"THE GUEST HOUSE" - JULY 2018
The lessons we need to learn come back again and again, and sometimes we learn them and sometimes we don't. The good -- which gives me faith lately -- is that the guidance to get through challenges seems to come back again and again too! Today, Rumi's poem popped into my head. This was a poem I read on a bulletin board, on the first day I entered the yoga studio I later bought form my teacher. It has always been one of my inspirations, returning to me often. But it's been some years now until... today it came in a whole new way.
When I owned the yoga center long ago, I often thought of this poem as I was cleaning up people's belongings (like empty water bottles after class or poop off the toilet!) or if people didn't pay for class, which sometimes happened. Today, it came to me with a whole new meaning, as I try to make peace with needing to be a tough mama defending my precious child from other ignorant (maybe jealous?) mothers (her friends' moms), who do things out of lack of awareness or lack of integrity, that often hurt my daughter. I try to frame, for my daughter, the reality of a world where awareness doesn't always exist to the level that we as humans all deserve, where human dignity is a taken not a given. I try to explain to her that being a highly-sensitive person, an intuitive and aware person, and a global citizen -- who can see things in a deeper way -- is such a gift. I try to speak to her soul, so she knows in her deepest heart and grace that adults make bad choices (not that they are bad people), almost without knowing it, and that for her being a see-er of truth, a seeker of truth, one who just gets it at 10-years old (more than some adults ever will) is a gift.
The hurt she feels is real, and the responsibility of letting it go is big for her, but she does it way better than me. My father used to say "if it doesn't kill you it makes you stronger" (I realize now he may have gotten that from a song!), but it always stuck with me. These wise souls who come now to earth, like my daughter, just get that and can go way beyond that - they can and do inspire and uplift all of us. For my daughter, I hope it's not the negative circumstances she needs to handle (and re-live over and over like lessons that sometimes repeat in my life). I don't think it is. I see her handle things with grace and ease, accelerating forward a conversation that allows her freedom from these human foibles. This is a conversation that strengthens her spirit so much, that in her rising above this human-mess, I hope allows her to carry others higher and higher into awareness and shift reality, so human dignity reigns and we (even us less-evolved adults) find ways to bring lightness -- and with it awareness -- to change the ignorance, clean up integrity on this earth, and bless those who steal from us (or seem to steal) but really just clear the way for gifts and transformation.
The Guest House-
This being human is a guest house
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
Some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
Who violently sweep your house
Empty of its furniture,
Still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
For some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
Meet them at the door laughing,
And invite them in.
Be grateful for who comes,
Because each has been sent as a guide from beyond. -Rumi
"TOUCHING THE VOID" February 2009
This title is the name of a film, a true story, about two men (Joe and Simon) who climbed an immense mountain (of snow and ice) in Peru. The treacherous conditions require that they were hooked together the whole climb. They make it up, but on the way down, Joe breaks his leg. Simon lowers him down the icy slope the length of their rope, then moves down to meet him and repeat that process, over and over again. But the slope is an overhang, so Joe ends up hanging in mid-air, and after over an hour of Simon being pulled down by Joe's weight (to his probable death), he cuts the rope. Joe makes his way around the steep overhang and down, and sees a huge crevice where Joe must have fallen, assuming he is dead, so leaves without him. Joe is stuck, with his broken leg, at the top of this crevice, can not climb up and realizes no one is coming to save him, so starts to lower himself down, hoping this one deep crevice has an opening at the bottom. He has to delve deep to see if there is a way out, facing his fear, having faith that down is the only possible way out.
Eventually, as he descends he sees sunlight and makes it out. Then, he must face days getting across ice, then a rocky glacier, without water or food, with a broken leg. How? He chooses one spot a few yards ahead, sets his watch for 20 minutes and makes himself go, sliding backwards dragging his leg or hopping between and over rocks. During this time, he consistently progresses, ever so slowly, but at a few points he stops. He describes during one period feeling that he was part of the stars, the mountain, that everything blends into one and that he had no emotions just a feeling of calm of being there. He also has another time where for over an hour, a rock song gets stuck in his head and is driving him mad and he realizes he might freeze there, die alone with this horrible song in his mind. But he persists and gets back to camp. He credits his life to his ability to just keep focused, by timing every twenty minutes, and moving a small distance toward his ultimate destination. He said he could not begin to think about how far he had to go, so he did not; he just took tiny steps toward this monstrosity of an impossible journey, and it ended up that the impossible was possible. He made it and lived. (This summary can not even begin to describe the actual story, one that keeps you riveted with the drama of a conscious human facing immense difficulty.)
Why am I reflecting on this? The humanity of it all runs through my mind over and over. First, there is Simon having to choose his own life and let Joe go. Second is Joe's immense inner strength, the power within us as humans, to persist despite obstacles... in this case, among some of the worst physical health and weather conditions that a human could really face. Also, in Joe's story, you see the duality, the connection and oneness with everything, and then the shadow, the darkness, getting out of control. He experienced both, maybe because his spirit was stronger then his mind. In yoga, we learn to know the shadow side (doubts, limitations) and the light (connection, calm). We also learn to witness the negative (cautionary) mind and the positive mind, and how thoughts can throw us back and forth, keeping us from being present or making choices from awareness. We aim to embrace the shadow and the light, to journey through life using the neutral mind (seeing both the thoughts of the negative and positive minds), not being overwhelmed, but consciously choosing what to do from a place of neutrality, from connection to spirit, allowing decisions to come from our highest self. (I think, for Joe this was re-creating the twenty-minute goal over and over). Finding the inner strength to persist despite physical limitations, facing the darkness, despite the mind's pull, continuing to take tiny steps toward bettering our lives, and not being overwhelmed with the never-ending, suffering along the way... that gets us somewhere, and that is yoga.
LIGHTEN UP ON SELF October 2008
Someone told me the other day that I was hard on myself, so my wandering mind keeps wandering back to what this means. Is it true? How? Am I alone? I think we are all hard on ourselves. Why? In the book, Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert, he mentions that each of us has the tendency to think that we are unique from everyone else, that we stand apart. In actuality, we are all the same, not so different or unique, thinking the same thoughts as others, but thinking that we don't think those same thoughts.
So, what drives us to think that we stand apart? In yoga, we would say the ego. Ego is often misunderstood as something negative, that sets us apart from others as better, but that is not always the case. The ego does drive us to want to do more, better, faster some times. This is not always a bad thing. Part of a yogic practice though is to approach our own life with compassion, acceptance and mindfulness of how it is right now. Learning not to be attached, not wanting things to be a certain way, accepting what we can accomplish in a day, and knowing that what it is, is just what is. We rarely are able to just see what is as what it is. We always see what is and the feelings, emotions and judgements that rush to mind become the what is, when really the what "is" happened before all those rushing thoughts took over.
So, what do we do about lightening up on ourselves? As usual, the answer from yoga seems to me to be finding the balance between the duality. To wake up each day with goals and dreams is good. To finish each day with judgement of a half-done to-do list does not get us anywhere. So we try our best, reassess, get up every day, do what we can, and keep things in perspective.
Taking time to really meditate on what is most important, then fitting that in first is key. What are the things each day that assure our self-care, help us enjoy life, add depth to the richness of our lives and our relationships, serve those we love the most, and allow us to be someone who at the end of the day contributes in a positive way to the world? Work on those things, challenge yourself there, and let the rest of it fall away for another day. This is lightening up on self it seems... even though I should be able to accomplish so much more each day, especially more than most people or more than you can. (Just kidding! Lighten up, would you?)
STRENGTH & RELAXATION February 2006
Yoga is about duality. The extremes and how we all exist in between (shades of grey between black and white). In the yogic view, there are basic universal energies -- yin and yang. Yin is the cool, dark, relaxed contracting internal energy (the lunar or feminine energy) and yang is the precise, bright, expanding external energy (the solar or masculine). The earth lives between the energies moving in opposition. We, whether male or female, have both qualities. Most yoga practiced in the US is called hatha (ha=sun, and tha=moon).
In yoga practice, we consider a range of the qualities of our consciousness or energy. Tamas is inertia. Rajas is activity. Sattva is purity or calmness. Tamasic energy in its extreme is laziness or ignorance, while rajasic energy is energetic stimulation. We all need both, but not often to the extreme. In yoga poses, we play with these energies, whether sitting cross-legged for meditation, standing and balancing on one foot or in a handstand. In each pose, we notice what body part touches the floor and consciously let it sink down to be supported by the earth (tamas). Then, we take advantage of a lesson from high school physics – that every action has an equal and opposite reaction.
So, sitting up straight is an experiment in letting the pelvis and hips sink down (tamas), then the spine lengthens up (rajas). Balancing on one foot is about spreading the toes to root down into the floor, then lift the arms and stay with more ease. Handstand’s big secret is to spread the palms wide and let the body weight flow down, so you can float the legs up. The ease in any pose is with the balance (sattva) of letting go and being active. This is where people who practice yoga play… the challenge and intrigue of finding balance and exploring the range of possibilities along the spectrum.
So, back to strength and relaxation? You can’t have one without the other. To be strong and powerful (whether literally picking up something heavy) or less literally, such as having the confidence to give a speech, you must relax. What do you do before either of those activities? We all take a deep breath, we let out a big exhale and then we go for it. To access the inner strength, to get through life’s challenges, transitions and changes, we need to calm down. To deal with tax time, car problems or big construction projects in our neighborhood, we all must take time to get it together, to stop and think.
Energetically, people are strong. We are actively out there with our forward-thinking yang energy. Many people get it together every day to find confidence to balance hectic lives and do their jobs well, whether parents, policy makers or politicians. We live with lots of rajasic energy, which seems appropriate for powerful people making a difference in the world.
As a small business owner, trying to make a difference, I run the the rat race with you, pushing to do more and be better. We live in duality though, of needing to be yang and be yin, of requiring a little sattvic calm, of coming back to neutral sometimes. We must find balance and take time to relax. (I know, it is not easy, there is so much to do!) But I invite you to consider the possibility that stopping for an hour or so once in awhile to be in the moment and find a little inner calm, will renew your strength and power to do everything life requires and be the best you can be, and you will be happier too!
TOSS THE RESOLUTIONS January 2006
Reflection time! The New Year – the time we all rethink our lives, our paths, our careers and our health. We do this, set some new goals and then (most of us) usually break those resolutions. I did… I woke up on January 1st, and said I would not eat bread or sweets, then on a train coming back to DC, having eaten little for lunch ate some chocolate hazelnut candies. Ugh.
This year, I am not going to be hard on myself for being human. I am easing into new ways.
Someone once told me a story about two cars driving side by side on a highway. One driver turns the wheel just a tad bit, and eventually, over time, the drivers are not driving side-by-side. One driver is on another road, heading in a different direction.
It is the little shifts, the small changes that redirect us and get us to a different place. Can you recall a moment in an old job where you had a glimpse of a new job? Or the first time you saw the person who is now your partner. Those tiny moments, little openings for some variation, that’s how we start to paint our lives in ways that are a bit unusual!
So, what’s up for you this year? Simplicity? Abundance? Completion? Or a promotion? New hobby? New friendship? And once you know what it is you want for this year, how do you get from here to there? How do you find the space and time to free up your mind and your schedule so those little shifts, those tiny moments of different thinking, spark a new way of life to emerge?
For me, the answer is yoga. It is in each moment of practicing that I find the clarity of mind to access those little possibilities. It is just in that moment of ahhhh… feeling a great stretch and opening as arms go high. Or it is when I can feel truly grounded and stable (not easy for me) in a balance pose, that I am free.
Whether on a yoga mat, running around the nieghborhood, walking through the park with your dog, or watching your child take a nap… I invite you to join me and others in discovering these little sparks of possibility that give us the inspiration, the freedom and the power to shift slightly, so the big changes we want in our lives become real. Take the time to care for your self, to stop and see life speeding by; it is this time that we access the potential sparks for those transformative shifts we all want.
This year, toss out the resolutions! Instead open your mind and invite in the tiny glimpses of a life that is more full of everything more you want. And enjoy it!
WHO ARE YOU? November 2005
We make our way through the world using our brain. The brain stem and mid-brain help with reflexive actions… like pulling your hand back from the hot stove or activating the nervous system when perceived danger emerges (like speedy drivers). The cortex, the massive upper brain, is what distinguishes us from other non-human animals. It is there where we find who we are.
From the moment we are born, the brain “learns”. What is brought in through our senses from experience is stored in the brain. Specialized cells called neurons create memory patterns based on the past. Recollection of past patterns (of neurons firing) is how the brain predicts what’s coming next. (Observe a baby learning to roll, sit, crawl or walk to see this clearly.) In other words, what happened in the past makes us anticipate our future, and then we act. An inspiring man Randy MacNamara said this– “…you don’t see what your eyes see, you see what your brain thinks your eyes see.” But most of us would argue that we are more than what emerges from predictable past patterns.
So, where are we in this brain of ours? We find ourselves between what the past predicts and how we choose to step into the future. We have the ability to recognize in each moment that the brain produces what to do now based on the past. The coolest thing about being human is we can see how we see. We are the only species that is able to perceive ourselves (our selves) for what we are. As humans, we are conscious of our consciousness… a bit boggling for the brain, isn’t it?
It scares me to know my brain’s patterns predictably move me, or that my awareness gives the possibility for a slightly different direction, a new path or action. Access to power and freedom from this realization feels like a commitment to a big journey. Personally, yoga gives glimpses of ease for this newly created way of being. In yoga, this awareness of choice is like the pause between an exhale and the next inhale. It is the timeless space where I connect to my enduring self, or to being part of something bigger. Yoga and meditation are the opportunity to practice safely being on this journey.
So this knowing is a real gift! We create our lives consciously. Past patterns help with survival and comfort, but most of us see parts of life where comfortable survival is not all we want. We let past patterns (which may serve us and may not) influence what we do. We can also move forward in a new way; one where we choose much more of what is possible for our lives, families and communities.
(The inspiration for and some ideas here are from both Landmark Education’s Living a Created Life lecture and the DVD Yoga Unveiled.)
WHAT'S STOPPING US? October 2005
Last month, we spoke about nurturing ourselves. This month, we ponder the biggest challenge that keeps most of us from self-nurturing and from doing other things that are priorities in our lives. Ta-da! It’s procrastination.
What stops you and me from accomplishing what we want in life or work, for family or community? Isn’t it crazy, when you’re ready to clean your desk, fix the yard, write a book, go for a run, etc., that the only thing stopping you is YOU? Ugh. (I feel the same way.) When I have time after a long day to pay bills, do laundry, or catch up with friends, I would rather (perfect honesty) buy a great bottle of red wine or see a film on K St. But for you and me, for us, to overcome, we must face the truth. We are the roadblock on our life journey that stops us from moving forward.
So, if we just pretend that is true for a moment, what do we do? We take it on that the distractions our thoughts create are what pull us from priorities. (Test yourself: would you rather keep reading, or eat a piece of Belgian chocolate? Easy answer here!). We want to sleep enough, eat well, take a walk through a beautiful neighborhood every morning; or we ponder reaching our long-lost brother or asking our boss for a raise. Logically, it does not make sense why we just don’t do these things.
Subconsciously procrastination is a defense against our fears. These may be fears of not being on top of things, not having money for bills, not having something to offer others, not being perfect. (Only you can sort out what your fears are, and it may go back a kid in third grade saying you didn’t fit in. You do!) With willingness to look, we consciously shift our thoughts. We see our stopping blocks were just something someone else suggested that we took on as truth. Then, we are free to affirm what we want, shifting from the procrastination mode of “I will be…” (fill in the blank… fit, wealthy, of value) to “I am…” (healthy, prosperous, important).
Through shifting intentions, we start to subconsciously believe priorities are reachable (even if they are not yet). Then, we take it on that things are different and somehow the new perspective gives us energy to do the dishes, write that paper, or be courageous and ask someone on a date. We get that we can do things, even if in an imperfectly perfect way. It is only my power and your power, to create what we want as real, that allows our lives to be full now. I invite you to join me in a conscious shift… a walk versus an extra lazy hour of sleep, or a yoga class instead of television one evening? Then, our daily lives are congruent with our priorities.
NURUTURING EVERY PART OF YOU September 2005
In the yogic view, we have ~10,000 thoughts per second. The thoughts that create our lives are the ones attentively acknowledged that we start to believe. Only when we allow a feeling to be a thought, and then be expressed and shared does the energy behind that thought shift something for someone else in the world.
What does this have to do with nurturing ourselves? It is key. Our daily thoughts -- what to say, how much to sleep or drink water, what sort of exercise to do (or not), how to act with family, friends and at work -- create the reality of our lives.
We all know how to be vital and happy. Right? We all know to lose weight -- exercise more and eat less. We know that sleep keeps us recharged and energized. We know that balance (not overworking or watching t.v. daily, doing something different each day) equates to vitality. But most of us can look at our health, personal relationships, home, professional situations and see there could be more connection, abundance and happiness.
We are complex beings with three parts -- body, mind and spirit. Energy we have, or energy to do something in life comes from all three. We have proof of this. Anyone completing a big work project or university exams knows that sitting studying for hours nurtures your mind – to a point. Then, the pages get fuzzy and you feel exhausted. Or you decide to go workout at the gym, start to become more flexible and strong, but feel when on the treadmill one day that something is missing in your life.
The challenge to nurture yourself – to be more vital and happy -- is to nurture body, mind and spirit simultaneously. One way to do this is create a balance of activities in life that allow you to exercise your body and expand your mind and feed your spirit. An easy supplement to this is yoga, an activity that works on all three parts of us at once. Yoga practice helps us thrive by helping us realize and unite body, mind and self.
Yoga, like any practice, will take you on a journey that reveals challenges to overcome and gives you breaththroughs that reveal your true spirit. Yoga’s physical exercise gives flexibility and strength as well as balances your glandular system (metabolism) and strengthens the nervous system. Breathwork and meditation help you be more relaxed and able to see thoughts in your mind – the ones that serve you and the ones that do not help you get the life you want.
We create and choose our vitality and happiness. Choose balance, nurture all parts of yourself and notice how your thoughts change. Then, your life will be more abundant!