Saturday, December 19, 2015

My Christmas Letter

                                                                                                                                        Christmas 2015

Dearest Loved Ones,

     I hope this season is bright for you and filled with light and if it’s not then I hope it’s filed with self compassion in the darkness. Whether through joy or challenge I hope you are becoming your very best self and growing in love. Like all of you, Tim and I have had high moments and moments when we really needed to exhale, but overall it has been a fruitful year. We have no kids to brag on, our pets escapades have been pretty tame (except for getting some crazy chickens!)  and there are no major accomplishments to shout from the rooftops except taking a teenager to Italy for two weeks and not losing her! I know you parents aren’t too impressed with that accomplishment though! So, instead I’m going to use this letter to unpack my mission statement.  I recently wrote a condensed mission statement with just three words: abundance, health and love and it contains the gifts I wish for you.


    My idea of abundance really has nothing much to do with financial or material gain.  Abundance is rich and complex when broken down. One component is to drop a competitive mindset around resources.  I learned to drop the mindset examining my envy at all the yoga party posts with big crowds on FaceBook as I worked away in obscurity growing my little studio. When we envy, we are subtly telling ourselves there’s not enough to go around, that we are missing something, and that we are in lack instead of abundance. When we disallow a competitive mindset our joy increases when others prosper. When we drop this mindset perhaps even we drop the “us and them” mindset that causes so much global strife. Abundance knows that in the moment we have all we need.  My abundance is sitting in the yard watching the sweet dog who is watching the grouchy cat who is watching the crazy chickens run /flap into the bush full of yellow flowers.  Abundance comes from being present and knowing all is well.


   We all mostly do the best we can for our health, but of course wellness and illness visits every living soul. So when I think of orienting my choices toward health, I think of orienting towards choosing to be happy.  Choosing happiness bolsters us in all circumstances. As a species we have barely scratched the surface of the body mind connection; it is sacred and it is powerful and choosing to be happy in whatever the present moment offers eventfully leads to a deeper inner pool of inherent joy and leads to a healthier body! Happiness is the beautiful face of courage. Here’s to your healthy New Year!


  Just one little word powerful enough to ignite wars.  How many would die for love? We can all define elements of love and if you can’t then revisit I Corinthians 13 (love is patient, love is kind…) or ponder this  “The best and surest way you may know God is when selfless love fills your heart and there is a strong compelling urge to help someone, to heal their ills, to relieve their suffering, to bring them happiness …” Joseph Benner.

     I think love boils down to helping others and setting yourself aside. But we don’t “set ourselves aside” or stop always prioritizing our own opinions just for kicks. We do it to notice other people and their needs, we do it for connection. Maybe a smile is all it takes to plant a seed of love. Because when you plant a seed of love you are enriched yourself.

     This year I am having a hard time sticking to my rule of a one page letter. My thoughts are abundant, my heart is happy and when I think of you all I am filled with love. So if you have made it to page two I would like to congratulate you that your technology has not completely annihilated your attention span!

     I hope that in 2016 you take time to slow down and feel your abundance, that whatever it is that will make you healthier is a major component in your life and that you love yourself and humanity just a little more every day . Tim and I are so grateful for you all.

With much love and wishes for your bright holiday,

 Tim and Signe

All Good Things

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him
Romans 8:28

  One of my favorite teachers, Ram Dass says "its all fodder for growth" meaning that every thing that happens to us can be used for character development and whether someone hugs you or smacks you is really irrelevant. What matters is witnessing our lives in a compassionate manner to keep digging deeper into ourselves, calming the ego and awakening the inner wisdom inherent in humans.
In theory it is a lovely idea to have developed such equanimity that we meet every challenge with grace and gratitude. In reality it's a messy practice. So let me share the mess that three teachers recently brought to my door.

 The first literally came to the door, as a few weeks ago some thieves kicked in our front door and wiped the house clean of electronics and peace of mind The second teacher came only two days later as my husband was in a fender bender which would normally be no big deal, but the responding officer didn't believe his version of the events and called him a liar Then it became a big deal. The third teacher again literally knocked at my door. Over the front door of my studio it says yoga and massage. Well, I started getting knocks from people who didn't have appointments but insisted that they did. These were the kind of people who were a little rough and a little scary to me. It turns out that the building had leased a space to some prostitutes who were using massage as a cover and their excited johns just saw the massage word over my door. I am fiercely protective of my business and this triggered me in a thousand ways. For a moment I forgot Gods promise that He does work all things for our good. For a few days I responded to these three teacher by drinking too much and sleeping a lot. But the beauty of a spiritual practice is that it is cumulative and all the decades of prayer. meditation and self examination quickly became a life raft for me. So let me share the three gifts my teachers left.

Immediately after the break in standing in my home, shaky and unsure I got direction to practice some yoga. So I stood in tadasana, (those of you who don't practice yoga may call this pose standing there). Tadasana is a super powerful pose and as I rooted into my feet sending my energy all through my home I could feel my heart lift and my shoulders drop. In me is the power of abundance. I know I have enough "stuff" I know I have strong energy. I know my spirit is bright. But it took some burglars making space in my home for the knowledge of abundance to really take root. When abundance comes to live in your heart, competiveness has no space. Gandhi says there is enough in this world for all our need but not our greed. And this is true. When you notice the present moment you will see you are abundant, too.

The second gift was really letting go a lot of what people think of me. Others opinion can somewhat inform our choices but when they guide them we are not free.  the part of the accident that was so hard was watching my honest and big hearted husband struggle with being called a liar by a policeman. Tim did 20 years in the Air Force and this gave him a respect for "higher ups" that perhaps did not serve him in this situation. He has moved passed it and is actually looking forward to his day in court. But what has really stuck with me is the letting go of what others think and as I continue to work with this I feel my shoulders softening and my heart opening. It is a lovely thing.

The third gift was definitely the hardest to unwrap. I have massaged for twenty two years and in the beginning there was still a little bit of an association with sexuality. I have fought hard to make this very necessary service respectable. Human babies will die without touch. We all need safe touch and the johns knocking at my door knocked the wind out of me for a bit. But, here's the thing in every person there is dark and there is light. Society may try to reduce women to the Madonna/whore complex. But we are not one or the other we are all both. In those ladies was light and in me is
dark. Through this struggle I realized that until I truly embrace my darker parts my spiritual journey would be slowed. I prayed a lot for those ladies and less than a month into their lease the property manager got wise and evicted them. But they left me with a real softness for the parts of me that react from fear and anger.

About a month before my three teachers came I had formulated a mini mission statement for my life   just three words. Abundance, Health, and Love. The thieves brought me abundance, Tims struggle brought me greater mental health and those ladies of the night left me a shiny box of self love. So, whomever is knocking at your door, won't you let them in? They are your teachers.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Ins and Outs of Waking Up

"You should not be surprised at my saying you must be born again" John 3:7

     This phrase has a lot of emotional trigger for me. Early in my spiritual exploration there were a lot of people who would ask this question "Are you born again?"like your answer granted you access to an exclusive club. This deep mystical question became a judgment used to divide us from "them" And sadly (but honestly) I now kind of associate this with a fundamentalism that doesn't smell of spiritual maturity. I am not sure if this is judgment or discernment, but just because I have wrestled with this phrase and come out bruised doesn't make it go away. So, "living in the flesh" is not born again and "living in the spirit" is born again? What does this even mean? Is it the Christian equivalent to the Buddhist idea of Enlightenment? Just because a group I don't identify with has appropriated this "born again" phrase for themselves doesn't mean that being "born again" isn't something spiritual seekers should explore. But where to start? So, I am no theologian but I really don't believe being born again has anything to do with saying any magic words about accepting Jesus. Yikes! I know that's a big statement. So, what might it mean? Is it tied in with the term "spiritual awakening"? Enough with all the questions: here's what I think I know about this scriptural command to be born again.  And even though "think I know" is a dangerous phrase I will proceed!

     There is a point in our lives when we don't know that we are also something separate from our thoughts and emotions. At this stage we have a thought or emotion and automatically act on it, because we don't know better. This is what Buddhist call being "trapped in a trance of thought". Maybe this is "living in the flesh" This stage will last forever if we don't begin to question the dictatorship of our minds. This questioning is often prompted by the suffering our thoughts casue. So,  we begin to watch our thoughts and every once in awhile not act on one. And every time that happens our flesh or small self is disempowered. Then with a simple accumulation of practice hours our mind begins to still enough to make space for another voice. Once the thoughts stop being so loud a small soft voice emerges. Some might call this Holy Spirit, Higher Self, Intuition ... doesn't matter what you call it, this voice is not your mind. It is a seemingly new part of you emerging, something being born. But ironically this voice that seems newly born is something ancient that has always been there. Our personal Wisdom voice begins to override our automatic thoughts and we are born again as someone sitting in their power because they're sitting in something bigger. Instead of being tossed to and fro by the waves of our mind we are sitting on the throne of our wisdom. More watchful and less busy this new self of ours is as sweet and precious as a new born baby and as old and wise as the ages .

     I think there are two factors that allow us to be born to a new way of living: faith and practice. To have faith that it is possible to escape the clutches of thinking is the facet of our faith diamond that prods practice. The possibilities for practice are vast: yoga, meditation, contemplative prayer, creative expression all of these activities and more can be used in a manner to still our minds. We can simply watch our breath but doing just that still gives the mind a lot of wiggle room so I like to use mantra or what I call breath words. Breathing in and thinking the word "in" breathing out and thinking the word "out: is a practice tool that can be taken anywhere and is super effective. Thich Nhat Hahn says "If you want to become enlightened you know two things: "When you are breathing in you know you are breathing in and when you are breathing out you know you are breathing out".

     All these big terms I am trying to untangle "born again, enlightened, awakened". these were not my motivation to practice, but rather the pain of being trapped by my thoughts instigated a spiritual journey decades ago. It is universal that some portion of our thoughts are self bullying and when we identify with our thoughts they become emotions that frankly beat the crud out of our tender hearts. But when we begin to let this unchecked mind be transformed a tender new part emerges and we find space to breath. Thoughts don't cease, emotions don't go away but a part of us has been seemingly born that allows us to witness thoughts and emotions knowing there are only the waves but we are the ocean. You are so much bigger than you mind lets on. So keep the faith and keep practicing because you are wise and wonderful.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

A Rich Life

     There was nothing exceptional about the bike ride I took that sunny afternoon in 1994, but it is a moment planted in my heart forever. The absolute burst of overwhelming joy that compelled me to throw my hands in the air was inexplicable for such a cautious rider!  It was the most ordinary day, but this mysteriously sublime moment is forever burned into my consciousness. There was no external stimulus to explain the depth of my joy. And, for a long time this moment puzzled me. Given two decades to mull this over, I finally recognize that what made that moment so special is that it was the first time in my adult life when I was fully present. Instead of thinking of the past I was feeling the sun on my face, instead of pondering the future I drank in the embrace of the breeze on my skin. I was merely paying attention, but for someone who had been trapped in her mind and led around by her thoughts for as long, this moment was so huge there was no logical response except to throw my hands up in joy. We were young, poor newly weds but in that moment of presence I was rich, lacking for nothing, wanting for nothing, just giddy with the luxury of being alive. We have all been around sad people with plenty of money and happy people who are just scraping by. Deep down we know money doesn't buy happiness. Yes, a purchase can trigger a rush of hormones comparable to getting high. But, just like getting high the rush is short lived and to experience it again you have to buy something bigger, spend more money. Then we just end up with a pile of discarded dreams and unfulfilled desires. We feel poor not because we lack material goods but because we are so busy chasing the dream of joy we have discarded the richness of the moment.

       Stop now and take a quick tour through your senses. Do you feel the richness of this present moment through the lens of your senses?  If you want to be rich, look for beauty, listen for truth, feel this moment, it's good to be alive, hey? Each moment we are alive is a treasure that more often than not we just throw away because we are paying our attention elsewhere. This morning the question was  asked "when you walk into your garden do you look for flowers or weeds?". A fine question, but I think it can be refined: when you walk into your garden do you look at all?  It is in the looking that we grow rich and in mindlessness we grow poor. No matter the size of your bank account, your most valuable asset is the ability to direct your attention. The things that you pay attention to begin to grow and thrive. But there is a subtleness here many of us miss. We think that when we are lost in thought we are not paying attention, but in reality you are still paying attention but the object of your attention is the stream of thoughts careening around in your mind. We are always meditating on something. When you let your mind have all your attention. you are spending your attention on the spiritual equivalent of junk food. The problem with allocating all of our attention to our thoughts is that thoughts carry chemical imprints that manifest emotions and before we know it we are being ruled by our very unpredictable minds. We end up feeling very poor after being tossed to and fro by our thoughts all day. We end up feeling so poor indeed that we become imprisoned by our minds. As long as you are awake you are spending your attention somewhere, so let's train it towards nourishing and freeing ourselves.

     Stop now and take a deep breath. Do you feel how when you take your inhale you actually have everything you need in this moment to be fully alive? Your life doesn't begin when you acquire a certain something, in waiting to live fully, you are cultivating  poverty. Rather you become rich when you stop and appreciate what you have. Eyes to see, ears to hear, lungs to breath and hearts to love. There is an unmined richness inside you, a depth of well being that exists right now. Not when you lose 10 pounds or handstand off the wall but right now. Are you throwing your moments away or are you spending them in a manner that enriches you? If you don't know the answer to that then begin paying attention to what's happening around you.  If you can't stop your mind from taking over and stealing your attention, give it a job labeling what you are doing.  Such as: Right now I am typing, right now I feel my behind on the chair, right now I hear my dog softly breathing. Right now I am rich because I have paid attention and spent my time being aware. Make your mind your secretary.

     The real currency of your life is time and attention and as long as you are confused that it is anything else you will remain poor. We are like princes walking around in paupers rags not recognizing that we are already rich. When you compare yourself to others you impoverish yourself. When you allow desire for an object to consume you, you are already poor. but when you realize that you are unique and wonderful and alive then you are rich. When you realize that the breath in your lungs is a gift and the sun on your face is a privilege then you have acquired a richness that cannot be taken from you. It is a privilege to be alive, to be given all of these valuable moments to spend. The richness you are looking for is here now you just have to pay attention.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

A Rant on Enlightenment

"Is that all there is, is that all there is
If that's all there is my friends, then let's keep dancing
Let's break out the booze and have a ball
If that's all there is"
Peggy Lee

      We are all hopefully far enough along our spiritual paths that we recognize we are simultaneously dark and light, love and fear and it is our job to simply hold all of the shards of our psyche in the light of compassion. If a darker part of our nature causes us to despair and we try to push it away it simply grows. And so we sit with ourselves in the light of the present moment. This realization for me was kinda a bummer. For decades I have been reaching for a place, an illusion I labeled enlightenment. A mystical place where unicorns pull Gods chariot. When I got there everything was going to be super shiny and I would have a direct line to the Divine Mystery and little sparkles would shoot out of my fingertips. I yearned for this lofty place to finally emerge on the horizon. And perhaps it does exist, maybe there is some heaven on earth and then again maybe its just opening our eyes to the here and now. And that, my friend, is much less sexy than the journey to the mythical village of Enlightenment.

     Is this all really just about paying attention to this moment, feeling my fingers keyboard and my body breathe and then feeling my feet walk away from the computer? Is the entire point to feel pleasure and just notice and feel pain and just notice? What about the sparkles? What about the unicorns? Coming to the realization that all there is for us to work with is quality attention to the moment was kind of a blow to my goal oriented self. As much as I love the idea of sitting by a stream with Walt Whitman examining the changing leaves in reality I am a lover of speed, of cities, of the hustle and bustle of going somewhere and sitting in present moment sounds so mundane.
But, it is because I have harbored the desire to know Divinity and the belief that heaven on earth can exist that I very grudgingly began to sit with present moments. First it was washing dishes. mmmm warm water on my hands could feel pretty good and a little gratitude for a good meal did give me a small tingle. then I began being present washing my face and moisturizing became an exercise in self compassion as I gazed at my sweet aging face. My face and body are always doing their best even when I am abusive to them. Simply being present turned out to be the path for me to body love. Then it turned into the path of actually caring for people I wasn't naturally close to challenging clients, strangers, other drivers... Being present in the moment is melting my walls I have hidden behind in order to avoid the other. And people became a lot more interesting.

     And a funny thing happened after I passed the speed bump of disillusionment with present moment and became present (at least some of the time). Thing did begin to sparkle sometimes. The yellow flowers blooming in our yard became as rich as the sun. my husbands eyes sparkled with the appreciation of being seen. I noticed a lot more laughter around me. Was it always there? I'm not sure, I wasn't present for much of it as I was busy yearning for a better place than here. But I'm here now and while I know I will go on auto pilot many more times in this precious life I have tasted the present moment enough now to know that it is where the sparkles reside.

     So, if like me, the idea of simply being present makes you want to shoot yourself from the tedium take heart. Whether you are sitting quietly by that bubbling brook, driving way too fast on the highway, washing dishes or leaving on a jet plane to Istanbul every moment of your life has the potential to sparkle, to take your breath away as presence births gratitude. So, no in the beginning practicing present moment awareness is so not a sexy idea. But the more you notice your here and now the shinier life gets. Being present when you're troubled and in pain allows the moment to be a little softer. Being present when things are going swimmingly allows the moment to be a little richer. And, who knows we all may be surprised to find ourselves a little bit lighter. And these days my favorite definition of Enlightenment is "to lighten up". And by that definition I am here for a moment as my hands relax. Listening and feeling the discomfort I felt this morning working with a softwear update and being present with my bodies tension allowed me to lighten up. And feeling the joy I felt this morning watching our new chickens explore the freshly mowed backyard things got a little sparkly just for the moment. And then the moment was gone and a new one came,

Thursday, September 17, 2015

And This Too

And we know that in ALL things God works for the good of those who love Him
Romans 8:28

     Each one of us is a unique and beautiful mix of humanity, complete with bright and shining moments of love and light and also suffering and darkness. And while it is a very human impulse to look towards the light and turn our backs on our darkness we cannot selectively numb emotions and ignoring our suffering can dull our capability for pleasure. And so in order to grow we find we must become witnesses to all our lives hold. We must notice and savor the moments of joy that sparkle like a diamond in the sun but we must not try to hold onto them or they transform into suffering. When suffering arises as it will in every life we must hold that suffering lightly and lovingly. It is such a fine balance to grow from suffering. Some people hold their suffering so close to their hearts they become professional martyrs and victims. Some people think the can push their suffering away, but it doesn't go "away" it merely goes down deeper into us to fester and grow and volcanically erupts at a later date in perhaps anger or addiction. And so we tell our suffering "I am here for you" and we hold our suffering lightly watching it curiously. Perhaps we find the physical manifestation of suffering as in anger manifesting as a tight jaw and we let our affectionate awareness rest on the body. And much like sunlight shining on a block of ice our loving awareness begins to transform our suffering. So, this is all good and lovely but how do we get there? We are so conditioned to believe our thoughts and react to them that cultivating this kind of awareness may seem like a unreachable dream.

     Well, dreams do come true sometimes. And the dream of waking up to live our lives fully is at your fingertips. The key to living your life more fully seems a little ironic. We must cultivate our Inner Witness. This may seem like witnessing your life would distance you from it but it is just the opposite. When we have a thought like "I am angry" and we believe that thought to be the only truth then we hold that thought in our minds until our bodies become angry and our actions reflect anger. But when we cultivate our Inner Witness we may have the thought "I am angry" and just notice it. Hmmm, I just thought I was angry. Then we can search our bodies for any angry tension and rest our loving awareness in that tension until the "charge" of the thought is gone. We have then created an internal atmosphere in which we can examine what triggered our angry thought and turn potential suffering into growth.

     Cultivating this Inner Witness begins when we notice what is happening in this exact moment and just allowing it. We suffer and we think "and this too is a part of life" we laugh with a loved one and we notice it and think "and this too" and our joy expannds. And every wave that crosses the ocean of us is met with "and this too". Every single thing that happens to us becomes fodder for growth. I have been practicing this "and this too" mantra for awhile and recently is became so helpful in two situations. The first was when I found myself hungover and full of self loathing in front of a class on a Sunday morning. My hubby and I had celebrated our 22nd anniversary the night before and perhaps we were both a little too happy to be free of driving responsibilities. But, anyways, I found myself in front of the class knowing I could not hide or fake my energy but still holding the desire to serve the students. So I held my feelings in the awareness of "And this too". And I remembered that this miserable moment was not the entirety of my life. Then a few days later another yoga teacher whom I really respect asked me to lunch to share some very complimentary things about me she wanted to say. Normally I shy away from such effusive praise, but listening to her this day "And this too" whispered in my mind. And I allowed myself a moment of joy and satisfaction at having been a positive part of this persons journey. And this too. Even when something terrible is happening we use "and this too". We can have a situation we are trying hard to change and at the same time allowing that it is our current reality/ The mantra "and this too" simply allows us a clear eyed assessment of out current moment. And when enough of these clear eyes moments accumulate we have the potential to become loving Witnesses to this precious life we've been given. You, yes, you are awesome, allow that (and this too) and yes at times you can be a jerk, allow that (and this too). Embrace all of yourself, especially the parts you want to sweep under the rug because those parts when allowed to exist (and this too) may become your biggest teachers. Take a deep breath and let it out slowly and think "and this too" and you are on your way ...

Saturday, August 15, 2015

A Backwards Journey

My strength is made perfect in weakness
2 Corinthians 12:9

      Back breathing has been on my radar these days. A few weeks ago I got a great belly laugh watching a comedian talking about yoga and back breathing.  When a yoga teacher asked him to back breath he surmised that his entire life was "F'ed up because he had been breathing in his face" The set was hilarious but underneath it there really was a sense of him thinking "what the hell is this teacher talking about?" Confusion around back breath is a conversation that just keeps popping up. I was recently privileged to share some yoga at my husbands workplace. Secretly ecstatic really to yogify him any way I can, right?! But this class led to a long conversation on our evening walk in which I really tried to break down back breath into logical easy steps. I really wanted this concept to make sense to my better half. And I think I came up with concepts that shed some light on it for him. But my inquiry didn't end there. And, of course, as I continue to explore back breath I know I may serve someone like my hubby along this journey but the lessons here are for me. My path to the back has been littered with the ruts of my stubbornness and the boulders of resistance but I'm finally here and as I inhabit my back I know this is just another journey of surrender.

     It might be helpful to try to dig a little deeper into that evening walk discussion. To even allow for back breath it helps to realize that a great deal (something like 70%) of our lung capacity is in our back. Then we must be engaged in a lifestyle that allows for a supple back and just as we know we can consciously flex or stretch our biceps  we must know that we can consciously move our back muscles. It occurred to me that for millions of people with chronic back pain and frozen posterior muscles back breath may not be available to them without ALOT of work. But, lets assume your back is supple and you can expand the muscles. Then back breathing is about awareness, intention and energy.  This powerful trio, of course, all turned towards our backs. But even with all of these building blocks in place there is another big reason back breathing may not be within reach.

     Back breathing is a practice of somatic surrender. It is entirely too easy to manipulate and control the breath in the front of our bodies. Everyday I see belly muscles distend and clench with the excessive enthusiasm of a forceful breathing yogi. We can valve our throats and shoot streams of carbon dioxide out of alternating nostrils. We huff and puff in the front of our body as our conditioned mind holds tight to control. No wonder ancient yoga sutras warn us that breathwork can lead to insanity. But, I digress, lets get back to the back. Have you ever tried to breath forcefully into your back? I'm giving it another shot as I sit here typing and it almost makes me laugh at the futility of forcing our backs to breath. This is because the back only expands by softening, spreading, releasing, relaxing. In short:surrendering.  Usually I teach the "letting go" practice by having students relax hands and jaws because these are more accessible. Letting go of the back is some deep level letting go. Especially standing when the long cable like erector muscles that run up either side of the spine must keep us erect! In standing postures the practice of letting go in the back is really of practice of finding middle ground. On the floor the practice of letting go of the back is more accessible as we think of our back muscles spreading like an expanding puddle. A letting go practice is challenging enough, but then layer on the fact that our back muscles hold a lot of the tensions that we "don't want to look at". This letting go requires patience, compassion and skill.

     I thought I would be able to wrap this blog up with a tidy bow for you, but my inquiry is on going,  My surrender, repetitive and imperfect. The layers of this practice tantalizingly deep. But this I do know: being truly at home in our bodies includes occupying every single inch with compassionate awareness. We must place our loving attention on our faithful bodies from the surface to the depths and all over from the crown of our heads to the soles of our feet, frontbody and back. Leave no part of yourself behind as you make your way home. We can be there for one another when we have our own backs. So stand tall yogis, breath deep and peace to you on the path...

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

My Body My Friend

You are made of stardust and magic. What's not to love?
     I used to think my best friend was actually my worst enemy. I did a lot of really bad things to shut her up and everytime she healed herself and forgave me. I used to be ashamed of my friend, trying to hide her and then convinced she just needed to shape up I would push her until she dropped and she always cooperated. And everytime she forgave me. Before you start thinking I am a horrible mean girl I should confess my best friend is my body. But, boy, has this been a long journey and it has not been mine alone. For as long as recorded history and probably before, there is evidence of humans struggling with exactly how to occupy our bodies. "We are not human beings having a spiritual experience but spiritual beings having a human experience". This old saying is meant to focus people on our spiritual experience, but it makes me wonder about our "human" experience. We occupy these bodies for a reason and we are menat to occupy them in a certain manner.

     But before I get into that lets look at what hasn't worked. Corporeal mortification or flagellation was a common event in spiritual circles back in the day. It is said that at the end of his life St. Francis of Assisi asked his body for forgiveness for all the wounds it bore for him and from him. Beating ourselves either with a whip or with a treadmill has never worked to make us comfortable in our own skin. Then of course, to this day, many religious communities deal with the body by simply covering it up, especially womens bodies. Out of sight out of mind. We let our minds conduct our lives while we beat and hide our bodies. It has been said that the West is a disembodied culture. And I wonder as uncovered as we are, are we any better off? Just because we're not beating our bodies with lashes from a whip anymore doesn't mean we're not beating them. This blog post was prompted by a song lyric I heard on the radio today (forgive me I won't get it exactly right) but it went something like this
"you've got a great body baby so put on top of me because bodies we're made for fun and we're gonna use your body all up until we're done". UGH! So, of course we're meant to experience pleasure in our bodies. We are sensual creatures and, of course, we're meant to have fun. But our bodies are not toys meant to be used up. Can you imagine thinking that another person in your life was solely there for you to have fun with until they were used up? It made me sad\mad in the same moment because I know that song lyric is just representative of our ongoing body bullying. Our bodies are smart. They have their own intelligence that we have shut down from over thinking, neglect and modern day corporeal mortification (ultramarathons, cross fit, starvation diets).

     The good news is there is a way out. Even though huge billboards tell us our thighs should be airbrushed and ads all day long tell us that physically we're not good enough so frequently that we have come to view our bodies as a project or a machine, there is a way back home to your body. Even though many of us are literally numb in much of our bodies, there is a way home. Coming home to your body, making friends with your body makes you wiser and stronger and kinder. allowing your bodies voice to be heard again helps you navigate decisions and balance your life. When someone threatens you your body tenses up, when someone comforts you your body softens. This is our most basic body talk. But this is just the tip of the iceberg.. Our bodies just may be the wisest part of us. So, let's thaw them out. Let's come home to our bodies.

     The coming home journey is simple but maybe not easy and certainly not quick. You just have to pay a lot of attention to the sensations of your body both externally and internally. Can you remember the last time you were super happy? Now can take a moment to feel how that feels in your body? Every emotion we have has a physical bodyprint, it's all there. So, we pay attention, but the attention we pay is a specific kind. This attention must be curious (we can't assume to know what's going on with our bodies( and the attention must be kind. When you make space to just sit with your body a few minutes everyday it will allow your bodies voice to begin to bubble up again. Our bodies can give us direction, warn us of danger, protect us when danger comes, our bodies offer us pleasure and warn us with pain when we go to far. and the thing of it is when you spend enough time with your body it becomes your friend and ally. Are you comfortable in your skin? if the answer is no what do you have to lose? Sit, pay attention and make a new friend. Because your body is a wonderland, just not the way they mean it on the radio!

Saturday, July 4, 2015

The Dark and the Light

"Smoking will not interfere with your yoga, yoga will interfere with your smoking"

     I heard a preacher say once that he had discovered the dividing line between "good" people and "bad" people and I waited with perked ears to hear where this line was. "it runs right down the middle of every human" he concluded and I knew I had just heard truth. I am a great person really doing the best I can and I am also at times a quite selfish and horrible person. I am not alone in this duality I know. For so many years teaching yoga I bound myself with a bunch of  "if onlys". If only I lost some weight I would be better at asana, if only I didn't pollute my body I might reach enlightenment, if only I knew a little more I would be a better teacher. All of these "if onlys" were centered around what I deemed to be the "dark" parts of me. I was convinced all of these "if onlys" were interfering with my yoga. I thought these "if onlys" we're the cause of my suffering.

     Thankfully Krishnamurti was exactly right when he said yoga interferes with our habits. Yoga is such a democratic process, everyone who practices progresses and mindfulness is cumulative. You don't have to be awesome and free of "if onlys" you just have to practice and I have, And its begun to interfere with my habits.  During a recent time out of the country in a fresh environment which always gives us a fresh perspective I sat down to meditate. There was nothing particularly "enlightened" about my attitude that day. I just sat because that's what I do. So for the majority of my "sit" I just alternated between mindful breathing and a wandering mind, like every session. But right before my timer was about to chime I "heard" a clear inner voice say "Your life is perfect". My immediate reaction was a laundry list of all my imperfections, all my short comings. This voice was clearly wrong. But then I saw that this entire list was just "if onlys" and God gave me a vision of all of these "if onlys" being a basket full of snakes that I used to strangle my spirit. I don't know how many years I have told students " You are flawed and you are perfect and there is no contradiction in this statement". I must have said this thousands of times, but in that moment in my meditation it became a living truth for me. No, my "if onlys did not interfere with my yoga but my yoga has sure interfered with my "if onlys".

     That moment God planted two things in me. First, is the realization that indeed my life is perfect. Every scrap of darkness in my life is designed for my good, for my growth and all of my bad habits are part of the perfection. And with that realization came an overwhelming flood of self kindness. Both of these gifts are just a result of practice. Scripture says when we reach for God, He reaches back: deep calling to deep.  Practicing mindful compassion on the yoga mat and off will interfere with your life in a big way. Do you have it backwards like I did for so many years thinking your bad habits will interfere with your yoga? If so be patient with yourself but keep practicing. Whether your practice is asana, or meditation or walking or praying or serving others let your life become your practice. Just be present and when you aren't present and you come out of your trance of thought then just be kind. Even if you are hung over at this moment or just spent an hour gossiping or filled with self loathing you are perfect NOW. You do not need to wait for all of your "if onlys" to come to pass you merely need to practice living intentionally. Keep reaching for God.

     Yes, let your light shine, the world needs shiny people. But do not try to push away your darkness, it creates the boundaries for light to exist. We cannot have one without the other. Your darkness is your teacher, your darkness can be beautiful when you shine compassion on it. So, once more please remember that you are flawed and you are perfect and there is no contradiction in this statement. Practice living that until your self kindness blooms. And with practice it will.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Things Get Messy

     I know from the  stats that at least a few people besides me read this blog and I wish I could honestly say that I write this for you. But today especially, I don't. Like the pencil markings on a door jamb recording the progress of a child's growth this blog helps me to see that indeed I am growing. However unlike a child's neatly linear ascending growth, spiritual and emotional growth is not quite so linear. A few marks up the door jamb and all of the sudden a descending into doubt and falling on the floor,  then an inching up the door jamb and before you know it your completely off track in another room entirely. So, you slowly make it back to your path and begin to ascend the door jamb over and over and you fall over and over and such is the path of a spiritual seeker. And I tend to write this blog after a period of ascension to mark a joyous occasion of growth or illumination. But today I am back on the floor so to speak. And I want to use this descending to grow and so I write. So, fair warning, this is a pretty self indulgent post and you may want to stop reading now and go watch Netflix!

     It has been twenty two years since I began working with peoples bodies and a few years since I started working with their minds, but it seems like something has shifted in the last few months and all of the sudden a lot of my clients are working with me on a different deeper level. I suppose the neat label is the level of the spirit. I have recently had several students tell me quite seriously that they trust me as their teacher and apparently I take that responsibility seriously, maybe too much so. It is all well and good to be the teacher as long as we are working with mechanics, alignment, fleshy things. I even feel a certain small level of competence guiding them toward healthier neural pathways and cleaning up our minds a bit. But when people get vulnerable with me to the level of revealing their spirit, well I just feel like I am holding a rare and fragile butterfly in my sights and
a new level of care and awareness is required. Now, of course, I know this is all so much bigger than me and I cannot alter someone's spiritual path, dharma or karma. Their journey is between them and God. But I do want to be so very careful to not plant seeds that will grow into weeds that they later need to dig up. I have felt Gods grace so strongly on this journey I suppose two decades in, it finally hit me: teachers can do harm. (slow learner)

     Yesterday, circling back to the physical level, I brushed my hand along a students hip in triangle pose and they fell over and for a moment time stopped. She was alright, the class was alright and I am alright. But last night I dreamt that I tried to catch a student as she jumped off a high shelf and I didn't and she smashed into the ground and I sat with her as she bled. For hours. I tried to help and I couldn't. So, here I am not with a shiny victory blog after inching up the door jamb, but a story from the ground floor down where all the dirt is. Questions swirl around in my mind, can I keep my students safe or at the very least do no harm? On a physical level I think the answer is yes but we are going so much deeper than that these days.

     The beautiful thing is that as I write this I am reminded that my only "job" is to be present and compassionate and this begins with myself. This includes the times when someone I am assisting on their journey has an "a ha" moment and it includes the times when I upset a students balance and they tumble over. The thing is, the touch was so light, so very light that caused this lady to tumble and it made me realize how fragile we all are on so many levels. But that does not change my immediate conclusion that this was just a hard lesson in being present and compassionate with myself. I am not sure if I am going to hit "publish" or "delete" for this messy blog, but I do know that writing it has softened the distress I feel this morning. So, if you haven't left for Netflix thanks for "listening". And remember whatever shiny facades we share in blogs, in social media and in person, they are just that facades.  Beneath everyone's skin there are layers of dark and light, love and fear, saints and sinners all wrapped up into one glorious human equation. And it is our job to be with it all holding ourselves and others in the light of love. Peace to you today readers, thanks for reading.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

An Adventure I Had

"God defined is God confined"
Ram Kir

     I spend way too much time thinking about the Divine Mystery. I am not saying that thinking about God is a useless activity but I am saying that our "thinking thing" may not be the best place to find the "rest" of God. Our thought process are so entwined with our egos they are almost impossible to untangle and the ego is simply our organizing tool. It puts aspects of ourselves and our lives into boxes trying to keep us safe and to keep life "manageable. Our ego is the ultimate "label maker"! But this thing we call God is unboxable, undefinable. ineffable and defies all labels. We cannot "know" God, but I do believe we can "feel" God and rest in this Divine Mystery as if we were lounging luxuriously on a sea of warm unconditional love. This is not a thing you can think through, it is just a thing you do or don't. You are called to rest and you answer, and if your answer is spending a lot of time thinking you probably aren't resting and trusting!

     They say that humans don't chase God on their own but that we only respond to God calling us deeper. Like little magnets we don't move until something attracts us, like Divine Love, we find ourselves being drawn in, drawn deeper. Deep calls to deep. So, eventually God called me deeper into this mystery focusing on my heart center instead of my thinking thing. This is a lovely place to rest. Our hearts are the seat of courage and the place in which we find self regard. While our brains suggest a thousand ways which we can improve our hearts softly whisper with every beat "I love you darling" beat beat   beat beat "I love you darling" beat beat   beat beat "I love you darling"... It is tempting to linger here in this new found oasis of love. And as I linger and the love grows I find it spilling over on to others. There would be no shame in stopping here. A lovely place to linger. Stay for awhile and come back to visit as often as you can, but the journey is far from over.

     Deep calls to deep and I will follow. And so I find myself in the murky, depths of my belly. There are lots of foreign words for the wisdom of our bellies. Japanese call it "hara", Italians call it "pancia" they both mean that there is a deep gnostic knowing in our guts, a wisdom beyond what our thinking things can comprehend,  a wisdom even deeper than our hearts know. While resting in the heart is kinda like resting in a spa, the gut feels less indulgent, more demanding of radical truth. The gut is the teacher that says "I know you can do better". When we are not living our lives authentically, not living our truths we literally cannot digest as well. Our guts will call us out. But the thing is this may be tough love, but it is true love indeed. And so I rest my awareness on this deep and mysterious place and slowly it grows slightly less scary. And in the gut I find a fierce feminine energy that can overcome all obstacles and slay all demons.

     At first it is scary until you realize that in your gut is a love so fierce that it will move up and break your heart open. then the light seeping from an open heart rises to expand your mind and gives you the courage to go back down into your gut. Only on this second visit instead of finding a scary fierceness, you find the fierceness of grace. The aspect of the Divine Mystery that will not stop until your entire being is lit up with Gods love. We are meant to shine, but for that to happen we must first venture into the murky darkness within. "The kingdom of God is within" scripture says and I no longer see this as a metaphor but as "real" as this keyboard and the table on which I write. We will never find true rest externally in this busy world but deep inside each one of us there is an oasis of Gods love in which we find rest. So. be still darling you are perfect as you are. It is time to rest. When deep calls to deep answer without hesitation and you will be led to an oasis so rich and sweet you can respond no other way than by resting in it.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Into the Darkness

"Humble yourself before the Lord and He will lift you up"
James 4:10

     I have had a half written blog post sitting here for about a week. It was the result of the feeling of disconnect I get when I see that 77% of Americans call themselves Christians and my judgment that our country is not moving in the direction of  humble servanthood and agape love. I don't believe our words and actions are in sync as a nation. I tried a thousand ways to try to make that blog sound not judgmental, but I couldn't because it was. And, of course, I followed the classically ironic route of judging myself for being judgy. If truly I looked at the world thru eyes of love perhaps I would not get so agitated at the divisions in our country, is what I told myself. Where is the line between judgment and discernment is the question I tried to answer. But I wasn't quite successful because I was too busy being caught in judgment. Remember I wrote years ago in the beginning of this blog that I would have more questions than answers? Over the years the questions have grown and the  answers are few and far between!

     But what I do know is that in my meditation practice I often encounter challenging emotions that at one time I may have called "dark". A little anger arises and then a case of the "I Shoulds" rains down on me and, of course, judgment. But through some miraculous scenario this morning I was able to remain a compassionate and curious witness to these emotions. Comforting emotions are lovely, but it is these darknesses that arise that wear the face of Teacher. And staying with it I found underneath my anger a desire for love and underneath my case of "I should" a deep desire to have a meaningful life. And so it is that I look at the judgment I feel around our country and I discover a desire for community. That is all. I did not need an entire blog to rant about the United States going to hell in a handbasket. What I needed was to not push away the fear and not aggrandize the fear, but to sit with it compassionately. What I needed was to remember that in the black heart of a lump of coal is a diamond waiting to reflect the light. At the heart of my sadness and judgment lays a deep love of country and community. We can be a great nation.

     What is it that you are judging about yourself today? What characteristic do you loath in you? These shadows are rich and fertile ground for growth. When you feel an emotion that you would rather not, ask yourself: where is it in your body? What thought forms accompany your darker emotions? I know it is tempting to avoid them, to have a martini, to binge watch Netflix, I know it is tempting to suppress them, deny them, ignore them but what we resist truly does persist. And a great deal of life's lessons come cloaked in darkness. Can you just sit with your darkness as a curious witness? I feel like a cliché blogging about exploring our shadow sides. I know many far advanced of myself have journeyed through these "dark night of the soul" scenarios and emerged on the other side. Hell, Disney has even told this story in "Beauty and the Beast" But in this moment it just feels so true to me that at the root of all our negativities and insecurities lies a rich river of love. We just have to keep digging, keep looking with eyes of love at the depths of our soul and these living waters will bubble up.  So, yes I may discern properly that lots of fearful people are not acting in accord with their professed religion, this is not contained in Christianity but rather in humanity. So, instead of judging them (and myself) I just feel into the soft space in my heart that desires community and connection. I also feel into the space in me that is filled with the love of Christ. To me, being a Christian means following Jesus and he did truly model love for us. Love for ourselves, for our neighbors, for our country, for the world and for our God. So it was a loving act to delete my ranty blog post, but it is also a loving act to challenge you and me to line up our lives with truth.

     The trendy "what would Jesus do" bracelets a few years ago kinda annoyed me but really the question is so huge. I don't believe Jesus would do anything other than cultivate love when he was confronted by racism, homophobia, angry hopeless protests, partisianism, income inequality, the knee jerk self righteousness in which many of us hold our beliefs. So what does "cultivate love" even mean? Perhaps it is simply releasing fear,  the fear of our dark sides, fear of people who are different, fear of really questioning our beliefs. All fear is contraction, our worlds get smaller, our bodies get tighter when we operate out of fear. None of us like to think of ourselves as fundamentalists, but watch how you react when someone questions or challenges your beliefs. Where do these beliefs come from? Are they based in love? If we are humble enough to truly question our beliefs then we become fertile ground in which love can bloom, but if we clench our beliefs tightly with unseeing eyes and unhearing ears we only become hard and stony ground. Isn't it about time you bloomed? Let the sunlight of loving awareness into the dark corners of your soul and be brave and at your core you will find that your essential nature is love.  Let your shadows point you to the light and bloom dear ones. It is time.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Who's in Charge Here?

"There is a perfect rout of characters in every man - and every man is like an actors trunk full of strange creatures, new & old. But an actor and his trunk are two different things"
Wallace Stevens: A mythology of Self

     There is a character inside my head I like to call Ms. Dread Ahead. She visited me again last night as I surveyed the mess in the kitchen and thought not only of cleaning it up, but of the work I had to do the next day and my homework and, and, and .... my never ending responsibilities descended like a heavy woolen cloak shutting out all the light and casting me into darkness. But here's the thing, Ms. Dread Ahead and I have danced this dance before and I have begun to recognize her puppet master: The Victim. The Victim sets up scenarios where all I can see is my foot in a trap and sometimes I forget it is I who put my foot in that "trap" and I alone have the power to take it out. We all have so much on our plates these days, but sometimes it's hard to remember that we piled it all on our plates ourselves. Instead we stare at the plate in despair and wonder how were going to eat all we served ourselves. Remember this though: all you have to do today is breath and drink a little water. THAT IS ALL. But but, what about picking my kids up from school? What about feeding my family, what about .... Yea, I hear the objections. But I still maintain all you have to do today is breath and stay hydrated. you can send someone else for the kids, or keep them out of school, or home school them, or not have them to start with. The thing is know that it is you who piled up your plate.

     So, taking ownership of our choices and our lives is a good start. But once you realize you have orchestrated your life to have all of your particular challenges in it you still have to either take action or face consequences. How you take action is everything. If you are doing your dishes with resentment you are enforcing a victim mentality that slowly saps your power and energy. I chose to own a home, I chose to have a kitchen in it, I chose to cook dinner and I choose to do the dishes.  But that's not the end, I had to choose to do the dishes with presence and gratitude or invite The Victim along for my sudsy ride. One would bring pleasure and softness into my moment the other choice would disconnect me from joy. It seems a fairly obvious choice, doesn't it? So why do so many of us choose to be The Victim so often? perhaps because The Victim is not the deepest layer in this story. Underlying The Victim is fear: Fear of Shame, Shame of Fear, this is not a cycle that leads towards Love.

     What does it mean that we truly are the authors of our lives and yet the stories are often such a mess and this mess brings shame and fear? What it may mean for you is your journey to discover, but I'll tell you what it doesn't mean. It doesn't mean your incompetent or deficient. It doesn't mean you are shameful or less than. it doesn't mean your bad or unlovable. It means you're a human who has made a mess in the kitchen and you either clean it up or you don't. It doesn't mean you have to dance with Ms. Dread Ahead or let The Victim into your house. It doesn't mean that fear is going to swallow you whole. It means that this mess is the mess that can move you towards Love. it means you recognized you weren't being present and that wonderful recognition can either lead towards light or darkness. But whichever path you chose, remember it truly is your choice!

     Which of the cast of characters in your head is along for the ride today? How about finding your Inner Guru, your Wise Woman, your Highest Self (Namaste) and letting them ride along on your adventures today? And the next time Ms. Dread Ahead or The Victim pops their head up, give them a hug, but say no thank you and send them on their way. Not acknowledging that we all have a cast of characters in our psyches can lead to disassociation and numbness and letting some of the less mature characters lead us around can lead to stunted psychoemotional and spiritual growth. But the awesome news is everyone of us, yes everyone, has a super kind, super smart, super present character in us, our Highest Self, our Compassionate Witness. This character pops up when we take loving responsibility for our circumstances,. Or maybe it's just time to wash the dishes with a heart full of gratitude. Either way, it's your choice. Are you gonna let your Highest Self drive today because where you end up might just surpass your wildest imagination? You may think you need a retreat or a fast to grow, but really you just need to do the dishes!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Joy: The Sequel

"So I commend the enjoyment of life, For there is nothing better for a person under the sun to eat and drink and be glad"
Ecclesiastes 8:15

     Yes, I used the same scripture as a blog heading just a few days ago. Apparently I am not done with this topic! I have been meditating on this scripture for awhile and also remembering that "The Joy of the Lord is our strength". It's amazing to me that joy makes us stronger. But here's the truth of the situation. I really wrote that last blog as a kind of cathartic exercise to try to get rid of some angst I had been feeling about someone else's complete lack of joy. Ironic at the very least, also pretty judgmental and a little prideful of me to try to will another person to be joyful. There is an older woman I have been working with  meddling in her life that I care about a lot who unfortunately has a very dissatisfied worldview which results in a joyless demeanor. Her lack of joy has manifested into painful physical symptoms that limit her ability to move and further decrease her joy, a downward spiral that I cannot stop no matter how many blog posts I write about it. Another irony is that I am 99% sure she doesn't read my blog anyways. So, my best "yoga therapy: has not shifted this womans demeanor, My best attempt at encouraging her to be joyful fell on stony ground. My blog didn't even reach her and in all of my attempts to shift and change this person I have suppressed my own joy.

     I guess I am a slow learner, or perhaps overly emotionally invested here but it took me awhile to remember that resistance is the cause of suffering and if I resist her suffering I only add my own suffering to hers. Perhaps it is her lot to suffer, perhaps she has played this role for so long it is a comfortable old shoe. Perhaps I am misperceiving her and she's really a female Walter Matthau reveling in being a grumpy old person. None of that matters. What matters is that I want to increase the joy in the world and resisting her suffering is not the way to do it. All lessons really do lead back to being in the present moment and accepting what is. 

      So, back to the Ecclesiates quote! There is nothing better under the sun than eating and drinking? We'll lets not forget the "be glad" part. A little bit of something delicious always makes me glad, a lot of it usually makes me ill. A cocktail or two drunk mindfully and joyfully indeed makes me glad. A cocktail or three drunk to escape always makes me sad. I do not think I am alone in this, less really is more.  So it is not just the eating and drinking that brings joy but the act of being present and mindful as we eat and drink. Stopping to say grace and really smell, taste & see our food. Preparing it with gratitude, remembering how fortunate we are to have food. Paying attention to the moment we are full and stopping  Before getting that martini shaker down really sitting still for a moment and examining if we are looking for an escape or perhaps just a little icing on the day. Anything we use to escape the present will stifle our joy and in turn weaken us.

     Whatever happens with this woman is not my responsibility. I can and will continue to work with her in a loving manner, I will endeavor to be present and nonjudgmental with her. I will not disengage just because I cannot "fix" her. I will remember that maybe she doesn't need fixing and even if she does it is ultimately each persons responsibility to "fix" themselves and offer themselves to God to refine. And,it is accepting this cranky old person for exactly who they are that opens the door to joy. If there is anyone in your life that you are trying to "fix" besides yourself you are stifling your joy. I may have to write a thousand more blogs on joy before its all said and done. But, you know there are some things worth fighting for and joy is right at the top of that list. Our spiritual growth is like a garden. we have to till the soil getting rid of obstacles and we have to plant seeds to see blooms. But without joy in the soil all we get are weeds, joy is our fertilizer, joy is our strength and joy is our inheritance. Joy to you today!

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Power of Joy

"So I commend the enjoyment of life, For there is nothing better for a person under the sun to eat and drink and be glad"
Ecclesiastes 8:15

     It is a common saying that we are happy not when we get what we want but when we want what we have. To find joy in this moment when perhaps your house needs painting or you feel a bit frumpy is an incredible act of courage and strength. Our society tells us to always strive for more and there is nothing wrong with stuff. But why do you want stuff? Do you want that new smart phone because you think it will make you happy? It won't. Now certainly there may be a short lived thrill from the acquiring of an object, but the only possibility for lasting joy is to just accept your life as it is, warts and all. Just as desire can be a path to suffering, letting go of certain desires can be the path to joy. Joy is not happiness, which is situational, but rather joy is a clear eyed present moment view of your life with an acceptance of all the parts of it. To accept that you will never be perfect can unleash torrents of joy. To find beauty in your physical flaws and find compassion for your emotional shortcomings will bring you joy. It is acceptance and not plastic surgery, presence and not presents that we need to obtain this deep abiding joy. But why is it so hard to be happy? Why does scripture say "the joy of the Lord is your strength?" Because joy is an act of courage, an act of a whole hearted person.

     We have more stuff in our culture than we need and yet we are a nation of unhappy victims and polarized blamers. Why? Well, there is a power in being a victim. When you are unhappy many times people will rush to rectify that unhappiness. When you are bemoaning your victimhood people will sympathize and perhaps pat your back or hug you. But the attention that misery brings for you is short lived and in the end you end up alone and contracted into fear. no one can stand to be around a constantly miserable person. And not only that but like attracts like, so if you are using misery for attention you will end up surrounded by miserable people. No one intentionally rejects joy, but sometimes people do choose misery for the short term relief it provides as others sympathize. But beware, this path is made of quicksand that slowly sucks you in until the capacity for joy is gone.

     On the other hand sometimes choosing joy and telling others you are happy or just simply letting them know you are ok in the short term can leave you temporarily alone as people see you are ok. When my husband gets home from work he always asks how my day was. If I choose the misery answer I will have his attention for awhile but it tapers of as he grows tired of whine. If I choose joy and say my day was great often he will wander off to tend to his own needs and I am temporarily alone. But in the long run joy always bring connection and misery always brings loneliness.
But here's the crux of the matter, Joy is not situational. A joyful person finds light wherever they are and a miserable person is not changed by a magical environment. It always astounded me how many long faces I saw in Disneyworld! Joy is not easy but it is a nonnegotiable part of our spiritual growth. We have to deliberately stop coveting and comparing, stop looking at the dark side of our lives and intentionally grow in gratitude and joy will bloom. You do not grow muscles without working out, you do not grow joyful without some work. you must choose joy, but you must choose it over and over and over. And perhaps after a long time of choosing joy it will become your default. This is a practice worth investing in, for truly there is nothing better under the sun than to simply enjoy our lives.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Getting Schooled

"The first responsibility of love is to listen"
Paul Tillich

     Can you imagine paying a big price for a higher education and then sitting in class and just not listening? Of course not! Now can you imagine that not only was the professor your teacher but every other student was planted in class to help you learn? What an amazing scenario! What a privilege to be surrounded by so many teachers. And how silly it would be to cover your ears and close your eyes to their lessons. Now, I am not pretending I know much about matters of eternity, but what if your life is this school and everyone who crosses your path is your teacher? What is the whole reason our sweet souls occupy these bodies is just to learn from our moments?
When we constant allow our minds to time travel wallowing in the past of planning the future it is as if we are sitting in the school of life with ear covered. I do not know what your lesson plan is but I do know that the lessons are in this moment in time. Scripture instructs us to "think about what is true". well, neuroscience has proven that everytime we access a memory we subtly change the memory until that seed of a true memory has completely shifted into merely a fantasy. So I think its indisputable that memories are not solid truths. And, of course, thoughts of the future are predictions, fantasies, hopes and dreams nothing inherently wrong with glimpsing ahead for a moment but when we get stuck in future thought "I will be happy when ..." we get stuck in lies. The starting point for a good solid soul education is living in truth and that truth will be found in your moment to moment experiences.

     Now imagine you have a course you absolutely dread, lets say trigonometry! And a class you absolutely love, maybe theatre. So you skip trigonometry and you hang out all the time in the theatre classroom you love.  Well, soon enough you will realize you have missed a lot of lifes most valuable lessons by avoiding your suffering (trigonometry) but also by holding on so tightly to theatre that you never left the classroom all of the sudden your joys have lost some of their sparkle. One of the main reasons people suffer is that we do anything to avoid suffering and everything to hold on to pleasure. But when we avoid suffering, the lessons we are meant to learn from it will always manifest one way or another. And often the harder we work to avoid suffering the more intense the lesson plan becomes. And holding onto pleasures is the quickest way to stifle them. Trying to hold onto your pleasures past their time is like holding a butterfly in your closed fist. Allowing the constant flow of pain and pleasure and even perhaps boredom in the present moment is how we advance to the next grade.

     So, what about those awesome student teachers we are surrounded with? If you paid a therapist to tell you where you were a little neurotic I'll bet you would listen and try to shift from that valuable advice. But everytime someone cuts us off in traffic, doesn't it uncover a little neurosis? Everytime your family uses a sharp finger to push your big fat buttons, isn't that a valuable time to self reflect?
I know its been said so many times, but every person who crosses your my path really is just a mirror reflecting back our goodness and our fears. But so often instead of heeding the lessons of these teachers we retreat to an empty classroom of blame or victimization. Everytime you hear yourself blaming someone for something just know you are wasting an opportinuty for growth.

     I had a big "aha moment" a few months ago listening to Princes "Doves Cry". In particular the lyric "Maybe you're just like your Mother, she's never satisfied" How often do we catch ourselves in a "grass is always greener" mentality? When I am alone I often want to go hang out with a friend and when I am surrounded by people I often long for solitude. I could list probably a couple thousand examples of this greener grass scenario and so could you. So, my intention is no matter what a moment brings, whether its a big belly laugh with another sweet soul, or a icky moment scrubbing my toilet that I will simply be satisfied. Every human will find themselves more pleased in certain circumstances and less in others. but what if we could come to the point where in every moment we are satisfied that what is happening is our lesson? What if we really paid attention without pushing away circumstances or trying to hold onto them? If you listen closely to your moments and let life flow you may find that your life is a spectacular song.

Monday, March 2, 2015

I Am Not Surprised

How abundant are the good things
that you have stored up for those who fear you
that you bestow in the sight of all
on those who take refuge in you
Psalm 31:19

     God did something pretty freaking miraculous yesterday and I am grateful and humbled and excited and refreshed, but I am not surprised. God is love and love is generous and over and over God lavishes love on those who rest in the Divine Mystery. So when someone I've known just a little over a month handed me a large check today I was a lot of things, but surprised is not one of them. Ok, so some backstory might be in order after a teaser like that!

      I have had Quiet for three years now and I am so grateful that it is growing at a slow but steady pace, but perhaps I should have been a better business woman and prepared for the landlord to go up $400 in rent. I anticipated the standard 3-5% annuals rent hike, but did not anticipate what was actually happening and this last lease renewal he priced me right out of the building. So I sent emails to two groups I'm in looking for leads on a subleaser or a new space and I posted the same request on FaceBook. I should have known better than to narrow down my choices to A and B when God has been working with me on that lesson. There is always a choice C sometimes and most times the choices are unlimited. I am absolutely humbled by the kindness of the people who reached out with encouraging words or offers to spread the word or help me find choice A or B. Sometimes at Quiet I feel kinda lonely but the sometimes invisible community is kind and loving and really filled my heart with humility with their gentle replies.

     Unbeknownst to me God had put it on the heart of one person that they needed to help me a few weeks before I sent out these requests.  So, this person shared that they spent days praying and didn't know what to do. This to me is as precious as gold and as sweet as honey. that a near stranger would lift up my efforts to God makes me beyond grateful. In scripture the Holy Spirit is called the Advocate who weaves together humanity. I didn't know what I needed and this person did not yet know what I needed but God did.

     Besides Quiet being priced out of my range I had also recently learned halfway through my yoga therapy training that to finish would be a lot of additional money, not a happy surprise and I was contemplating just giving that up as well even though I could feel the desire to continue burning in my heart. So I mentioned that I was excited. The check this stranger handed to me was enough to cover the rent increase for a year and put a deposit on the end of yoga therapy training. So, yes I am refreshed renewed and excited to continue learning, growing and serving.

     So, some way back story: over a decade  ago in the parking lot of an half abandoned strip center I found the pay envelope of an undocumented worker. At first finding an envelope with $1600 in it with no identification except a latin sounding first name made me pretty darn excited. I was young and that was bank! But I prayed before anything and God's still small voice whispered "This is not for you". So, in an amazing (but not surprising) adventure God lead me miles across town straight to this person. When I asked their name and why they were frantically searching their car I knew what I had to do and as I drove away they were standing there pay in hand jaw gaping. So, this time of course I prayed again. it is a big thing to take a lot of money from someone. Not in Gods universe, but in my head there were a few stumbling blocks. But this time the still small voice simply whispered "this is for you".

     I don't know what I can add to this amazing story. I want to cry from the gratitude that cannot be contained in this small human vessel. I want to jump up and down at finishing yoga therapy school. But mostly I just want to hold space at Quiet for one more year. I am a whirlwind of emotions this morning, but no surprise is not one of them. The same God who fills the fields with color in the spring and the sky every night with stars is the same God that loves you and I and this abundant amazing Divine Mystery longs to lavish love on us all. Sometimes the love is small, a glance of gratitude from someone, a doggie kiss and sometimes that lavish love is large. And this was one of those large lavish times.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

In Too Me See

      I am a pretty confident writer and can whip out a blog pretty easily, but as I think about blogging on intimacy I just get lost. I have begun and erased this blog post multiple times. I am not talking about intimacy with another person, but rather self intimacy. The ability to look deep within ourselves without stories without judgment, just being with our deepest truths. Just being and that is all, sitting with our souls. A few months ago my mentor said casually that maybe I have a challenge with intimacy. Immediately, of course, my ego bristled all up at this. I am happily married and authentic with my spouse, we are best friends and healthily intimate. But she continued to explain that she meant intimacy with myself. Again, preposterous balderdash I hurumphed! I have two decades of spiritual self examination under my belt and a well established mediation practice. I get on my mat everyday to be with me. But as the topic of intimacy continues to flesh itself out, I am beginning to see how self examination and intimacy are not the same thing.

     Years ago I learned that the fastest way to solidify a behavior in my spouse was to try to change him. A soul wants to be seen not fixed, So I learned (and am learning) to just be with him. Like every other person alive he has shining moments and dark ones, but his journey is not for me to judge. And the more I sit with him without a need to fix, without a need to justify the more truly intimate we become. Unfortunately I cannot yet say the same for my relationship with myself. I am my own project to shape and shake until all the dark falls out! Thankfully I have learned the lesson that we need to examine our inner lives kindly and with compassion and therefore when a shadow side of me rears its ugly head once again I try to hug and love it rather than beat it down as I have in the past. This is definite progress. But also very subtly I continue to judge my shadowy behaviors as "bad" and my more socially acceptable behaviors as "good". But this is not intimacy, this is gazing inwardly with the intention to "fix". And this can be a bit of a self abusive habit. There comes a point where "self improvement" is just mean. One definition of intimacy is "the quality of being comfortable, warm and familiar with". This is not the end result of a  self improvement practice. Inner gaze for self improvement always tells us there is something not acceptable in us and this is neither comfortable nor warm!

     Another definition of intimacy is "a close association with or a detailed knowledge of a subject". Well, to get close and become knowledgeable about someone or thing we must observe it without an agenda of intent to change, but with intent to just know them;  turns out this is hard,  But to know oneself truly is nonnegotiable in this  spiritual growth game we play.  I have had more than one client lately tell me that they did not like to spend time alone. I think this is because instead of being intimate with our selves when we're alone we are examining with intent to "fix". well who wants to be alone with some one judging them?

     Can you sit with yourself and just be? Recently someone shared with me a list of ailments that have been plaguing them and then wailed "and no one has been able to fix me!". I didn't say it at the time but I want to thank this person for two valuable reminders, the first is that we all have to do our own work and part of this work is becoming truly self intimate. To heal ourselves we must know ourselves. And the second reminder of a true truth is that we are not broken. Wonderfully gloriously flawed perhaps, but not broken. When we view ourselves as broken we push away the soft inner part of us that needs to emerge and flourish. We cannot pound ourselves into awesomeness, we cannot force change, but rather we can sit quietly and lovingly intimate with ourselves and perhaps some shift towards Love will happen So, do you see yourself as a self improvement project, or do you just see yourself? These are the questions I am asking myself these days. Perhaps its time to put down that judges gavel no matter how well intentioned and just make a friend with our soft inner selves.

If the falling of a hoof
Ever rings the temple bells
If a lonely mans final scream
Before he hangs himself
And the nightingales' perfect lyric
of happiness
All become an equal cause to dance
then the Sun has at last parted
the curtain before you ~
God has stopped playing child's games
with your mind
and dragged you backstage
by the hair
Shown you the only possible reason
For this bizarre and spectacular
Go running through the streets
creating Divine chaos
Make everyone and yourself ecstatically mad
for the Friends beautiful open arms
Go running through the world
giving love, giving love
If the falling of a hoof upon this earth
ever rings the
temple bell

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Waves: Expansion Contraction and all that Is

"Peter left the boat and walked on the water to Jesus. But when Peter saw the wind and the waves he became afraid and began to sink ..."
Matt 14:29

       This morning my seated meditation practice was simple, oh so simple. On the inhale as I witnessed the expansion of my body I simply applied the mantra "expand" and on the exhale as I sunk back into my flesh the mantra "contract" was my anchor. And so it went, I would inhale expand into my heart and feel my hearts energy begin to slip beyond the boundaries of flesh, I would contract feeling the power of my belly. So much power in the belly that it would burst upward into my mouth relaxing the jaw and perhaps increasing my potential for lovely words. The breath became a rhythmic wave both shooting me beyond my body and anchoring me firmly back in the body. my breath reminding me that there are only two places we can find God: inside of ourselves and outside of ourselves. And we must explore both. Indeed the "kingdom of God is within us". But to remain centered in our internal experience can be a breeding ground for narcissism and delusion. And indeed paradoxically we "find" God by developing a servants heart and that heart can only grow in relationship to serving others. But again if we remain others centered we can quickly become depleted and have nothing to give. We must take refuge inside ourselves.  And so we breath and we ride the wave of breath. And we go in and find that indeed the Spirit of God is in our hearts and our bellies and our toes and our fingers. And we go out and we find the eyes of God in every face we see. Sometimes the faces shine back brightly gladdening our hearts and sometimes the glances sting and hurt our hearts, but we mustn't stop looking. The human soul does not want to fixed it wants to be seen. Can you see the Divine in your neighbor? If you cant see Divinity in yourself it will be harder to see in others. And so we go back inside again and again.

     My seated practiced was sandwiched with the reading in Matthew about Peter walking on the waves. At first with eyes on Jesus he did the seemingly impossible, but quickly he turned his eyes to the waves and began to sink. A relational metaphor I adore is that God is an ocean and we are a wave. To be "closer" to God we must simply relax into the ocean. However there are waves that are smooth and rhythmic and lull us into this relaxation and choppy fast waves that crest into anxiety and separation and duality. These dangerous waves tend to take shape in our minds. We cannot help which thoughts arise but we very much can help which thoughts we surf. Allowing thoughts of the future to swell in our minds takes us away from the internal wave of respiration and spirit and into the dark waters. And so again and again we must return to the breath and perhaps a mantra. Each journey is unique but a unifying factor is that a mind running amuck makes for rough seas filled with dangerous hooks. Present moment mindfulness and compassion make for smoother seas and surfable waves.

     The longer I investigate spirituality the simpler it becomes. Religion is a great place to start, but beware lest you stop there. Religion is exclusive, Jesus is inclusive. We all ultimately share the same breath. The exhale of the Buddha will become your inhale. The sigh of Christ will become your gasp. And so we breath. And on the inhale perhaps you feel the expansion of your heart and mind. perhaps you take a moment to go beyond your self and remember that you are not the center of the Universe. And on the exhale you settle back into your self and realize you are indeed home. And we keep riding the wave of breath so the tsunami of life doesn't wash us away. Peace to you on the journey.

Friday, January 2, 2015

The Human Equation

     It is perhaps simplistic to break the human experience down to a neat three part equation of body, mind and spirit. We are, in truth, infinitely layered and complex. I have always been drawn to trios however and looking at "the human animal" thru a three part lens has served me best. Any one of these parts could be a lifetimes study of their own. After over two decades of working with peoples physical bodies I have picked up a lot about how form and function move us through the dance of life
On one level the body is pretty simply composed of flesh and bone and seems like a pretty manageable topic. On another level we are more empty space than not, we have not one straight line to be found anywhere in any part of our structure. We are a magical swirling whirling river of life in which the only truth to be found is constant change. This I can live with.
     The second part of my human equation, the mind,  is similarly dual in being simple and simultaneously complex. Simple are the thoughts that pop into our head stealing most of our moments by projecting us into the past or future. I say simple because on this level our thoughts are automatic and just a function of out neural pathways and electricity. Even the new trendy field of neuroplasticity is pretty graspable if you understand the more you use a pathway the stronger it gets and that a combination of being watchful of your brain and interrupting old patterns and using repetition to sow new patters transforms the actual physical structure of our brain along with our thoughts. Pretty awesome, huh? Keep in mind simple and easy are not synonymous. Because up to this point I have really been discussing the brain. but what about the "mind" the thinker, the consciousness? Yes, that topic I can only stammer in awe and hope to one day begin to begin to begin to grasp.  The brain though, again with the river, our brain is like a system of interconnected waterways that get dredged and shifted by our thoughts both intentional and automatic. This I can work with.

     The third part of our equation is to me the richest and deepest river of all. Our spirit is that deepest part of us which is always reaching for the sunlight, for growth and connection. Regardless of beliefs about the Divine Mystery we all have spirits that need nurturing and tending. I have never addressed this part of myself as anything but a theist and from a very young age I had a strong sense of being surrounded by a loving energy and for this I am eternally and profoundly grateful. But for spiritual seekers who are atheist this does not change the need for spiritual nourishment. We can ignore no part of our self. I was raised  without religion to a Jewish Mother and a Father from an Episcopal background and while I know that raising a child with tradition and reverence can be an amazing gift my gift was that I had to forge my own way. I had to decide not only what to believe but who to believe and how to believe and it is an ongoing and joyful exploration in which I have felt myself residing in a river of love for sometime now. And while I am a strong theist paradoxically I also do not believe that you need to be a theist to swim in this Divine river of spirit. Here is what my explorations have uncovered. Our two root human emotions of love and fear seem to be the drivers of our spirit. The first, love, manifests in expansion, inclusion, softening and relaxing. The second, fear, manifests in tightening boundary, exclusion, clenching and hardening. These are of course hardly complete lists of the manifestations of fear and love, but you get the idea. So to feed my spirit I watch my body and mind for expansion or contraction. When I find my mind closing and my jaw clenching I know I have strayed from my optimum path. Now as a theist I do think the ultimate goal of spiritual growth is the merge my small spirit with the Bigger One. But, for an atheist perhaps nature or music or the present moment works for you. The point is to get beyond ourselves into loving service of Something Bigger.

     Almost thirty years ago as an idea of Divinity took root in my psyche the closest image I could conjure up of Divinity was God as a river. These decades of exploration have shaped and molded and shifted my ideas about God but to this day I can come up with no better analogy than a river. Our fluid flexible bodies and our shape shifting brains dancing in the currents of a Mighty River as we float or struggle side by side. our nature is both quite simple and again complexly ineffable, but this I believe.The more we gracefully float and the less we fight the currents the further along the river we go.  It has been said that the man who wishes to understand the universe must be in equal parts, scientist, philosopher and theologian. And perhaps this is true, or maybe what we really need to do to remove the veils of ignorance is just go sit by a river.