A Little Bird Told Me…

Funny things happen when you stop. Really stop. Like when you have a concussion and can’t read, use your phone or computer, watch TV or deal with noise.

One morning while sitting outside doing not much more than sitting (see above), a robin landed in the grass in front of me. I watched her as she proceeded to walk through the yard, quickly starting and stopping, patiently waiting for the movement of a worm beneath her. After traversing almost the whole yard, she suddenly and swiftly poked her beak into the earth and pulled up a worm. According to various studies, robins use a combination of primarily visual and auditory cues to find their meal. Imagine being still enough and able to hear a worm moving through dirt!

It was amazing. She stopped, she listened, she felt, and she kept going despite several failed attempts. And in doing all this, she was fed. What a lesson for all of us.

When you truly can’t do anything but listen and be still, you hear a lot. You hear your inner dialogue more clearly. Truth be told, that inner dialogue was not so pleasant the first few days of my “confinement.”

In the Hatha Yoga tradition we strive to practice Ahimsa, both on and off the mat. Ahimsa means non-violence, or “do no harm.” This can have many meanings, and is most often associated with vegetarianism, but it actually is the idea of complete and total absence of violence from one’s body, mind and spirit.  One of the ways we can practice Ahimsa is showing compassion towards ourselves. Violence can come in the form of self-talk, much of which, lets face it, can be negative. And, when you’re laid up after a concussion, plentiful.

There is a discussion going around the internet that we have on average 70,000 thoughts a day, some estimates going as high as 600,000. If you go with the former, that amounts to almost 49 per minute. Considering where my head’s been this week, that number seems exceptionally low.  And imagine if the majority of those thoughts are negative.  That’s a lot of violence.

Jon Westenberg, founder of Creatomic, says this: “When you start to consider how finite your existence and your time and the processes of your brain actually are, you can see how precious the level of mindfulness that requires us to sit up and pay attention really is.”

As fortune would have it, I came across an article (blessedly short – the reading thing, you know) in a Buddhism magazine about love, specifically self-love. In the article the author suggested a meditation that goes something like this:

“This is a moment of suffering.

Suffering is a part of life.

May I be kind to myself at this moment.

May I give myself the compassion I need.”

These words can be altered to fit your own experience, but basically each sentence brings to the forefront that yes, you are in pain – This is a moment of suffering / I am having a hard time right now – that suffering is part of the human experience (no one escapes it, folks) – Suffering is a part of life / Others have been through this – all while keeping you in the present moment – May I be kind to myself at this moment / May I be present with this feeling without judgement –  and setting an intention to be self-compassionate – May I give myself the compassion I need / May I speak to myself as I would speak to a good friend.

As I sat with these words, and breathed them into my heart, I felt released. I didn’t have to beat myself up for my injuries. I still had my faculties. I was worthy of compassion. This would pass.

Then another question arose: When this does pass, what will I have to show for it? What is the lesson? Because there always is one, if (and this is key) you look for it.

I’ve heard it suggested that you are closer to “you” in the time you meditate than in all the other minutes of the day. Those minutes when you are working, serving, rushing and planning aren’t really you, your essence. Your essence is what you touch when you’re still. It’s always there, the light is always shining, but we allow the clouds to cover that light. We allow our busy-ness, our self-talk to take center stage and we lose sight of “you.”

So I have decided to be like that robin. When my soul needs to be fed, I will still myself and listen. I will open my heart, breathe in and speak compassion over and over and over again, remembering the “you”  I really am. I will remember my light.  I will rest in the knowledge that wherever I am is exactly where I need to be. And if all this doesn’t work the first time, I’ll do it again, and again, and again.

I draw the line at worms, though. You know, Ahimsa.

“If you celebrate your differentness, the world will, too. It believes exactly what you tell it—through the words you use to describe yourself, the actions you take to care for yourself, and the choices you make to express yourself. Tell the world you are one-of-a-kind creation who came here to experience wonder and spread joy.” ~Victoria Moran, Author of “Light From Within: Tending Your Soul for Lifelong Beauty”

 

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Being the Bow

At our lake house I have a Kahlil Gibran quote in a frame flanked by photos of each of my two boys.  They are smiling from the pumpkin patch, young and sweet.  Gibran was a favorite of my brother’s, this excerpt especially, and after his passing it became even more special.

“Your children are not your children.

They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.

They come through you but not from you,

And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,

For they have their own thoughts.

You may house their bodies but not their souls,

For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,

which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

You may strive to be like them,

but seek not to make them like you.

For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children

as living arrows are sent forth.

The Archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,

and He bends you with His might

that His arrows may go swift and far.

Let your bending in the Archer’s hand be for gladness;

For even as He loves the arrow that flies,

so He loves also the bow that is stable.”

~Kahlil Gibran

I have always loved the imagery in this piece:  God as The Archer, parents as the bows, the child the arrow.  The idea that He is ultimately in control; that as parents, we don’t own our children, but Life does.

One of those boys in the pumpkin patch will be starting college in a few weeks and “The Day We Say Goodbye” is marked on the calendar.  It’s a phrase that has permeated my summer.  It has dictated my mood, my interactions with people, my interactions with my son.  It’s like a cloud always hovering, darkening my days.  

Most days I can channel the sun, the clouds part, and I realize I am blessed, and I am grateful.  I know I am.  But some days I unexpectedly get this random glimpse of him at the age of three, or ten, or even right now, and my heart feels like it’s literally being torn from my chest.

Yes, I know it’s not “Good-Bye” in the permanent sense.  I will still be his mother; I will always be his mother.  But after “that day,” as we drive away, everything will change.  He will be embarking on a glorious adventure that will take him to places I cannot even imagine, within and without.  Places I “cannot visit, not even in my dreams.”  He will discover himself, apart from us. He will chart his own course.

More than anything, he will have the time of his life. He will create memories and friendships and relationships that will last a lifetime. He will expand his mind and world and, most importantly, he will discover himself.  He will set his course and even though it may change, and change often, he will be blessed with the opportunity to take charge of his own life.

And for that, I am so, so grateful.  

But along with the gratitude comes the realization that he will have hard days, and hard nights.  He will get sick. He will question himself.  He will be disappointed, by others and probably by himself.  He will meet girls and maybe fall in love with one (or two) of them.  Or maybe get his heart broken.  In the midst of finals.  

The conundrum is that while this breaks my heart, and his absence will be profoundly felt by all of us, I know it is what needs to happen.  It’s what every parent wants, for their child to fly.  On their own.  If I am honest with myself, my children are my gift to this world.  They have given me purpose beyond myself.  And I need to give this gift away, no matter how much I love it.  

I thank God for the blessing of being this young man’s mother and the opportunity to raise him.  It has been my greatest challenge, my greatest joy.  But for now, I will pray to trust The Archer and the mark He sees on the path of the the infinite, bending as much as I can and feeling myself held in His arms.  

 

Stealing from Myself

Last night I taught my usual Tuesday night yoga class, the one I’ve been teaching now for a year and a half. It’s typically a small class, with some regulars and some drop-in’s who attend intermittently. The pace is even and the asanas are mildly challenging.

For the past couple weeks, some of the students attending this class have been teacher trainees from another yoga studio; part of their training encourages them to go to different studios and experience different styles (very cool, I must say).

Last night’s visiting attendees were two women: one instructor and one trainee. Both were young and energetic, the instructor thin and lithe, her upper body overlaid with colorful tattoos. Her asanas were nearly perfect and lovely to watch.

Like most instructors, I’m sure, I always feel a little intimidated when an instructor shows up for my class; feeling not so much that I’m being judged, but watched. Very carefully. I do the same when I attend a fellow teacher’s class. I’m not judging, but always searching. Searching for new ways to explain a pose or inspire students (or myself). I recognize that my style is mine, that theirs is theirs, and that instructors can’t be compared. I have tremendous respect for all teachers. What intimidates me, however, is knowledge.

Yoga is so deep and vast that when I meet other teachers (especially if they practice a different style), I am always overwhelmed at how much I DON’T know. I am suddenly reduced to a student, a child seeking approval, feeling inadequate.

“No, I don’t remember what my dosha is.”

“No, I’ve never practiced ashtanga yoga (at least I don’t think I have).”

“Nope, never heard of the hasta or the pada bandhas.”

“No, I haven’t read the Bhagavad Gita from beginning to end.”

“No, I can’t do a handstand or hold a hip balance with straight arms and legs for more than a few breaths.”

“No, I don’t make a habit of adjusting my students.”

Cerebrally, I know that we are never “done” when it comes to yoga; that the depth of this practice is vast and never-ending. So why do I feel so less-than when I discover something I don’t know? And how do I release the self-judgement for not knowing everything about something which is fundamentally unknowable?

As always, I look to the Yamas and Niyamas for guidance. The Yamas and the Niyamas are the first two limbs of the 8-Fold path of yogic philosophy. Taken from the Yoga Sutras, there are five Yamas, or restraints, and five Niyamas, or observances.

For this particular experience, Astaya, the Yama of non-stealing, spoke to me. According to Deborah Adele, in her book, The Yamas and the Niyamas, “Astaya guides our attempts and tendencies to look outwardly for satisfaction.” In looking outward, we are stealing our joy and ability to look inward. Astaya asks us to shift our awareness of others to ourselves.

So in looking inward, I can appreciate how far I’ve come, without the distraction of comparing myself to others; because comparing either leaves you feeling dejected or superior, and neither is a healthy alternative. And often what we reach for is not necessarily what we want, but what may look good at the time. In our culture, we have much to compete with. There are pretty little baubles, bangles and beads in front of us wherever we go. If we keep reaching out for things just because they are there, we aren’t fulfilling our truth.

I don’t see myself as a teacher, really, but a guide. I share what I know and take in what my students teach me. I don’t feel I will ever be one of those instructors that people seek out, revered as a master in my field. I work full-time, have a family, so my ability (and let’s face it, energy) to study and immerse myself are limited. But I love my class and my students and take the moments I do have very seriously.

No, I am not trained in Ayurveda. No, I can’t twist my 49 year-old body into asanas that a tattooed twenty-something can do. And yes, there is an enormous amount of knowledge yet to be discovered. Astaya encourages me to “be where I am,” appreciate the journey and discover where I really want to go.

Oh, and I don’t have any tattoos. Just sayin’.

Let Go

let go 2

My dear reader,

I hope this writing finds you happy and healthy, reflecting on the past year with joy and contentment.  If I were to pick  a “theme” for my past year, it would be hard to narrow it down to just one thing, but, one phrase that does stand out is “Let go.”  This can mean a lot of things, and has.

Perhaps this is fresh in my mind due to a yoga retreat I attended in October.  The subject was compassion.  Now, I consider myself a pretty compassionate person, so I figured the weekend would be a breeze.  You know:  do some yoga, meditate, hear some interesting lectures, sleep, eat some good vegetarian food, and come home refreshed.  It was a great weekend, but what I didn’t count on was work.  On myself.  I learned that in order to be compassionate towards others, really compassionate, you must be compassionate towards yourself.  Forgive, drop the negative self-talk, and let go.  Let go of whatever doesn’t serve you fully and bring you joy.

In June, my oldest son left for a three-week life-changing trip to Malawi, Africa, with our church youth group.  He was sixteen.  We were apprehensive.  We knew he was in good hands, but would he be okay?  Would he eat well?  Would he be sad and overwhelmed by what he would experience?  Would he sleep? In the end, he was more than fine, he loved every moment and, despite a few rough weeks of re-adjustment, he has returned to us a more introspective, grateful, open-minded and faith-filled young man.  We can now breathe a sigh of relief.

I have continued to teach yoga (this past June marked my one-year anniversary as an instructor) and, having summers off, I decided to take advantage and teach as much as I could.  However, the timing and location of classes didn’t work out as planned and I ended up scrapping a few, using my extra time to enjoy taking classes instead of teaching them, which, I discovered, helped to make me a better teacher in the end.

I have also continued to develop and nurture a solid meditation practice.  I began meditation in the Spring of 2014 (part of my teaching certification) and have not stopped since.  It has opened a window for me, spiritual and deep.  It is my prayer and my connection with God every day.  But to connect, to allow the stillness to let God in, I’ve had to let go.  Let go of the incessant to-do lists, the “shoulds,” the racing thoughts.

Approaching 50, I’m letting go of a great many other things:  the ability to do the things I used to do physically, my appearance (just who IS that person in the mirror?) and being able to adjust that changing appearance at will, the career I have (or lack of it), the friends I’ve lost (by choice or not), and, heartbreakingly, the knowledge that many people who have influenced my life in so many ways are leaving me, one by one.

As sad as all this sounds, letting go has been incredibly freeing and uplifting, but only because I’ve welcomed it and try very hard to look for the lesson, always.  By letting go of something, you are opening space for something greater.  By having faith in the universe, or God, or Jesus Christ, or whatever you believe, you open yourself up to possibilities greater than yourself.  You give yourself a break.  You let someone (or something) else take over.  You let go.

“Let go of something, somewhere.  Become aware, to touch what lies beneath the surface of the skin.  Is there tension longing for release; a knot of fear so deep and familiar that you believe it’s part of who you are?  Ease into dark corners, locked rooms, unexplored hallways.  Gain entry not by force or will but only by softness.  Enter by wings of breath, and turn the key of self-acceptance to let go of something, somewhere.”  ~ Danna Faulds

Is there something you are holding on to too tightly?  Something longing for release?  We all have something:  anger, perfection, the need for approval, addiction to any number of things, even the pressure of writing an entertaining and inspiring blog post.

Sometimes it’s scary to acknowledge and it can be damn uncomfortable.

Pause.

Soften, slow down, breathe deeply, focus on the breath and the miraculous flow of the inhale and the exhale.

From this place, you begin creating space.  If whatever isn’t serving you is deeply ingrained, it will take practice, patience and persistence.  It’s scary, it’s uncomfortable, and it is work, but the gifts can be immeasurable.

Wishing you all the joys and gifts of the new year, especially the gift of letting go.  May it create a space of love, peace and light within your heart.

Blessings…

Dinner for One

“We live, in fact, in a world starved for solitude, and private; and therefore starved for meditation and true friendship.” ~C.S. Lewis.

If you want peace and rest, you need look no further than yourself. All you need for rejuvenation is within. The trick is to be quiet enough to hear.

I was granted the opportunity to spend the past four days completely alone in our home away from home; the cards just fell that way with schedules. I balked at the opportunity at first, mostly because I felt a sense of guilt. Not for leaving my kids or husband, but, sadly, for actually being able to do it. I know it’s something most people can’t have, and it felt so selfish. I thought about inviting a friend for a day or two, but in my heart of hearts I knew solitude was needed.

My days were spent doing various things needed when running a home and getting it back to order after renters: cleaning, rearranging, restocking, and organizing. A labor of love, really.

But I also meditated. I slept (a lot), spent time on the water, did some yoga, rode my bike, watched movies, and read. I ate when I was hungry (one dinner consisted of pretzels and cheese, toll house cookies, and a cold IPA), I moved when I needed to, and stayed put when my body told me to stop. I listened to the rhythm of my body and responded to its needs. I looked back and reflected on what’s brought me here, now. I expressed gratitude.

During this time of quiet, I remembered a sermon delivered by our minister several weeks ago, the topic of which was the importance of a day of rest. The Fourth Commandment, he suggested, is the Rodney Dangerfield of commandments, because it’s the one that most of us, in this crazy, open-24-hour world, tend to ignore: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” His lesson was not chiding, not one of you-must-attend-church-every-Sunday. It was to remind us of the importance of stopping, of reflecting, of being grateful.

For my time away, I brought a stack of old magazines with me from the studio where I teach yoga.  As providence would have it, one of the articles I came across was titled, “The Forgotten Pleasures of a Day of Rest.” Someone is clearly trying to tell me something. The author of the article grew up in a Brooklyn neighborhood and her family, although not stringent Jews, observed the Shabbat every Friday. It is a tradition that she still savors, not solely for the religious observance but also the opportunity to stop, slow down, and just be, alone or with family.

Now, I realize, most of us aren’t able to take several days to ourselves (we have had our home for over ten years and this was a first for me), but we can regularly carve out a day or even some finite chunk of time from our busy lives for solitude. It’s that important. And it shouldn’t be something you reserve for your summer vacation, once a year. You need to make me-time a priority, regularly and often.  And no guilt for being “selfish.”

Set a time on your schedule to unplug the phone, step away from the keyboard, and give yourself the gift of reflection. The laundry, the worries, the pressure will be there when you return, but you will be rejuvenated, approaching them from a state of gratitude and energy. Look back and ask, “For what am I grateful this week?” “When did I feel most alive?” Most importantly, create a distinctly separate time for “Being” and “Doing.” Treat it as sacred. Because it is.

The yoga tradition teaches that we are all endowed with our own inner light and inner teacher. We simply need to stop and listen. You can call it God or Jesus or divine spirit or whatever resonates with your heart. The key is to pay full attention. Treat it like a friend. Sit down for coffee and talk. Once a day or once a week. For an hour or for an afternoon. Even ten minutes of paying attention to your own breath will do. Feed, nourish and discover yourself.   Toll House cookies optional.

Speed Limit Zero

Since the weekend before Thanksgiving, I have been battling a virus of some sort which yesterday turned into an infection.  One of the hazards of working in an elementary school, I suppose. In those twenty days, I missed most of Thanksgiving, teaching four yoga classes, practicing yoga, five days of work, two holiday parties, Christmas traditions like sending cards and baking, and spending precious time with my husband, boys (two of whom became sick, as well) and friends.

When someone I know gets sick, my classic response, whether stated or not, is, “Someone is telling you you need to slow down.”  Yeah, I get all pedantic with my bad self.  Funny to hear your own words when your head feels like it’s going to explode. Clearly someone really wanted me to slow down.  As I always do, however, I am trying to find the good, and have had plenty of time to reflect.

I’ve thought about my mom, who, nine years ago, this very day, was in a hospital fighting for her life (she lost less than a week before Christmas) and I was fighting through losing her and getting through the holiday season. I always think of that terrible time when the Christmas carols start playing, mind you, but who doesn’t want their mom when they feel lousy?

I’ve also been thinking about how blessed I am to have people who care, who help and wish me well, to have medical care, and a cozy, clean bed, and books, and movies, and tissues. My Lord, the tissues. And hot toddies.  Mostly, though, I’m grateful because I know I’ll get better.  A sinus infection isn’t terminal, even though when you’re in it, it feels like you will never feel better.  I will eventually get out of bed, get outside, and resume my crazy life.  Some people aren’t so lucky.

It’s funny how things do get pared down when you’re sick. You do only what’s essential. Sleep. Eat. Care for yourself. When simply being able to get a shower and put on clean clothes is a small feat; something you do every day, but, when you’re sick, is a luxury that leaves you feeling grateful.

Maybe I did need to slow down. We all do. The trick is to do it before you get sick. Take time to sleep. Enjoy a meal. Dream. Meditate. Pray. Read a book. Enjoy a luxuriating shower.  Do absolutely nothing. It’s so much more enjoyable when your head doesn’t feel like it’s going to explode. Trust me on this.

“There is more to life than increasing its speed.”  ~Mohandas K. Gandhi

Weekend Education

Getting older most certainly has its advantages. Like seeing old friends, feeling the benefits of sharing a history and life’s challenges and joys.  Like the ability to look back, to laugh at old times while creating new ones.  Like having the wisdom to recognize the urgency of seizing the moment and living this life.  Now.

This weekend I had the blessing of revisiting my college days, reuniting with a few sorority sisters for Homecoming Weekend. The leaves were just starting to change and a definite chill was in the air.  Turns out thirty years did not have an effect on our affection for one another.  We caught up on lost time; we drank too much, shared struggles and triumphs with kids, husbands, family and careers.  We were validated.  We laughed until we cried or our stomachs ached, whichever came first.  We created new inside jokes and gave them life.  A lot of life.

Someone we ran into said it perfectly. “Yes, we are connected with people through email, texting and social media; but then we see those people, we hear their voice, we look into their eyes, we witness their mannerisms, and we remember.”

Full disclosure: I have become too reliant on social media to fill my heart and soul.  Full disclosure: they still feel empty.  Not today.  Not after this weekend.  This weekend was a reminder that nothing will ever replace actual human contact.  Of course it can’t.

We are all busy. We are all crazy.  We all have phones that are within an arm’s reach at all times.  We are more connected than ever, but less connected than we have ever been.

We can’t get complacent. Building a history means sharing, face-to-face; creating inside jokes.  And the older you get, the more you need that validation, the more you need that support.  Life happens.  Life gets hard.  Friendship shouldn’t be.

Make that phone call, then put the phone down.  Turn it off.  Meet for a cup of coffee.  Go for a walk.  Connect.  See someone. Really see them: hear their voice, witness their mannerisms, feel their energy and respond to it, remember.  Your heart and soul will fill to overflowing.

Older is sometimes good. I’ll be dammed.