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.