Doors and Sardines

ObservaTorys by Tory Shulman

“Think of the first night as the dress rehearsal. If we can just get through the play once tonight - for doors and sardines.
That’s what it’s all about, doors and sardines. Getting on, getting off. Getting the sardines on, getting the sardines off.
That’s farce. That’s theatre. That’s life.”
--Noises Off



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  1. Breaaaathe


  2. shivasana day dreaming

    shivasana day dreaming

  3. Buddhist or hungry

    Buddhist or hungry

  4. “To live content with small means; to seek elegance rather than luxury, and refinement rather than fashion; to be worthy, not respectable; and wealthy, not rich; to study hard, think quietly, talk gently, act frankly…to listen to stars and buds, to babes and sages, with open heart; await occasions, hurry never…this is my symphony.”— William Henry Channing

    “To live content with small means;
    to seek elegance rather than luxury,
    and refinement rather than fashion;
    to be worthy, not respectable; and
    wealthy, not rich; to study hard, think
    quietly, talk gently, act frankly…to
    listen to stars and buds, to babes and
    sages, with open heart; await occasions,
    hurry never…this is my symphony.”
    — William Henry Channing

  5. Tonglen–The Brilliant Buddhist Method of Breathing Backwards

    Some of you might have seen my recent tweet about a beautiful, bubbly, blonde who just joined my acting class. She is beyond sweet with a sultry southern flavor and she bakes Nestle Chocolate Chip Cookies for every single class. And yes, they are still warm when I stuff five of them into my mouth at once. In short, she is a total sweetheart which makes her the biggest cunt.

    I say this as a joke obviously. Kind of. Sort of. To be totally honest, the second I laid eyes on her in rehearsal, I stepped out of the room and called the office to see about switching into another class. My whole body was tense like I had just seen a shark and gotten my period at the same time. DANGER. It wasn’t that she was fake or bad at acting or cloying or any of those things. She was just a funnier, thinner more southern version of myself and I did not know how to deal with that. I only knew one thing at that moment and that was the fact that there couldn’t be more than one TORY in the class. And so I panicked and started to do what I ALWAYS do–run away from the icky situation. Who needs acting class? I’ll be discovered in a Starbucks someday.

    Of course, that’s when I heard Pema’s voice in my head. (Pema Chodron, if you didn’t know is my favorite wise-cracking Buddhist nun who tells it like it is). I had just listened to a teaching where she instructs her students to consider a breathing technique called Tonglen. The best time to use this technique is when you are on the proverbial “hot seat.” Something has just triggered you and you are suddenly hooked on an emotion like superglue. And I think we all know what this feels like.

    In essence, Tonglen is really just about breathing in and breathing out the problem but done in a REVOLUTIONARY way. Now most of us would instinctively breathe in peace and space and calm and breathe out the problem. We have been taught to inhale strength and perseverance while exhaling weakness and doubt. However, the reason Tonglen is so revolutionary is because the instructions are to do it BACKWARDS. Pema instructs her students to INHALE the dark, hot feeling of anger, craving, jealousy or fear or whatever the problem is at that very moment and EXHALE relaxation and space. Instead of running away and trying to escape from that ugly nasty feeling of stress, you learn to make an actual relationship with it. Because guess what? This aint the last time I’m going to get jealous and if I just keep exhaling that jealousy I’ll eventually hyperventilate.

    I know you are saying WTF right now and so I’ll give you a clear example using Hottie McBakesalot to teach the four steps of Tonglen.

    The Tonglen Practice at Work

    Bodhichitta means “awakened heart.” So before you begin your Tonglen practice, visualize an image that can evoke the feeling of opening your heart. I like to use the image of a porch on a beach house. I’m gazing at the ocean while eating lobsters and beer. Some people use an image of a hot cup of coffee, or a warm bathrobe after getting out of a pool or even a Farside cartoon that always makes them laugh. It could be anything. Just as long as it gives you a flash of spiritual space in which to begin the practice.

    The actual “problem” can be an infinite amount of things for any given person but basically it is whatever makes you hooked in that moment. In this case mine was a feeling of strong, hot jealousy. This particular problem felt like a red wave of panic had crested over me and was overwhelming my senses with wishing I were more like this girl. So I breathed IN the red, hot wave. I accepted that this was how I was feeling. I asked to know more about this feeling and how it affected my body. And I didn’t just dip my toe, I dove in with each inhale, making a commitment to work with the issue and not escape it. I dealt with it. I inhaled.

    Now just as important as inhaling the pain and craving is exhaling something that gives you space and peace. Pema thinks of the Colorado sky and its limitless qualities on her exhale. I like to think of a sprinkler touching my feet on hot pavement. Sometimes just the word “compassion” can be your out-breath. Whatever it is, it should give you a sense of joy or peace or even humor.

    Here is the best part. After you feel as if you are inhaling and exhaling at a normal rate, you spread out the practice. Now when you inhale, you not only take in the heavy emotion for yourself but you breathe it in for anyone else on the planet that happens to be going through that same motion. So I inhaled jealousy for myself and for anyone, anywhere that right then was feeling trapped by wanting to be someone else. And as I exhaled my ocean image, I exhaled it for all those people so that they could use even just a flash of relaxation. This breeds compassion, a feeling of “oh I’ve been there” with the rest of the world. This very act TEACHES you empathy.

    As soon as I ran out of the acting rehearsal, I raced to the bathroom and practiced Tonglen for about 15 minutes. After I came out I went straight up to Hottie McBakesalot and confessed my feelings, telling her I was two seconds away from leaving the class because she was so intimidating to me. She laughed, gasped and embraced me and said in the most lovely southern drawl “Darlin’ I have nothing but a sweet soul”

    I don’t doubt it.

  7. You have exactly 90 seconds

    "I define responsibility as the ability to choose how we respond to stimulation…Although there are certain limbic system programs that can be triggered automatically, it takes less than 90 SECONDS for one of these programs to be triggered, surge through our body, and then be completely flushed out of our blood stream…If, however, I remain angry after those 90 seconds have passed then it is because I have chosen to let that circuit continue to run.” —-"My Stroke of Insight" by Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor.

    If you didn’t know, Dr. Jill Taylor is a one of the top brain anatomists in the country. In 1996 she famously suffered a severe stroke at the young age of 37 leaving her temporarily, with only the use of the right side or creative side of the brain. This meant language and mathematics were instantly erased but her sense of flow, of the present moment, different strains of energy and a blissful oneness with the world shot straight up. Her book “My Stroke of Insight” gives you all the amazing details of how she recovered.

    In my favorite section of the book, called “OWN YOUR OWN POWER” Dr. Taylor writes about one of the hardest parts of her recovery. When she started regaining parts of her left brain, she had to also regain the loops of negative thoughts and judgment which we all know so very well. BUT having once experienced life without them, she decided, quite quickly, that she wouldn’t invite that part of her brain circuitry back. After waiting the anatomically automatic 90 seconds of surging emotion to race through her, she just decided to shut off that particular circuit.

    Is it that simple??? Is it that amazingly easy? I can’t imagine what my day would be like if I simply shut off the noise that repeatedly says “You should not have eaten that or worn this or said that or felt this and blah blah blah blah judgey mcjudgerstein.” What if the second that left hemisphere started to clear its throat—I simply said “Ooh sorry, we are all out of time?”

    This concept is not actually knew to me. If any of you know me personally, you will know that the American Buddhist nun Pema Chodron and her wise cracking Buddhist teachings have been a tremendous help for me when the left side burns a bit too brightly. And the amazing thing is that the way Pema explains her technique is actually identical to Dr. Taylor’s philosophy.

    For instance, if something bad happens, lets say you rear end a car and you’re already ten minutes late to a meeting. Immediately, almost pre-verbal, a layer of emotional cement dumps straight over you. However, and this is HUGE so listen up or read up or whatever up. IF you continue to berate yourself, berate the driver, berate the traffic, berate the day, berate your car or berate your crappy luck, you yes YOU have CHOSEN to drive that ugly ass cement truck back over and over your head leaving you with ten more layers of cement you NEVER EVEN NEEDED. There is no point to creating more cement layers. The shitty action has already occurred. You can choose to make the situation ten thousand times more efficient by recognizing that the 90 second circuit has been breached. Let the blood settle. Don’t fear the discomfort. Get to know how it makes your stomach ache and you back tighten. Observe how this one cement layer makes you feel so you aren’t surprised the next time. Become familiar with the taste in your mouth and don’t be scared to directly confront the circuit and simply say: “I’m sorry I’m all out of time.”

    (Source: doorsandsardines)

  8. How I found Buddhism in moving apartments.

    "…Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know."

    Pema Chodron

    I’m moving to another apartment a few blocks down the road. Now there are two ways to move efficiently. You can either be a “type-A, super organized, early morning riser” human being or you can be in possession of Mary Poppins’ endless magic carpet bag. Neither of these applies to me. So I was thrilled to have my organized beau lead the way.

    Me: “Just tell me what to do in order and I’ll follow you every step of the way.”

    Boyfriend: “That’s the worst set up to disaster I’ve ever heard.”

    He was right. Frustrating my bf to the point of no return was the fact that I would almost finish every task. I’d tape up a box, tetris-pack with almost everything, and then run to the couch to watch “I Shouldn’t Be Alive” on Animal Planet.

    Boyfriend: “Tory, can you get back here and finish this end table?”

    Me: “I did finish! C’mon! I’m trying to watch this Australian stuck in the outback suck cactus water to save his life.”

    Boyfriend: “You have not finished.”

    And that’s when it hit me. It could have been come from the Buddha’s lips himself. The importance of finishing. Finish your tasks. Do not disappear in the middle when things get complicated or muddy or hard. Breathe and remind yourself gently to keep your focus and awareness all the way until your task is complete. By making it a habit to finish, you are showing yourself an extraordinary amount of self-compassion (and loving kindness towards your inexhaustibly patient boyfriend.)