy and a poem that was published in Teen Magazine when I was 13.
I was a mime for three days, I've done experimental theatre and performance art for a non-English-speaking audience who understood about as much as I did.  I've sold sandwiches, sold flowers, sold cocktails, sold subscriptions to the L.A. Times; I’ve lived in San Francisco and Chicago and Manhattan and at least 15 places in the Los Angeles area.  I’ve spoken bad German in Germany, bad French in France, bad Spanish in Puerto Vallarta and Hollywood and Mr. Garcia's Spanish class.

I've found $20 on the street.  I've found myself and lost myself when I didn't mean to and when I did.  I've hated myself, loved myself, felt deep abiding compassion for myself and for my heart and how I yearn to be of service to myself and to others this lifetime and how I have felt there is still time.  There is still time.  Another half of a life – or more – to taste strawberries and drink cheap champagne and dream new dreams and squeeze my boyfriend’s ass when he gets out of the shower.   Or it could end tomorrow.  How lucky I've been if this is where it stops.
I've lived a life.  A life of details that are not insignificant.  Many of these details occurred while I've been biding time waiting for my life to be better, to be different.  And some of these details could not have occurred at all without my surrender to the present moment - without me falling in love with whatever is right in front in me.

Who says I haven’t done a thing with my life?  Not me.  But I may feel different tomorrow.  And so it goes. 

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Breathe In, Breathe Out, Breathe Easy

[ Sarah: In light of the events of the tragic Aurora, Colorado shooting, I thought I would re-post my blog on Tonglen, originally posted on March 18, 2011. xo ]

Whenever a tragedy occurs, like the earthquake, tsunami and impending nuclear meltdown in Japan, there is a collective grief that hangs in the air. Everyone feels it.

What do we do in the face of such suffering?

We might turn away. Or obsess over CNN. Or feel overwhelmed, guilty, helpless, numb. We may become more self absorbed as a defense to such enormous grief and then think: "How can I be so obsessed with my little life when there's bigger fish to fry in the universal pan?"

In Buddhism, the first Noble Truth that "life is suffering" is not a proclamation that "life sucks". It's a truth urging us to be more willing to face suffering squarely. To really look in to its eyes. When we practice this, we can handle anything that comes our way.

There is a belief – especially in recent years – that we must think only happy thoughts and to avoid, avert and distract ourselves from what is. We avoid "bad energy" at all costs and after awhile, we're living like ostriches, with our blindfolded head in the pink sand, believing that this will attract shiny happy things in our lives. This way of living can actually create more fear. It can make us live smaller.

And facing suffering, understanding suffering, doesn’t mean being glued to the TV watching horribleimage after horrible image for hours on end. This, actually, can be a hysterical indulgence after a certain point.

So what do you do?

You could donate to The Red Cross, you could call to make sure friends and relatives are safe, you could organize a benefit. But beyond this, what the hell do you do in order to understand such suffering on a deep level? I don't know completely. But I've been doing Tonglen.

Tonglen is a beautiful practice for suffering. Basically, you breathe in suffering and you breathe out relief. You actually relate to suffering, rather than turn away. Rather than worry and obsess. Rather than wish things were different.

The Buddhist path is one of fearlessness. When you truly feel that nothing in life can touch your inner sense of grace, deep peace and happiness, you become braver in life. You take risks. You live bigger. You're happier.

Funny, that.

So. What to do in the face of such suffering? When there is seemingly no compassionate action you can take in the moment? Try Tonglen.

Heart of Bodhicitta:
Get in contact with your open, loving, wise heart. If you have trouble with this, just think of you at your best. This heart is from where all your good deeds have ever sprung. This is a place of spaciousness, wisdom, stillness, clarity, compassion and loving kindness. A collection of all that is good in you. Trust me, it’s there. If you don’t think you have it, borrow someone else’s. Hell, Angelina Jolie’s will work. Or Mother Theresa. Or your great grandma. But see it as a beautiful orb of light in the center of your chest. Maybe golden light, or pure white light. However this resonates with you, get in contact with your heart of bodhicitta, your inherent goodness and compassionate wisdom that is there. Rest your attention here for a while. Count to ten breaths.

Breathe In Suffering:
Now see the suffering of another, perhaps a loved one, as a black cloud. It’s hot and thick. Breathe this black cloud of suffering in to your spacious, open, loving heart. Your heart uses it for fuel and…

Breathe Out Relief:
...As you breathe out, exhale relief to those in suffering in the form of this beautiful light from your heart. Exhale compassion, loving kindness, stillness, expansive clarity and wisdom. All that is limitless and true in your heart of bodhicitta. Let these qualities touch and relieve those beings who suffer.

In, suffering, out, relief. In, blackness, out, light.

We want to not do such a thing, right? I mean, breathing in suffering? Are you nuts? Try it anyway.

Breathe in the suffering of others. Focus on a single being at first. Perhaps a woman who has lost her child in the tsunami. A nuclear plant worker. A dog who cannot find its master, roaming the devastated shoreline.

Breathe in your own suffering; your own resistance to life, your resistance to your meditation practice, your resistance to washing the dishes after dinner and the fight you always get in to with your loved one about it.

Breathe in the truth of life; that we all have suffering of some kind or another, taking various shapes and forms that are no more and no less suffering.

Breathe out the truth of inherent wisdom, kindness, compassion, spaciousness, stillness, clarity.

Eventually, with this practice, you begin to hold suffering and bodhicitta together, in the palm of the same hand, neither fearing and averting, nor attaching and preferring. It’s all of it. Just like life.

I do Tonglen for myself, for loved ones, for a woman with a suffering face in line at the grocery store. For my parents, who did the best they could. For ex boyfriends who didn't do whatever they didn't do. For those who have caused harm to me. For those to whom I've caused harm. For a dear friend who's going through a breakup. For an entire nation that is ravaged by loss and devastation.

And I begin to be able to face the un-faceable. And I begin to know there is something else there alongside all that suffering.

And low and behold I find I can truly handle whatever comes my way more often than not. This breeds a trust that is always there. Well, most of the time. And so I keep practicing. In and out. In and out.

Friday, January 20, 2012

In Gayle We Trust

The third season of the NBC web series I'm on is out!  All ten episodes are up on and

Here's an episode from season 2 to give you some back story...

And what Mr. and Mrs Anderson are up to now:

Here's my favorite episode we shot because director Jason Farrand gave us free reign to improvise some pure ridiculosity:

Enjoy the silliness!