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

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.

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

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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.

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.

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!