Monday, December 31, 2012

Let's Be Friends

     Like most people, I have had lots of good times, travels to far away lands and parties full of vibrant people have added fun and flavor. I have sat down to thousands of delicious meals and been on the receiving end of many a great massages. And for all of these moments I am grateful, they are the icing on the cake of  life. However eating just icing quickly leaves you malnourished and even hungrier. Nourishment comes from connection, a tree to the soil, a baby to it's mothers breast. Connection to our inner lives, connection to other people who are light for us and mostly connection to God are what feed us. And that is why I am more grateful for all the times in my life I have labeled as "bad" and "hard". The times addiction spiraled out of control, the times I left restraint behind and allowed my anger free reign. The times I felt sufficient pain to venture into that dark room in my soul are the times that ironically led me to a more self nourishing place. A place of connection to true self. If the good times had been a constant I would have never met the pain that led me to the best times. The times of connection and deep soul satisfaction were birthed in pain. So I humbly thank that pain.

     For years when I would feel pain part of me would recognize that I was in a dark place and that I needed to do something about it. But not having acquired many tools I tried to banish the darkness in my soul by willing it to go away or perhaps cussing it or perhaps talking about it with a friend or therapist, fighting darkness with darkness. Not realizing that my pain could lead me closer to God I would cry out for comfort and relief. But here's the lesson I am sure many of you learned long ago, darkness cannot banish darkness. When I will myself to be better because I don't like who I am I am only adding darkness to darkness heaviness to heaviness and clothing my soul with muddy shoes that make it harder to travel. Self loathing leads to self loathing which leads to dark behaviours which leads to self endless spiral into darkness which can seem pretty overwhelming. But here's the awesome part: all it takes to banish darkness is one tiny little speck of light. Even a glimpse of self compassion lights up a soul enough that the darkness fades. It took me a long time to quit fighting my dark side. It felt scary and defeatist to do so. It felt like if I stopped the struggle to be good I would cycle down into being completely bad. But when I stopped the struggle, well the struggle stopped. And when the struggle stops we can reallocate our energy towards tending the spark to light the candle of our souls. To stop begging God for relief and begin appreciating the Infinite Love of the Divine. To rest... Our culture doesn't support this much, rather we are encouraged to "fight the good fight", to "suck it up" to "just do it". All of these attitudes have a time and a place but for the tender work of soul healing they aren't particularly useful.

     Rather bringing light to my dark soul has looked a little more like a warm fuzzy hug and a little less like fisticuffs. I needed to make a new friend and that friend was me. Thinking about the qualities I value in a friend (kindness, honesty, humor) gave me clues as to how to begin to treat myself. And as I nurtured this new little friendship with myself I barley noticed as the internal darkness turned to grey then slowly began fading into light. When I quit fighting, I began winning. "The Lord will fight for you; you only need to be still" Exodus 14:14. Today I remind myself what I value in a friend and I endeavour to apply those qualities to my own internal relationship. I stop beating at the darkness and instead reach for a light. The spark in my soul is lit by kindness, nourished with love and sustained by an awesome new friend I have in me. Is it time you made a new friend in you?  Become your own advocate and enjoy the bright flowers the spring up in the soil of your soul. Whatever you do today do it with an attitude of kindness towards yourself, a little patience for yourself and loving words to yourself and you will make a friend to last a lifetime!

Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy, they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom....
Marcel Proust

Monday, December 3, 2012

Let Your (Christmas) Light Shine

     I wonder how many more outraged and sad conversations I will have this year with people about Christmas being ruined by either a) commercialism b) atheists or c) politically correct people insisting on "Happy Holidays. Not many I hope because, yogis, let's face it nothing can ruin the holidays for you like your own judgement and dissatisfaction. Every time you say Merry Christmas and someone answers Happy Holidays you can choose to let yourself bristle at their audacity of taking Christ out of Christmas. After all Christmas is not Christmas without Christ, right? But did you know the origin of the word Holiday is Holy Day? And when someone wishes you Happy Holidays they can be simply reminding you that we do take time out at the end of December to celebrate a few Holy Days. We should not allow semantics to cause us pain or create distance and judgement. If we want to be holy we have to love God and if we want to love God we have to love His creation and sometimes His creation takes the form of challenging people who don't think like you do.

     I loved finding out about the origin of the word holiday, it made me feel like I had a warm fuzzy secret everytime someone wished me Happy Holidays. But I have to admit to you that until Christmas 2010 I was also one of those railing against the commercialization of Christmas. I let my holiday spirit be eclipsed by preThanksgiving Christmas merchandise in the stores and I felt so righteous in my anger against devilish retailers out to "ruin my Christmas". It feels good to be self righteous sometimes, doesn't it?  However, like a bird, I am easily distracted and attracted to shiny things and it brings me much joy to see the lights adorning everything this time of year.
Being half Jewish we also celebrate Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights. So one night walking the hood checking out the lights I started to ponder all the lights, the purpose of the lights, the cross cultural desire for lights, the brightly lit malls, and Griswold style houses of some of my neighbors. What is it with humans and winter and lights? I don't think we desire lights at all, rather I now see a universal longing for Light. The Light of God connecting us to one another can never be outshone by a million twinkling Christmas lights. The Light of God shining through us in the form of a smile, a hug, a helping hand can never be replaced by mulitcolored bulbs.

     This universal desire for connection and growth is there year round but during the winter season we express our desire for Light literally with lights. So when I see a retailer pushing an early Christmas season now I remember they too are searching for light. They may be confused in thinking that money and sales will bring Light into their lives but still I remember the human desire for Light is being played out with their awkward displays. A neighbors over the top light display is just another cry for Light and connection. A parents desperate search for a popular toy is the really the quest for the Light of their childs smile. This desire for Light is not a JudeoChristian phenomenon nor even an exclusively theistic desire. It is a human desire to live in Light and the more I can see through the big crass Christmas displays to the quiet yearnings of the soul the more I can focus on being light for someone else this year. The next time someone starts to complain about the downfall of Christmas I am ready with my answer. I am going to ask them two things : what they like about the season (let's refocus) and how they plan on being light for someone else this Season (let's quit complaining and start doing).
     So Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays bring on the lights the glitz the crass commercialization so we can remember to be a light for someone else. Being a light in this dark and (supposed to be) cold season has nothing to do with Black Friday or getting that perfect toy. Rather light can shine from a genuine smile, from a moment of presence and awareness as we gift someone our ear. Light can emanate from us as we find our calm and eternal center and operate from our core rather than continuing to squawk about how other people are ruining Christmas. So this season I remember that it is alright to go see the lights but it is far better to Be the Light and I will use every display and every obnoxious chipmunk song  to remind myself this over and over. Nothing wrong with presents it's just that the true gift is presence. Nothing wrong with hanging lights it's just better to Be A LIGHT!!

"But the path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and
more unto the perfect day. The way of the wicked is as darkness:
they know not at what they stumble."
Proverbs 4:18-19

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Hungry Girl Healing Story

      I remember feeling so hungry and bleak a hunger that had nothing to do with a growling stomach or a need for nutrition. I was just soul hungry and I chose to answer that need with grilled cheese. So I made a sandwich and then another and another until I had compulsively, mindlessly and joylessly shoved seven grilled cheese sandwiches into my suffering body making it a matching set with my suffering soul. My history with food has not been a pretty one. I had alternately practiced binge eating and bulimia for most of my teens and young 20's and I was a dangerous combination of an unhealthy body mind and spirit. But this is not a story about then; this is a story about now. Now I eat when I am physically hungry, stop when I am full,  enjoy a variety of foods with a healthy appreciation and my only limits on food are that I must obey God in eating. So what does that mean and how did I get there? Here is my healing story.

      My story begins way before I will begin here, but I do try to keep my posts to one page! So today it begins at a diner in Nashville over pancakes with girlfriends. I had recently had a soul awakening that led me to bow at the feet of Jesus acknowledging Him as saviour and this led me into sweet relationship with God. I had seen the directive in scripture to not be gluttonous but I had no idea where to begin. Thankfully God had a plan! Enjoying my pancakes I made a casual statement to one of my friends  "I love pancakes" I gushed.  As soon as this observation had passed my lips I felt a heaviness in my soul and as clearly as I have ever hear the Holy Spirits whisper I heard "Do you? Do you LOVE them?". The question stopped me dead in my tracks. Did I understand love? How was it that I loved food? Thankfully I was dining with girlfriends in Nashville because we were at a woman's conference on God and food. That weekend God showed me that I had made food into a false idol that I turned to for comfort and I left the conference armed with a book on how to give my food to God. First there is a fast where we wait for hunger. True stomach hunger not emotional hunger was what I was searching for. The fast part was not that hard, self deprivation is a buddy to self loathing which is a pal to binging. I had a whole family of neurosis living in my hungry belly. So I fasted until my stomach was clearly hungry.
      The next part was harder: identify fullness, this part was horrifying because I was supposed to allow myself to eat whatever I wanted whenever I wanted and that to a rapidly expanding fairly vain young woman was a terrifying proposition. The idea is that denial makes desire stronger and sure enough after a week or two of binging on all my favorite foods I woke up definitely craving vegetables. The next part while simple enough took almost a year to come to pass. We were to ask God before every meal to tell us when to stop. I had muffled Gods voice around this issue so much that about a year into repeating this request when I had the fork halfway to my mouth and I heard the still small voice of God whisper "stop" I just froze from surprise. Then I finished eating. Months passed with God whispering "stop" when I was full and me putting down the fork about 10% of the time, then 20%, then 30%, then...well you get the picture. This dance lasted for quite sometime until God got it into my head that nothing tastes as good as fellowship with His Spirit. That peace does not come from mashed potatoes and soul hunger is never satisfied with one grilled cheese. I generally blog about where I would like to go with God (deeper and deeper) but this Thanksgiving season soon after facing another Thanksgiving meal, but this time without dread but instead with true joy I just wanted to take a minute to thank God for where He has already brought me.. This was about a two year healing process, nothing instant or miraculous. Just a repetition of practicing surrender, falling down over and over and God picking me up over and over. I brought to the table a willingness to try to obey God and God brought everything else. Today it is nearly unthinkable to continue eating past my "stop signal" not because I am scared of getting fat or because I live under a vengeful God who will punish me for disobedience. But I cannot bring myself to continue past stop because God has showered me with an eternal love that is soul satisfying and unlike grilled cheese God is faithful and loving and completely soul satisfying. Why would I want to endanger this relationship for a sandwich, no matter how gooey?

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest
Matthew 11:28

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Weight of Silence

     It is amazing the weight that silence can carry. Sitting peacefully and silently next to a loved one the quiet can wrap its arms around you both weaving a cocoon of companionship while sitting next to an angry loved one can feel as heavy as a soggy woolen cloak. This is about about another silence altogether. The silence of secrets is a heavy stifling kind of silence. A silence that whispers shame in your ear and convinces you that you alone are so wretched with your secrets. This silence is alluring to the ego as we work to protect our "image" The mind and ego work together well convincing us to keep our secrets. But as spiritual seekers secrets can begin to erode the soul dimming our connection to God. We are instructed to "confess our sins to one another" not for the purposes of shaming and blaming but to shine light into darkness. We stumble along our paths not realizing that all we need to do to shine a light along the way is be humble and truthful. Secrets and lies create only confusion and darkness.

     But here's the thing, when you set your sights on growth often times things get dark and ugly before they get better and at times the biggest obstacles in self growth are our secrets. Sometimes when we make it through little tests of growth the tests just get bigger and uglier. And I have arrived at such an ugly place that I don't wish to share. So my choices are to continue to write this blog and hit publish or to stall my growth in a cloak of secrecy. My secret is addiction, a sad statement that "no" my life is not enough.  It doesn't really matter to what "big 3" I turn: food, pot or booze, all three numb me enough to temporarily forget the tough parts of the journey. All three make me heavy enough to continue in the fog of self loathing that I am accustomed to. And, yet....I still hear the still small loving whisper of God calling me to self love. Love yourself. The constant caress of Gods truth like a raindrop carving the Grand Canyon begins to seep down into the cracks and crevices of my soul.

     Almost immediately after beginning to pursue God in 1995 He healed me of gluttony and supernaturally gave me a peaceful relationship with food. For this I am eternally and inexpressibly grateful.  However gluttony was not the root of the problem, dissatisfaction with a perfectly good life is. So with food in a healthy place I began about a decade distraction with alcohol. No drinking during the work week but boy Friday night I would attempt to glamorize the situation with precise martini recipes. Thanks for nothing Mad Men! There was about a year where I shook that martini shaker at least 50 times every time to achieve my "dirty bruised martinis" boy what an analogy for what I was doing to my beat up soul. I would end each weekend Sunday morning hungover at church which was not a edifying situation at all.

     So fast forward a thousand hangovers and ten thousand self lectures. Add one move back to Austin and here I am, no longer drinking to excess almost every weekend. As a matter of fact now I drink maybe once a month. Problem solved, hey? Um, yea not so fast. Alcoholism was not the root of the problem, once again dissatisfaction presenting as addiction continues to tear away at my life force with small sharp teeth. So, today, despite all of my judgement against it I have transferred my addiction to marijuana. And the "rules" remain the same. Clear headed during work hours but, boy, as soon as I am done I can grab my iPad and smoke a little pot and my mind is completely occupied as my spirit is slowly suffocated. OK, so no problem, right?  I have already shown the strength to put aside addictive substances, let's just do it again, right? Um, WRONG! I have only shown I can replace them but addiction continues to trip me up with one substance after another. So while I have no issue at all with drinking or smoking, I do have an issue with numbing and it is a mighty fine line I keep crossing. I have often spent long periods of just abstaining, but this was not curing anything just masking my pain. My study of scripture and time with the Lord all lead me to two conclusions: I need to be present and I need to be satisfied with the circumstances God has put me in. Addictive behavior is a symptom of dissatisfaction and it pulls me straight out of present moment awareness. I don't know where this is going but I do know that the only way to move through your spiritual blocks is to shine a light on them again and again. I no longer want to keep switching additive substances but rather I chose to til the soil of my soul enough to pull out the roots of addiction. So, today, I actually hope this blog goes overlooked in the vast blogoshpere....because maybe exposing my secrets here shines enough light to continue to move towards God. All I know is it is too painful to stay in the dark when the glorious light is close enough to taste and I am reaching my hand into the light hoping God will pull the rest of me through to Him.

      If I drank myself to the point of homelessness or began to foray into "hard drugs" the need for change would be more obvious. I do have a sweet life that I am very happy with and that makes it all the easier to overlook the need for clarity. But, here's the one "small glitch" in my plan. My primary agenda for my life is to grow closer to God as I age and my behaviour is not supporting my agenda. When I overindulge, the still small voice of God  begins to grow dimmer dissolving into a smoky haze of illusion. But slowly God is showing me to keep filling my days with good things, yoga, meditation, prayer, nature and He will continue to faithfully heal me. It is not through self loathing that healing comes, it is not even by fighting my demons. But rather by continuing to pursue God and nurturing myself. So for the last few weeks I have argued with myself and presented myself a thousand good reasons to not write this blog. After all it is tied to my professional site. If I lose students, friends or your esteem that has got to be ok because it all keeps coming back to obeying God's voice while it is still to be heard. If Quiet goes down in flames and my employers cut their ties to me it still has got to be ok.But God has commanded us to shine light into the darkness of our secrets.  Do I want to stifle the Divine whisper or sit in the stillness and listen? This is the question I must ask now. Not "what will they think?" So today I risk your judgement for the chance to sit in stillness and clarity with God. And that is a gamble that today I am ok with.

And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom. Anais Nin.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


     We all have with varying degrees the privledge of defining ourselves personally and professionally. A few years ago my Dad was rock climbing the greenbelt with a group some familiar faces and some new friends. My Dad was at the top of the rock when a new friend called up to him "What is it that you do?" Despite the less than optimum timing of the question my Dad still replied, yelling down "I am a landscape architect". There was a pause in which you could almost see my Dads ego quivering and he yelled out again "No, damn it, I am a gardener". This story makes me so proud of my Father's quest for humility and it also makes me wonder how I define myself.  As a yoga teacher my professional parameters are broad. I have chosen to link my spiritual growth with my profession. This serves to discourage complacency in myself and with a fairly strong lazy streak that is a good thing. At the same time setting yourself up as a spiritual teacher can be quite a dangerous place if you start to think you have "arrived" anywhere. I do not teach what I have learned as often as I share with a class what I need to learn. I am not pretending to be the capitian of any ship but I am happy to grab an oar and row along with my students as we navigate the currents of spiritual growth.

     So, when I hear myself struggling to articulate spiritual paths with students it is ok. But when I feel my ego step up onto her soap box I remember spirituality is a practice and it might be time for more personal practice. Thankfully I believe I have identified the primary area where the great majority of us need to practice. The foundations of our spiritual life are laid at home and within our immediate family. We are familiar with the scripture that instructs us to "love your neighbor as you love youreself" I saw this scripture translated from an ancient text and the translation read "love your closest one as you love yourself". Closest one? Um, spouse, parents, siblings, children...these are our closest ones. So why is it that we so often put on shiny spiritual faces for stranges, students, homeless people, everyone but our family? Why is it when we get home we get complacent with the behaviours such as patience and service, the behaviours that feed our spirit?
      I can read scripture and meditate with my classes until I am blue in the face but if I am not practicing all of this at home then my spirit life is a shell. I cannot patiently listen to a students challenges and dismiss my husbands and consider my actions godly. It is easier sometimes to recognize that annoying stranger as a mirror reflecting ourselves than it is to see yourself in your parent. But we must be careful to nurture our spiritual growth first in the home, then with the family and then with others. Spirituality is after all measured relationally and God has given us our nearest and dearest with purpose in mind. Our in laws and families of origin are no random choice but the very people we are meant to grow with. So while it is nice to put on a spiritual face in church or in a yoga studio it is imperative that we authentically practice these practices at home. It does not matter if you consider yourself to be a spiritual seeker and your family could not give a hoot about growth in God. It does not matter if your family is comprised of saints or sinners, winners or whack jobs...these are still your primary spritual partners. So , while I love to remind my students of Gods love for them it is often just calling my Mom or making my hubby a sandwich that is the true spiritual work. So sometimes from the top of that rock I want to yell down "I am a landscape architect" but then I remember I am really just a gardener and perhaps instead of lecturing it is time to til the soil. So, today I will define myself as wife, child, sister, aunt and within those parameters I will set my sails to catch Gods soft breezes.

I know why families were created with all their imperfections. They humanize you. They are made to make you forget yourself occasionally, so that the beautiful balance of life is not destroyed.
-- Anais Nin

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Fear No Evil

     There is a scripture in Ecclesistes that says a cord of three strands is not easily broken. I first discovered this scripture in the mid 90's about the same time God graciously provided me with two amazing prayer buddies. We used to reference this scripture alot to reinforce the idea that the three of us were stronger together in prayer than we would be alone. That's where I was at the time. But fast forward a decade and while we still pray together "in the spirit" we live thousands of miles apart and so here I am no longer a triply braided cord but just one small strand in Gods hands. But even as the scripture kept whispering to my soul I just did what I know to do, I prayed and prayed some more and waited.

     Meanwhile, I am moving deeper and deeper into yoga teaching and as my practice progresses I am really getting to know myself and some of it is not quite so pretty. When I discover my capacity for perseverance and  kindness it is certainly a heartening moment but when I discovered my equally strong capacity for impatience and control let's just say it isn't such a sunny moment. We are all wonderfully awesome and we suck, such is the human condition and no one escapes it. So one day after God revealed to me alot of deep inner darkness I felt particularly sad and I turned to a familiar pray:

"Yea, though I walk through the shadow of the valley of death I will fear no evil" my prayer was recited with a pretty weak voice full of self judgement. And God interrupted me, God Who is Love whispered to my heart. "fear no evil including the internal evil". Wow. Now let me clarify, I do not harbor fantasies of violence or hate no Hitler style evil here. My evil, much like yours, is the evil of judgement, haughtiness, the evil of greed and fear the evil we excuse as our character flaws. The part of myself I have labeled "Hungry girl"...that is my evil. But God made it clear I was not to fear "my evil". Here's what fearing my evil might look like:

Hungry Girl "You really deserve that ________, it's been a hard week"
Me : "My voracious appetite is going to take over and snuff out my light" (whimper) "I will never amount to anything, I will never get into handstand off the wall, I will never...I will never....I will never!" (stomps foot)

     All that internal fear triggered by one suggestion from my dark side and here is God saying to not fear any evil. Doesn't He know my potential for self destruction? Of course He does! And, still God whispers to not fear this part of myself. Much reflection and prayer brought me back to the idea of the triply braided cord. God says a triply braided cord is strong and who doesn't want the kind of strength God admires? I have come to believe that this triply braided cord refers to me alone and you alone. Humans are dark and light and divine not always in equal measure but those are the three components of man. So we work to shine our light, hide our dark and get closer to the divine, but it doesn't work to keep stuffing our darkness. So here's how it goes now, at least some of the time!

Hungry Girl "I really deserve that treat (whine)"
Me: (setting an intention of loving Hungry Girl) "well, let's pray about it" and I come home to my breath & stillness for a moment.

     I don't have to always say no to my desires but I don't automatically say "yes" without a moments connection to the divine element of me. Triply braided cord: dark, light, divine and fully human! So what if today instead of taking your dark side out for a beating or letting your ego control you, what if you stepped back and took a look at all sides of you with compassion? Shine a light in the corners of your soul. No matter how much you feed your light side your dark side will always exist and you cannot ignore it without damaging consequences. So what to do about it? Well, for you, I don't know  that is your journey. What is working for me is compassionately being with my dark side. Not so that Hungry Girl can take over and "turn me evil" , but it is with love that Hungry Girls sharp edges are softened and she becomes more of a team player. her voice grows softer and less demanding as I turn a loving eye towards her.

     So today I will not beat myself up and try to wrestle my ego, but instead I will remember that just like you I am good, I am bad and I am divine and when I put it all together and reject no part of myself I am doubly strong. When God tells us to love ourselves I do believe He means all parts of ourselves. May the Hungry Girl or Boy part of you find themselves nourished with a diet of compassion, hope and perseverance.

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
     He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
     he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
 Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Yoga is ...

     "You cannot call yourself a yogi if you are not a vegan. Real yogis don't use props. Yoga is not calisthenics."  This is just a tiny sampling of the attempts I have heard from people to define yoga lately. Ego yearns to establish control of situations by labeling them. In Exodus Moses demands from God a little more information about who God is. Moses needed to be "in the know" and God simply answers "I am who I am". One of my favorite "names of God" is the Ineffable, which simply means the unknowable. In a lot of ways yoga to me is the ineffable activity. Of course, there are parameters of "what yoga is". Yoga is an 8 limbed system of body mind integration that usually but not always includes making shapes with your body, examining your mind and using breath intentionally to effect internal shifts. Usually but not always...

     So, to get down to it the word yoga really just means "to yoke" and in this instance the objects being yoked (or integrated) are an individuals mind and body.Sometimes, but not always, this mind body integration leads to spiritual awakening or deepening and sometimes this yoking leads to a tighter bum and stronger arms. Sometimes yoga may lead to weaker arms and a stronger mind. Maybe the yogi in $100 yoga pants performing sweaty calisthenics in a trendy downtown gym is meditating deeply on God in those pricey pants. The thing is "we don't know". We don't know the true nature of much, even ourselves.  My faith is a huge component of my life which I cannot imagine living without but I know it would be delusional to insist on labeling God and in the same vein I reject labeling yoga. Yoga is too big and generous to tie down with our tiny ideas.

     It took a sixteen hour road trip and a premature return to work to make me blurt out in front of a class "What the hell is yoga anyways?".  This outburst immediately followed by the thought "well, I am the yoga teacher and I am supposed to be teaching this very thing". Yikes. Who can teach how the wind blows, or how a soul awakens? Can we teach one another body/mind integration? I mean really? The thing is, I will admit I don't know. And that is OK. Because sometimes thinking we know something stymies our efforts to learn and grow. Buddhists call it beginners mind.  Beginners mind asks that we don't assume we know stuff but rather we sit with what is and observe without judgement and perhaps growth will occur.

     This need to label and control situations, of course, extends way beyond yoga and religion. We almost automatically do it with every person we ever meet. Glance at someone in the lane next to you going 70 miles and hour down the highway, your thoughts about them will offer a myriad of labels based on a glance. If they have a gun rack in a pick up truck the thought "redneck" may pop in your head, if they have an Obama sticker on a Lexus you will probably assume they are liberal. But the truth is you know nothing about that person save for the fact they can drive. We take a yoga class or two and soon need to label the activity rears its ugly head. But yoga is what you make it. If you need yoga to be a daily three hour chanting, meditating, whirling dervish activity it will be. If you need your yoga to be sweaty exercise it will be. But is the act of practicing your yoga quieting your mind and healing your body? Well, if you are busy labeling what yoga is and judging people who don't practice it like you then the quiet mind is not operating in that moment, is it?  So, what if we all quit pretending we know what yoga is and just allowed to it show us who we are instead? The next time you have a thought "yoga is...." recognize that this is your opinion and take a breath. Then the next time you assume you know something about God or about another person simply recognize you are assuming an opinion rather than recognizing a fact. To simply awaken to the idea that the great  majority of our thoughts are opinions not facts is to awaken to possibility. With the extreme divisiveness in our society at this moment wouldn't it be nice to lay down some of our labels and opinions and just recognize our fellow humans as just that fellow humans. It can begin on the yoga mat. Quit trying to label and control and set yourself free because the beginning of knowing is knowing you don't know.
Fools find no pleasure in understanding but delight in airing their own opinions. Proverbs 18:12

Monday, September 3, 2012

You Are Awesome!

     A few years ago trying on jeans surrounded by women calling out their flaws from ill lit dressing rooms, calls of  "butt's too big!" and "oh,my god, my thighs!!" rang out as we all reinforced our mediocrity and lack. The calls continued until this moment when I tried on a pair that actually flattered my form and instead of calling out "perfect fit!!!" or " I look awesome!" I let the calls of self criticism ring out unchallenged by my joy. I actually considered for one moment calling out to my sister "damn my thighs look good in these jeans" but the discomfort at the idea caused the thought to die before it reached my lips. Perhaps I was vaguely afraid of upsetting the female camaraderie built on ill disguised self loathing I remained silent. I am sure I was not the only one. Every week when I ask my yoga classes for input before we begin I get a litany of wrongs. Quick to share what is limiting them whether an injury or a perceived limitation the students call out whats wrong, what needs fixing, what's not good enough. But never once has someone said something like " I noticed I am getting stronger in my __________, so lets keep working there" or "I am so proud I touched my __________ so can we practice that?" Now I know it important to protect an injury during yoga and probably many of the yogis calling out limitations have just fine self esteem. But why was it, I wonder, when I asked a class to meditate for 60 seconds on the phrase " I am awesome" did a palpable tension fall over my group of beautiful yoginis?

     This was not the first time I have meditated in this exact style with this same class. This particular meditation did not awkwardly interrupt a fun flow. I did not poke them in the eye as I asked them to consider their awesomeness. The only reason I can conclude that their uncharacteristic discomfort came up was the focus of the meditation: their own awesomeness. Every thought we think, every word we say weaves the crazy colorful tapestry of our identity. So, it is logical, is it not to use positive thoughts and words about ourselves? But why is it so hard? Perhaps we are afraid to stand apart from the dissatisfied masses, afraid to shine. Embracing our awesome light does not mean burying our darkness. This morning reading the blog of an amazing teacher I was surprised to discover that one of his biggest fears is his own capacity for cruelty, his dark side, and yet his teachings shine light on so many. Last night conversing with a student I discovered our shared fear of our own "dark sides" and yet we both continue to endevor to do good.  So here we are,  afraid to shine our light and afraid our dark sides will eat us up in the night, caught in the middle of dark and light where there is only gray. But, here's the thing: it is never too late to shine light and by accepting all the facets of ourselves dark and light, scary and awesome we become whole and healed. We cannot hide our dark or our light and expect to live holistically.

     Scripture calls us to not hide our light but to glorify God with that light. So what if the next time you noticed something awesome about yourself you shared your joy with someone? Not ironically and without negative qualifiers we share that joy and the light you shine brings enough light to the room for the people around you to see their light switches and tentatively take a step into their own light. Perhaps, we think shining our light diminishes others, but just the opposite, owning the fact that parts of you are dark and parts of you are light but all of you is awesome, well that just may encourage someone near to embrace their awesomeness. And when we embrace our wholeness we embrace the fact that we are Gods masterpiece and that is worthy of some awe. Our mechanical yet spiritual bodies, our monkey minds perhaps not yet tamed, our heroism and humor, our lusts and temptations all of the threads of us woven together with stitches of self love and humility, all this this makes for a beautiful and, yes, awesome tapestry. Not taking the overused word lightly, you are AWESOME! Worthy of awe, you are Gods masterpiece. Beautiful in your flaws. Perfect in your imperfection...take a chance today and allow your awesomeness to shine.
God helps us to accept the truth about ourselves no matter how beautiful.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

It Depends

      Here's the thing that would make me crazy.Or should I say here's A thing that would make me crazy? So many opportunities to hop on the crazy train!! But I digress, so here's my story. I was in a yoga training a few years ago with a teacher I greatly admired in so many ways but who would answer a great deal of our questions with a confounding "it depends".  Now, I have been programmed with alot of "whys" and in a family and culture that values knowledge it can be an ego bender to admit " I don't know" and  "it depends" has a whiff of  the same dangerous vulnerability.  Also, like many people I like neat and tidy answers, resolved questions, and concrete certainty. "It depends" was not an answer that left me feeling warm and tingly but rather a little off kilter. At the very least weren't we paying for rock solid answers? Perhaps she not know the answers, I groped in the darkness for certainty to wrap around my shivering ego. Or perhaps she was just trying to make us think for ourselves? There had to be a reason this smart woman kept answering "it depends" Thoughts tumbled like agitated marbles upon hearing "it depends" so many often when I was craving a solid 2+2 =4.

     "It depends" was simply not an acceptable answer to me at the time. But  how quickly times do change! Fast forward to this morning and I am reviewing a lengthy email response  I wrote to a students question when I notice I really could just sum up my answer in two words: "It depends"! The thing is, I wasn't trying some teaching technique in the email,  the answer just really was "it depends". And although answering  "it depends" made the ground shake ever so slighly it was ok to not have a rock solid answer to stand on. I gave the same answer to a yoga student last week asking for definitive permanent alignment directions. Alignment can depend on the postural intention, the personal body structure which subtly changes pretty much continuously, the therapeutic needs, alignment can depend on the moment. So, once again "it depends" was the answer. Sometimes a definitive answer shuts down exploration while "it depends" can fan curiosities flames.

     The thing is, so many times when I have given an "authoritative" and definitive answer to someone about their yoga journey not long after other alternative answers have presented themselves. There are infinite ways to move and live and breath. When we clutch at the certainty and permanence of our beliefs we are stifling our growth. Just when we know we are right is when we often become wrong. So, "it depends", really is the very best answer in so many circumstances.  "It depends", says I am open to evolving circumstances. "it depends" says I may have some information, but I don't have all the information. "It depends" leaves spaciousness for change and growth. Your answer today may not work for you tomorrow. "It depends" allows us to surf the currents of life unencumbered with the certainty of our rightness massaging the ego. Buoyant with curiosity and humility ironically we are made stronger in embracing our vulnerability.

     Recently I choose to take a break in my pursuit of happiness to just be happy. Well, now I am taking a break in my relentless pursuit of answers to be present in the moment to let the answers unfold. To let knowledge whisper to my soul rather than allow certainty to crush the tender flower growing in my heart. The answers presenting themselves as I stop pretending I know all the options. The path to our best self is anchored by curiosity and humbleness. The more you think you know the less you know. The ironies of life bursting open with a sweet richness. Shedding the fear of not knowing and embracing the truth of "it depends" we open to the lessons of the moment. And ironically in perceived weakness there is found enduring strength.

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness
2 Cor 12:9

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Secret Location of Inner Peace Revealed!

     I watched as look of disbelief tinged with disgust flickered across a students face. She had paid for a side of wisdom and peace with her yoga and, by God, I as the teacher had better say something profound and fast! I had just shared with the class something I meant from the bottom of my heart, that I wasn't offering them wisdom but rather offering a safe space and silence in which their own inner wisdom could begin to be revealed. Why was it so hard for this yogi to believe she had something wise and eternal inside her, so hard in fact that the mere suggestion made her jaw clench and her eyes narrow? Why are we so fixated on searching for answers from external sources when we all have a deep well inside of us just waiting to be explored. Inner wisdom is not found at the corner of Guru & Stretchy, but rather it is non cryptically described: INNER wisdom is inside. You. Yes, YOU.

     I have been teaching alot lately on the "greatest commandment " found in several of the gospels. It basically states that you can do nothing more important than loving God and loving your neighbor as you love yourself. I see so many, myself included at times, striving to love God and act lovingly towards our neighbors and entirely skipping over the important "love yourself" component. Loving yourself must include accepting that deep in our spirits peace and wisdom already reside.
 In a conversation about the greatest commandment, Jesus saw that one man really understood loving yourself and Jesus replied to him "You are not far from the kingdom of God". So why was this self loving man closer to Gods kingdom than the man standing right next to him? The man standing next to him was still looking for answers externally. To paraphrase Blaise Pascal , "every human has a God shaped hole inside of them". Every human, not just your minister, rabbi, yoga teacher, therapist or favorite country singer, but every human and that includes you. So this "god shaped hole" the seat of the what yogis call Inner Teacher and Christians call Holy Spirit is where we need to go to grow in faith and wisdom. This "God shaped hole" is partially the kingdom of God and opening up to this wisdom is opening to loving ourselves. It is sadly ironic how far and wide we search for our better selves when everything we need is right here right now. It is as if we traveled the globe searching for our shadow which silently trailed the whole time.
    So, why to we wander around so clueless so often? Because we do not allow time and space and silence for our inner wisdom to bloom. But rather we generally look to our minds for answers instead of our spirits. Our minds make wonderful servants but terrible masters and we need to stop letting them lead our lives. Remember your thoughts and emotions are only waves on the surface of the ocean that is you.  But let's not think of this as an "all or nothing" situation. As in I will never find inner peace because I can't go on a silent retreat, or take an hours yoga everyday or live at my church or commune with nature daily. No, stillness is cumulative and carving out a mere 5 minutes a day if done with consistency is enough to begin to reveal the wisdom concealed deep inside you. So perhaps today is the day you stop searching and start sitting. God planted a wonderful treasure inside you, but He planted it deep enough that we must cultivate silence and patience and self love to begin to catch a glimpse of this shiny gem. Somedays we sit and are rewarded with growth and some days we sit and it sucks and we don't like what we see at all. But day by day we sit and one day we realize the brightly shining light is emanating from us.

Be still and know...its a directive not just a sweet quote

Monday, August 6, 2012

Much Ado About Nothing

     This morning I have been thinking about "nothing". Literally, nothing, but not in that Zen "mind like a still lake" kind of nothing, but rather that nothing that Christians sometimes refer to as the "dark night of the soul". The nothing that is the silence of the Divine. The nothing that comes about when your "mountain top" God experiences seem like a dim misty memory. The nothing that comes about when you have not had an "aha" moment or a word from God in what seems like an eternity. Yesterday, I came to Quiet to teach my early evening class and...nothing. Not one student, not one clue from God why, not one hint of direction. Just deafening silence. This has happened  in growing this new business. Thankfully, God has blessed me greatly with a sense of His spirit and I believe myself to be on the path He has for me. However, when I am walking the direction Christ has for me, in the past, I have always felt as if covered with a blanket of holy peace. People would ask me why I thought I knew God's will for my life and I would comfortably refer to the "peace that surpasses understanding" that one may encounter in the Presence of God. But what happens when that peace turns to silence that offers no clues? What about when your prayers seem to drop into a bottomless well with no answer forthcoming?

     I read voraciously and from all different faith traditions, so I cannot properly acknowledge the source of my current comfort,  a quote that states something like  "You are the ocean and your thoughts and emotions are merely waves on the surface." Could it be that all of those "mountain top" encounters with God that swelled my heart in my early spiritual life were merely waves. All of those moments where reverence was so thick it pushed me to my knees, tears of gratitude, sobs of joy: all nothing more than surface waves? Is this nothingness, this silence without end, this vast internal ocean,  is this the Truth? In my early spiritual life God indulged me like a little spoiled child. How many times did God display grand rainbows at the exact moment I needed or orchestrate divine "coincidences" before I would stop looking for His hand of reward and start searching for His heart of eternal vastness? Too many to count! But now, for weeks, I have had no clever statuses to update, no blogs divinely inspired, no yoga practices where the Holy Spirit whispered lovingly into my thirsty soul. Nothing but a silence so thick as to be palpable.

       As God grows my fledgling yoga studio, I have struggled with what to do with the classes where no one comes, the classes of "nothing". I have been gifted time and I intend to honor God with it, but how? Do I practice my own yoga, or is that a diversion? Do I go market and network, or is that desperation? Do I thank God for His perfect plan in an empty class, or does that send some kind of message that I am uninterested in growth?  Do I pray that God fills my classes, or is this repetitive prayer like an annoying ungrateful gnat buzzing the ear of the Divine?  To you, the observer, the lesson in patience may be obvious, the call to rest a no brainer. But to me, the student, I still cast about looking for answers. Thankfully I have a solid 22 years of spiritual pursuit and God has proven that He will never leave and never forsake me. I remember that everything that God does is intended for my good and I sit with nothing. And that nothing feels as if I am adrift on an endless sea of silence, but then I remember what I think and feel are just waves on the surface and I dive down deeper into nothing. Maybe when Peggy Lee sang "Is that all there is?" She was on to something. What if nothing is what there is? What if nothing is enough? What if sitting in the silence and letting it wash over you and not looking for a "sign" is the plan? We are so stimulated now that a blue computer screen or a power outage can feel like a death sentence. But what if nothing is the plan for today? Just to sit on the wire like the trusting sparrow letting nothing be everything. I find comfort sitting in silence with my husband. I don't ask him every few moments to light up the sky in an avowal of love. So perhaps it is time to let God's "nothing" be my everything to sit quietly with the silence knowing God is love and not asking for more. It is a childish faith that needs continual reassurance and petting. Deciding to follow Gods direction was me getting into a boat safely moored. Deciding to follow God when His directions are a mystery shrouded in nothing is like untying that boat and casting off into a vast sea.  But as my eyes slowly adjust to the dim mist I see that nothing truly is everything. And for the moment I sit quietly, completely empty and yet completely full.

"We come spinning out of nothingness, scattering stars like dust” Rumi writes so beautifully
dare I add... returning to nothingness in a twinkle is our fate. Savoring a moment of nothingness in between is our gift.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

To Have a Friend, Be a Friend

     I am sure that there a a thousand blogs out there written by people who have "been there, done that" enlightened Buddhists past any whiff of turmoil, surrendered Christians past any thought of disobedience, perfectly integrated yogis who would never ignore their bodies or breath. This is not that blog! If you are searching for someone to tell you what's it like on the other side of the human chaos keep searching, I am sure they are out there somewhere. Rather here's my mess and my attempts to clean it up. The thing is each persons path is individual and unique, fully their own.  I think in trying to tell other people how to live we impede their growth. I don't believe there is a "right" way to worship or do yoga, but there is your way. Of course, I don't mean that there aren't unsafe ways to practice yoga and less fruitful ways to worship what I am saying is that your path is the best way for you to grow. Be true to yourself , be your own ally. And that brings me in a lengthy round about way to the topic!

  Even though my path is my own I love to learn about others paths and often turn to books. I just finished a super inspirational read called "The Happiness Project" by Gretchen Rubin. The author basically devoted a year of her life to methodically maximize her happiness. Lots of people started their own happiness projects after reading the book, but that just didn't feel right for me. I am already pretty happy and part of that happiness is that sometimes I pretend to be Oscar the grouch and one of my favorite movies is "Grumpy Old Men"! No enhanced happiness for me, thank you! So, I clicked on the next book in my Kindle queue "Developing a Buddha Brain: one thing a time" by Rick Hanson. In the introduction he states that he has divided his book into 52 chapters and eureka! my own year long happiness project is born.

     Week 1: Be your own ally. While I would never consider being mean to a friend, I am often mean to myself so my project is off to a good start! Completely lacking in originality I tie a string around my wrist vowing to use it as a reminder of my  project. Of course, being my own ally I probably shouldn't point out my lack of originality and I certainly wouldn't do that to a friend! So many times this week I have stopped before taking action glanced at said string and asked "am I being my own ally?". Is the act I am getting ready to take in my own best interest? Is the thought I am entertaining nurturing? Am I being my own friend? Now being your own friend is not about being for yourself and against others, it is about being for yourself and for others. This simple act of questioning my self allegiance has actually altered some of my behaviors this week and softened me towards myself . I realize this is just a different way of saying "Love your neighbor as you love yourself". But in examining our thoughts, word and deeds we can ferret out the ones that aren't motivated by self love. So this week I vow to be my own friend, a truth telling, no holds barred tough love friend, a forgiving friend, a friend who doesn't talk behind my own back, a friend who is always there. A friend who is developing a compassionate mind and has 51 more potential blog posts in the process! I believe narcissism is not friendly behavior nor is false modesty. So today as I hang out with my new friend I will remember that with all of her flaws she is perfect, and that includes when she slips into that annoying 3rd person talk!

A friend is one to whom one may pour out all the contents of one's heart, chaff and grain together, knowing that the gentlest of hands will take and sift it, keep what is worth keeping and with a breath of kindness blow the rest away."
- Arabian Proverb

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Just Do It

     Like so many of you I often find inspiration in diverse sources from Jesus to Tolstoy to Americas Next Top Model, from a little child's wisdom to the kisses my cat gives my dog. Who doesn't love to be inspired? As a matter of fact, many of us are inclined to seek inspiration before action ensues. So here's the thing, every blog post I have written up to this point has stemmed from "inspiration". I am the type prone to bouts of prayer and meditation which often lead to "aha" moments which usually lead to a blog posts... a comfortable cycle. But today completely inspiration free I feel a gentle pull to blog.  But first I go to my knees for some quiet time and "inspiration" and all I hear is the still small voice of our Maker calling me to write. "But what about a topic? What about inspiration?"  I whine feeling a flash of discomfort at the idea of spewing out drivel, yet to disobey that still small voice is not an option and today it says "write". So, today I suppose I take inspiration from Nike and "Just do it".
      Alot of activities require applying "Nike inspiration",  dirty dishes in the sink do not wait for us to be inspired, our relationships must be tended to with kindness regardless of our inspiration level. There are so many things we do faithfully just because we think we have to. So why is it that so often activities that feed and grow our inner lives are put off until inspiration strikes? We know we need to meditate, to take time to be still but in the midst of our busyness malfunctioning we wait for a quiet moment to meditate. What if that moment never comes? Just do it! Why is it that I see so many more massage clients for injuries than I do for preventative body work? Just do it! Why is it that we wait until our annual vacation to dig into that novel? Just do it! The dishes will wait half an hour! Self care, both spiritual and physical is way too often put on the back burner. Today what about taking a little inspiration from Nike and "Just do it" whatever "it" is that you need to do to feed your soul. Because putting yourself on the back burner for too long generally ends with someone getting scorched.

     Soul feeding is in no way a selfish activity. So you keep putting off your own needs to tend to your children? What are you teaching them? Maybe to put off their own needs and the hungry soul cycle continues. You skip your quiet time or your friend time because your spouse needs something and you do their chore but then your interactions are resentful and terse? I'm betting your spouse would rather you be happy and loving than have promptly picked up their dry cleaning. Self care is world care! Imagine if even one cell in your body became cancerous. The thought makes us uneasy for sure. Well, imagine that we are all cells in the great body of humanity. When we take care of ourselves by raising our happiness level, or centering or eating better or getting to know ourselves better... you are actually raising the health level of humanity as a whole. Whether you live with the truth of our interconnectedness or not my exhale will still one day become your inhale and vice versa. Our happiness level affects everyone around us. So today I write, not because I am inspired but simply because obeying God makes me healthier and happier and in turn that betters the world. What is it that you need to do to improve the world today? As you tend your own garden, you can look for clues in the activities that bring you peace, joy, love. For these activities bring peace, joy and love to the world. It is not in the painful sacrifice and gritted teeth kind of living that we elevate the world, but rather in the "loving yourself" kind of living. So whether you feel inspired to take care of yourself today or not just do it! Is that your yoga mat calling?

A person who loves themselves will never be without love

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Why I Am Right

     In our polarized society we pull our choices tightly around our shoulders like cloaks identifying us as smarter than them. We cling to our political parties even though partisanship gets us no where fast. We cling to our liturgies because quite simply we are right and they are going to straight to hell. We white knuckle grasp our eating choices, our exercise choices, our entertainment choices, our endless choices. In the yoga world this is found not so much by identifying with a brand anymore, i.e Anusara, Ashtanga, etc. But with identifying with a teaching style. "I ONLY teach mindful yoga or I ONLY flow and sweat with an awesome DJ". We have gotten past the "my brand is the right way" mentality only to get stuck in the my teaching/practicing method is the right way lie. Humans find comfort and power in group identification and so we draw boundaries around our ideas and seek out like minded people and cluster. I have heard the phrase "good to be with like minded people" one too many times this month. Heck, I have thought it myself after a great discussion with a "like minded person". So what's the problem with thinking our choices are the right choices and hanging out with only like minded people then?

     It is my thinking that we are put here on earth for several reasons, the first of which is growth. We hopefully grow in self actualization as we age but part of growth is questioning our choices and if they hold up to scrutiny then maybe we embrace them for a season. If our choices don't hold up we have to be OK being wrong and move on. The only reality of the human experience is that change is the only constant and the more we hang on to being right in any area the more we impede change and change is growth. If living things aren't growing they are dying. So my circular logic leads me to this: clinging to our rightness brings us closer to death.

     We are here to serve and love and to discover our unity as a species. Prana, chi,  life force, holy spirit, whatever you want to call it, it runs through all of us black, white, gay, straight, circus clowns and senators. I like the analogy that we are all fish in an aquarium and this life force is our water. When we insist on rightness and by virtue of that choice insist on their "wrongness" we are pissing in our own water.  Jesus said we are to become servants, to wash dirty feet and wipe away salty tears. We can't do these things if we are busy explaining to our fellow beings why their dirty feet and tears are wrong.

     Another reason the words "I'm right" scare me a bit is that we are told to come to God as a little child. I interpret this to mean get off your pride horse Lone Ranger you do not know it all! Being open to the idea that your way is not the only way and that people you find wrong may be your teachers is a step towards humility. Believing you're right about stuff shuts down the potential for learning and growth but even worse it strokes our pride as it whispers sweet nothings about our awesomeness in our tickled little ears. The choices you make today may be right for you in the moment but clinging to the notion of rightness closes the door to growth, change, humbleness and human connection.
     So today I choose to practice mindful yoga and eat omnivorously and vote by candidates not by parties and immerse myself in Judeo Christian theology. But, I know these are just choices, neither right or wrong they are just my choices.  Not better or worse than your choices. They just are and this, I believe, opens my eyes a little wider to gaze into yours. And it is in looking at one another we see God.  The only "right" is love and clinging to the rightness of our choices stifles love.

There is no room for God in a person who is full of himself
Baal Shem Tov 

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Happy July 7th

     God bless America! This 4th of July I woke up on the wrong side of the bed, the dark side of said bed and it didn't take long for the many cheerful calls of "Happy 4th of July" all around to begin to penetrate my psyche. It is hard to ignore holidays but unfortunately I had forgotten my party pants. I sat and stewed for a bit and then a  life line appeared through the grey of my morning. God,  full of grace,  never giving up on His children whispered to my soul "I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life..." I struggled for a moment because honestly sometimes it feels good to feel bad, a little touch of self righteousness perhaps? But soon I began to contemplate how to truly add personal meaning to this day. I love our country, BBQ, fireworks, and small town parades. I have nothing against the celebration but for some reason this year it felt a little hollow to me. Feeling less festive but still wishing to recognize the day (and not ruin Tim's day)  I listened to Gods whisper and sat to search for meaning.

      I realized the meaning had not come subtly, people had been telling me all morning: HAPPY 4th of July. Well, why not? Why was I choosing to be cranky? I looked over at my even keeled mate and thought to myself  that to celebrate our independance I would choose to be happy all day. Now, for years and years when someone would say happiness is a choice it would just really piss me off. Really? Just like that a magic happiness fairy is going to pixie dust me after I flip the happy switch? Grrr. This 4th of July it was different though. Something had shifted and I knew happiness really is a choice. Not an easy choice and probably a choice we have to make over and over, but after years of practicing thought control techniques and meditation and prayer I knew had a fighting chance. We cannot, of course, help the random thoughts that pop into our heads uninvited but we can choose to not open the door to the thought. This is the "trick" don't let the thought fester. There are many techniques and so worth it to investigate for yourself. Many paths to happiness and we cannot find our paths without knowing ourselves. I know this is old news for many of you having read the power of positive thinking, but I never did. The title annoyed me and I am not a natural optomist. So, here are some practices that helped my slow learning cranky self.

     At the moment a negative thought presented I have used replacement tactics substituting happy thoughts. I have used visualizations, picturing stop signs work well for me. One friend shared she has a little fairy come sweep her mind clean of her negative thoughts, another imagines the siren of the thought police. Maybe you have another technique please share if you do. But no matter, the idea is to relentlessly and repetitively slam the door on the negative thoughts as they present. Don't entertain them , don't let them in the door. And you know it does get easier. Mindfulness is cumulative and it sneaks up on you. Something else that was helpful was that for the last week or so I had been meditating on  "The Lord is my Shepard, I shall not be in want" this scripture has grown in my heart to mean that the exquisite love of the Shepard is returned when we are not "in want". Well, being "in want" is the opposite of being happy. God does prepare His children. So, turning your grey skies blue may not be as easy as flipping a switch but it can be done. Just like most anything of value it is work. But as hard as we work for a dollar or a promotion or a vacation that we think might make us happy isn't it worth it to spend some effort working to be happy? All in all, I can say it was a good day, a happy day even.
Liberty is the right to choose. So, let's choose happy over and over!

Monday, July 2, 2012

My Story

     For years God has just been answering all my prayers with a directive to rest. So, imagine my surprise the other day when I knelt down to present my usual praises and requests to God and heard the still small whisper in my head saying  "Let go of your image'. WHAT?! I think I am an expertly subtle spin doctor of my own life. Allowing people to see just enough dirt to weave an image of humility and just enough light to show I have been working on my soul. Ha! I don't think letting go of my image means wearing frumpy clothes and no make up. But I don't really know what it means. I do know two things though. First it makes me very uncomfortable to share my personal faith story and I am supposed to do that now. Sigh...

  My Mother is Jewish woman with what some might call a "new age" bent I don't think she would call it that, my Father a spiritual but not religious man of Episcolpalian background, a deep thinker. My parents gifted me greatly by allowing for spiritual exploration without pushing (too much) their own agendas. This led to many adventures in the spirit realm. Quiji boards, past life regressions, chanting....I left no stone unturned looking for God. It was in a 12 step program (Overeaters anonymous) in 1991/92 I decided there was a God and He was a river. Just a wash of energy mabye with intelligence, I was too busy hurting and eating to think much beyond that. Fast forward to 1995 and I had just begun a new massage career when in enters Sarah.
Sarah was an Olympic hopeful at the time in the marathon and she came to me for massage after praying for a "Christian" therapist and my name popped up. I was completely emeshed in my God search and had just spent an evening with a Temple of the Goddess Isis group. Not a classical "Christian" activity. So Sarah came and Sarah prayed and I rubbed her and ignored her prayers. And this happened over and over until one day she came in quite sad and shared with me that she would have to quit running as the flesh on her heels had worn down. I could feel her bone through the padding. She asked me to hold her heels while she prayed and even as I did I was surely rolling my eyes. The eye rolls stopped abruptly when the next week she presented to me two fat fleshy heels.

     The next week she came in with healed heels and out of my mouth (what?!) I asked her to this revival happening in Pensacola, Fl. I was confused and angry at what was coming out of my mouth but none the less a few nights later Sarah found herself going on Mr. Toads Wild Ride as a passenger in my car. That night there were 2000 people at the revival but when the Pastor called out "There is a young woman here tonight whose Mother practices witchcraft and she needs to come to know God I just stood without thinking and began to walk towards the alter. (Some of the searches my Mother had been on are considered "witchcraft" by fundamentalists). Anyways, as I was walking up I just remember being furious because "Jews don't accept Christ". There were 8 people at the alter praying for others and I chose to walk up to a bearded man and stand before him glaring. The last thing I remember is him saying "I have to tell you I am a Messianic Rabbi" and then he prayed and I fell like a baby into Jesus' arms. Everything changed. It has been my unshakeable belief since that moment that Jesus is my Lord, Guru, Shepard and Path to God. So I spent the next 12 years being nurtured and raised up by a very loving but conservative and fundamental Christian community. This is the part where is gets hard. These people gave me roots in Christ and taught me discpline to stay near Him and it hurts my heart to think of hurting them. But now that I have moved back to Austin and am teaching yoga so many of their external rules have fallen away. I no longer believe gay people are going to hell and I no longer believe Jesus is the ONLY way to heaven. Although He clearly is MY way. I know this article (if any of them find it) will leave them praying for me and I love them for it. But my "walk" has boiled down to this for now. Jesus is my Guru....I need to follow Him and everything else is none of my business. He loved, I should love. He kept His eyes on God and so should I. So, here I am a Messianic Jew yoga teacher mutt of a person, belonging to no camp. Many Jews hate me calling Jesus messiah including my extended family. Many Christians think I don't go far enough. Many yogis find my Christianity offensive There is no neat box for me.  So here I am doing my best to spin a story to protect myself and hearing God telling me to quit telling stories. So this I know, God is good, God is love but that is all I know. So this post is my awkward attempt to obey God and let go of my image. This is who I am today but I trust that tomorrow God will have refined me a bit.

The only constant in life is change so being who I am in the moment is the best I got.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Do You Mind?

     The mind is a funny thing. Weighing in at an average of 3lbs it's just a little grey matter yet somehow we have convinced ourselves of one of two scenarios. First, that either our brain is the boss of us,  for instance we think a thought and follow through on it without ever questioning its validity. Or, second, we think that we are our minds, identifying our personality and consciousness with our thoughts alone. Neither approach to the body mind relationship is going to further our holistic growth as a body/mind/spirit creature. We are so much more than our minds, so much more than what we think. But paradoxically we are exactly what we think. Proverbs 23:7 sums it up nicely "As a man thinks, so he is".

     So we are our thoughts, but we are not our thoughts. What? OK, so for grins I just did a little experiment with my good natured hubby. I requested that he think the words I say and I began chanting "blue balloon" all the while snapping my fingers. He then reported to me that he was thinking "blue balloon" and simultaneously he was conscious of my snapping fingers. Your consciousness (snapping fingers awareness) is separate from and larger than your thoughts. However repetitive thoughts over time shape your consciousness. On a side note, it has to be a little strange at times living with a yoga teacher/spiritual seeker :).
In addition to affecting our consciousness, our thoughts shape our body as every thought has not only an electrical thumb print but a chemical one as well. Anxious and fearful thoughts can cascade 1400 simultaneous chemical and physical reactions in our bodies. Thinking you're strong makes you stronger, thinking you're weak....well, you get the idea.

      What we are NOT; however, is a helpless puppet of our mind. Rather with training and attention we can shape our minds to serve us and they can become the most useful tools. There is so much written about meditation that it can get kind of confusing, but meditation is really just cultivating awareness. A fancy way of saying watching your thoughts. So got 5 minutes for a better life? If you set a timer so you don't have to watch a clock and just sit quietly with your mind for 5 minutes a day you will begin to become more aware of your thoughts as they form. And one day, you will have a negative thought form and you will squish it like a bug. This is the beginning of changing your life.  So first you sit still, then you meet your mind then slowly you begin to shape your mind. It may be joyful, it may be terrifying, but one thing it will not be is mindless. Our thoughts can be shaped to strengthen and serve us or they can become the monster in the dark closet that eats up our life. It is a simple small thing, and yet it is huge. So, got 5 minutes?

Within your temple, O God, we meditate on your unfailing love.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Once Upon a Time

     It was a dark and stormy night and while some of us felt comforted others were terrified. We can too quickly chalk up our reactions to our individual temperaments, likes and dislikes. That is an easy and common answer, but that view is disempowering. The "fact" that a storm terrifies us because "that is how we are" leaves us no place to go but further into darkness and fear every time the wind blows. Rather, if we can begin to recognize that our life is simply a story we tell ourselves then we  can become more proficient writers of our days. Our thoughts (stories) lead to our actions and accumulated actions are life. On an intellectual level we may know this but so few of us actually question our own stories. Why?

     Scripture repeated calls us to "Do not turn left or right" but keep our foot on the path. Surely God does not intend for His children to literally only walk in a straight line. We would be constantly going and never arriving. Rather I think the image of left or right is a metaphor on how to deal with our life stories. On the path is an event in our day. To one side is a huge dramatic story we wrap around that event. For instance we get a splinter and immediately our minds turn to gangrene, amputation or maybe flesh eating bacterias. Are those zombies at the door? On the other side there is a willful silence in place of our story. We get a splinter and ignore it hoping it will go away. What splinter? It is somewhere in the middle of these extreme left and right scenarios that our path of faith and hope lies.
      In Ephesians God calls us to "not be tossed back and forth by the waves". These waves are our stories, our thoughts left unchecked and unexamined. The only truth I "know" or think I know is that change is the only constant in life. So perhaps the story you tell yourself  may be true today but not tomorrow. So, back to the question. Why don't we examine our stories? The left and the right are our comfort zones where we hold the illusion of control. Writing a dramatic story can fool us into thinking we have all our bases covered. Ignoring a situation can also provide temporary comfort found in numbness. That middle road of sitting with our lives without reacting emotionally can hurt like hell at times. So in order to avoid the pain of full on living we spin personal fables. What if the next time you get a big dramatic thought about your life not spinning it into a story and not ingnoring it but rather calmly clearly sitting with it? Do you assume every thought you have is true, because some of them are not. Not looking left or right and not being tossed to and fro by our thoughts these are things God calls us to. Steadiness and breath awareness are paths to God .Life is not a fairy tale nor is it a scary story it is just our life. Instead of embellishing it with fables or numbing it by ignoring about living it?

And they lived happily ever after. THE END.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Us Vs. Them

     As humanity continues to evolve spiritually we all know by now partisanship and polarity are poison. Whether it it Democrat vs. Republican, Conservative Christian vs. Progressive Christian, or Acrobat yogi vs. Meditator yogi....the Us vs. Them is a dangerous illusion. As your exhale becomes my inhale there is no us and them there is only life. Let me put it this way. The earth is an aquarium, we are fish and God is the water. When we hate and judge we are pooping in our own water. We grow together or we die together. But we all think we're "right" don't we? "We" are the reasonable ones trying to be patient with "those"extremists.

     This is an old topic, worn bare by the footsteps of philosophers much wiser than me. Releasing us vs. them mentality is Awakening 101. So, why do we persist in labeling others in our smug superiority when we know better? Behavior in others that bothers us is only a mirror illuminating our shortcomings. God loves us so much that He allows others to grow us by annoying us. I am sure you've noticed the heart of growth is "ow". Yea it hurts. But how much more hurtful to look back on your life and witness a stagnant fishbowl full of algae and death.
     So, to the heart of the matter. Us vs. them is merely a symptom of me vs. me. I joke with my husband that "nighttime Signe" had better be good to "daytime Signe". But you know, there is only one me. Maybe you feel as if you have an angel on one shoulder and the devil on another. Or your language has evolved to the point where you "battle the ego and bring light to your spirit". Hate to break it to you but that's more us vs. them. Our dark sides will only grow darker as we label and hate on them trying to eradicate the ego is declaring war on yourself.

     We all have behaviors we desire to nurture and patterns that we wish to diminish. But hating on your ego is not the way to get there because that is merely hating on yourself. Can you spend time with your "dark side" without judgement without recoiling in horror? Because the key to bringing light into your life is love and that means not compartmentalizing yourself but applying compassion to every nook and cranny of your beautiful soul. Once there is no longer a "me vs. me" then maybe some of the "us vs. them" societal issues will begin to soften. After all, we are us and them is me one big family in the sea.

Love your neighbor as you love yourself...this is where we begin

Monday, June 4, 2012

How To Change The World

     I like to think that my presence on this earth will make the world a slightly better place than when I came into it. I like to imagine that your presence on this earth is improving living conditions as well. Isn't the point of life to co-evolve  as a species to coexist in a supportive manner and to reach our individual bests by serving others? ha ha, that's pretty pretentious sounding, but I mean it. We are here to give not to take, we are here to serve rather than bask in entitlement. We are part of a greater living organism called life and like it or not we are connected on many levels. Well, you say, you spend your whole day at the office and your evening feeding kids. You don't have the luxury of teaching yoga and contemplating life. You are too busy living life to co-evolve. OK, then, fair enough, I know we are all busy so I will give you two steps guaranteed to make the world a better place. Two short steps....are you in?

     1) Be who you are. You are an amazingly complex flawed and perfect person. There is absolutely no one else in this world exactly like you. Even if you are an identical twin you still have your own preferences and life experiences. So, why do so many of us waste so much time and energy wishing we were who were not? I am not talking about ceasing efforts at self improvement here I am talking about accepting yourself as you are now. To grow into a shiner happier version of your self you have to start with self acceptance. When you allow yourself to be yourself you encourage others around you to quit trying to fit some societal mold of perfection. There is a huge difference between loving yourself into a more evolved version of yourself and trying to force change because of self loathing. The first brings light into your life and the lives of those around you and the latter creates internal strife.  Love yourself now, not when  __________ happens.

     2) Be where you are. We all have the experience of peering out a window at school or work just wishing we were anywhere but here. Some of us also have the experience of changing jobs, or states or even countries due to dissatisfaction with our lives. Now I am not saying travelling, change and moving are in any way bad, rather the contrary. But what I am saying is that you are where you are for a reason. Engage with the people around you. You wanna change the world? Look around you.  Instead of weeping for those far away hold out a hand to someone close enough to reach it. That old maxim "bloom where you are planted" really sums it up best. You are you where ever you go and you will not be a better you simply because you are somewhere else.

There is no better you than you and there is no better place than here...Be you, Be here. Be fabulous!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Coming Out

      Three months ago I opened Quiet, my yoga/massage studio, as a faith based studio for people to come and find a still space to grow their faith. As a Messianic Jew (A person of Jewish heritage who follows Jesus) I labeled Quiet a Judeo Christian faith studio. So far, so good...this is who I am this is what I am offering. There is no doubt in my mind that my Guru is Jesus and my path is to follow Him therefore the label made sense. I am not, however, of the school that my way is the only way. I pray in Jesus' name because that is what is in my heart and Who I follow. But, wow the baggage that comes with the Christian label had begun to get heavy. And for a moment I considered discarding the label entirely.

     I believe God is love and if we are emulating God we are loving everyone. Not liking everyone, mind you....but loving them to the best of our abilities. If we are putting out a genuine effort to love God will step in and help us. So, the homophobia I see coming from the church is breaking my heart. It is not clear to me that being gay is a sin. There are some very esteemed scholars that seem to believe that the scriptures that we interpret as "don't be gay" actually say "don't be a pedophile". I am not a Greek or Hebrew scholar so I really have nothing to add to this specific conversation, except that I find it very clear in scripture where God says "don't judge". So, why all the hate? Is it fear? A wise person once explained to me  that sexuality is a continuum. Very few of us are 100% attracted to only the opposite gender. When we feel a moment of attraction or admiration for someone of our own gender does it scare us into homophobia? Whatever the reasons for the hate it has to stop. Spirituality is measure relationally and when we are hating a huge section of the population for whatever reason out spirituality is muddied and bloodied. Sometimes literally. When we have to make hate a crime it is time to take a long hard look at ourselves.

     This issue was big enough for me that several times I wrote (and deleted) an entire blog on why I was no longer affiliating with organized religion and why I was no longer going to use the word Christian in describing myself. But I deleted it because I eventually recognized the same judgement and fear that I was writing about was in me only it was pointed in another direction at the gay bashers.  Point a finger at someone else and there are always four fingers pointing back at you. I also deleted it because I am a follower of Christ and like it or not that makes me a Christian. But as a Christian, Messianic Jew, or Child of God....whatever the label the job is the same. Spread love, be love, bring light to the darkness. So, to this purpose I am "coming out" as someone who believes my gay brothers and sisters are every bit as much a Child of God as I am. Their "gayness" I believe will not keep them from Christ, from heaven, from a meaningful life any more than my brunette hair will. I will not give up any of these labels I choose to label myself with just because I am not in agreement with the church. But in the darkness of homophobia I can no longer be silent. God says "If you love me you will love my people". So, I will continue to endeavor to love not just people of other sexual orientations but also the people bashing them. Because when we hate the "bashers" we are the bashers..

If you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt only more love...Mother Teresa

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Rightside up or upside down?

      It is hard to conceive of a math teacher having to revisit basic multiplication tables over and over or a culinary instructor forgetting how to boil water again and again. But this is exactly what has happened to me as a yoga teacher and this is exactly why I love yoga so much. We are all beginners in the art of body mind integration and when we lose that beginners mind set we lose momentum in our growth. For me, yoga is not about twisting my body into increasingly complex postures, although that can be fun! Rather yoga is about expressing my internal life with external shapes. Need courage? Hold a firm drishti (gazing point) in Warrior long enough and you will feel like a bad ass soon enough. Emotional and spiritual growth are the never ending journey of this life and yoga can be a major driver of this growth.

    So, it was with the intention of staring fear in the face that I took to my mat for handstand practice this morning. True confessions time: I am a scared yoga teacher. Scared that in that moment of loss of control I will die a grisly handstand death! Then I am afraid my students will find out I am afraid. (haha...just conquered that fear) Yes, I get the irony here. Then I am afraid of being a fraud, how can I ask students to face their fears while I whimper behind the sofa? Then I am afraid of becoming stagnant and morhping into a small ball of comes the boogie man! So, post coffee and pre Greek yogurt I unrolled my mat placed, my hands firmly on the floor, (I am a brave yoga teacher) plugged in my shoulders, took a deep breath and thought about all of these fears. Then I hopped and hopped some more until finally collapsing into a sad sweaty child's pose on my mat. And then it hit me...

    I have been using fear to attempt to drive out fear. As in : "you must do this handstand or you will be a crappy teacher, or you will contract into fear, or...."  Well, fear is a completely ineffective tool for driving out fear ( 101) rather scripture says it best "There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear" I John 4:18.  So I thought back to the joy in my practice, the strength in my body, the courage in my soul and from a place of love once again I hopped and hopped and hopped. Only this time when I ended in child's pose there was peace and joy. Yoga isn't always about peace and joy, of course, but if  your yoga is fear driven then it may be time to learn how to boil that water once again.

Meet yourself with love and you just may turn your world upside down. And sometime to turn yourself right side up you gotta go upside down!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Hey Mr. Can You Spare Some Change ?

     "I hate change" is a phrase I hear more often than I would like from my yoga students. This is pretty much the equivalent of saying "I hate to breath". With every new breath subtle change is introduced into our body and with every passing moment subtle changes are occurring in our lives. God instructs us to come to Him "as little children" and while this scripture can be applied with broad brush strokes today I just want to take a second to imagine an infant wailing that they hate change and want to stay in that poopy diaper, a toddler wailing that they hate change and never want to walk steadily, a preteen who never wants to grow breathing change is a constant subtle fact of life. Without change there is no growth. Without growth there are no blooms on your flowers.Hating change is setting yourself up for hating lets flow yogis and seekers.

     A human is like a mighty river, fed from the High mountain streams and flowing until we empty out into the great gulf of humanity. This flow is a constant change and it not only serves humanity for us to be open hearted and generously open handed, it also serves us. The places where we refuse to change where we hang on to the old are the places where we dam up the river. It doesn't take long for stagnant water to become murky and stale and infested with pests. Are you flowing yogi or "dam it all" are you resisting change with all your might?

     Life is not even spurts of change between various destinations. It is constant change.  We are never "there" we don't "arrive" until we die and then who knows?! But instead of letting this fact tire you imagining spending your life swimming up river against the natural flow of change, imagine a life spend blissfully floating with the tides of change. When we accept change as the only unchanging fact of life it is a beautiful surrender to truth.We are moving and flowing so the choice today is to chill in the river or waste your energy flailing and fighting. With our local rivers swollen after an exhilarating rain I say lets not paddle upstream today!

"Life is a process of becoming, a combination of states we go through. Where people fail is that they wish to elect a state and remain in it. This is a kind of death" Anais Nin