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

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.

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.”

“Why?”

“Because your feet will get dirty.”

“Why?”

“Because the ground is made of earth.”

“Why?”

“Because we live on Earth.”

“Why?”

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

“Oh.”

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.

Conversations with a 3-year-old

Highline crop

  • 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.’”*

Highline crop2

*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

Loopy Love

BMMiami2013B&W2

As my son squealed with excitement and wriggled in a happy dance/hopping session shouting, “I’m three years old! I’m three years old!” I smiled the biggest smile at how much pure, sweet joy a little person can feel. That feeling is a distant memory, but having a child reminds me it exists and a little spark of it flashed in my own eyes.

And then, I told him he had a birthday present to open. When the box was revealed his eyes grew big, his lips pursed, and he became serious about his excitement. Whenever something awesome happens (like eating chocolate fudge for the first time) he gets very focused.

“Open the box.” He instructs.
I do as I’m told.

“Take out the pieces. Let’s do it together.” His voice starts to tremble.

I assembled the hot wheels launcher, track, and loop, showed him how it worked, and stood back. The first time the little car shot out, looped upside down, and flew across the room he laughed, ran after the car, and shouted, “Again!” There is nothing like hearing your child laugh.

The first year with my son was unimaginably hard. As I described the level of sacrifice that left me barely standing and a shadow of myself to a wonderful spiritual guide, he said, “sounds like this is your karma yoga.” Selfless service. I was losing my self and certainly my whole life had become about serving another – my son. He opened my eyes to seeing the sacrifice as a beautiful thing.

It’s been a challenge, trying to continue to see the hardship as joy, but a very important practice as the years go by and hardships mount one on top of the other. I continue to struggle to see the giving as selfless as my ego wants to engage in the world and be “me” again. I give and I give because I am incapable of doing anything else. I love, therefore I give.

I thank motherhood for giving me the experience of feeling the deepest, most powerful, even overwhelming love on the planet – a love unlike any other. A love that holds great responsibility and never ends.

I thank motherhood for what it has taught me about my own mother and the deep sacrifices she has made for her children, the suffering she endured, and the ability she has to be joyful in it and embrace reality, moving forward as positively as she can.

I thank my mother for mothering me forever, through it all, and still on my own son’s third birthday.

I thank my son for inspiring me and for loving me with the purest, sweetest, cuddly wuddly love.

Happy times

bee-on-yellow-flower2

“I feel happy and they all feel happy being there, so they make me happy and I make them happy. We just spend a little happy time together, that’s all.”1 That’s how Swami Satchidananda describes giving a dharma talk, sharing yoga, and essentially – what yoga is. Happy times.

Last week I subbed a Restorative Yoga class. Teaching restored my own energy, my sense of self, my connection with the Divine. The most beautiful thing about teaching for me is feeling peace and joy resonating from the students. That’s the whole point to me. And in turn I receive and emit that energy as well.

While teaching may seem like giving (and it is) I get so much in return that I’m thankful for the opportunity to serve even when it feels like I have nothing more to give. Teaching nourishes me, lets me practice, and reconnects me to what is important.

As a mom my priority is always my son but lately I’ve been running on empty. The years of sacrifice and giving have drained me and even my son recognizes that I’m not the same person. “I have two mommies, is the other one coming tomorrow?” He may mean something completely different in his 2 ¾ year old mind – but it breaks my heart anyway.

I took the time this weekend to be alone, to be quiet, to be slow. I smelled the newly sprung flowers, lay in the sunshine and stared up at puffy clouds forming and reforming in the bright blue sky above. Those moments, while short in the big picture, melted away long held tension. I felt like me for a moment again.

I watched bees discover blossoms and nestle inside. Bees take nectar for themselves and in turn give pollen and help create more flowers, more nectar, and more life. Taking enough to keep yourself going is necessary when it prepares you to have more to give. Sometimes we forget that we need to take sometimes, we need to take care of ourselves in order to take care of others, we need some nectar to sweeten our lives in order to create more sweetness in the world.

Yoga gives me a little happy time to remember that sweetness.

1 Satchidananda, Swami, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali/translation and commentary by Swami Satchidananda, Integral Yoga Publications, Yogaville, 1990. Book 1 Sutra 15

Gently down the stream

GangaIn The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Swami Satchidananda says, “The entire world is your own projection.”  What a powerful idea. What does he mean? We choose to give meaning to things, to people, to places and we choose what particular meaning to give them. We then react in response to those meanings. I lost an inexpensive ring I had bought for myself – I had given the ring the power of being a reminder to me of the spiritual path. I loved to look at the ring and remember where I was and how I felt when I bought it. Then I lost it. I was upset, it was meaningful to me and irreplaceable.

But, did I lose the spiritual path? Was that reminder in a physical object more powerful than the practice itself? No. I had given that little piece of metal power but it in itself was just a little piece of metal. I let it go and the upset followed.

Being able to control how the world affects you is the key to peace.  Knowing the difference between your true self and your affected self is yoga.

“Yogas chitta vritti nirodhah – The restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff is Yoga.” Practicing yoga is practicing letting go. Our minds jump around and react constantly – stilling, restraining the mind, letting go of the reactions, the attachments, and just being brings peace.

How we react to the world around us is what creates the world around us. But it is such a difficult practice to become aware of our reactions, to control them, and to let them go. Peace is not easy to achieve.

My two-year old son seems to have mastered letting go in mid cry and turning his frown upside down and laughing at it all. He sang to me: “Row, row, row your boat gently on the lake. Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life’s a piece of cake.” Life’s a piece of cake mommy, why are you making it so hard?

Then he changed it up to: “Row, row, row your boat on a on a mouth. Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily life’s a piece of mouth.” He thought that was supremely hilarious and laughed heartily. I have to give it to him for being creative and trying to make a joke – but mostly I admire his ability to laugh. He reminds me every day to laugh. Life really can be laughable if you let yourself see it that way.

Row gently and know none of it is real. It’s amazing how hard it can be to laugh, to let go of attachments, to believe it is all just a dream. It’s all a creation of our minds. Everything we hold onto is ultimately unimportant. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have people or things in our lives but we should try to be in control of how our mind reacts, how we attach, how we project meaning and expectations onto them. It must be easier if you become a monk…

But I will row on and practice.

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