Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Truth with a Capital T

    It is neither good nor bad but thinking makes it so. 
William Shakespeare

  Every moment we are faced with choices to interpret our immediate circumstances as good or bad, negative or positive. We can be aggravated we are doing dishes or grateful for the hot water and soap. Really our lives are viewed through layers of thought that shape our perception. Right now I can be frustrated with my fuzzy winter hair or grateful that I have hair. I can assume that my business is growing so slowly because "everybody hates me, nobody loves me and I should go eat worms" or I can be grateful that it is growing and grateful that I have a job in the exact field I want to be in. I can notice my husbands sweet smile or the stain on his shirt.  Every moment is a choice to be light or to continue to wallow in darkness. "Choose this day whom you will serve" is a common statement in Judeo-Christian literature. So will I serve my best self and continue to refine my thoughts or will I bow down to darkness? Probably like you: a little of both.
     On one level we all know how important our thoughts are. They really do create your life or at least your perception of your life. But on the other hand most of us do not apply as much effort to examining our thoughts as we do choosing our clothes. One of my favorite meditation teachers Tara Brach says that we are mostly lost in a "trance of thought". My most favorite meditation Teacher ever, Jesus, says to "Be transformed by the renewing of your mind". I have a vivid memory of a scene about 20 years ago. I was walking my dog on a sunny day in our quiet Florida neighborhood and from out of nowhere I had the strong thought "How do people even begin to control their minds?" Before this exact moment mental management was not even a concept on my radar. I just assumed that our toddler like minds had complete control to fill our heads with random thoughts.

     So fast forward 20 years and I am enlightened, or not haha. But I do now know a good place to begin to train your minds. In Philippians 4:8 we are instructed to think about certain things the first of which is to have "true" thoughts. What, you assumed that just because you had a thought that it that it was true? Yea, so did I years ago. But Truth is a very subjective subject. Some people insist that if something is perceivable with their senses it is true. But what about the story of the blind men who feel different ends of the elephant? The one man "knew" that he was feeling a tree trunk the other "knew" that he was feeling a snake. Our senses may or may not be leading our minds to think true thoughts.
     I have found that in general any thought that begins with "always or never" is usually not true. Any thought about yourself that you are too much or not enough is generally not true. Any thought about another persons feelings, motivations or intentions is surely not true as we can't know the depths of any human but ourselves. I find it helpful when a thought has an emotional charge to simply stop and consider "Is this thought true?". Someone insults you and you think "what a jerk" and that thought leads you to tense your shoulders and tensing your shoulders leads you to feeling stressed. STOP, rewind ... was the original statement an insult  or an observation? Was the original statement a reflection of the speaker or the hearer? Was the original statement true or not? If it was true then do something about it and if it was not true why are you insulted at all? There are very few absolute truths in this life, truth with a capital T if you will. But this I believe is one: Our thoughts make us move toward light and love or fear and darkness so it is valuable to consider if they are even true. This is one step towards beginning your mental transformation. Not the only step or the only way but perhaps it is a way that will serve to launch your meditation practice as it did mine. Think about what you're thinking about today. Is it true?

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Breathing In Breathing Out

Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.
Thích Nhất Hạnh

      In the ebb and flow of life when challenging circumstances arise I tend to return to the basics of my yoga and meditation practice. So in week 2 of my federally unemployed husbands "vacation" combined with a super slow week at Quiet and a silly head cold I have really pared down my practice to a few sun salutations and the Breathwords mantra "Breathing In/Breathing Out".So these past two weeks my meditation has been simply to sit and watch my breathing body as I think the words "breathing in and breathing out" with each breath. I anticipated this practice to kind of be a "place holder" to allow me to not lose too much ground in my inner spiritual work while I deal with worldly problems. Instead the beautiful simplicity of the practice has really reinforced a few lessons I need to remember all the time.

     First, when things go awry like most people I tend to write stories. A simple example is instead of just noticing the car that cut me off on the highway I would write a story in my head about the driver that went something like "this person must be an entitled ass who doesn't care about my life". In reality there are a 1000 possibilities why they cut me off, Perhaps they simply didn't see me and they are not actually an evil villain. Writing stories while comforting in the moment just tend to exacerbate the situation inflaming emotions and hooking out minds into unhealthy patterns. So, this week in dealing with a challenge before I could begin my story I asked myself what was actually true and the only truth I could find in the moment was that I was "breathing in and breathing out". What a relief to release the need to write a novella about a small annoyance and instead just carry on with breath.

     The second lesson I re-remembered was what my actual to do list contains: breathing!  Sometime building a small business catapults me into frantic "to do" mode. I would have more students if I did this or did that I tell myself sternly. Just go market a little more and all will be well a little voice in my head offers up non helpfully. Well, while it is important to take care of the business in front of us it is not helpful to load ourselves down with to do lists long enough to choke the life out of us. So what is it that we really need to do today? You guessed it "breathing in and breathing out". But I have to go to work and cook dinner for my children you argue. No you don't. You either need to do these things OR suffer the consequences of not doing them and while unemployment and hungry kids may be ugly consequences I will still argue that you do not NEED to do these things. Simplify by remembering that all you have to do today is breath and make everything else optional. This will expand your breathing space big time.

     The third thing I remembered with my simple mantra was that every breath we take is taken in present moment. While our minds ping around temporally and emotionally our breathing body is always in present moment. So when I notice this breath in this moment I don't have mental space for romanticizing the past or catastrophizing the future. When we notice the present moment we notice  that we are safe and secure in the moment and that our doubts and fears live in the past and future. If you are truly in danger in the present moment you are beyond just noticing it and rather are in flow responding to it. This blog on re-remembering lessons may not be earth shattering news, but I will not write a mental story about how I should have made it more exciting. I will not give myself a to do list of writing a more amazing blog and I will not predict into the future that you read it and yawned. Rather I will "breath in and breath out" and be here in this moment. It may not be my most beautiful moment ever but it is not the ugliest either and remembering that both our joys and sorrows are Gods gifts always makes me breath a little deeper.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

You Are the Guru

     "Behold, the kingdom of God is within you"
Luke 17:21

     Wouldn't it be nice if our spiritual journeys took us from point A to point B in a nice straight line? And wouldn't it be better yet if a really wise person just pointed us to Point B? One day we wake up and arrive at Point A and we are mature enough to recognize our spirit, the part of us that longs for growth and connection, and we maybe begin our journey by sending up a few prayers or reading a few books hoping for Point B, which is...what? Closer connection to God and what does that even mean? If God is omnipresent as classic religion tells us then how can we get closer than that? Is enlightenment point B? And for God's sake what does that even mean? There's a lot of flowery spiritual language out there but what does it all mean? I like practical stuff that is easy to understand and implement. When someone advises me to manifest something I just want to scream and go to Target where I manifest stuff in exchange for money.

     We know that we are body, mind, spirit creatures responsible for nurturing and growing all parts of us and with body & mind the paths are a little more clear. For the body eat healthy and exercise, right? For the mind we monitor our thoughts and toss out the crappy ones, but how to nurture and grow your spirit is a bit more elusive and metaphysical. Sure it is important to cultivate spiritual habits such as prayer, meditation, time with scripture and like minded people but why?
Is the point to be present in your life or is the point to serve the needs of others? We are told that we are perfect and at the same time to keep improving. We are told that God is Love and the kingdom of God is inside of us and yet we often act hateful. Is the spiritual walk about encompassing duality or realizing that we are all One? What is Point B?

     Every time I have a spiritual growth spurt it seems I end up further from these answers but somehow ironically closer to a peaceful inner life. I am coming to the realization that apparently we are not on a "need to know" basis with God as most of my questions just bring more questions. But here's the thing ... NO ONE knows these answers because each persons life has different meaning and each persons journey is a different winding path. So, a different kind of question: why are there so many spiritual experts out there selling solutions? Because people are desperate for answers and willing to be led. The problem with the "guru" method is that we are giving away our power when we listen to the external voice of another rather than the internal voice of our best self. A little guidance can be helpful but it is not the end of the journey. I don't know the answers to your spiritual questions but I have a clue as to where they are found: inside YOU. And going deep inside yourself is the path to Point B.

     When the mind is quiet and our awareness is planted compassionately in the present moment that is when wisdom arises shining light on our path. We all need a helping hand at some points along the path but ultimately the inner journey is yours to take alone. Stop doubting yourself, stop searching for answers in other people and maybe you will inch towards Point B. If you are reading this blog for answers I am here to tell you there are no external answers there is only an inner journey. Maybe the point of a spiritual life is just to live it and let that be enough.  Maybe our answers aren't found in present moment but the present moment is our answer. Just being here with out distraction is all there is to being with God.  When I was young I thought I knew these answers but now instead I relish the questions. Trust yourself seekers. Other peoples opinions can be the spiritual condiments but you will find your nourishment when you listen to that "still small voice" inside.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Goldilocks was not an Austinite

There is a fifth dimension, beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition
Rod Serling

      Way before I had ever heard the term "middle ground" I got one of my best lessons on the concept by simply growing up in Austin, Texas.  Every part of the world has strengths and weaknesses that help shape its peoples and one of the strengths of my hometown is nurturing creativity and individualism and I am nourished and grateful for that prevailing attitude in Austin. Unfortunately the flip side of that quality is a quietly unspoken pressure to "be cool". Hip people rule the world is the message I got growing up here, if your not cool you better move to Kansas. My apologies to Kansas, I just had to pick somewhere! So as a dutiful Austinite in my late teens early 20's I did my best to adopt a façade of cool. Pricey clothes that looked cheap paired with the very slightest of sneers usually did the trick. The pressure to both "be in the know" and at the same time not give a damn was a fine line to walk for many a maturing Austinite. My natural personality is one of connecting to people rather than lording my coolness over them and very soon after cultivating my coolness I was tired of pretending. So I started thinking about what cool was and what it wasn't, well it wasn't "hot". At this point please remember I was a young young woman thinking through these issues. So, thinking about what was "hot" brought images of miniskirt wearing divas with sultry eyes to my young mind and I knew that I neither wanted to be cool or hot anymore and I set out to develop a "warm" personality. Ahhhh, welcome to the search for "middle ground" young Signe.

     Fast forward with me 25 or so years and here I am still searching for that middle ground. Scripture tells us that in our journey we are to "neither look left or right" but to keep our eyes on our path.  I do believe our paths are right on the middle ground where we are applying right efforts to our lives. If we are working our fingers to the bone or thinking to the point of rumination we are on one side of the path. If we are ignoring problems, sweeping dust under the rug, or generally slothful that is the other side of the path. But planting our feet firmly on our path requires right effort. Because I have an extra hard head that lessons often need to pounded into God has led me to work on handstand. Ok, now for some more perspective, I am middle aged now and trying to throw my ass over my head! So, of course, the other day I found myself alternating between kicking up so hard I could knock the wall down and alternately pathetically hopping up like a grasshopper in hospice. Neither action led to success in my activity. Our spiritual walks require the same middle ground idea. If we pursue God desperately and nonstop we are in danger of becoming more desperate and burned out. How many times in scripture does God call us to "be still" to rest? A lot! Then, in contrast,  if we bring not much effort our spiritual walks we reap the corresponding results of not much relationship to the Divine.

     We must take care to grow alternating with periods of rest and trust. This applies to every single area of our lives. My husband wants my attention, just not too much of it or his personal space feels encroached upon. My kitchen needs cleaning but scrubbing grout on my hands and knees for hours will just make me never want to clean it again.(at least this is my theory!) I have spent years on my yoga mat noticing when I am trying too hard and when I am lazy in my activity and I notice that I am not alone in vacillating between too much effort and not enough. But, the thing is, it is the steady effort of middle ground that leads us where we are going whether it is towards a clean kitchen or a handstand. So, in my journey towards middle ground I am learning to "be warm" with myself. It is crucial for us to be supportive of our own efforts to grow, to encourage ourselves like we would a good friend. Practice isn't just for yoga, it's for life and our practice should include a middle ground relationship with ourselves. Have you heard the expression  "a narcissist with self esteem issues" this is not middle ground. We must come to know our true selves with compassion, patience and love.
     So, in all my actions from prayer to sweeping to spending time in relationship I look for that Goldilocks attitude of not too much and not too little. Perhaps noticing the activities I give "too much" to and moving toward middle ground there will leave me more able to up the ante on activities I  give "too little" to and the seesaw of hot and cool will continue to balance towards warm. I am past trying to look cool and waaay past wanting to be hot so I will feel my feet and come to my body as they step lightly on the path of middle ground. Will you journey with me on the path of middle ground? Will you take time to notice how you allocate your energy and mindfully balance it out to the best of your current ability and then "be still" with me as God takes care of the rest? I hope your day is neither too hot or too cold, but just a Goldilocks kinda perfect!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

You Aren't Happy Yet?

     Happiness seems to be everywhere these days. Or, at least, the term happiness seems to be high on our cultures radar right now. I have just finished reading two books on the subject. The Happiness Project and The Happiness Advantage both clearly lay out paths to happiness and the benefits of happiness and I would recommend either as a good read. As a culture we are learning more about the health benefits and the social benefits of being happy and we are exposed to practical techniques for increasing our happiness, so why is it that so many people report being unhappy? Isn't it as simple as the memes littering my Facebook page say? "Chose Happiness" a manically grinning cat commands me as I sleepily sip my delicious hot beverage. But as I step into the public domain intentionally trying to catch a strangers eye to share a smile (because sharing increases happiness)I am met with a frosty wall of frowning smart phone watchers. For all of our privileges and freedoms in this country I see a relatively very low happiness level in the people of daily life. Sighing store clerks ennui drips down their elbows as they offer a lethargic hand full of change. Fellow drivers brows knit tightly to match their pressed lips is what I spy on the highway. Even the lady in the VW Bug with the fake flower has a grimace! When we know the importance of happiness in all areas of health and we have been given tools to grow happier, why all the cranky?
     Maybe the focus on joy is diminishing our joy. Is developing a sunny persona just another item on your endless to do list? Does it make you stressed that you are now supposed to be happy? Do you feel like someone telling you to chose joy is a little insulting? Well, it is insultingly simplified to say "chose joy"! We cannot just chose joy as if our emotions hung in our closet ready to be slipped over our heads. Telling a really sad person to just be happy is as effective as using a hair spray on a bald man. Like the stairway to heaven, the path to happiness is steep and winding and we just don't jump from now to happy in the space of one decision. What we can do, however, is take the first step towards happiness, becoming acquainted with our minds. The state of happiness, or any emotion really, is preceded by a thought that creates a chemical to manifest an emotion. So we don't work with our emotions but rather their building blocks, our thoughts. A good place to start with our thoughts is found in Philippians 4:8 which begins by telling us to think about what is true. Much of our unhappiness stems from anticipating unpleasant activities (ugh gotta go back to work on Monday morning). But if you are thinking about the future you are not thinking true thoughts but rather predicting. Truth is only found in this moment. Sometimes our unhappiness stems from memories of perceived injustice. Like elaborate tales woven by gifted story tellers, memories are neither true or not true, they are just memories. Instead of fishing for unhappiness in the past or future notice this moment what you are thinking and question if it is true. Are you thinking you will be happier when you lose 10 pounds, meet a mate, win the lottery...are these thoughts true? Are you thinking you would be happier if you didn't work so much or drink so much, is this true?

     By letting our thoughts go unchallenged we become victims of our own stories. But by recognizing that our thoughts are opinions we can begin to chose opinions that lead us closer to the quality of happiness. Like a butterfly happiness is hard to catch, but if we sit still enough for long enough maybe happiness will land on our shoulder. Your thoughts are not the boss of you, they are not the totality of you, they are merely stepping stones we lay to take us to our destination. Lay your stones mindfully and you may end up with a genuine smile that we can share.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Rest of the Story

    You are a drop of water in a sea of God. Do not grow hard and frozen or steamed up with emotion. Rather rest and become indistinguishable  
from the clear waters that surround you.

      I did not know that I was preparing to open a business, but God did and for the two years prior to opening Quiet the answer to every prayer I sent up was a gentle whisper of a single word "rest". The content of my prayers changed often over the years, asking for guidance, asking for strength,  declaring my devotion all were answered with one word "rest". Ironically at this time in my life my job was at its peak in physicality. I not only taught yoga at 6 different studios/gyms I also taught a cardio class and a dance class that kept me sweating and moving. My days were a whirlwind of activity and the idea of rest a mirage in a far off desert. I didn't know where to begin except to alter my prayers to match Gods answer. My prayer changed to a plea "teach me how to rest". I knew enough to realize that it was not merely a physical rest God was calling me to, but a deep inner resting in Him. But He might as well have been instructing me to juggle capuchin monkeys drinking banana daiquiris. I had no clue where to start.
     Rewind a few years and I remember God introducing a concept to me called "kavana". Kavana is a Hebrew word meaning roughly to be continually aware of the presence of God surrounding you. There is a scripture (I Thess 5:7) that calls us to pray without ceasing. This scripture basically calls us to kavana. I already figured out that one could not continually speak to God, when would we sleep? And I already knew that when God calls us to something He equips us to do it, so this directive was confounding. But praying doesn't necessarily mean speaking, prayer is a relational conversation and that includes listening. And if God is all around us all the time then entering a state of kavana (divine awareness) is definitely something like praying without ceasing. But just any state of awareness does not necessarily translate to rest. Think of the state of awareness a rattlesnake at your feet would bring: high awareness, not much rest!

     As God kept gently nudging me to learn what rest is the concept of joy kept coming up. Joy, happiness, cheerfulness: these are not the same state. Joy has nothing to do with our external circumstances but rather an inner knowing that we are safe and free. Trust is a component of joy. Happiness can come and go and be tied into what is happening around us. Joy is an internal anchor that comes from trusting God is taking care of us. So in a nutshell kavana + joy = rest. This equation is found in my journal Sept 14, 2011 after two years of  God answering my prayers with "rest" what I had was a formula.  This looked satisfying on the page like I had accomplished something, but God didn't just intend for me to come up with a formula, He intended for me to learn to rest. So fast forward to now and the lessons keep coming. In my kitchen window I have a beautiful bouquet of yellow roses. I bought them when they were tight little buds and now most of them have blossomed into huge bundles of beauty and cheer. Most of them; there were a few that did not open up all the way and now look wrinkly and brown. As I was looking at the roses last night wondering why a few hadn't opened God directed my attention to the biggest brightest bloom. It had opened so grandly because it rested. Literally relaxing its petals open to reveal stunning beauty. I have not learned the fine art of continual rest, but moment by moment God is leading me to deeper awareness and deeper joy and slowly a kind of rest is taking hold. This is a life long journey, but it is my path and so I put one foot in front of the other in the most restful way I know. The joy of the Lord truly is your strength and mine. What about taking 30 seconds right now to just close your eyes and imagine you are breathing in and out the spirit of God? This is the first step on the path of soul rest, knowing God is there. Even if you are running a marathon or chasing after a toddler rest is available, we just have to know it and allow it. There is no where you can go that God is not surrounding you with love and maybe just maybe if you sit still for a moment you will hear a small whisper "rest" .

Thursday, June 13, 2013

You Are Not My Friend

There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship
–St. Thomas Aquinas

      In Robert Louis Stevenson's book "Gulliver's Travels" he describes a society of tiny little people who have amazing adventures, a fascinating story that you are probably familiar with. I have always loved the idea of little worlds and would spend hours as a young person searching the pages of Richard Scarry books for tiny little lives to be revealed. What is even more fascinating than these stories though is the way that Robert Louis Stevenson came about his story. He didn't so much craft it as take dictation from the "little people" in his head. They would reveal their stories to him in his dreams and they made him a renowned author. I found this singular fact to be something interesting to know but finding out that a large percentage of people actually think and dream in "little people" well that gave me a whole lot more to think about.

     Of course we are not just a singular creature, one neuron cannot make a thought by itself it must connect to another neuron and it is an entire network in our heads that weaves together the stories of our lives. So why not imagine our thoughts as little people? We all have facets of our identity that aren't completely integrated, two big ones I name are "morning Signe" and "nighttime Signe" I do not think or act the same in these states. Maybe you have "Mom you" and "friend you" or maybe you break yourself down into a thousand little people. We all have some version of our best self and some version of our fearful self living in our heads.

     So here's the thing, if we can think about our thoughts as colonies of little people in our heads then maybe there are some of these little people that it is more nourishing and affirming to hang out with and other little people that might need a time out or even banishment from the kingdom of your mind.
I started thinking about the thoughts in my head in a comparative way and holding them up to friendships I have or had in "real life". I have been blessed with knowing some really quality people who have remained friends, but I have also had to learn to cut ties with a few people whose negativity just brought me down. It was hard to do but it was a loving act I needed to do for myself. Sometimes we are meant to be a rock for a hurting person but if that rock get tied to your ankle and drags you underwater it is time to cut the rope. So, the other day when I had a particularly negative self talk thought in my head I immediately knew I did not need to be hanging out with this "little person". Our thoughts can be our friends nudging us gently to be our best self but our thoughts can also be passive aggressive, belittling or just plain mean and these are the thoughts we need to unfriend. So the other day when my "mean girl little person" thought arose I did not react by shrinking internally or by listening to the thought as a truth but with a surprising humor I just told the thought "I'm sorry but we can't hang out". And it left and I don't remember it and I have more mental space for good friends now. So what if it can be that simple? Are your thoughts your true friends or just masquerading as a friend? Would you talk to a friend the way you think to yourself? If thoughts are unfriendly show them the door even if you have to do it a hundred times, refuse to hang out with "tiny little people" that are anything less than encouraging truth tellers. The theme of being a friend to ourselves is one that weaves its way through my life and writing often, but it begins in our heads with our colonies of "little people". So, what are you thinking about? Are there friends or foes landscaping your mind? Weed out the nonfriends and your headspace will become a lot more nourishing. It can be as simple as just saying "No you can't hang out with me mean thought". Simple, but maybe not easy, but so worth it. So watch those thoughts and show the ugly ones the door. Because you are worth it, be a friend to yourself. You are worthy of  deep love and good friends and don't let any thought tell you otherwise.


Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Awesome YOU!!

     The world tells us we must act a certain way, look a certain way or perhaps obtain just the right product to be acceptable. the self improvement industry runs rampant over hurting hearts confirming what some suspect: you are not good enough, you are not worthy. But....
What if you are already awesome and you just don't know it?  What if you are good enough? Don't you know you are God's masterpiece? "For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my Mother's womb" Psalm 139:13." Why is it so easy to be astonished and grateful at God's canvas in nature and marvel over a majestic mountain or a spectacular sunset but then look at ourselves, a product of the same Divine Artist, and see a collage of flaws and inadequacies? Two truths I try to remember always: 1) I have areas that could be improved and 2) I am perfect right now this unimproved moment.
     I don't  remember this just for me, I do believe this to be a universal truth. You are flawed and perfect in the same breath. What if your "flaws" are what make you perfect? We are here to grow even as we lovingly embrace who we are now. Growth that is motivated by self loathing can quickly turn toxic while growth grounded in self love yields the most brilliant blossoms. According to Tara Brach, a great Buddhist teacher, the core wound of all humanity is the belief we are not good enough to be loved. But over and over God demonstrates love for us in scripture, in nature in tiny unseen everyday miracles. Our very core is spirit linked to God, our very core is holy and good. God is wooing humanity as we hang our heads at our imperfections He is whispering "You are perfect". So who are you gonna believe, the Divine Creator shining love on you or your ego mind telling you that you are not worthy of love? I don't teach and practice yoga to become someone better or to try to get  into crazy pretzel shapes (although that can be fun) but rather to  uncover and remember the core goodness of humanity, all of humanity not just the people I admire but everyone who has breath.
     Our ego minds collude with society to tell us we are alone and we are not good. But the quiet whisper of Holy Spirit in our hearts tells us we are a beloved part of a connected whole. When you love yourself you are loving your neighbor and when you love your neighbor you are loving God. We cannot say we love God and continue in resisting self love. It is not about improving who you are but rather revealing your basic good nature and awesomeness!
"The aim of life is self development. To realize one's nature perfectly - that is what each of us is here for"
Oscar Wilde

Friday, May 3, 2013

A Recipe to Grow a Human

When we are no longer able to change a situation we are challenged to change ourselves.
Viktor E. Frankl


       Like a plant or even a single celled creature you and I are at our most basic just a living organism and not above the basic rules of life. I know, I know: you really want to be much more advanced than that luscious fern hanging from your back porch and in some ways we may be, but in the most basic life activities you and the plant are peers! So every creature that ever lives has spent their entire lives in one of two states, growth or protection. When a plant is growing we assume they are just gaining mass and when it is in protection mode it is in a state of maintaining homeostasis.With a human these states are clearly more complex and yet the same states. When we are growing we may be gaining or losing mass, or our growth may be intellectual, emotional, creative, or consciousness expansion. Humans grow in alot of directions unless we are stuck in protection mode and then our resources go to defense which presents as tension, anxiety, fear, hardened muscles and constricted minds. When we are in growth mode our blood is mainly in our bellies, viscera, organs and brain providing nourishment for evolution, but the minute we go into protection mode our blood rushes to our limbs prepared to fight or flee.

     So, while it is natural to experience both growth and protection what is not natural is the constant fear messages our modern society sends us. These messages are so embedded in our lives we often don't realize we are getting stuck in protection mode. Yesterday enjoying a quiet moment meant to nurture growth all of the sudden a horrible screeching emitted from my cell phone. Immediately I felt my calm disappear as I went to find the source of the offending sound. It was an Amber alert.  Now don't get me wrong I think warning a population to be observant for children in danger is a great thing. But what is not great is the three more times it went off before I figured out how to turn the sound off on Amber alerts. Next to the Amber alert there was a button for Emergency alerts. So those of us with cell phones, hello everyone, are carrying around a device that at any second can begin screeching about an emergency. This may up our chances of immediate survival but the long term affect is that we get stuck in protection mode and do not grow to our potentials. The Amber alert on the phone is one example in a million.  Hello, 24 hours news!!   Our society basically breeds fear and fear in turn puts us into protection mode which brings growth to a dead stop. So whats a growth minded individual to do?

     We notice our moments. At every moment in life you and I are in one of three states. We are either in aversion (trying to push away our immediate experience) or we are in desire (trying to hold onto a moment) or we are cultivating the compassionate observer and just being present. Both aversion and desire are forms of fear that switch off our growth state. Aversion may be a more obvious form of fear (oh get it away before it hurts). But desire is also fear motivated as grasping pleasure is just the reverse of pushing away pain. So the only state in which we grow is when we are nonjudgementally and compassionately observing our lives. Observing does not mean being distant or unemotional. Observing means being aware that your mind is not the whole of your consciousness; observing means returning to breath awareness; observing means realizing your deepest truest self is not bound or defined by the moment you are experiencing but rather the moment is one pearl in the lustrous strand of your life. Observing probably means alot of things I am not aware of yet, but one thing I do know is that pure observing is free of aversion and desire. So notice the next time you feel emotionally charged. Are you pushing something away or trying to hold on to something? If so take a moment to return to breath, to return to the deepest truest you, to return to growth. Who knows the awesome places you'll grow!! The good news is cultivating your observing self works if you work it. Take a moment today to just sit and breathe and notice your thoughts and then do it again tomorrow, and again, and again and again and ... Stealing one from the US Army: Be all you can be! Let's start today, in this moment. Peace

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Chipping Away: the daily grind

      Everyone loves a "mountain top experience". A moment when God feels as close as our heartbeat and we sense our own goodness and love. Everyone loves a milestone moment, cheering runners as they approach the finish line, ohhhing and ahhhing as an artist unveils a magnificent painting.
But who really wants to talk about the hours spent on our knees that possibly led to that mountain top experience? Who would be interested in discussing each individual step of the marathon or stroke of the painting? Well, probably not many.These mundane "chipping away" experiences where we inch towards a result are the story equivalent of a snooze button; wake me up when we get there!
But the problem is that if we only get engaged and excited about the beginning and the end of an experience we spend most of us life unengaged and unexcited.

     Life is the mundane middles, the repetitive experience is the thread in the tapestry of our lives picture. The mountaintops are few and far between and yet we breathlessly await our mountaintops and barely notice our mundane. Imagine a beautiful pearl necklace with a sparkling diamond pendant hanging in the middle. Almost everyones eyes will be drawn to the diamond barely registering the lustrous pearls reflecting back light to us. But without the pearls there would be no necklace. The pearls are our moments strung together to create a life. The diamond perhaps the birth of your child, the achievement of a handstand or another rare moment.. The point is we will have many pearls and few diamonds in our lives so it would behoove us to pay a little attention to the pearls. Becoming really present as you wash the dishes yet again is so much more enriching than the natural excitement of a trip to Disneyworld.

     Our lives become richer still as we awaken to the mundane. Is this the thousandth time you have made a PB&J sandwich for lunch? Well, can it be the first time you really noticed making it perhaps directing a little loving energy into the project soothing your nervous system as you spread the sweet jelly?  Maybe the sandwich will taste better and maybe not, the result should not be the goal. But rather the awakening to the experience. I haven't written a blog in awhile because I have been "chipping away". Hundreds of handstand hops and days of repetitious floor mopping and flier hanging do not make a compelling story. However the gradual awakening to the mundane is adding layers of sweetness to my life. Here's my story, "we'll I did the dishes a thousand times and then last night I was really present doing them. I noticed the suds and my feet on the floor and the breath in my lungs as I scrubbed". Yea, this story is compelling to no one but me. But there is a point!
 And that point is mindfulness is cumulative and the only places that we can accumulate enough practice to awaken are in our daily mundane business. Yesterday after a nice class a student said with a deep sigh "if I could only hold on to this feeling". Well, clearly he can't spend all day at Quiet practicing yoga,  but what he can do is meditate as he sweeps his floor, count his blessings as he drives to work, do deep breathing as he waits in yet another long line. It is the mundane and the daily grind that are the true stories of our growth and lives. Being bored is simply not being awake to your life.
So, nothing to report here really. I just have to go fold some laundry and pay attention.

This is the day the Lord has made, I will we rejoice and be glad in it (even if it is only a Tuesday!)

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Enslaved No More

     "It is for freedom that I have set you free." These words in the New Testament have never been particularly clear to me. I am happy to be free but what exactly does that even mean? With the exception of incarceration most people in this country are thankfully free to come and go as they please. Free to chose wise choices or spend their days watching daytime television with a bag of Cheetos on their laps. On the surface of our lives we all appear to be free. But in this season of Passover as I think about freedom my mind goes to the people who aren't free and what that means.
At the very most basic level a loss of freedom means constriction (jail cell) or tightness and freedom means space and expansiveness. So, as I do in my search for embodied spirituality I turn to my body for answers.

     The areas where we hold tension are areas where we are metaphorically enslaving ourselves.
The clenched jaw does not allow our words to be free, the tight neck does not allow the chest muscles to soften and free the heart. Where we clench we stop our life force from flowing freely. We lose our freedom.

     One of my favorite meditation techniques is Breathwords. In this simple techniques you reign in the mind by repetitively thinking one word as you inhale and another as you exhale. for example inhale thinking "peace" exhaling thinking "health", really any life affirming words will work. This gives the mind boundaries to become stiller allowing us to tap into our inner quiet. So this week I have been combining the breathwords "Be free" with body awareness. Every time I inhale I think the word "Be" and let my attention rest on my feet or face, but it is the exhales that are amazing me. With every exhale as I think the word "free" I find an area of tension to release. The more fluidity and softness I find in my body through this technique the more expansiveness I feel in my spirit. I have been doing this on and off the mat. You can do it anywhere really.

So this week just a short blog to share what I am up to. Something simple, yet profound as I continue to seek out areas where I have enslaved my body with tension and loosen the shackles the freedom is ever increasing in my heart and mind.

So how about it? Wanna "Be/Free" with me? Try this simple technique and you may be surprised as you find new levels of freedom.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery
Galatians 5:1

Sunday, March 3, 2013

One year later

     Today I really don't have any grand plan for writing something helpful, no story that will neatly illustrate a usable lesson for you. I have had a hard time blogging lately because I have been having a hard time in general and I don't want a whiny blog, but there it is. life has it's ups and downs, doesn't it? Yoga for me is acknowledging the brightness in dark moments and remembering in moments of joy that they can be fleeting. The life we attempt to flow in is made much smoother by not fighting the currents. When the current gets rough and threatens to smash us against a rock that is ironically the time to relax a little to soften the blow, but when we hit a smooth patch where the sun warms us as we drift lazily, well we need to make a choice to swim a little in order to keep moving.
I forget this and in life when struggles come up I tend to struggle more and when things are easy sometimes I forget to swim and begin to slowly sink until losing my breath reminds me to move.

     Today is the one year anniversary of my studio, Quiet. The one year anniversary of throwing myself off the deep end, officially linking my spiritual and professional journeys. 365 days and each one a mini adventure in soothing sorrow, taming pride, falling down, getting up. Adventures in being amazed at the students who teach me, being grateful for the times a lesson I have shared has helped someone along their path. Even now a year later it doesn't quite feel "right" to call the people who come to Quiet students. We are co-learners/seekers walking a slow but steady path. It is a simple path but not an easy one. The path to victory passes through many gates of surrender. Some surrenders are easy: release that posture when your breath grows jagged and your limbs shake. Some surrender is harder, surrendering the need to be right is a good one. Some surrenders are perplexing. This year I hear God whispering to me to "surrender my image" and I don't even know what that means. But all surrender is made easier to realize we are surrendering our will to a loving, omnipotent and benevolent God who "works all things together for our good". That has been the one steady constant through the ups and downs of this year. God's goodness which shines down on us like the rays of the sun. Not dependant on my behavior, the sun keeps shining on the best and the worst of us.

     One of the more recent shifts God has given me at Quiet is realizing that the traits that we assign to God are the traits that we will subconsciously grow in ourselves. Recently I taught a class themed on dealing with suffering and the next day I broke out in a painful itchy head to toe rash. For the first few days I thought "well, God allowed this rash to emphasize the lesson I had taught". Kind of a subtle way to label God "mean". But through prayer and time I realized that maybe God had used the suffering class to prepare me for what He knew was coming. Wow, much nicer of the great I AM!
So what would I believe? I rooted out some deeply hidden belief that God was just a little harsh (head to toe rash?!) and returned to the belief that God is with us and guiding us and preparing us for all things. I will continue to examine what I really think of Gods character as I continue to walk the Quiet path. I have learned this year that a teacher doesn't really "tell students stuff" but rather leads them to their own wisdom. So I am going to go meditate now and not try to tell myself how this first day of my second year will go but rather I will go sit and listen and enjoy the waters of life.

Deep calls to deep
in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers
have swept over me
Psalm 42:7

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Pillars of the Path

     I have never really understood the seemingly contradictory ideas in Christianity that God wants everyone to be with Him and sent Jesus for the benefit of the whole world. But then there is alot of emphasis on "the path" being narrow. I know I am supposed to believe that the narrow path means that only those who repeat the words "I accept Christ as my saviour" will be the ones with God in Heaven. This does not settle well in my heart. Either God loves the whole world or He waits for us to mutter this phrase then we're in. Nope not buying it anymore. My God is bigger than that, big enough to love everyone who seeks Him whether that seeking takes them to mass or to temple, to a remote mountain or a sweaty yoga class. I believe that everyone who is seeking God is called by God. And while my path is to follow Jesus both as a saviour and also as a darn good role model I respect it when you faithfully walk your path. So what's up with the emphasis on a "narrow path"?

       Well, I believe the path is even narrower than we imagine. That the path to spiritual growth can only be found in this second. Remembering yesterday and predicting/planning tomorrow may have their uses but spiritual growth is found in the here and the now. In Thessalonians 5:17 God tells us to pray "without ceasing". This seemingly impossible direction is made a lot more accessible when we begin to work with using the breath to bring us into present moment awareness. At any moment in your life no matter where you are you can stop and notice your breath. And when you consider that it is with one big inhale that our earthly life beings and one last exhale that changes our form then this breath in this moment can become a holy prayer and we pray without ceasing. One of the two nonnegotiable pillars of a healthy spiritual path then I contend is Present Moment Awareness. The good news about this is that awareness (being awake to spiritual truth in this moment) is cumulative. I started my awareness journey years ago by meditating 3 minutes a day and while I slowly added on to my seated meditation time over the years the more important fact is that those mere 3 minutes began to lead to moments of awareness in daily life. This is not unusual, it is just how it works. You introduce mindfulness to your life in any amount and it begins to grow and wonderfully infect all areas of your life. Jesus was an awesome meditator and He tells us to follow Him. A quick online Bible search turns up 25 instances of us being told to meditate in the old and new testaments. So what are you waiting for? Don't just sit there and do nothing:meditate!

     The second nonnegotiable pillar of human evolution is compassion. Remember the answer to the question "What is the greatest commandment?" "To love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and strength and to love your neighbor as you love yourself". So what if you don't like yourself? What if you hate your neighbor? Well, these are just emotions and all emotions are just thoughts that we have written a story about. Compassion has very little to do with emotion! Compassion is cultivating a friendly open curiosity towards yourself, God and people. Compassion is listening to someone without writing a story about their story. Compassion is noticing when our own behaviours disappoint us and sitting with that disappointment without judgement. Compassion is simultaneously saying no to our ego and not demonizing itbut remembering that we must love all parts of our self.
Who is more compassionate the person who writes you a love poem or the person that listens to your worst sins and still walks by your side without judgement? Can we be this person for ourselves? I find that when I am teaching a class if I have prepared for it with a self compassion moment the people in the room seem softer and more open. If I am compassionate with myself as I grocery shop sometimes a person will make bright and loving eye contact or the checker may sense the compassion waving off you and stop for a deep breath.

     So no matter your path, your religion or your spiritual practices are you will find that the twin pillars of Presence and Compassion are the legs that walk you down that path. I love this because these two holy states are available to us always and everywhere. Maybe three minutes is too much for you today, how about three breaths? Maybe self compassion is overwhelming and too uncomfortable to consider right now. How about cultivating compassion for your ceaselessly beating heart or your hardworking feet? There is a seed of Presence and Compassion available for you to grow in every moment. And when your present moment life begins to unfold before you, you discover the truth of Acts 17:28 "for in Him we live and move and have our being" . You are never alone but rather surrounded by Loving Presence. When your compassion begins to mature it makes your easy moments sweeter and your challenging moments softer.

When you learn self compassion you are Love; When you cultivate Presence you are living in Love.
Let's begin here.
Let's begin now.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Thy Kingdom Come

     When I take to my mat with my highest intention it is always to connect to God. Sometimes, of course, I do yoga for other reasons, but the deepest desire of my life and practice is to be more intimate with God and to allow the man made separations between us to dissolve like the illusions that they are. So it was,  that I found myself practicing my asanas (postures) to the mantra (chant) of the Lord's prayer. This is the prayer in which Jesus models how to pray. Of course we aren't to just blindly parrot His words but to use the Lords Prayer as a template to go deeper. It begins cordially enough acknowledging God "Our Father Who art in heaven" acknowledging that even His name is holy "hallowed be Thy Name". But then the first direction it gives us to pray is "Thy kingdom come". If this is something that is important for us to pray I want to know why.  What is God's kingdom? How do we make it come? I have lots of questions that wikipedia doesn't necessarily cover! Here's the answer I am exploring at the moment. Romans 14:17 "For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating or drinking but a matter of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit". So, most of us get that our food choices are linked to health and ethics but not really a huge factor in our God relationship. If we are eating spiritually the only command we are given is to not be a glutton and to not let our food choices stumble others. So, being a proactive person, I'll move on to the "doing part"... I want to be righteous and peaceful and joyful if this is how God is calling us to bring His kingdom. But how?

     Righteousness is simple. Not easy, but simple. Righteousness comes from hearing the Word. What this means is to simply know the rules and laws of your chosen faith structure and follow them. If you wanna be a righteous citizen follow the laws of the land you live in and if you want to be righteous in God's eyes, follow His commandments. So to this end I am recommitting to daily time in the Bible. I have not allowed my daily quiet time to lapse, but sometimes I just read an inspirational book or meditate and it is not sufficient to be righteous. If you want to be a righteous Muslim, read your Koran, if I want to be a righteous version of myself I gotta get into the scriptures I was born into: the Judeo Christian Bible. Don't just expect God's laws to soak into your psyche, study!

     Peace, again simple in concept, peace may take a lifetime to become a constant reality in our lives. To the best of my current understanding, peace is uncovered in us when we are satisfied that what is happening in the present moment is God's will for us. And if we subscribe to God's omnipotence (which I do) then every moment and every space is occupied and under the command of God. So we may not like what is happening in a moment but that does not mean we cannot accept it as His will. Accepting Gods will is not resigning to pain and miserable moments, but rather knowing God is with us in all of our moments the ones we label good and the ones that hurt our heart. When pain comes, we can struggle and moan and potentially exacerbate our pain, or we can accept it is under Gods control and turn to prayer for direction and comfort.

     Joy is the quality I am most actively exploring right now. Joy in the Holy Spirit seems to emanate from a renewed mind. A mind that is placed on God and His word. A mind not allowed to run amuck, but rather a mind that is examined, cleansed and mostly controlled. I have been watchful of my thoughts and beginning to recognize unhealthy ones as they begin. We all have joyless thoughts, they just happen but what are you going to do with them? The first thing God tells us to do with our thoughts is to examine if they are true. Are you really a hopeless loser or is this thought a lie? Are your thoughts lovely? If your thought is not true it must be replaced immediately with a true thought. for example  "I am a loser" can be replaced with " I am a cherished child of God".God calls us to true, lovely, noble, pure,  good and kind thoughts. A tall order, I know, but an achievable one with time, diligence and persistence. And it is when we line our thoughts up with God that we are joyful in the Holy Spirit. Joy is not found outside of you, but uncovered as you slowly allow your mind to be transformed. So, there it is: righteousness, peace and joy! And just like we are to take to our mat daily if we want to rock those yoga postures we need to work our righteousness, peace and joy daily if we want to be a part of "Thy kingdom come". It is my joy to walk with you fellow child of God as we go deeper this year. Happy 2013!

Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” Mark 10:15