Thursday, December 15, 2016

Happy Holidays 2016




Dearest Loved Ones,

     Thank you for being bright lights in this world. Thank you for always reaching towards love.  We are so grateful for the people in our lives and I feel remiss that we don’t tell you this every day all the time. But isn’t that the beauty of this season? When things get darker and the days get shorter we look for light and, of course, there is no brighter light than Love. 

     I have been thinking a lot lately about how love is a verb. Love is helping, love is smiling at someone, love is being present, love is putting yourself aside for someone else. But love is also seeing yourself, being kind to yourself, being your own ally. So, as my act of love I write this letter.  I could, of course, go the classic Holiday letter route and tell you about the highs and lows of our year, but you have had yours, too. We all do, it is the state of being human.

     Instead as I am inspired by the paraphrased scripture “Be anxious for NOTHING, but instead in everything (practice gratitude) and peace will surround you” Phillipians 4:6 I want to share a gratitude list. Gratitude, like love, is a verb as well. When we intentionally set our minds on things we’re grateful for it produces chemicals that result in a feeling of well being. You do not wait until you’re grateful to practice, so let me begin.

·         In the category of things to be grateful for if they were gone, I want to remember to be grateful for my heart beat and my opposable thumbs. Come on, y”all …thumbs are awesome.

·         In the category of “grateful it didn’t happen” I am grateful neither Tim nor I had any major health challenges this year

·         In the category of things we can universally be grateful for, I am grateful that smiles are contagious

·         Personally, we are so grateful for our little animal family. Our old Golden Retriever Grace is kicking along at 13, our cantankerous kitty still wakes us in the middle of the night for no reason and our three cute little backyard chickens are hilarious, adorable and make quite the lovely egg.

·         A favorite gratitude practice of mine is to work through the alphabet, but only wanting to fill one page I will leave you with:

·         A: I am grateful for authentic connection of one heart to another

·         B: I am grateful for beauty in every form, art, nature, you  and

·         C:  I am grateful for Christmas and Chanukah because they remind me that practicing gratitude leads to Love and Light.

 Big Love this season and always
The Wendt Family

Thursday, August 25, 2016

51 Shades of Grey

Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance
Thomas Merton


     I had a friend several decades ago that would engage me in a repetitive argument, her stance was everything in life is black OR white, right or wrong and my answer was "no it's all shades of grey". We had a lot of fun with this spirited debate, but as positions do,  over time mine has changed. I no longer think things are solely "shades of grey" but neither do I think they are "black OR white". Instead I am learning through the practice of yoga that things are black AND white. Sometimes this black and white blends together to create a beautiful grey as in balancing the effort and ease of a yoga posture perfectly. But sometimes we have to expand our capacity to hold opposites, to live with the black and white.  I am trying to hold the fact that despite my good intentions and loving heart I still cause suffering to others. We are all mixed blessings. A few years ago I heard an NPR interview with a Baptist minister in Alabama who is also an ob/gyn. He said that he performs abortions not despite his religion but because of it. He said that his spiritual explorations had led him to discover the dividing line between good and evil and that it ran down the center of every human being. Can you hold the truth that you are both good and evil or do you need to see yourself as only good or only bad? A full life like a yoga practice involves balance and that is a lot more than standing on one foot. Can you see yourself for the incredibly simple creature that you are and still embrace your complexity?

     The challenge here is that if you apply black OR white thinking to yourself you will also apply it to others. And when we put ourselves in boxes what we are really doing is creating barriers to connection. What about your ideas about the Divine Mystery? Have you put God in a box? I love Richard Rohrs thought "mystics speak of the God experience as simultaneously falling into an abyss and being grounded." Can you come to the idea of a Divine Mystery like a little child, curious and open while at the same time being a seasoned mature seeker? When you stand on one foot on the yoga mat there is so much more to practice than simply not falling down. Can you also balance the rooting down into the earth and the rising up towards heaven? They say the human is the unique space in which the animal energies of the earth mingle with the Divine energies. Can you allow yourself to hold both? To be both?

     Our culture is so divided right now and I believe that is a symptom of us seeing in black OR white. But can you hold the pain of the oppressed and the fear of the oppressor without boxing them in? Can you hold black AND white?  Can you do this for your self? Can you do something bad and not label yourself as a bad person or remember when you do something good that you still have the capacity for evil? Practice doing this for yourself and your capacity for empathy will increase.
On and off the mat we must balance everything. reaching out and solitary time, grounding into the earth and letting go, spending time and money and saving our resources. The more we can accept seeming contradictions the more we expand our world view. Suddenly we don't see our "adversaries" as simply evil but as complex and deep just like us. And yet we are all so simple. we want to be seen and loved. The very basic meaning of the word yoga can be translated as "union". But we will not find union, internal or external, as long as we see things in black or white. Let's practice today holding our opinions, beliefs and judgments lightly enough to make space. I share these thoughts knowing that you already know this but at the same time you may have forgotten. You are wonderful and yet sometimes quite full of mischief! Can you love all the parts of you?




Monday, August 8, 2016

Nothing To Say

   
"An inability to stay quiet is one of the conspicuous failings of mankind"
Walter Bagehot

    
     Part of teaching yoga professionally is being a public speaker. Our words can be gems or bombs creating or destroying. Who ever came up with the childhood rhyme "stick and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me" was so far off the truth it amazes me. Our words literally have the ability to create life and destroy it. But words will only take us so far. Part of being a professional yoga student (which is all a teacher is) is diving down into silence. Building space for inner quiet.
So lately I have been feeling this strange tension between wanting to communicate and wanting to sit in silence. The tensions between dualities are familiar to any yogi. Balancing effort and ease is yoga 101. Balancing external focus and inner journey is a step we must take. I am comfortable being uncomfortable and not knowing what to say. It is ok, but at the same time as expectant students look at me in the beginning of a class, if no words come out confusion may arise.

     I'm not sure I have a "lesson" in this blog or even an encouraging story. But rather perhaps an invitation to co-explore with me what it means to speak and to be silent. I had a interesting experience the other day with words. Tim and I take turns picking where we go to lunch on Saturdays and inevitably when it is his turn I cannot keep my mouth shut. It has been my intention since the beginning to truly stand back and  silently and let him choose where he really wants to go, but my mouth has never cooperated with this intention. So, when his time to chose rolled around again I actually said out loud in the morning "I vow to not interfere with lunch today" Now I have said before "I will let you chose" "I will not interfere" "I will be quiet" but this time was different. Something about the strength of the word "Vow"  When lunchtime rolled around and he started throwing suggestions at me expecting my normal interference all that came to my mind was the strength of the word vow. I held onto that word long enough for him to pick a place on his own. The word vow became a life raft for me to rest on long enough to allow him space. Of course the word "vow" has no special powers except the ones I give it. The word had meaning for me and so it became strong.

     The bible scripture Matthew 15:11 "what goes into someones mouth does not defile them, but what comes out, that is what defiles them" has always been a  reminder to me to not be neurotic about what I eat because what goes in will not defile me. But in contrast as I sit with this scripture as a more mature seeker I can see how one could get neurotic about what they say. If we really understood the power of our words we might never speak again. I could easily get neurotic about my words now that I am just beginning to see their immense energy. But thankfully we also have the scripture in Exodus 4:15 where God tells Moses (and us) "now go, I will teach you how to speak and I will tell you what to say" So, it comes down to this for me: effective speaking only comes from deep listening. Words only bloom into life when they originate from a well of silence. If we are speaking just to speak that is just :ego vomit' but perhaps when we listen quietly there is a message to pass along using words. I love the quote "Preach all you can and if necessary use words" Francis of Assisi  I love the irony of this quote, because it sheds light on the power of silence, but only by using words.
I did not expect when I opened Quiet that I would have a season of literally embodying the name. I did not expect that some of the deeper truths we learn have no words to describe them. But they say if you can see the path ahead it is not your path. And so I dive into the mystery of silence as I relearn to use my words.


Monday, June 20, 2016

Two Become One Flesh

"Spirituality is measured relationally"

     I want to begin this post be reminding us all that yoga like relationships is all about balance, but I think that's probably true of all life. So I might as well begin this post by reminding us all that 2 + 2 = 4.  A big part of  yoga teachers job is simply reminding us of what we already know. And if you are interested in applying yoga to relationships you already know that if you put all your time and effort into another person and neglect yourself the relationship is doomed and if you are all about nurturing yourself to the exclusion of seeing the other that's just the opposite side of a doomed coin. Twenty three years ago when we got married the adage "marriage is work" seemed like the pessimistic view of an unromantic past. But it is not just marriage that is work, all relationships require work. Beginning relationships is a challenge, building them takes effort and maintaining them takes a lot of time and energy. Yes, there will be sweet spots where you are so comfortable that the relationships turn into places of rest or places of play. But these states are dynamic and the work of relationship will always be a component. So, I thought it might be helpful to myself and maybe you to explore just what some this work looks like.

     Like everything else the work in relationship is unique for everyone, but one component of it is that we must go "in" and do our own inner work. We must see and acknowledge that when our partners trigger us to elevated emotion that there is some hurt or fear in us calling for attention. If we allow ourselves to sink into blaming our partner or feeling victimized then we might lose our opportunity to grow. A starting point to grow from a partner trigger is to let go of the story "they said....they did ..." and simply sink into the raw sensation of the moment. When my partner for the billionth time tried to micromanage my driving and for the billionth time it triggered me I finally did some work around it. I let go of my story "he thinks he knows which way is the right way to go, so he must think I'm stupid" and instead I noticed that without the story what actually happened was that my right jaw and shoulder clenched up. It wasn't an instant process but allowing the physical to relax definitely reduced the amount of emotional heat and before long we were both laughing at ourselves. His micromanagement of me driving is him trying to stay safe in an ineffective way because an agitated driver is less safe for sure. But if I'm honest what he triggered in me is a tremendous amount of immature pride. (stomps feet and whines "anything you can do I can do better") This speck of growth would not have happened had I held on to the mental story of what he was doing because that traps us in blame mode which always stifles personal growth.

     We also must go "out" and truly see our partners. To do this I find the Buddhist practice of "and this too" to be very helpful. We must see all the aspects of our partner that we can. When they do something fabulous we must remember that "this too" is a part of them. Because if we romanticize them when they please us then we are not seeing all of them and we are paving a path for future disappointment. And when they act in a manner that we dislike we must remember "and this too is a part of them" but its just a part they are also good. They are not bad because they did a bad thing they are not good because they did a good thing, but like all humans they are a wonderfully complex mix of wisdom and neurosis. As Richard Rohr puts it "we are all mixed blessings" ANd we must allow our partners to be their own beautifully complex selves.

     So, we must go "in" and "out" to be in a thriving relationship. But this is just the beginning. We also must go "here" and "there". Let me explain: long term romantic relationships require two opposing states to continue to grow. They require the state of love which takes familiarity and lots of time together "here" and they require desire which by definition requires distance "there". To desire something it must be away from us, if we have it we don't desire it because we have it. Silly humans, huh? But only being distant and away does not allow for intimacy to grow. So while it is super important to make lots and lots of memories together with your partner it is also important to get away. After a recent girls weekend away I found my partner particularly handsome on my return and his affection indicated some time away was good medicine for us both. But we also must be "here" really be with them and see them for who they are not who we want them to be. Put in good quality time with them.

     I don't see a clear end to this blog, because I want to write about balancing being strong and being vulnerable, being helpful and stepping back for them to figure their own stuff out, being productive together and being lazy together, the work of relationship is endless and wonderful. So, before I turn this blog into a novel I will stop. But before I leave you I just wanna share a teaching moment with my partner about a decade ago. I was being a little cranky maybe :)  and he just kinda forcefully said "why don't you just go get on your (yoga) mat!!!!" He was right! Take to the mat and it will bleed into your relationships in a beautiful way. Namaste yogis and happy growing

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Calm in the Storm

    Stormy seas make strong sailors

     I remember about a decade ago overwhelmed and questioning God "when will life slow down?, I whined" At this point we lived on the Gulf Coast and hurricanes were a familiar fact of life. When the powerful spirals approached the winds would whip the waters into froth and cause the trees to dance madly. The closer the eye of the storm the louder nature howled all around us. But then came the calm. If you have ever been in the eye of a hurricane you know it is one of the quietest places on earth. There are no winds, no birds, the trees stand perfectly still at attention. In the midst of this raging howling force lies calm and quiet. The answer to my prayer for a slower life came almost immediately. Life would never slow down, my spirit whispered, there would always be a hurricane of activity and stimulation, but in the middle of it all the eye of the storm was there quietly waiting for me to pay attention. Stillness is always available even as we race screaming through our days.
The storm seems so loud these days with fear and violence erupting in our culture. It is a challenge to find the quiet eye, but not impossible.
    
     Quiet is a state of mind and our minds are malleable. It is the mind dropped down into the heart.  We are not at the mercy of our thoughts and we are not the victims of our circumstances. Rather when we train to be present with whatever is happening our capacity to enter quiet slowly strengthens. This training is not quick or easy, but it is super simple. Do not resist the events of any given moment. If we are suffering and we try to push away the suffering then the suffering grows stronger. But if we notice our suffering and do not abandon the sensations, we tell our suffering "I am here for you" we hold our suffering like were comforting a crying baby then the suffering quiets. When we are joyful and we abandon the moment of joy thinking ahead we lose our joy. Have you ever found yourself super happy then had the thought "this will be over soon" and your joy is gone? But simply being present noting "this is a joyful moment" this increases our capacity for inner quiet. It is natural to want to move away from pain and hold onto joy. But the thing is,  life really is just an ever flowing river of sensations and when we sit quietly and observe this flow we enter the river. When we avoid our present moments we dam up the flow.

     I actually started this blog about a month ago after two consecutive days when  my inner life caught my attention. The first day was a day off with absolutely no commitments, luxurious, right? Well I spent a great deal of time that day whipping up a storm of doubts and "what ifs" and " you shoulds" in my mind. While outwardly I intentionally only did activities that seemed  restful, fun even,  inwardly my unchecked thoughts created a very unrestful situation. I lost my inner quiet. But the next day I was super busy at work and despite my morning doubts of having the stamina for it all it was an amazingly restful day. On day two I did not resist what was happening, I did not allow my mind to run amuck and I did not look for an escape. I stayed present.It really caught my attention that my Sabbath day was so stressful and my workday was so lovely. On the Sabbath day I abandoned the eye of the storm and indulged my ego mind and this always causes some level of anxiety. But despite a light physical fatigue on day two I felt calm and grounded almost as if I had been in a spa for the day. The only difference was that on day two I continually came back to "what is happening right now" I didn't allow memories or predictions to stay in my mind, but over and over I took notice of "exactly this moment"  when the moment was pleasant I took a second to appreciate it and when the moment was challenging I took a second to "hold myself softly"
I totally get that with the current situation in our politics and culture the desire to check out is strong. And, maybe for a little while that's what's needed. Take an hour or two to abandon yourself in some entertainment. But in the long run if we are to find this quiet eye of the storm we must allow the wind and rain. We must not abandon our present moments, but we must lovingly be there for ourselves and then we sink into the quiet we all have inside of us. I get that you're afraid, I am too. But in the darkness of denial,  fear grows and in the light of loving presence fear transforms.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Show Me The Monet

"If you think you know God keep searching
If you're searching for God, then God is with you"
Rick Ahmuty

     Being a yoga teacher/practitioner is a funny thing. In the beginning when you know you don't know much it is perhaps much simpler to teach. Because you begin with the basics of the body. Teaching physical alignment is pretty straight forward once you understand how joints work. But then one day you remember that yoga is about body, mind and spirit and slowly most of us move into working with the mind through meditation, contemplation and observation. This ineffably nebulous mental arena thankfully does have perimeters. Neuroscience is beginning to explain how our patterns of thought affect us and how we can affect them. So far using the canvass of the body and mind there is stuff to teach. and that is what teachers do: teach, right?
But, of course, time marches on and when you spend enough time working with the body and refining the mind then the subject of spirit inevitably arises. When the loud voice of the mind quiets a bit then there is room for that still small whisper of spirit to arise.

     For the sake of this discussion let's define the human spirit as "the part of us that is reaching for growth" Our spirits are a beautiful and deep part of us that lead us both inward to our Inner Witness and outward to God. And in this journey the intention is to surrender our small self to this Mystery.This is a personal journey that cannot be "taught" but perhaps can be shared and perhaps can be supported.
And this is the conundrum. Whether one is a preacher a teacher or just a busy body, trying to "teach" someone about spirit is often the very thing that stifles spirit. When I think about helping someone else nurture their spirit the only way I know how is to connect to my own spirit and the challenge is, in trying to connect to our Highest Selves we are blind women feeling Monets water lilies. In the beginning all seems safe and well because all we feel is a wooden frame. "Aha",  we think, "this is the box in which I can keep spiritual matters." And we walk around with our little God box feeling pretty good.

     But then one day something deep in our spirit whispers to us and we discover there is a canvass within the frame. So we reach out a trembling hand and run it across the canvass and begin to carefully feel both  the smoothness and the textures.  We think perhaps that God is bigger than the wooden frame and we have discovered some holy paradox. In our wildest imaginings we cannot yet conceive of the wash of colors we're missing. But perhaps we are highly kinesthetic and have someone's eyes to guide us  and we can feel the textures of the blues and the grays and we begin to form a mental image of the painting.
Obviously for a blind person to observe art to this level it would take years of effort and perhaps imagining everything within the frame would be satisfying enough that they might stop there.

     And yes, I might find myself quite satisfied to gaze upon Monets masterpiece, but deep down we know this painting is merely a representation of something beautiful To completely and totally understand Monets painting is NOT to completely and totally understand the slice of nature he was portraying.  And so I circle back to the paradox of yoga. What we are learning is actually unlearning.
What we are gaining is only what we will let go of. This journey whether we teach yoga or just practice is a long walk to nowhere.  If we think that we can stop in front of the painting after years of working to understand it, then we will miss the subject of the painting. If you think you've "got it" then theres lots more practice to be done.  But when you can be kind to yourself abiding in the Mystery and release the need to understand then perhaps you have stepped out of the art gallery and stand at the edge of the pond. But to leave the art gallery and stand with the water lilies is just the beginning. We have yet to dive in ....


Monday, March 14, 2016

Why the Sad Face?

The Joy of the Lord is Your Strength
Neh 8:10

     Fiercely she wrapped the woolen cloak of misery around her granite shoulders and stepped into the darkness. Fear that even a hint of a smile would allow the circling wolves to tear her limb to limb, she set her jaw. She would not be weak like the masses. She would not be common that was for sure because it took a special person to suffer the way she did. Her martyrdom escaped her chest with a heavy sigh as she took another step into the mud. Slowly she began sinking deeper into the muck and mire, but she didn't mind. Suffering gave her focus and purpose and suffering felt powerful. The only laugh she allowed was the brittle kind of laugh that dripped with the superiority of someone who has "been there and done that". Someone who knew better than to be happy. She was safe in her misery, weirdly content to be drowning slowly in sorrows that sprung from her mind like a river of mud. She turned her eyes away every time the sun came out. She had no time for light.She was not one for joy. Joy was for simpletons and she was better than all that ...

     Sometimes I wonder if angst got programmed into everyone or just a select few. The image of the tortured artist is pretty romanticized in our culture. Van Gogh and Hemingway are for grown ups and Mr. Rogers is for kids, don't you know? My intention is to write a post on joy, but I keep deleting my words. I do not have one shred of doubt that joy does literally strengthen us and misery saps our strength, but when I finally allowed myself to just write free form what emerges from the depths of my psyche is the cloaked Lady Misery above.  And she seems mysterious and romantic and powerful. When I think of writing a short character sketch of joy all I can think of are those yellow smiley face balls people used to put on their car antennas. I wonder to myself is angst the regional curse of growing up in Austin or is it genetics? Either way the illusion that suffering protects us from suffering is the funhouse mirror in the hall of delusion.

     Joy is so simple and so beautiful  Joy is like a little daisy helpless and just waiting to get trampled on. Misery is the cactus that will bite your ass if you mess with it. These are some of the most primitive thoughts I have about joy and misery. Thankfully I have no greater desire in life than to grow in knowledge and relationship with this mystery we call God. And God clearly says that we are to cultivate joy. Not only that but that joy gives us strength.  Is this as simple as the neurochemicals of fear (miseries umbrella emotion) weakening our muscle fibers? Maybe it is. When we are experiencing joy, our faces and hands tend to soften in turn sending signals to our nervous systems that we can turn down the production of adrenalin and cortisol. I really prefer to blog on the emotional issues that have been resolved in me through grace and practice. Writing a blog on cultivating joy feels awkward like groping around a dark room.  But aren't we all really groping around our own darkrooms. looking for light? Joy is a light in the darkness. Every time we intentionally choose to simle, to look for the good, to cultivate joy, we move closer to God.

     This is the journey from darkness into light and it does not happen by accident. There must be firm intention to question your misery and tend to your joy. If you are feeling like a victim you are enabling misery. If  you think someone has offended you you are enabling misery. If you are scared of people not like you, you are enabling misery. Trying to act "cool" is a subtle form of enabling misery (thanks Austin!). As ackward as it feels for me to write this post I am going to publish it because I suspect that right now a lot of my fellow countrymen are enabling their own misery and if the simple message that joy is true strength reaches just one person then I'm happy to feel this vulnerability.

     Slowly step by step she walked into the Light. Then all at once feeling the soft warmth on her face she dropped the heavy cloak and laughter carried her away on the wind. As she soared closer to the sun her skin turned golden and a melody composed of giggles and snorts burst forth from her silly face. And God was pleased and sent her a cup of strength in exchange for her joyful song ...