Not giving up

Overheard coffee shop conversation: “You’re not transformed by this,” she pointed to her head, “you’re transformed by this,” she pointed to her heart.

I’ve been grasping at tools, trying to think my way out of my problems, trying to convince myself I can “solve” them. I was compartmentalizing, which was helpful. I was dealing with one thing at a time, which was helpful. I was not engaging mentally with the thing that would instantly seize up my heart and clench my teeth, which was helpful. But as soon as I vocalized all the hurdles lined up in front of me I felt like my head was going to explode.

So I imploded. I couldn’t pretend they didn’t exist.

I can’t control them. I can’t solve them. I can only get through them. Depression makes everything seem impossible. Then I had an unexpected conversation with a friend that reminded me that I’m not alone and that I know how to help myself, I just haven’t been doing it. I had given up. I had given up on myself, my Self, because I was powerless to do anything about the difficult situations in my current life. I had lost connection, forgotten my most powerful ally, stopped caring about surviving.

I woke up the next morning, took my son to school, went home and decided to take care of myself. I danced around on my yoga mat and then sat for meditation, not because it is about stilling the mind or focusing the mind or finding peace with my thoughts, but because it is about taking a moment to sit in the experience of God.

I remembered who I am. I know that everything that is happening affects me but it does not define me, it should not change me. I shouldn’t attach to the outcomes or obstacles or ramifications of each uncontrollable situation, as hard as that is to do.

Not giving up on myself, my heart, allowed me to give up on trying to control my situation. I could let go (or try to, I’m working on it) of the stress and fear and anxiety.

I taught a yoga class yesterday after a few months’ hiatus from teaching, and it was so beautiful to have the opportunity to give again, to feel a shift into steadiness, to connect with sweet beings.

Yoga is about service. Teaching is sharing a practice. I wasn’t paid. I used to teach as my karma yoga for years. I decided at some point that I couldn’t afford to give away my time when I needed every minute to try to keep a roof over my head. But the potential income I may have lost in that time was worthless compared to the big deposit I made to my well being.

Thoughts on Love

CAM00414We make the basic assumptions that the heart is associated with love and love is associated with happiness and happiness is the goal of life.

Does love come from our heart or from our soul? Does happiness derive from love or peace? Does the word love only mean one thing? Is true love an emotion or a state of being?

The heart is like a box, which already contains endless, bottomless love, we just shut it. Simply. We don’t need to open it to allow love in; we need to open it to live in the love that is already there. Like a tuning fork resonating with the existing tone and vibrating along with it amplifying the sound. The sound is always there; our ability to vibrate at the same frequency is not.

I think many of us fear we have too much love to give and it can be misinterpreted, misused, or taken advantage of. Letting the love out leaves us unprotected, vulnerable, imperiled. These are all constructs of what love is, related to emotions and expectations and the idea that we are giving part of ourselves away when we love. We are becoming “less than” in the hopes that another person will fill the void and make us “more than” when we are a twosome.

Is this love?

If love is an all-encompassing thing, an energy, it cannot be given or taken away or lessened or increased. It just is. Romantic love is one way to channel it. Like a tributary of a massive river filled with the same water flowing in a certain direction. True love is unconditional but romantic love is rarely without conditions, said or unsaid. Are all “loves” the same thing? Do we just misunderstand its true nature? Is love in our heads?

Why does my heart well up, grow, and expand thinking about my child? How does he perceive love?

Unpacking Trust


Well, that’s a big word.

“Trust in the universe” has been floated my way often lately as I’ve been having a bit of a crisis of faith as I seem to encounter obstacle after obstacle. Every time I think the cycle is on an upswing, things are getting better, finally sorting themselves out – another mountain appears to climb. I keep wondering how long this can go on for. It’s been years. And I’m starting to lose faith.

“I’m so proud of how you are dealing with all this, coming through with flying colors,” someone told me. I’m not through anything and I certainly am not flying. Dealing is a necessity.

I’ve lived long enough to go through the ups and downs. To struggle and rise above, to see the light after living in the dark, to be content and balanced and live in equanimity. I keep waiting for the tide to turn and it just doesn’t.

So – here I go no longer trusting myself or “the universe” or “the divine plan” or in the goodness of the world. (That’s partly New York’s fault as it is a place that so easily can push you down and hide the beauty of the world and people from you.) And I know the further I float from this trust and faith the harder it will be to find solid ground. That’s all we have at the end of the day.

I look back and see so many of the difficult realities and experiences with new eyes and understand how in someway or for someone each experience was the right thing to happen. It doesn’t make it easier. Many were sacrifices I made for my child – I wouldn’t do those things differently even knowing now how much I lost of myself in the process.

I just keep going.

I took a yoga workshop a few weeks ago at a friend’s suggestion, not knowing anything about the teacher or even what the workshop would be; I just needed something. It was a challenging class. I modified a lot. And then the teacher demonstrated coming in and out of scorpion. I had never accomplished scorpion pose, it’s never been on my must do list or been a goal of mine, it’s not a necessary part of my practice. She didn’t offer an alternative so I just trusted that somehow I could do it. And then I did. I didn’t bother with the fear or doubt and didn’t expect anything. I wasn’t attached to whether the pose happened or not.

I trust I will survive. I trust life goes on and I will do my best. And I trust one day I will find my way back to my yoga practice and find detachment and balance and truly know again what is real and what is the truth and be able to drop all of the “me” that is getting in the way of “Me”.

Trust is really just letting go and accepting things as they are.

Land ho!

Sometimes things need to completely fall apart to have space to rebuild anew. Adrift with no land in sight allowed for possibilities I couldn’t have predicted or imagined to appear. It also allowed for the space needed to let go of all expectations and desires and to be in a place of acceptance for what appeared.

Acceptance finally came when I could actually see the positive side to all the adversity over the past few years (see more about that here). Tapas, my nemesis, has been my unwanted roommate. Tapas is suffering, burning, austerities, self-discipline. In yoga we are meant to want this, to accept this, and feel blessed at the opportunities to rid ourselves of karma and attachments. It helps us attain freedom from our minds and our senses.

I’d rather not focus on the acceptance of suffering as something positive but rather look at the experiences themselves from a positive light.

Sure, it has been ridiculously hard to raise my son nearly single handedly – but I can take pride in how he has turned out and know that I am a positive influence on him, a good example, and I focus my parenting on him being a good person, being compassionate toward and thoughtful of others’ needs, kind, and polite. I sacrificed so he can feel secure, confident, and have a strong sense of self-worth. That was all worth the price I paid.

Losing my apartment was a blessing to finally cut the last constant reminder of my previous life away from my new life. I tried ridding my home of the weight of bad memories but the only solution was to get rid of the space.

Quitting my job for the wrong reasons became my opportunity to publish my book and get out of the professional rut I had fallen in years before. And it gave me the opportunity to build skills in new areas that have led to a new job opportunity. Losing all my money supporting myself and my son, well that decision allowed me to be with my son and I suppose it has lessened my attachments to having material things by default of not having much to hold onto anymore. So I feel more free. (Still working on that one.)

I have a new home that I love and is everything I could have wished for, a new neighborhood that I am loving discovering, a new job I am excited to start, and my son started at the school I felt was a great fit for him and he has already bonded with his teacher.

Could I have foreseen any of this? As of a month ago, no. I looked out at a vast empty ocean wondering how we would make land.

Thank you to all of you who prayed for us. I think it worked.

Rewriting our own story


It’s so easy to fall into a hollow canyon, surrounded by cliff walls, barely seeing sunlight in the depths and narrowness. A story exists. An experience happened. Our reactions are real, the scars smart if pressed. It’s easy to bind ourselves into one particular way of telling that story. I have a yearning for justice. I have always had a strong need for truth.

But, reality is that there rarely is justice, the past can’t be changed, and everyone has a different concept of truth. We create the world we want to see and so does everyone else. So what do we do? How do we live with hurt? How do we live with injustice?

Yogic philosophy would say all of that is just attachment to the unreal. Maya – illusion, ignorance, entangled, temporary. Justice is sorted out through karma. To remain in peace we must detach from our reactions to experiences and focus on the steady truth of the Self. Letting go of the expectation of another person being held responsible for, or even just owning their actions, is what can liberate us.

That letting go is extremely difficult, but must occur. There is no changing other people, only ourselves, only our own reactions and attachment to our reactions.

It’s hard to let go of the feeling that I am constantly the loser, the one controlled, the one who has to sacrifice while having to watch someone else be the winner, the controller, the one who does not have to sacrifice. It feels unjust, and finding the faith to believe so deeply in karma that I can let go of all my feelings is a challenge.

My mind understands what I need to do. I understand where my yoga practice needs to go. I know what will bring me peace. I know what reality is and isn’t. But getting my heart to release from the desire for truth and justice, responsibility, accountability, reckoning and freedom feels insurmountable. Yet, if I can’t do it, I will be buried. I cannot make any of that a reality in what isn’t really reality anyway.

So I need to rewrite my own story. Disconnect my story from anyone else’s, just live my own truth, live a just life accountable for my own actions, view myself alone, unaffected by the world around me.

I wouldn’t be the me I am right now without having gone through what I have gone through. I wouldn’t have encountered a greater understanding of people and how they react in sadness and rage. I wouldn’t have been given the gift of compassion through empathy. I wouldn’t have experienced a fuller aspect of life. I wouldn’t have been given the opportunity to scale a mountain, to sink so low I couldn’t see even one ray of the sun, to be stepped on and pushed down against my will, to lift myself up, and to be responsible for my own decisions. I own my choices and the consequences of those choices. One day I will be able to let go of it all – let go of the story – and exist only in truth and peace.

I won’t try to pull myself out of the canyon, I will try to disintegrate the walls.

Memories of flying

I grew up in Central California, Monterey County. We lived all over the Peninsula but I always had a special place in my heart for Carmel Valley. It was the heat. Monterey always had a veil of coastal fog that might or might not burn off. A chill ocean breeze. And a perfectionist kind of feel brought on by the need to impress tourists. As a kid, it felt like sitting on the “good” furniture.

Carmel Valley (at that time) was country – family farms, ranches, cattle, horses, rolling golden hills. My middle school was next to a corn field, part of PE was running around the corn field several laps. One of my fondest memories and forever longings is the smell of the wild flowers at Garland Ranch in the summer.

My childhood memories are of throwing rocks in the river, catching horny toads, and running from tarantulas. My brother took horse back riding lessons at a ranch and I took ballet in a big barn where we begged to have class outside on the grass meadow.

The summer I was 19, I was back at home after a year of university overseas. I had decided to come back to the US but was a bit lost and unsure of myself, my choices, my future plans. My parents had just divorced, I wasn’t surprised but was still thrown, and I spent most of the summer going back and forth to Santa Cruz hanging out with my brother. At some point in the summer he came down with the chicken pox. I took care of him and got it as well.

I took a last minute job as a summer camp counselor for two weeks at Pinnacles National Park. I packed up my Dad’s old army tent (circa 1970s), a camping mattress, canteen, hiking boots, kerosene lantern, trail mix, and probably not much else – threw it in the back of my pick-up, put on short jean shorts and a tank top, grabbed a gallon bottle of water, and set off for adventure, taking the long scenic route on the road less traveled. Carmel Valley Road all the way east.

My little, no A/C, pick-up got great gas mileage (a plus when gas stations were not to be seen for hours), and loved to fly along at a good pace. I rolled down the manual windows, adjusted the radio knobs, and was on my way. Once in the valley, the heat began to bake the earth around me. The air coming in through the windows was hot but laced with the smells of golden grass, oak trees, and wild flowers. The road was empty and I flew along feeling the curves of the road beneath me like surfing a wave.

A teenager on the road – free. My truck was my wings. The radio, my voice. Summer, the promise of possibilities.

This is all pretty rural coming from a self-professed New Yorker. I fit in New York in a way I never fit anywhere else – everyone fits in New York. I am restless and New York offers the World, accessible by subway. But New York also offers a questionable quality of life and massive obstacles to livelihood for those struggling financially. It’s a rough town. I’m taking a break, trying to find my footing.

I am again a bit lost, unsure of myself, my choices, my future plans. Again relying on being home with family, dealing with being thrown by the changes in my life, and recovering from what has felt like a long debilitating illness on an emotional level.

I find myself driving down country roads, rolling down the windows to smell the sweetness of the earth, singing at the top of my lungs, basking in the warmth and quiet. I’m trying to find the feeling of endless possibilities again.

Choices we make

I’ve been thinking too much lately about my life choices. Paths we take really do take us in one direction and you can never go back and try the other path when the one you chose frankly sucks.

I’ve been trying to see it all through a positive light, pushing through with a grim smile, dismissing the tears, taking it one step at a time, playing a waiting game, still having a glimmer of hope that the years of strife will miraculously one day feel worth it or I will experience a sudden enlightenment that makes all the pain disappear because I truly get that it all doesn’t really matter.

The years of forging through have taken a heavy toll. I am no longer me and find it harder and harder to see myself in myself anymore. I have no fight left. Giving up hurts as much as not giving up. There seems to be no escape and no reprieve.

In time I’m sure I will feel differently. But this is my reality today. Battling my own issues will never end but battling with another person’s issues, the realities of the NYC economy, being self-employed, and the extreme challenges of being a single mother with little support all at the same time has proved to be my match.

So, I have been dwelling on past choices – a most unhealthy activity.

Here are some thoughts on choices and attachments from my book:

“Disappointment is really our own doing. It is attachment to a created expectation, our judgment of how another should think, feel, and act. They let us down, but really we are letting ourselves down by allowing our peace to be so disturbed by our own mental creations.

The Dalai Lama explains, ‘Though strong emotions, like those of romantic love or righteous hatred, may feel profoundly compelling, their pleasure is fleeting. From a Buddhist point of view, it is far better not to be in the grip of such emotions in the first place.’* I had felt content and centered, stable and strong when romantic notions were far from my mind.

…It was a choice I struggled with. Wanting to find a romantic partner, make a family, be ‘distracted’ – or focusing only on the love of the Divine, forgo material concerns, and be content. I felt I could go either way.” (p139-140 Dancing in the Bamboo Forest)

I know I am alone responsible for my choices, I know I chose to disturb my own peace. I know millions of other people have a more difficult life than me. But I have come to the realization that I am not a strong person, I have hit my limit, I have hit the final wall. And that is just who I am. We don’t all need to be strong. I’m ok with that because I can’t be anything else.

*The Dalai Lama, An Open Heart: Practicing Compassion in Everyday Life, Little, Brown and Company, Boston, 2001

Lifeline to Sanity

Indian lock & key

People need people.

We are social animals. We surround ourselves with every type of human interaction. But along with this need and joy in communion also comes friction, disharmony, and hurt. Navigating those interactions with peace is where the practice comes in.

For me that practice is yoga and within that philosophy that practice is the four locks and four keys.

  • The four locks are people who are: happy, unhappy, virtuous, and wicked. There are four keys to open those locks and retain a peaceful interaction.
  • The four keys are: being friendly toward the happy (happy for their happiness), having compassion for the unhappy, joy for the virtuous (celebrating someone’s achievement), and equanimity toward the wicked (disregard, disengagement from those being hurtful).

Being a parent means those keys can get rusty. Having the energy and patience to be our best self is sometimes impossible. But remembering the practice is there and trying to follow it when possible is a step on the long path back to a more peaceful life.

I have wonderful spontaneous conversations with total strangers all the time in NYC. Recently while trying to get my 3-year-old to a class, after a grumpy morning from waking up at 5:45am, he fell asleep in the stroller on the way and would not be woken. This meant I had to carry him down and up 6 flights of subway stairs. Luckily a woman offered to help and we commiserated over the “tyrannical threes” or our “threenagers” (I just heard that term for the first time). And I didn’t feel so alone all of a sudden. We could laugh at the frustrations and smile in understanding. A helping hand and kind word went a long way.

And letting my son sleep was not only needed for him, but for myself as well – a quiet moment absent of whining, screaming, “its not fair”, and incessant demands and questions coupled with tackling me, jumping on me, pushing me, sitting on my head (his favorite), climbing on me, and stepping on me.

He’s loving the word “why” right now:

“You can’t go outside without shoes.”


“Because your feet will get dirty.”


“Because the ground is made of earth.”


“Because we live on Earth.”


“Because it is the perfect distance from the sun to be inhabitable by humans.”


Patience is the lifeline to sanity.

What is patience? Detaching from the outcome of something. Removing expectations. Allowing what is, to be what is. Letting life unfold without attempting to control the timing or timeline. Listening. Waiting. Breathing.

Patience is having faith things will eventually be better.

Creating flow, creating peace


Your home is an extension of you. What you have on the walls, what kind of furniture, your book collection, the layout of the space, how it’s organized, paint, photos, etc. all reflect you. You are what you eat and you are where you live.

Create a space that flows with your flow. Wherever you look see something pleasing. Let everything have its own place to settle into and be at rest.

I have recently spent time making a space I was unhappy with, had bad memories in, and really didn’t want to be in everyday, into a space that feels like home and feels like me. On no budget at all I put up old curtains I had in the closet, I framed my own posters with cheap online mattes and reused frames, I covered the dining table with a large colorful table cloth, and most importantly I moved ALL the furniture to create a new feel and shape to the space. I hung hooks to organize coats and bags. I bought a filing box and folders to organize piles of papers that were cluttering my space or overflowing cardboard boxes. I found two pieces of furniture on the street that worked perfectly with what I needed and was given a few large pieces of furniture by a friend who was moving. I asked for help and it came.

I still have a whole list of changes I want to make to better organize my space but mostly to surround myself with love. Photos, art, color, inspiration. All of this change creates space for me to live the life I want to live and feel like I am the person I want to be. It’s a work in progress just like I am. Putting time and energy into my space has been like putting time and energy into improving myself. It’s a powerful tool to bringing your own energy into balance and finding a feeling of peace just by walking through a door.

We should all have that place of peace. Even if it is just a corner in a room with your special chair or an altar you created for meditation or prayer or a kitchen where everything is exactly where it should be for easy flow as you create. Ideally from every place you stand or sit or lie down in your home you should see in front of you something that makes you happy in some small way.

Making peace in your home makes peace within yourself. Then you can take that place of peace back out into the crazy world, feeling more balanced.

I haven’t felt much like me for a long time – but dusting off treasures from travels long ago, unboxing and displaying books that follow the path of my life, unfolding fabrics that used to live in my home years ago have all reminded me of the self I have always been. And I like her. And I want her back.

So, sure these things are all just things, but they are symbols of so much more, and as symbols they have given me a power and inspiration to again focus on myself and give myself a healthy space to feel the freedom and security to go within and be with my deeper self.

Resolute Excuses Dismantled

© gdbrekke -

© gdbrekke –

Why do we hinder our own progress? Why don’t we do what we know will help us? Why don’t I meditate every day? Sure, I’m overworked, exhausted, frustrated daily, and generally overwhelmed – those are my excuses for not only no time but more importantly no energy. While they are real, they are still excuses. I could find 10 minutes a day to breathe and meditate. What blocks my path to a minutely healthier me? Maybe the minute part and maybe the thought that this frenetic energy is what sustains me – otherwise I may fall apart.

Let’s take the first – small gain – in a life where nearly every minute is taken (even using the bathroom requires the accompaniment and entertainment of my 3 year old), every moment is weighted with a heavy importance. I need to get something major done in any spare moment I have. I need a big return on my small time investment.

This is my thought process and it is completely wrong. This is how I end up overwhelmed. Ten minutes a day may be small progress and the transformative effects of meditation may disappear with the first tantrum, but it is progress. It does have an effect and it is cumulative. The ability to sink quickly and effortlessly back into that peaceful state becomes easier and easier the longer we practice.

The second – sustaining frenetic energy – this energy stops me from thinking about my life as it is, a life that has been challenging especially in this past year. Climbing so many mountains last year on every front of my life would have been far scarier if I stopped to look down at the precarious precipice I could fall from at any moment. Keep going, keep moving, don’t stop, don’t think, grasp, strive, clench.

I’m wrong here as well, I am left overworked and exhausted. Sure a lot happened, a lot got done, but the toll has been great and lasting and not fulfilling. I have created taller mountains to scale to find contentment again, to find balance again, to find peace. How easy it is to find all of that in a moment of meditation. That practice I know will rebuild those parts of myself and open myself back up to the land of the living where I can connect and be acutely present in those connections with the world and the real me who seems to abscond at every steep climb.

So what’s stopping me? Only myself.

My resolution this year is to take those 10 minutes a day that I know I can find, however tired or distracted I am, and give those minutes back to myself – my True Self. With that gift, I hope to lessen the frustration, be ok with exhaustion, balance my work through the perception of that work, and discard feeling overwhelmed, replacing it with a space, lightness, and greater detachment from the perpetual trials of life.