Peace in the lotus

One of the well-known symbols of yoga is the lotus flower. The lotus plant grows from the mud. It rises through the water to the surface to find sunlight. It struggles and pushes and survives until it blossoms in all its layers, intricacies, and beauty. The lotus flower emerges clean and pure from the murky water.

It symbolizes liberation from attachments – unchanged by the struggle, unaffected by the dirt – it remains itself, its true essence untouched by the elements around it. It floats above it all.

Born in mud, searching for the light, rising above, and remaining pure.

Why are symbols important? Why is every culture, religion, spiritual path filled with symbols? What do they mean to me?

Symbols make us feel an idea rather than just think about it. A symbolic object itself can be imbued with energies that affect us in ways we may not even be aware of. It adds another layer of understanding and experience on our path. It’s a reminder of a teaching we aspire to follow.

Symbols can be self created and suffused with personal meaning. A rock collected on a beach, a candle burning, a piece of jewelry, a power suit, an image of a saint or guru, watching the sunrise. A small object you hold to slow your breath and remove a small part of yourself from attaching to a current difficult situation.

In any case, symbols are a powerful tool on our journey.

They give us hope. They are a timeless reminder of a goal, a belief, an aspiration. They inspire us to choose a direction. They bolster us in times of hardship and provide a kind of solace. Symbols are a reminder of who we are despite anything that comes along to distract us or confuse us or blind us. We are unchanging.

Everyday we are bombarded with reminders of some kind but we often forget to include the reminders that nourish our selves and keep us in a place of peace.

A symbol is that reminder:

To be true to yourself

To follow your path

To detach

To laugh

To breath

To take a moment in silence

To soften, to smile

To focus on one positive thing

To be grateful

To know you will survive it all.

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.

Unpacking Trust

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.

Rewriting our own story

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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.

Creating flow, creating peace

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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 - 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

Beauty resonates inside

sculpture

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.

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