On the Possible Spiritual Aspect of Halloween

I have always loved the autumn. The cooler air, the deep-rich colors, the shifts in daylight; and yes –the heavier, warmer foods and attire that are part of the shifting season package. My ‘Vata Dosha’ (the who? something my yogi friends would get & isn’t to relevant at the moment) is supposed to really not like this time of the year. And even though my body has a serious cold intolerance (I mean SERIOUS), I have still always felt some sort of magic in the air, chills not withstanding.

Somewhere between the cooling temperatures that take place a few weeks post Labor Day and Thanksgiving, sits Halloween – smack dab in the middle’ish of it all. I realize that it’s become a very commercial holiday laced with sweets and costumes, but there had to be a reason that it’s celebrated at the time it is.

I’ve briefly read in the past it was a Pagan tradition that the church latched onto to help converts to Christianity experience something familiar. I knew about the European tradition of the Jack-o-lantern. And last year when my husband and I were in South Africa on Halloween Day, I wondered why it wasn’t celebrated much in the Southern Hemisphere.

I grew up going to Catholic School. Halloween for me was exciting, not just for the trick-or-treating, but because the next day was All Saints Day and we had no school.

I also know that Mexico celebrates this same time with a Day of the Dead celebration Día de Muertos.

Saints? The Dead? This kind of had something in common, right?

This year I volunteered to teach a yoga class on Halloween evening. While considering how not to avoid saying anything about the day of the year it is in class, I went on an online hunt to find the spiritual meaning behind this tradition. I found it fascinating enough to share what our elders were thinking when they established this time of year for this tradition.

“Our ancestors could viscerally feel shifts within nature, and so they anticipated internal shifts within spirit, mind and body too”. Symbolic Meaning of Halloween

I learned that Halloween really isn’t celebrated in the Southern Hemisphere because it’s the seasonal shift from warmth to coolness that makes the veil between our world and others thin. Southern hemisphere witches actually do celebrate this tradition on April 30th, which makes sense; as that time of year is equivalent to what we are experiencing now.

The thin veil between worlds would make it possible to more easily honor and connect to those who have passed – hence Mexico’s Day of the Dead.

But why a thin veil now?

I couldn’t find much online, even on what I would consider to be ‘junky’ sites. From my own spiritual understanding of nature, it actually does make sense that it is now. We just experienced the summer and have all that strong “yang” type energy starting to dwindle away. The mix of some warm days and the associated energy fusing with the cooler days (literally thinning the atmosphere), often finds us less physically motivated and more likely to slow down and look within.

It’s an interesting time of year from the Ayurvedic perspective the way I understand it, in that we are entering a cyclical time of destruction with the plant/tree life ending and the preparation of the cold-frozen season. Additionally, at this time the 5 elements are in a balance for a short period (earth, water, fire, air and ether). The balanced elements and accompanying life part of the year change to the ‘death’ part of the year would make it ripe for our body, mind and spirits to connect to all that is in the circle of the universe where that life/death cusp transforms in a balanced way.

As above so below – in that the laws of nature are the laws of nature everywhere, in the heavens as is on earth. Birth/early life (Spring), high point of life/mid-life (Summer), elder ages/dying (Fall), the magic in between that prepares for new life even though it looks like there is nothing there (Winter). Winter then prepares us for spring and so forth. There is never a new stop or end point, it just goes around and around and transforms from season to season.

So without getting any more wonky than I’m starting to sound I’m going to end it here. If you’ve followed my attempt to explain my crazy point – Great! And if not, that’s ok too. Maybe a seed you would like to cultivate has been planted. Or perhaps this is just all a bunch of non-sense that many of us like to dabble in while we have fun celebrating Halloween, watching scary movies, and dressing up as something we normally wouldn’t. It’s all in good fun.

In preparation for my yoga classes this week I think I’m going to just focus on Embracing the Unknown and the lessons Halloween can perhaps provide to us.

Embracing the unknown (bullets taken from the same above linked article)

  • Facing the scary, hairy thing under our beds.
  • Not freaking out about death, but honoring it.
  • Knowing our deepest renewal begins with surrender.
  • Embracing the concept that both life requires the presence of both light and dark.

 

Enjoy All that Nature has to offer!

Peace

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On Navigating with Love

There are some experiences in life that seem almost magical or other worldly as they happen. Sometimes it is when you meet someone and you get a sense of ‘deja vu’ or a flash of unexplained feelings. Or when you hear or read something that just seems to strike some sort a cord within you about its unexplainable truth.
One of the dozen or so times this happened to me is when I had first read that the soul is the connection to divine (God, nature or whatever you chose to call all that is). I was so moved by this simple statement. The truth of it was so obvious to me at the moment, that it sparked one of those other worldly flash feelings. The article discussed how the soul doesn’t dish out advice like our loud, animal mind brains do. But if you ignore or quiet the monkey brain and ask your soul for advice, the right answer is always there waiting to be heard. 
Wow. Yes. 
I knew that somewhere but didn’t realize it until then. A few hours later after mulling it over I posted something on Facebook about it- a short quote I made up as my own interpretation of this. It had very few “likes”. Guess my Facebook tribe didn’t get it. 
Not long after I heard a podcast about the moral compass. The speaker explained how we experience negative emotions (depression, hopelessness, anxiety, etc) when we aren’t living according to our moral compass.
Right- that makes sense too! And in my own interpretation I understood that moral compass connection to be through the soul which is connected to all that is. When we can’t hear or follow that sound advice and live against it, we feel unhappy.
Then, not long after I started to better understand the deeper meaning of the yoga I was attracted to. The focused attention of breath and movement quieted the monkey mind. Meditation and quieting the mind is a ticket to really hearing sound moral advice from my soul- that without question always knows the right and loving way to be in this world.
I feel so inspired to write this morning because when I opened my email amongst the midst of things was the start of a sentence that caught my eye strong enough for me to open it. It read “God does what God is: Love. God does not love you if and when you change. God loves you so that you can change!”The email was a few paragraphs long. It is a daily mediation that I signed up for from the Franciscan priest Richard Rohr who wrote a book I recently finished called Falling Upward. 
The email this morning brought the message of the soul and compass home for me. The email referenced one of the famous lines of the Bible where man is created in the likeness and image of God (the divine, nature, whatever you connect to spiritually). That likeness is LOVE.
One paragraph states “Love is who you are. When you don’t live according to love, you are outside of being. You’re basically not real or true to yourself. When you love, you are acting according to your deepest being, your deepest truth. You are operating according to your dignity.
Love… Love it. To me that says it all.
Maybe, just maybe… the allegory of the apple and ensuing suffering was having doubt about pure love. Not living by the advice of the soul. Not having faith in all that is. 
The soul knows. Perhaps we should listen a bit closer. It’s always there- the good angel on our shoulder, NOT jumping up and down loudly like a child with a pitch fork such as the little fiery red guy on the other shoulder. Maybe listening to it really is a key away from fear & suffering.
Hey… it’s worth a try! 

On Fear and Suffering

“Man suffers most through his fears of suffering”. —Etty Hillesum

I am beginning to understand how important it is to accept fear, suffering, and the unknown as a part of life. I’m not saying it’s easy, but it really is part of being human and our existence. Once we begin accept fear, suffering, and the unknown as natural and ordinary; we can experience a more balanced outlook on the way things are. Once that balanced outlook is realized; we still have fears, bad days and down days – they just seem to have less power and debilitating effects on us.

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In a blog I wrote a few weeks ago “On the Fluctuating Gunas ”, bad things happening to our around us, doesn’t mean something is wrong with us. It’s just part of the flow of life.

What is even more astounding is that as humans we have the capability to truly accept the entire flow of what life is. In our most enlightened form it’s possible to not be affected at all. From a Christian biblical perspective – symbolically, the lesson of Jesus on the cross is to help free us from suffering through demonstrating that at even the WORST, we have nothing to be afraid of if we chose to embrace what is.

Acceptance = Non-Suffering

We can’t fight what life throws at us. It’s fruitless. We will lose by fighting and trying to avoid it every time. It’s a law of nature, but it doesn’t mean that we should lie back and be pushed around by life. In the same way we cannot win by swimming against the tide or sailing against the wind. We have to use nature’s forces intelligently to still navigate where we would like to go using what is there at the time and not just wishing the tide away.

What’s worse is that wishing the tide away means not enjoying life as it is happening. We waste time that would otherwise be enjoyable by being scared of the unknown, thinking things are supposed flow easily – then being miserable when they don’t.

Will Smith even quoted the version of the below phrase in a great YouTube video I watched not too long ago. This is the abridged >2 min version, but the point is well taken. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eSIo4JMzcbM

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FDR said it best years ago. “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”.

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Years ago I read the book “Who Moved My Cheese”. It was cute enough. I was in my 20’s and it was my first exposure to hearing about accepting change. One of my favorite lines is quoted below. I remember it gave me chills because there actually would have been quite a bit I would be doing if I weren’t afraid.

On the Fluctuating Gunas (The What???)

Today I woke up anxious. Physically I had a slight tightness in my chest. My heart felt like it was a little heavy, but the worst was my breath. I couldn’t help but sigh every few moments. Obviously releasing some kind of tension. I felt slightly lost. Not sure where my life is going. Not but an hour later I was laughing and feeling like wherever my life is going it doesn’t matter and I’ll get there as I need to.

These are the “Gunas”. Fluctuations that are normal in the universe. They are everywhere. In the weather, in our moods. It’s a universal law. What goes up must come down. What swings one way will swing the other.

The Gunas are a term I learned in yoga teacher training and were often discussed. It’s now a part of my regular vocabulary and thought process. We don’t stay in one mood forever. Nothing stays in its state forever. We are supposed to feel good and bad. It should be expected that good things as well as bad things will happen. Fighting it is what leads to suffering. In Buddhism a key tenant is that any attachment causes suffering. Even attachment to feeling one way (like happy), being attached to an outcome you want, or any objects/feelings/desires/etc. The Hindu tradition (yoga’s roots) describes the same concept but in a different way.

From Yogapedia: https://www.yogapedia.com

A guna is an attribute of nature, according to Hindu philosophy. In Hinduism, there are three gunas that have always existed in the world in both all living and non-living things:

• Tamas (darkness, destructive, death)

• Rajas (energy, passion, birth)

• Sattva (goodness, purity, light)

Here in our Western world we are not taught to think in this way. We seem to feel that if something goes wrong or we don’t feel well (mentally, physically or spiritually), that something is wrong with us. Imagine we were taught that both elation and depression are normal and to be expected? Neither will stay. Both are an experience of being alive. The more we attach to any experience (the good or the bad ones), the more we will ‘suffer’. Suffering really meaning anything from disappointment to despair.

I’m signed up for daily emails from Richard Rohr. He is a Franciscan priest that wrote many books on spirituality. I recently finished “Falling Upward” which was amazing! Much of it was about how we need to fall in order to learn and grow. How opposite things are complementary and part of life. I will paste a quote from the Tuesday mediation.

“If we are going to talk about light, then we must also talk about darkness, because they only have meaning in relation to one another. All things on earth are a mixture of darkness and light, and it is not good to pretend that they are totally separate!”

Understanding the Gunas is one of the many ways I am learning to accept life as it is. When I remember them when I’m feeling down I almost embrace it as the full experience of life. Not always, but more & more often.

They have helped me- and if you have read this and are willing to try, perhaps that can help you or a loved one too!

Peace & Namste

On The Monkey Mind vs Spirit

We are born with nothing, even clothes. At the moment of death we might be donning some attire, and perhaps be clutching something –a person, animal or object (or all 3). But those physical remnants remain. We come into the world with nothing physical but the body. When we leave, we leave even the body behind. The only thing that goes is that light in our eyes, our spirit.

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So why do we become attached to anything? Why do we spend that precious time between life and death hauling around stuff? Worrying about stuff? ‘Stuff’ being our cars, clothes, friends, jobs, or status. The only thing that really matters is the imprint we leave on the planet, created through our spirit. We can’t haul anything but our spirit out of this world, so why isn’t the spirit the main focus of living? Why are we focused on stuff?

I started yoga like many others for the physical practice. My first experience was with a VHS tape at home in my living room. “This is easy!” I thought. It must be because I’m flexible and was a dancer when I was young. I moved from position to position and sat there waiting to see what I would be told by the TV to do next. I ignored the cues to breath “Geez, I know how to breath” and ‘open up’ “Isn’t that what I’m doing?”. I was annoyed at the end when the suggestion was to lie on my back for several minutes. “What a waste of time!”

I went to actual classes a few times, but I didn’t quite understand it. I only did yoga at home because I heard it was good for you. I didn’t particularly enjoy it and I absolutely skipped the lying on your back part at the end.

Until one day I went to a class at a local chiropractic office that was offering free classes for a week. The classes all had different names. I couldn’t tell them apart and really didn’t care. The time I was able to get home from work and get my husband situated with the kids was far more important. I went to a class Monday and Tuesday. Same experience, but this time I had to lie in silence at the end. I really disliked that part. However, the Wednesday class was life altering. It was called “Love your body yoga”. Yoga was yoga to me. The postures all even seemed the same. But there was something different about this class. Perhaps the teacher’s voice or encouragement, I don’t know; it was too long ago now to remember. Somehow though, I was able to do the postures better. I listened to the cues to breath and expand in certain parts. I moved slowly, mindfully, and with grace. At the end I was looking forward to the lying meditation (known as savasana – pronounced “shavasana”). During savasana the teacher came around with an oil for our foreheads. When she gently put her hands on my temples I felt at such peace I almost wanted to cry. The smell was like light and citrusy, but like incense. The experience was so comforting. When I left class I kept touching my forehead and smelling the oil. I felt a sense of peace.

My practices at home became a little different after that, although I was never able to get into a good routine and reap the benefits of yoga. Years later on a whim I signed up for a local class at the Park & Rec. I knew yoga was good for me, I knew how to do it (I thought), and I wanted a steady place where I knew I wouldn’t be lazy and skip it.

The first class was amazing. I drove away with a sense of bliss. That night in bed when I turned over in the middle of the night I felt space in my body as well as an overall sense of harmony. I kept going and the benefits kept getting better and better. It wasn’t very long before I had my first cry on the mat while in pigeon (something I now know is quite common). Soon after that; the mind, body, spirit connection was undeniable. Where has this been all my life? Do other people know about it? Why isn’t this more well known??? Our spirit is the key to life.

I didn’t know it until long after I started yoga teacher training, but the word yoga means “to yoke”. Particularly; to yoke the mind, body, and spirit. I know there are many other ways to link the mind, body and spirit. Others have found the answers in various different ways, but have come to the same sense of yoking. Once you sense that connection to the mind, body, and spirit it’s difficult to go back to the material way of living because you know deep down that it doesn’t matter.

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Yoga isn’t a magical cure that works all the time. In fact many times I move through a whole practice and never feel ‘settled’. The difference is that I know my mind, body and spirit are disconnected and that I do not like feeling that sense of separation. I know that giving into that separation by trying to fill the space between with stuff only leads to suffering and a sense of even more separation. I know this and most of the time cannot master it. But the time in between remembering where the sense of true peace comes from grows a tiny bit each day.

The time in between birth and death is our life. In that life we accumulate things. Physical things. We become attached to those things. We become attached to people. We become attached to happiness and think something is wrong when we are sad. We need to eat, sleep, and eliminate to order to function and stay healthy. To stay healthy through eating, sleeping and eliminating we need stuff. So we spend our lives from birth to death hauling around stuff. Stuff to eat, stuff to sleep, stuff to look good in the eyes of others. At any moment in time we are likely hauling stuff, whether it’s a wallet, purse, tube of lip balm, or like me – bags and bags of food, drink, or ‘stuff’ I might need.

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I’m not proposing that we don’t have stuff. We absolutely need to haul around things from day to day, or house-to-house, or city-to-city in order to function and stay alive. The disconnect comes in two forms: 1) From taking more than you need. 2) Becoming attached to that stuff.

There are two ways to not take more than you need and/or become attached. 1) You can listen to authorities that preach this. 2) You can discover for yourself.

The problem with number 1 is that most of those who preach it and know it at a spirit level do not practice this. Our parents taught us not to take more than you need, but we then probably watched them eat, buy, shop, and generally consume more than they needed. We observed as they became attached to their jobs, cars, houses, other people, stories, the news, etc. The same went for teachers, preachers, friends, family… the society that shaped our thoughts growing up. The message was conflicted and if you are anything like me, didn’t even question the confliction.

Discovering this for yourself is a whole different ballgame. Once you realize that non-attachment and taking only what you need is the key to liberation, it’s hard not to incorporate it into your decisions. Before the discovery on your own, the hypocritical authoritative voice in your mind may have caused a sense of guilt; but the knowing it is not right through your very own voice is far more powerful.

Old habits are incredibly difficult to break. There is not a switch that goes off where one starts to make perfect decisions from here forth. In fact there is more debate, guilt and remorse over not making the right decision than ever.

Wikipedia describes the Monkey Mind as a Buddhist term meaning “unsettled; restless; capricious; whimsical; fanciful; inconstant; confused; indecisive; uncontrollable”. The monkey mind is the voice in the head that never stops talking. Like a monkey it cannot sit still. It jumps from thought-to-thought, worry-to-worry, new shiny object to new shiny object, without a care in the world. It is like a toddler that never grows up. It responds to the wiring in the brain that lights up “like” impulse. It likes stuff – food, taste, status, objects. Its concerns are all about ‘me, me, me’.

The spirit on the other hand is quiet and all knowing. It knows right from wrong. It will make the best, most loving, decision on behalf of the good of your body and the the world every time. The spirit doesn’t talk to you, but if you ask it – it will give the mind the right answer.

Here is where you learn that the habits formed in your physical brain wire faster and respond more quickly to your mind than what your spirit speaks to it. Your mind has been accustomed to ignoring that wise, quiet, but all knowing spirit within because that monkey chatter is so loud. We give into it as we might a toddler, just to quiet it down. It’s why yoking the mind, body and spirit are so important. Once they are all on the same page – there is no conflict. The right path is clear.

Even if you haven’t yet made the mind, body and spirit connection on your own or have no idea what I’m talking about and are curious –

  • Consider not hauling around so much stuff – whether it’s physical or emotional.
  • Become unattached, knowing that nothing ever lasts.
  • Take only what you need.

Know with practice and time, the space between remembering becomes greater and greater…. and with that comes a sense of peace.

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DailyPost: Haul

On the Mysterious Secret of Slowing Down

Last Sunday evening after dinner I was washing a pot. I was washing it very mindfully.  I was noticing the feel of the warm, soapy water on my hands. I thought about how the pot was made and how I infused the homemade vegan chili in this large, heavy blue pot with love. Most importantly I was slowly and methodically removing the food that was stuck to the bottom of the pan. I thought back to a lesson I just cannot seem to always remember – “To go faster you must slow down”.

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I led a fast paced adult life until about 2 years ago. So fast that I hardly had time to think. Washing a pot with food stuck to the bottom has always reminded me of this paradox; thanks to a visit from my mother a few years before she passed away. When my children were young and I was first married, we had little money, but I kept a really good home. I felt very on top of things. But I was rushed back then too. I was so rushed that I never really had time to deal with pots that ended up with years worth of stains on them. In late 2001 my mother came to visit with her new husband Boris. I had only just met him, and I know he made my mother very happy. He was from Venezuela. My mom talked so much about how laid back he was and how he got her to slow down, grow out her hair, and stop fussing so much with make up and keeping up the house. I made a big dinner when they came to visit, and afterward there were many pots and pans that needed cleaning. My mother and Boris came into the kitchen to help and stationed themselves at the sink; she on dish duty, he on drying duty. What seemed like only moments later while I was putting the leftover food into containers, I noticed Boris drying off one of the pots. What caught my eye about a particular pot that usually had brown and black soot on the bottom was that it was so shiny and clean. Years worth of food and cooking build up was gone! I asked my mother how she did that and so fast… she only smiled with a glint in her eye and said “Boris showed me how”. She never told me with words, but with her eyes she told me to slow down and go easy. The next time I had to clean a pot and ever since I’ve taken my time, used far less pressure than I ever would have and they have always come clean. Working in a rush and with too much pressure used more time and never yielded the same results. I never understood how, it’s just the way it works.

I learned this 17 years ago, but I still don’t always remember or practice this principle. Two years ago I slowed down immensely, truly savoring the small, day-to-day moments, and oddly enough I found myself to be happier, more at peace and with more time than I ever had. It’s not only time, but also about ‘less’. Doing less, trying less, having less… all equal less stress and more joy.

Last week I had the luxury of traveling with my husband and a group of amazing individuals from my yoga studio to a jungle sanctuary in Costa Rica. Getting to this sanctuary required two commercial flights, a puddle jumper plane, a 45 minute car ride, and then a 20 minute hike crossing a river four times. It was hot and humid; the type of humidity where you never dry off, even after a shower.

The only way on and off the sanctuary is a 20 minute-plus hike. On the last full day of the trip, my husband Daren and I ventured off the property to the sanctuary’s closest neighbor Nena, in pursuit of pure organic extra virgin coconut oil. It was a short walk over a bridge that overlooks the ocean to Nena’s house. For the previous two days, Daren & I opted to take some excursions off the property with our group. Both days were a little hectic and obscenely hot at times. I felt ambivalent all morning about whether or not we should take the walk down the hill to get this coconut oil, mainly because it was hot. For some reason I said I’d like to go but I wanted to walk slowly. So off we went to Nena’s house for coconut oil.

Daren and I really took our time. We stopped and looked at monkeys. We watched little birds. We passed our friend the white cow. When we left the property and crossed the street we stopped on the bridge. Actually, Daren on the bridge and called out to me “Babe, look at this view!”. Slightly annoyed, I stopped to look. I was initially feeling rushed, looked at my watch and started calculating how much time it would take to get to Nena’s, buy this coconut oil, trek back, “relax” at the pool, and then dash off to the next yoga class. However, when I turned my head to the left and saw the scene, my heart rate actually slowed down a bit. I couldn’t believe I was about to just walk by and miss this scene! I took it in. While standing there I couldn’t help but notice this insane harried American thought pattern and I pushed it completely away. When I stopped and didn’t worry about the time, I was able to remember that I was here in this beautiful place, at this beautiful moment, with my beautiful husband and a group of beautiful well-lit individuals. I stopped my physical, then mental body from the rush of insanity and fleeting thoughts to appreciate the view and the view of my husband appreciating the view.
We stood there a while in silence. I took a few pictures and resisted the urge to snap more. More is not better. More pictures, more talk, more activity… more, more, more… No, no, no… I know this, but I live in a world that tells me the opposite; so it’s easy to forget.
It was I who broke the silence after a long while. I had the profound realization that because we walked slowly we weren’t as hot as we were the rest of the trip. I intellectually knew that before we walked and even made that suggestion, but it was even more profound to experience that it worked. It dawned on me that every time I go anywhere where the weather is warm all the time, the locals move slowly. I heard other Americans and Canadians joking about how the natives live on “Costa Rican time”. I’ve heard the same joke in other places. All these Americans and Europeans thinking it’s so funny to crack jokes about how slow everyone moves, when really the joke is on us. What is wrong with us? We are the dummies sweating in the sun because we are rushing around like lunatics. It’s our culture that is uptight, wound up and stressed. What are we in a rush to do anyway? At that moment on the bridge I decided to put my watch in my pocket and let the day pass as it may. Strangely there seemed to be just the right amount of time for everything once I stopped worrying at all about it.

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Daren with our friend the pretty white cow who was often on the path onto and off the sanctuary.
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The view I nearly just didn’t notice

When we start to move too fast, we often do not see what we need to see. (Huffington Post 2015 – Why Going Slow Will Make You Go Faster). This applies to work, our lives with our families and friends, or achieving any of our goals. Maybe it’s not just what we need to see, but what will enhance our everyday experiences.

In the midst of this jungle last week we were surrounded by wildlife. It was beautiful, simple, exotic, intoxicating, and natural. This was a yoga group at a yogic sanctuary. Yogi’s might be more aware than most about the beauty of being conscious, but are no less human and subject to falling prey to being unconscious in a world that keeps dangling shiny temptations all around. One of my teachers deliberately did not go on one of the daily excursions on a day that every other single one of the group did. She said she did not want to feel rushed, and she sat watching monkeys for several hours that day instead. The message she took away is that the monkeys were there all along, providing the same level of awe and entertainment, but had one not taken the time to just stop and observe, it would have been missed.

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The evening we returned to Connecticut from Costa Rica, Daren and I found ourselves on a line at a McDonald’s drive through on the way home from the airport at 11:45 at night. By that point in the day we had been up & en route home since 5:15am. We had only one square meal. We were tired, dirty and stressed. Hurry up and wait. We almost missed a connecting flight because Passport Control was a hot mess when we got back into the U.S. We were waiting on a very long car line at 11:45pm for an absolutely nutritiously poor meal (well Daren was waiting, I was looking forward to some soup at home). We were stressed. Daren was tapping at the wheel. I was mentally trying hard to not fall into the trap of ordering something greasy or feeling upset over the slow moving line, all while trying to stay cheerful so my husband could stay positive too. In my mind I was doing math again about the number of things I needed to do the next day to get ready for the week, wondering how I could fit them in. How much mail was there? Who is taking the dog to the vet Thursday? What should I pull out for dinner tomorrow? Should I go shopping? I needed to inventory the food situation at home first, right? With every thought I felt my blood pressure rising. And every time I noticed my breath becoming rapid and shallow or my heart racing, I made the conscious decision to breath deeply and live in the moment. That only lasts a few moments out here in the “real world” until the thoughts & heart start to race again. How could you explain this feeling to someone in the third world?

We may have been in the middle of the jungle, but the concrete jungle creates artificial stressors that make living life to the fullest impossible. It’s impossible because living life to the fullest was taught to me that one need to fit in as much “fun”, work, and activities that one possibly can. This means learning as much as you can, moving quickly, multi-tasking, making lots of money to do these amazing things (because heck they aren’t free!), AND providing these amazing experiences to our offspring. Making money means more rushing and more stress. For most, making money means sitting in a car or in some form of transportation for unfathomable periods of time each day, to do a job you hardly ever see the results of or feel connected to, for far too many hours each day. Then rushing home to activities and usually harried, unhealthy meals – if you are lucky with loved one(s). Weekends for the most are spent putting your living quarters back together from the rush of the busy week by cleaning, doing laundry, shopping, shuffling other humans around and spending “quality” time with other humans you are supposed to care for to keep your social life active and your role as a parent connected with your children. In between you must squeeze in the “fun” and “experiences” you are going out to make all that money for, but also it’s very important to exercise, meditate, perform self-care, visit the doctor-dentist-optometrist regularly, prepare healthy organic, locally grown ingredient-based meals at home and sleep enough hours per night just so you don’t get fat, stressed or sleep deprived. You know… so you can be happy and experience life to the fullest. Sounds insane to me!

The Harvard Business Review writes about how this slow to go fast paradox works in business as well. When we take the time to get things right, rather than plow ahead full bore, we are far more successful in meeting objectives (Harvard Business Review 2010 – Need Speed? Slow Down).
Physics teaches us that time is relative. Slowing down means time slows down with you. I can’t explain why this is, it’s just is. Another exquisite paradox is that it also helps you appreciate and truly experience more. Additionally life and experiences become less expensive, less material and far less stressful. This article is a bit more on the holistic side, but resonates with me because it talks about how when you work less you work better, find what really makes you happy, have the ability connect with others, and are able to savor life (Wholesome Living – 10 reasons why you should slow down to go faster).

The overall message for me is that slowing down = living life to the fullest. I keep forgetting, but the time between which I do is growing larger and larger. I hope that others who haven’t given it a whirl do! There’s nothing to lose but old, tired ideas of what it means to life our lives to the absolute fullest.

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Sunrise one morning from the Tower at the Sanctuary
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Sunset one evening on the beach of Santa Theresa Costa Rica

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Yoga Journey 2016

 

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It’s Friday, December 30, 2016. I just walked 4 miles up to Cheshire coffee from my house. I’m siting alone with a yummy cup of green tea with a little honey & lemon. I’ve never been more content in my life. I did a lot of thinking on the way up here and wanted to capture my own thoughts. I don’t know if I’ll finish this or blog it. For now I’m just writing from my heart.

 

2016 was the best year of my life [so far]. I’ve been reading all these Facebook posts about the number of days until this miserable year ends, and the posting everyone shares about how they want to stay up this New Years Eve just to watch 2016 die. I don’t relate to this. I would have until this year, but I’m really a different person.

 

A few weeks ago on the first weekend in November, Daren and I drove up to Portland, ME with Koji in the backseat. We were on our way to see Thomas at college. On the way up there Daren and I were having one of our normal long car ride talks about life that I absolutely love and adore. At some point we hit traffic and Siri took us on a different route. It was off the main road through a shady looking neighborhood. The dog was seemingly upset. He was panting, walking back and forth and squeaking. We had some background music playing that suddenly seemed so inappropriate. Siri was directing my movements breaking into the music and into what seemed like insane directions with pop-up turns. The very yang, bright setting sun was shining in our eyes. The car was hot. There was loud construction work taking place just outside our tightly rolled up windows. Somehow we continued to talk through the chaos continuing what started out as a deep conversation when I needed to just stop. I realized it wasn’t serving me any longer. When Daren continued I gently said that we should pick it up a bit later, that I felt a little anxious needing to talk so loud over the noise, and it was difficult for me to concentrate on what Siri was saying. I turned off the music too. He understood. We continued driving in silence until we were back on the road, traffic lightened up and the dog was comfortably resting in the back. All the while I thought about how recognizing all of this was something that was new to me a few years ago. Before that I would have just started to feel irritated and angry and not quite understand why. Once I realized this type of scenario I would have pointed it out and grumbled about it. But actually doing something about it in a constructive way is new to me this year. I recognized the feelings of irritability and I didn’t feel the need to have a verbal running commentary of everything in my head anymore. I was thinking about how in general I don’t feel the need to comment on everything. I was going through so much of my yoga studies and homework at that point in time and really starting to put into practice the 3 checkpoints of is it true? is it necessary? and is it kind? I suddenly had a lot less to say. And I’m a better listener for it.

 

I was thinking about this and how different I am when Daren asked me in the car that evening what I was thinking about. How can I explain it to him? I told him I was just thinking about how different I am from the person I was just a year ago. He asked me why I thought that. I said yoga. In some very nice way I can’t recall, he questioned me about how. He said something to the effect of ‘I live with you every day and watched you go through this journey, but I don’t see anything different’. It’s probably true that looking at me, and even more so living with me one wouldn’t notice a difference. Not only are the differences mostly internal and subtle, but one doesn’t notice their pet or child growing up day to day. Only when you measure a height on a wall or look back at pictures can you really see a change. How can I explain to my husband how I’m different?

 

One part of me didn’t want to explain. I’m truly becoming a less is more kind of person. It seemed like work to talk about this. Why couldn’t we go back to the deep conversation we were having earlier? That moment was now lost. Why try to get it back? We were in a new moment. I was just asked a question that could lead to another deep conversation. Should I try to explain? Is it true/kind/necessary? It kind of passed my filter. The necessary part was plus/minus, but he was curious and I guess talking out loud would help me to actually quantify what I was thinking internally and have someone to bounce it off of.

 

Well…. I don’t remember exactly how I described the way I felt different, but it included a lot of the following:

 

  • I listen more deeply. I resist the urge to dole out advice. Yoga taught me to listen to my body, other people, and nature. My teachers taught me to sit in a circle and just listen to other people’s stories sans weighing in. Without the pressure of having to respond, and the stipulation that you can’t; I learned to listen more deeply. Even though it was something I only practiced for a weekend a month for a short period of time during a check in; I took it off the mat and internalized it into my life.

 

  • I am aware of my body. Panic attacks this year helped me to further listen to my body and even become aware of the anxiety I was so accustomed to, that I didn’t even realize I was walking around with it. All Of The Time. One of my yoga teachers who also has anxiety and is very open about it, helped me to realize that it’s ok and human to have a disorder. Listening to her and other teachers share their own stories of being human and battling various ailments (for lack of a better word) encouraged me to open up and share as well.

 

  • Once I realized I had anxiety disorder and that it was way out of my control, I started medication. The medication helped to clear the fog and chatter of my mind. With that fog gone, I was able to actually hear my body, the messages behind my thoughts, and work through learning much more about myself. Once I started to understand myself, especially the way my body works through yoga practice, yoga study and self-contemplation; I began to love myself in new ways and just accept what is, my life experiences, and my place in the world.

 

  • Understanding myself also helped me be in touch with what “amps” me up. I learned this year that I can run 8-10 miles… no problem! But I also learned that it also makes my anxiety worse. I can’t have more than 1 cup of coffee each day. Ginger makes me nauseous. I was too clouded with monkey chatter and anxiety to even notice let alone act upon these things before.

 

  • I have a better idea of when to fight for something and when to let go. I was more of a fighter before. Taoism is something I’m only starting to touch upon through Yin Yoga. I love the concept of the yin yang and the balance between healer and warrior. Now I know there is no need to fight for everything. Some things are not worth it and others really are. Knowing the difference is key. At work I let a lot more go. I can’t change certain things and exerting energy toward doing so is fruitless. However, I knew when to keep going for myself and my employees at times; and when it was worth doing something for the greater good. At home I stood my ground with some blended family issues I knew are also for the greater good. Things that I would have handled more heatedly and immaturely before. I have a little more insight on how to stand my ground like a mature and calm woman.

 

  • I’m moving slower – physically. When I find myself rushing (which is less and less these days), I question why and slow down. There is almost no reason why I’m doing it. My knee surgery really helped me to recognize this. When I had to move incredibly slowly around my house and workplace, I felt uncomfortable; like I was wasting time. I questioned what was not happening or what I was not otherwise doing while I was taking all this time to get from place to place. How would moving faster make anything better? I didn’t have a good answer.

 

  • I usually realize I’m rushing because my deep exhales tell me so. I realized once I started to tackle my anxiety how much I exhale out deeply. I often do that when I’m anxious. Rushing and haste makes me anxious. And there is never really a good reason to rush. I had to question why was I uncomfortable with sitting still and slowing down. What I was running from? Meditating and sitting in yoga postures for a long time, especially yin postures helped me to learn to sit with discomfort and contemplate the thoughts that arise. In a class with others it’s harder to run away.

 

  • Once I realized I when I was taking deep exhales and slowing down, I was so much more in touch with my breathing. Especially how often I breath in a shallow manner. Yoga taught me to breath. The 3-part breath taught me what a full breath was and the benefits of what proper breathing does to my body. I created a personal breathing practice varying with Sufi and Ayurvedic breathing. I feel fresh and cleansed after I do these practices. It helps me use my breath all throughout the day as I move about life to help channel my emotions in a more healthy way. I stop and think about my breath so much more now. It’s a beautiful thing that we all carry with us. It has so much untapped power that most people don’t know about. I want to share this with the world it’s so cool.

 

  • Being in touch with my breath and slowing down has helped me think a lot more about my thoughts. The quality of my thoughts. How they are shaping my perception of the world. “Don’t water the weeds”. I catch myself all the time thinking about things I don’t want to be thinking about that don’t serve me. At first I would beat myself up for not having pure, beautiful thoughts. But the yoga sutras taught me this is normal and to just begin again. So I feel normal and begin again. The beauty is that the time span between beginning again is growing longer and longer. Catching myself happens more quickly. And the quality of my outlook on life is improving as a result.

 

  • Being in touch with thoughts and clearing the fog of anxiety has helped me to also recognize the running background noise in my mind. Songs that I didn’t even like that would play continuously sometimes for hours on end. Conversations from earlier in the day or years before that were either good, bad or indifferent would repeat over and over. Why? What was I feeding my body by allowing the monkey chatter to take over? Yoga taught me about how thoughts have power and shape life experiences. I learned to help redirect many unconscious thoughts through mantra by putting the power of the mind and background noise to work in good ways. Saying a mantra over and over is directing energy toward something you actually would like in your life. I started replacing the music I listened to on the way to work with beautiful mantra music instead. Now the background noise in my head is often messages I intend to fill myself with. I hear mantras and the changes that I want to see in the world replaying instead of unhealthy messages. I’m aware of what I’m ingesting from the world around me, consciously direct it, and let that be the monkey chatter.

 

  • In January this year I woke up one morning with a sty in my eye. I never had one before. It hurt and I couldn’t wear make-up. I had to go to work without eye make-up. No one really noticed. If they did, they didn’t say anything. Somehow over the course of the past year through conversations in my yoga classes with other students about healthy living I started to think about what I’m ingesting in all ways. Food is obvious, but thoughts, air (breath), products, messages – everything. I didn’t know anyone else in real life that I saw on a regular basis who even thought about using natural products. I’m now painfully aware of health & beauty products that seep right into the largest organ of our bodies (skin). I am weary of chemicals and not so hip on make-up anymore. I look and feel so much more natural. I get ready in the morning faster. I’m not blow drying my hair. I’m using natural food more often for health & beauty products inside and out.

 

  • I’m me more. I didn’t even know me before. I was under the influence of my own thoughts and hardly noticing the world around me. In being more aware of the world around me, I’m more aware of others. A few weeks ago while walking to the copier machine in my old office I passed someone that I hardly know that I sort of peripherally worked with in the past. She was crying. On the way back to my office I don’t even know why, but I walked right up to her and gave her a big hug. She seemed surprised at first but then collapsed into my arms and let herself cry. I said I don’t know what it is, but I wish for you that everything goes the way you want and need it to. Between sobs she said me too. I hugged her extra tight, let go, and went on my way. I used to not do things like that. I tell people I love them, I listen with the intent to understand a lot more often. I’m present mentally with greater frequency. I feel more authentically me than I’ve ever felt before.

 

  • I love my own company. I used to fear it. When I was 20 years old I drove across the country by myself while in the military. I had no CD player in my car. Cell phones didn’t exist. I was uncomfortable with myself. I hated going out to eat and sitting alone on that trip. I disliked being alone most of my adult life. I needed a book or something to do or watch. Now I love being alone just as much as I love being with other people. I need to do both to keep myself balanced. How can I ever have an original thought if I’m not alone? How can I ever hear if I’m always talking, listening, stimulated or having to respond?

 

Daren was right mostly. One can’t see these things. They are subtle. They are personal to me. On the outside I do look mostly the same. I’m imperceptibly different sitting in a car in traffic to the person next to me. Inside – not so much. The world tells us how we should be and behave from the moment we are born. It’s hard to know who you really are or how you really feel if society dictates how that should be. Humans are the only ones who do that. In the car ride on the way to Maine Koji acted upset when we were in traffic. Us humans tried to ignore what was around us and carry on. Why? Yoga was predominately responsible for bringing me so much more awareness. There are other things that started to shape my life in a different way that started a few years ago. Things that led me to the practice of yoga. Yoga itself worked it’s quiet magic on me over the past 4 years. Starting yoga teacher training last January really took it to a new level because I started to understand how it worked on me and the training enabled me to embrace it for it’s benefits that much more.

 

I feel very blessed and lucky to have had the time to dedicate to learning about yoga and myself. I’m lucky to be a citizen of the first world who is fulfilled in food, shelter, and clothing enough to be able to explore higher thoughts. I don’t want to take that for granted for a single second. I’m in NO way perfect. I fall off my own path. But I get up. And I fall less and less these days. 2016 rocked in that way for me. I only hope to keep going and maybe inspire others to do what they need to do to find their own path as well.

 

I will post this as a blog after all. If anyone is still reading – Thank you for doing so and being interested enough to finish. Hopefully that means it touches you too in some way. Comment, write, call me, text me if you are moved to. I love to listen. Love to share. And would love to learn from you. Peace. 2016 – out.