Resolute Excuses Dismantled

© gdbrekke - Fotolia.com

© gdbrekke – Fotolia.com

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.

Cloudy with a chance of Anger

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Flipping through the copious beautiful quotes in Yoga Gems for inspiration, I found the perfect reminder for myself of one of the goals of the yogic path.

This is the ironic nature of spiritual realization. As we progress spiritually, we begin to see how we, ourselves, are the primary and ultimate cause of our own sorrows. Paradoxically, this is good news! It means that we can also be the cause of our relief, our release, and our happiness. –

Ron Leifer*

I know this. I believe this. I have experienced this in the past. It sounds so simple but is extremely difficult to implement. Anger is such a powerful force, it clouds everything.

There is injustice in the world. There are hurtful people. Bad things happen. Our power is in our reaction – not allowing that action to break us down into less than who we are. No one causes us to feel anger, we choose to be angry and we can choose not to be angry. This is no easy feat. Anger can feel so good. It’s a drug with a quick high but a long, slow, destructive low. Who it affects the most, who is hurts the most, is ourselves.

Releasing from anger is a deep liberation. Then we can focus. And that focus can lead to great things as well as our own peace. The goal of yoga is peace.

Discerning our reactions to the outside world and how they affect us is the beginning of the path to diffusing those effects. Looking deeper at the root causes of anger takes us into further understanding. Compassion is the key to unlocking the heart and letting go of the chains we have imprisoned ourselves in.

Allowing ourself to let go of the anger doesn’t mean an injustice wasn’t done and it doesn’t mean we disengage from the world – it simply means we are better able to interact with the world – in peace. We can see clearly where disconnects lie, miscommunication, misunderstandings. We can remain objective, be helpful, and remain at peace within ourselves. We can save ourselves and in doing so bring more peace into the world.

*Feuerstein, Georg, Ed. Yoga Gems: A Treasury of Practical and Spiritual Wisdom from Ancient and Modern Masters, Bantam, New York, 2002. p.108

Conversations with a 3-year-old

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  • Son: Mommy, why does the rug look exactly like the rug?
  • Me: Because it is the rug.
  • Son: Hm.
  • Son: A very long time ago I used to be from Mars.
  • Me: Really?
  • Son: But I’m also from Earth.
  • Son: If I take my eyelashes off my eyes won’t have clothes on!
  • Me: Can I cut your hair?
  • Son: No, I like me the way I am.
  • Me: But it’s in your face.
  • Son: I’m making a helmet out of hair.
  • Me: Why are you peeling the paper off your crayons?
  • Son: So they can take a bath.
  • Me: The paper is their clothes?
  • Son: Yeah, then they’ll be bare. Bare means naked.
  • Me: **singing**
  • Son: Shhhh! Let the song sing it.

I constantly learn from my child but I also pick up what he is learning and how he sees and understand what he is learning. I am always concerned with how he encounters the world and what my role is in guiding him to understanding it all. It’s easy to be inundated with advice, do’s and don’ts, psychology, training strategies, methods, behavioral modifications, punishing without punishment, nurturing without coddling, cognitive development, over-achieving, under-achieving – it’s overwhelming.

There is so much babble it drowns out an equally important aspect of guiding our children – to be good human beings. Maybe we leave that for our religious or spiritual guides to cover or think that teaching our kids to not hit or kick, to not scream inside, to share and sit properly will be enough. How do we create good people?

Swami Bhoomananda gives this advice on what to teach our children:

“A parent should pray and say, ‘Be a lover of values and virtues, dear child. May your heart expand and encompass the whole universe. Human life is fulfilled in such expansion. Do not allow any narrowness. Always wish the best for others. Do not be poor in heart and mind. Whenever possible, replace vice with virtue in your heart. Look for such friends in whose company you can travel the path of goodness.’”*

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*Excerpt from the book “To the Householder” by Swami Bhoomananda Tirtha in email newsletter: Role of Parents by Swami Bhoomananda Tirtha, Volume 10  Number 42, 13 Oct 2014

Questions on Enlightenment

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Book signing November 13th 7pm to 8pm – Integral Yoga Institute (http://iyiny.org/workshops-and-events/)

Second excerpt from Dancing in the Bamboo Forest:

These two women monks have lived for decades dedicated to the path of service, observing strict rules with joy. If the final state of samadhi has not been reached, full living liberation, in his presence, will it ever?

There must be some doubt that creeps in after so many decades of practice. Once your source of inspiration is no longer there to hold your hand, does the devotion weaken? Do you begin to question some of the choices that are made for you? How to dress–does that really lead to enlightenment? How to eat, how to talk, how to sit, how to love, how to live? When the lessons have been learned, the meaning of each practice mastered, are those practices still necessary? Or are they never mastered? And is mastery really that important?

I accept learning discipline in order to truly find oneself on the deeper level, the level of understanding the separation of ego and the true Self. Learning to let go of all the distractions is important. When we have mastery over our desires, needs, bodies, and minds nothing can influence or obstruct the way within. When the body is healthy we are free from it, we are free to focus inward. When we have cleaned the mirror of the mind, only our pure Self is reflected back at us. When our hearts are pure, only God’s love radiates forth. But we can never remove ourselves from being human, imperfectly human. Imperfect.

Does true mastery mean mastery over human nature and the natural weaknesses that entails? If overcoming our humanness is impossible, should that be an obstacle to enlightenment? Is samadhi only possible with perfection? If you have dedicated this life to following the path, with patience and diligence, laid out for you by a trusted guru, and enlightenment (or the ultimate samadhi) is not attained, then what happens in the next life? What if your next incarnation has no propensity toward a spiritual life? Was it all a waste? Was it all a joy? Is how we live our lives really that important in the end? Is there an end?

At the Institute, I was given the task of keeping the ceremonial flames burning, little vessels on every altar throughout the Institute that should always be alight. This job entailed pinching off the burnt, blackened end of the cotton wicks, filling the little vessels with ghee, and relighting them. I also helped clean the guest rooms and bathrooms for the newly arriving participants. I enjoyed feeling useful. In joy.

I decided to visit the doctor who was giving us lectures on Ayurveda, an ancient Indian medical system. He sat me in his small, sparse office on a hard chair next to his desk, held my wrist, felt my pulse, and asked me many personal questions. He looked in my eyes and at my tongue. He covered every area of my health, and I discussed my particular issues. He instructed me to eat raw fruits and vegetables once a day and to reduce eating meat, as it was making my body work too hard and took away from my body’s own ability to heal itself.

He then gave instructions to his mother for the herbal mixture to be added to the massage oil and the particular way she should massage me. She led me into a square concrete room with a large wooden table at the center and instructed me to undress while she warmed the oil. I stood naked holding my clothes in a bundle in my arms. She gestured for me to put them on a chair and lay on the table. She generously slathered me with the warm herbal oil. The excess oil drained off into deep grooves around the edge of the table but left an exceedingly slippery surface.

As she worked, she moved me around and helped me flip over making sure I didn’t slide off the table. Her touch was vigorous, strong, and somewhat painful as she meticulously followed the energetic paths of my body, penetrating all points of blockage, tension, or dysfunction with her strong fingers. These areas were tender and deep. I felt bruised. She worked through every system of the body through the pattern of her movements: lymphatic, digestive, circulatory.

Then she led me to a little bathroom and scrubbed the oil off my body with coarse salt until I was raw. She left me with a bar of soap and a bucket of hot water to clean off. I felt warm and smooth. She brought me a towel and I was led back to my clothes to dress. She smiled caringly as I walked out the door and back into the dusty heat of the street.

Dancing in the Bamboo Forest

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Excerpt from my travel memoir:

In some semblance of an awareness of reality, not present in my body,
I watched as it moved from place to place, from movement to movement.
I watched myself pack a suitcase and print my boarding pass.
I watched my mind think and react as I marked time. I saw my eyes
seeing but didn’t see through them. I heard my voice speaking as if it
were someone else’s. I taught my final yoga class. I heard myself say my
goodbyes. I disconnected from relationships.

I drove to the path overlooking the Pacific Ocean and stood in
the rain. The earth smelled sweet, the plants sang, the waves beat the
rocks. I watched the world in its tumultous rhythm, its wild conversation,
while I felt nothing but the cold of the drops of water against my
numb skin.

I floated. Time was only on a clock and important only for getting
my body to arrive in my seat on an airplane at the right time to arrive
somewhere else on the planet.

I managed to get some sleep on the flight to Hong Kong. The first
leg of the trip wasn’t too bad, although in the beginning I wrestled
with some claustrophobia issues because the seats were so narrow and
close together. It was the craziest feeling landing in Hong Kong and
knowing I was halfway around the world. Airplanes still truly amaze
me. I walked around the airport and stared out the giant glass walls at
the island. Ships and boats of all sizes and purposes floated along the
water in front of me, silhouetted against the setting sun. The view was
serene and still like a painting, an odd trick when reality was a bustling
motion of constant activity.

Getting back on the plane after those 15 hours (with only an hour
break) knowing I still had many hours ahead of me was not easy. Finally,
there was sun out the window–between cloud layers as we gained
altitude, the sun shot out in millions of light pink beams, which were
filtered through the clouds down to the sparkling water below like
diamonds on the waves.

We landed in Singapore and after over 20 hours of travel, I had to
get out of the airport. The airport offered a free shuttle to downtown,
a map, a ride back to the airport, and a complimentary shower at the
airport spa. I took them up on all of it.

I stepped out of the cool airport into a great hot, sticky, sweaty climate.
Unfortunately, I had to carry my yoga mat and a backpack full of
books, wearing sweatpants and heavy sneakers. Singapore is quite a bustling
city with interesting European colonial architecture mixed with
Chinese architecture. A metropolis, it is the definition of cosmopolitan. …

…Walking on a major boulevard in the heart of Singapore, I came
across old, cracked stone steps that led up into a shroud of trees. I followed.
The shady path led me farther and farther until I reached the
top of a small hill. I had stumbled upon Fort Canning Park. As I wandered
around old stone buildings, I was drawn to the spaces between
and the trees that inhabited them. I stood in awe under these amazing
ancient, royal trees that held the secrets of the past. The most magnificent
was the Rain Tree, named so because its leaves curl up when
it’s going to rain. A giant palm frond covered the entire side of a small
greenhouse; I imagined living in a house with walls made of leaves. It
was cooler in the park and quieter. I was alone. …

…Singapore reminded me how much I love to travel and experience
the vastness and interconnectedness of the world. To breathe in an air
filled with the breath of different people. To see the same smiles broaden
around the world. To hear the bustle of life in other languages. To
smell and taste plants and animals growing from a unique soil and sea.

I felt so free in a new land far from everyone I knew, far from my life, far from who and what reinforced a perception of me that didn’t feel true. The blur was replaced with clarity, the dream suddenly faded into sharp reality. The thread of my life had not been broken; it continued in its interweaving trajectory creating the web of my existence, a creation seemingly tangled but that I know in its entirety is beautiful.

Excerpt from my book launching this Thursday November 13th at the Integral Yoga Institute New York at 7pm.

http://iyiny.org/workshops-and-events/calendar/book-signing-5643/

Buy your copy of Dancing in the Bamboo Forest here!

Beauty resonates inside

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Walking along the Hudson River with a dear and beautiful person, I looked out at the choppy water and remembered I live on an island. It’s so easy to forget in NYC that we are actually surrounded by nature and its beauty. My friend stopped and pointed, “What’s that?” We left the path for the deep green grass to puzzle over a large silver sphere with wire mesh on one side and revolving reflective discs inside.

“Hm,” I said eloquently. “Interesting.”

We continued our walk until we spied another large reflective silver piece hidden amongst the greenery. This one was a tall pole with twisting spirals elevated above us dancing in the wind, glinting in the bright sun, flashing like stars.

Our walk became a gallery visit with pieces of art jumping out at us here and there. We stopped to visit each one embracing this unexpected display.

One reminded me of a school of shiny silver sardines flitting in unison through the blue of the sky. Changing direction on a dime at the whim of the wind. Another seemed to fly this way and that – haphazard bats playing, chasing, and chirping as they appeared to swoop through the air while fixed in one spot. My favorite was of two tall lanky dancers – curved long bars moving, turning, waving. They bent in toward each other in an embrace and then revolved away into dissonance to only move again into harmony of shape. Each gust of wind formed a new interaction.

I realized how little space there was in my life for art – something that used to be more prominent – one of the reason that I moved to NYC. Art, to me, is something that moves you, emotionally. It is hugely subjective.

Those dancers moved me.

There is something in art that enlivens a beauty inside us.

The renowned yogi BKS Iyengar explored art and its connection to the spiritual:

“Art uses nature’s beauty and transcends it. It is a communication of the feelings of the artist, an expression of inner awakenings and experiences. Its development depends on the need it fulfils and on the vision of the artist. Its purpose is to be aesthetic, uplifting, beautiful, outstanding, educative and clear. Its ultimate goal is divinity, which the artist seeks to transmit to each individual and to society.”[i]

That beauty that resonates inside us is connected to something deeper – our inner self.  Art can be a path to experiencing our true selves or resonating with that energy bringing a sense of peace or joy or that feeling of being outside of ourselves for a moment.

Thank you NYC for reminding me why I live here and providing a moment of beauty, wonder, and joy.

Thank you to the artist George Sherwood and his work: Waves and Particles

Hudson River Park – Kinetic sculpture – http://www.hudsonriverpark.org/news-and-updates/waves-and-particles-an-installation-of-six-kinetic-sculptures-by-george-she

[i] Iyengar, BKS, The Art of Yoga, Harper Collins Publishers, New Delhi, 1993, p6.

Think Happy | Be Happy

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THINK HAPPY

BE HAPPY

A t-shirt on a young girl shouted at me in bold, bright letters. I forgot that sometimes the answer is so simple.

“The…true you reflects in the mind which is your mirror… If the mind has a lot of waves like the surface of a lake, you will be seeing a distorted reflection.”

-Thinking negative thoughts distorts your natural peace.

“To see the true reflection, see that the water is clean and calm and without any ripples.” (Swami Satchidananda, Book 1 Sutra 3*)

-To feel our true self, our self at peace, we must remove disturbing thoughts.

Think Peace

Be Peace

How?

I have had many negative thoughts this year in particular and at times have felt I hit bottom. I keep waiting to not feel crushed, but have realized that I myself am keeping myself down by allowing – feeding on – negative thoughts. Now I try to be vigilantly conscious of their appearance and with great struggle stop a thought and replace it with something else.

I remind myself that negativity only hurts me. The world doesn’t change – only my experience of it can change.

I remind myself to nurture gratitude and list a few things I am grateful for in my head.

I remind myself to replace a negative with a positive (or at least a neutral).

I remind myself to breathe.

Frustrated the other day because my 3-year-old refused to listen to me (as is perfectly normal for his age and an everyday occurrence) – I laid on my bed and covered my face with a pillow. He clambered in after me asking what was wrong. “Mommy, take a deep breath.” After I complied, I told him I felt better.

I guess he does listen…

* Quotes from Satchidanada, Swami, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali/translation and commentary by Swami Satchidananda, Integral Yoga Publications, Yogaville, 1990.

Gratitude is sweet!

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I am grateful I live somewhere safe, somewhere that I find beautiful, somewhere surrounded by an incredible diversity in human experience. I am grateful my child is healthy and joyful.

I am grateful everyone in my family has always accepted me with open arms.

I am grateful for having met people who have become a part of my heart and become family.

“You’ve got a friend” was a favorite song growing up – I would cry as I sang the lyrics (a melodramatic teenager) at their deep truth and celebration of friendship. I want to be that kind of friend. In this world where so many of us no longer live near family, friends become our family. Friends know us on a deep level, they stand by us through the changes we go through, they love us.

I have felt so much support these past few years from friends new and old. When I have asked for help, I have received it in abundance. Not so much in things (although I have received furniture, meals out, free babysitting, and overpayment for a copy of my book…) but mostly in time, in listening, in a hug, in a  texted inspirational quote, in a “I believe in you” or “I’m proud of you” speech. I have felt bolstered up when I was slipping down.

I would like to acknowledge with gratitude and appreciation a few individuals who in my time of need, stepped up generously and literally helped my book become a reality. You helped make my dream come true:

Ismana Carney

Jason and Thaisa Katz

Amy Beacham

Nazgol Khamneipur

Alex Ghashghai

Hope Flamm

Mosi Jack

Jena Davis Simon

Suzanne Cohen

Becky Hays Rovey

There are so many more – you know who you are – I have great love and appreciation for the much needed support. I only wish I can be as generous with all of you. I will strive to give more, do more, be present more, and love more.

Thank you for giving me the experience of feeling the sweetness of gratitude.

Then I can breathe

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“Meditation is the art of using one kind of energy to transform another. The instant the mother holds her child, the child feels the energy of love and comfort and begins to feel relief. Even if the cause of discomfort is still present, being held in mindfulness is enough to provide some relief.” Thich Nhat Hanh*

This is what yoga gives me. Whatever is troubling me, however difficult life seems – I can take some breaths, still my mind even just for a moment, and feel a small sense of relief. This allows me to open again to the world and the hurdles that must be jumped.

When I feel lost, I realize I haven’t prioritized time for this practice that at times is my life line. It’s too easy to be too busy.

Stress takes mindfulness and throws it out the window.

Out the window is where I stare longing to be in nature. I long to stand among ancient redwoods and hear nothing but the sound of growth. Smell nothing but the earth. Feel nothing but peace.

The slowness of the forest calms my frenetic mind, my sense of time passing too quickly, and the idea that my little life is somehow significant when in the grand scheme of things I am just a tiny sapling amongst a forest of giants.

My relief is being held in the embrace of nature. Then I can breathe.

*Thich Nhat Hanh, Teachings on Love, p43.

Photo: http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/view-image.php?image=71804&picture=giant-redwood-trees-in-california

Your most beautiful self

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I wrote the post below a month ago as I reveled in the beauty of a perfect August in NYC. But life has been a series of challenges for me this summer and many things, like blogging, have disappeared as quickly as summer seems to have. Looking again at these photos, I see perseverance –  blooming year after year, no matter what the hardship, no matter how harsh this city may sometimes feel, no matter if anyone notices or not. Being your most beautiful self amidst it all.

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From August –

I am so grateful to have the opportunity to teach yoga. It’s such a gift to guide beautiful souls in this practice. In my Friday evening class after several restorative poses and yoga nidra, I could literally feel each student opening like a blossom.

The deepest practice is in allowing ourselves to let go, to open, to drink in the sweetness of peace and let ourselves exist in that peace. Even only for a moment.

Lately I have been stopping to smell the roses and every other flower that seems to be exploding all around me. From the Highline, to city parks, to front stoops, on fences, in pots, or among weeds in a tiny square of dirt around a sidewalk tree – vibrant, colorful, joyful blossoms.

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