Transparency and Authenticity

Sometimes when I lay back in savasana or sit down in meditation, it goes like this: thoughts racing a million miles a minute, planning, thinking, contemplating, wondering, suddenly everything in need of processing spills out…it can sometimes go on and on. Then it’s followed by some squirming, or even just the urge to squirm…sometimes it doesn’t feel like “meditation” or deep relaxation at all but rather a big challenge. Then suddenly, as if struck from behind with a tranquilizer, I sink deep. DEEP. Ahhhh…still, peaceful warmth. How did I get here? What if I had given up during the thinking and squirming? I’d’ve missed the sinking. I’d’ve missed the depth. This practice is a journey. It was never meant to be perfect and pretty, absolute serenity and silence. Sometimes we get glimpses of that. But the practice itself is messy, revealing, and yet the most deeply rewarding one we could have. Each time we sit, we inch forward in our journey, we chip away at the nonsense that we so often mistake as “ourselves.” We discover our true Selves. We go deep. I believe in transparency and authenticity…and I’ll be the first to say going deep is not as swift and simple as we’d like to think. We must crawl back into ourselves. We must earn the depth with patience and practice. But we can…and we will. We can withstand the racing thoughts, the squirming fidgets. We can sit with ourselves and let the depth come to us.

Play, Always.

There is something magically exquisite in breaking the rules, refusing labels, sinking deeply into the art of intuitive living. The notion has been swirling around my imagination for a few days now, and took flight this morning as I broke my weekly social media fast and dreamily caught up on the musings of the Facebook, instagram and email world.

I was faced with how beautifully different we all are, as human beings. The myriad of different lives, choices, expressions and illustrations we embody. In this last month I’ve been doing a lot of spiritual work. Rather, a lot of spiritual work has been doing me. I’ve been challenged and questioned, I’ve been offered glimpses of my true nature and invitations to stay awhile in the serene space of inner solitude. I’ve begun to challenge and question ideals and beliefs that, I now realize, I have held as gospel for years. Karmic patterns that I have blindly marched along with for all of my 26 years are now suddenly burning with my sage.

I used to really be bothered by opposition. Even as a child; a friend with long hair like mine would cut her hair short, and I’d feel destabilized. I’d feel the urge to either copy her or defend my own long hair. There was a curse of comparison, one I trust I’ve carried into this life from burdens of another incarnation. I experienced but never outright noticed my tendencies to flinch in the face of opposition. When I came up against differences in other people, I would cringe. That may sound bizarre to you, I know it does to me. Admitting it is oddly uncomfortable and liberating all at once.

As an adult, living a practice of ever-digging for my truth, my tendencies continued to manifest but in a more “in my face” manner. The more I delve into self-inquiry and observation, the more apparent certain veils become. For instance, when I meet a fellow yogi(ni) who happens to be a runner (this one always gets me), or vegan/non-vegan, health-conscious/not health-conscous, spiritual/non-spiritual, my response is not one of dispassion. I’d, in fact, find myself feeling very reactive. I’d feel disappointed or validated, depending on whether “their way” was the same as “my way.” I don’t run or I don’t eat meat or I’m super health conscious and they’re not or they wear loads of makeup and I don’t or they’re gorgeously curvy and I’m not, so I can’t identify with them. It sounds so childish, so limited. But it happened. It happens for many of us.

For a long time that was a familiar refrain in my thought patterns. It would stem from uninvestigated, reactive, instinctual judgements. I’d feel inferior, threatened (strange but true), unintentionally discriminating and competitive. Such a weird little symphony of reactions to have in response to something that had, frankly, nothing at all to do with me. Just another human being living their gloriously unique life. It’s totally embarrassing to confess, but I’ve confessed weirder things, and I’ve found that sharing this type of honest self-inquiry has heightened my accountability immensely.

Cringing in the face of opposition is not a problem, it’s partially just human nature. But continuing to allow ourselves to be emotionally taxed by an unrealistic desire for opposition to vanish…now, that’s a problem.

Truth-telling and truth-seeking; these are the bricks on which the path to the discovery of authentic Truth are built, after all. We’re human. We have these odd little idiosyncrasies. Why not dissect them? Why not embrace them? Why not come to understand them so that we can see them for their worth, and then release them?

I have realized, especially in the past year, how natural it has always been for me to internalize things. Experiences, observations, belief systems, practices, emotions. If something triggers us – and let’s face it, a lot triggers the vast majority of us – it’s incredibly challenging to separate from it. It’s hard to listen to someone’s story of how they handled something or offer solicited advice when the matter at hand tugs at your own emotions, your own heart strings.

There is no one right way. There is no permanence. Permanence is an illusion. Change is the only constant, they say, so why do we crave permanence so furiously? Why do we build castles on granite that’s bound to shift?

A very key part that I unearthed in this mind-fuck of a self-observational exercise is that the restrictive judgements I felt move through me didn’t apply just to others. They applied to me as well. I’d find myself feeling very confused if, on a walk one day, I felt the urge to run the hills or sprint down a street. What the heck was my problem, right? It was that I had identified so thoroughly with “not being a runner anymore,” that I’d lost sight of the simplicity of existence. I’d lost my element of play.

This may seem trivial, it may be a sentence some of you glaze over nonchalantly. But to me, it was like a smack on the forehead. Oh. My. God. DUH. Play. Hello! It makes perfect sense now. I, Miss Type-A Perfectionist Label-Maker, want to title and file ev-er-y-thing in sight. Neat and orderly. Check, check, check. Tick off the boxes, make a new list, rinse and repeat.

But that’s not life. Life is messy. Life is shifting, changing, constantly growing and morphing and renewing. By labeling anything, we inherently limit it.

Since pulling this little nugget of wisdom from the stars, this lesson of worry less play more, I’ve found myself discovering more play in all sorts of places. I’ve invited more play into my asana practice. More experimentation. Before, I could be quite analytical. I began practicing with complete and utter bodily intuition. Then I was trained as a teacher, and my “teaching” brain infiltrated my every practice. Now I’m navigating back to a balance of intuitive play and proper instruction. There’s an element of experimentation that’s necessary for one to deeply develop one’s practice, I believe (look at how Iyengar developed the method, experimentation!). There’s something liberating and exhilarating in this. And it transcends the mat (as the asana practice is really just a laboratory for life, anyway).

This liberation, this exhilaration, are essential components. This candid self-observation is to the transformation process as preheating the oven is to preparing a feast.

Seeing ourself through a compassionate lens, holding space for brutal honest (like admitting foolish stuff like caring that someone else runs when you don’t, resisting the urge to shudder at this folly and even to label it as such), and then offering ourselves the understanding needed to process and purge these thoughts healthfully…this is the essential process in creating a recipe that’ll stand the test of time.

So, what’s the moral of the story this evening? I don’t have any grand moral. But I have a simple thought. Growth does not occur because we’ve micromanaged our lives. Growth occurs organically. Growth and transformation are not interchangeable. Growth is evolution. Transformation is unveiling. Peeling away the layers. Transformation happens with intention, and recognition of the shadows that inevitably darken portions of the path. Transformation happens when we find a recipe that works for us, and we get serious in the kitchen. I’ve discovered some invaluable tweaks to my cooking strategies in this recent exploration. Some steps that’ll surely keep me from burning a few masterpieces-to-be, and ensure my recipe does stand the test of time…

A handful of compassion, a reasonable dose of diligence, a sprinkle of pepper, and humility. Play, always. Limit labeling. And don’t forget to preheat the oven.

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Soham

The identifications in this life are so tempting, sooo alluring…the urge to identify is rampant, laced into nearly every moment. Girlie, nerdy, athletic, vegetarian, teacher, doctor, outdoorsy, wife, mother, husband, father, artsy, conservative, liberal, ironic, pious…there are more ways we can latch onto false identifications than there are moments in the day. We do it unwittingly. We do it with honest and pure intentions (usually). But this is not who we are. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying these parts of our lives, but for liberation to be tasted, we must work towards the recognition that these “identities” are NOT “us.” We were infants once with no knowledge of math or science, unable to read, utterly dependent on our caretakers. Now we’re adults…our bodies have changed, our minds have changed, we dress differently, our careers have likely changed, maybe our partners have changed, we’ve had loss and we’ve had gain…we are quite literally the opposite of what we once were. Therein lies the danger in identifying with any physical or mental characteristic! So much has shifted, and continues to shift, it is the purpose as human beings, on a cellular level. The danger in thinking we “are” any particular identity is fierce. In the deep, silent space of contemplation that is meditation, we begin to sip from the overflowing bowl of sweet nectar that IS our True Nature. The warm, constant pulse of our existence. Divine light. Earth angels. Beings of energy that are beyond any fathomable “identity.” In this space, there is such safety, such security, such warmth. The womb of humanity. So be you, do you, be “girlie, nerdy, athletic, vegetarian, teacher, doctor, outdoorsy, wife, mother, husband, father, artsy, conservative, liberal, ironic, pious…” but KNOW, in your very depths, that you are so much more than any of those titles imply. You are more sacred than any title could ever express. You ARE Divine light. You ARE an Earth angel. You ARE a Being of energy beyond any fathomable “identity.” And you are here with a purpose. So step into the warmth of yourself, find that safe space, and proceed fully anchored by the roots of your untouchable Grace.
Namaste.

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The Art of Not Giving a Shit

I was going to call this essay “The Art of Not Caring.” But that’s frankly just too PG-13 for my current perspective. I’m going balls out and saying I don’t give a shit. Well, I actually do. I give many shits. But this past week the universe has laid out an intricate, land mine-laden obstacle course for me to navigate. In the process, I have found myself faced with the question, “Why do I care?” Actually, this very morning, my mom replied to my text-barrage of drama with, “Practice not caring.”

Practice not caring.

What a radical concept.

When I say “not caring” or “not giving a shit,” I by no means am implying one ought to walk through life with utter disregard to others space, time, feelings, thoughts, and the like. I am pinpointing a very specific and controversial notion. This is a constant, in our lives, this over-caring. I would go so far as to group it with the toxicity of holding a grudge. The whole “drinking poison and expecting the other person to die” idea. Does the person we’re angry with feel our anger when the argument is over? Nope. Does the person with whom we disagreed suffer over our ensuing obsession? Negative. Guilt, fear, regret, anger, jealousy, defensiveness…all of that ultimately affects one person and one person alone: you.

Clashing opinions, conflict, criticism…it’s going to happen. It’s called being human and living in a world with other human beings. One of my yoga teachers Seane Corn often says during practice, “Keep your eyes fixed on one spot and try not to shift your gaze…reduce the fidgeting and notice when you do.” That last part is what hits me the hardest, in the best way. Notice when you do. Occasionally we stray from our virtuous path. Sometimes we willingly engage in the “wrong” action. We get angry, we say something we don’t mean, we direct our rage towards other drivers on the road, we vent our irritation on our partner or the dog, we lie, we cheat, we fuck up. It happens. We do these things; we’re only human. It’s a part of life. But if we decide to do something harmful, like get totally wasted or blow off an important assignment or flake on plans last minute…may we do so knowingly. May we have the courage to say to ourselves, okay…I’m doing this. It’s not the right thing to do, but it’s what I am choosing to do in this moment. I am acting mindfully, even if this action is not in accordance with my highest morality. Hopefully we don’t find ourselves in this conversation often. But in the moments we do screw up, may we screw up with as much Grace and dignity as we are able. May we have enough compassion towards ourselves to realize we almost predominantly do the right thing, and then give ourselves permission to live fluidly. Sometimes living fluidly draws us downstream into a bit of pond scum. But we need those pond scum moments to strengthen our swimming skills. We need the moments of stuck-in-gunk-ness to see what it’s like to bob amidst that dirty film, and then exercise the kicking muscles to get back up to clean water where the moving is easy.

We are bound to have moments of darkness. We are bound to be dishonest. We are bound to be offended by criticism. We are bound to hold grudges. We are bound to mess up. We are bound to care what others think. We are bound to give a shit.

We are bound by our humanity, and by our ethics. But I believe that if we are making an effort, day in and day out, to live in line with our moral manifesto, to see ourselves with compassion and to commit to truth…then I believe we are living our most authentic, well-intentioned lives.

What can we do besides follow our own moral compass? If we are living in line with our ethics, being good and doing good, aiming to spread beneficial energy all the while being true to our own internal rhythm – what more could anyone ask for?

But they do ask for more. And more, and more, and more.

You know it. You’ve been there. We all have. At some point, we have to determine the toxic load of our experience. We can’t change what’s happening…but we can change our reaction. We can choose to not give a shit. In my experience this means acknowledging the reality of a situation, responding to it with fierce authenticity, holding my ground while staying in line with my truth, and also remembering when to compromise. Is it better to be right or be kind? I think we all know the answer to that one.

But it’s also important to stand up for ourselves. So this is tricky business. What about the person who, despite no longer being in your daily life, still finds ways to criticize and get in “digs”? How do I “not care” about that? I find my “not caring” comes in a messy little package of defensive, guarded irritation.

I don’t believe it has to be that way, though. I know in my deepest depths that we have the power to revolutionize our own thought processes. We have the power to move, albeit slowly, from that place of irritated inattention to authentic neglect. What I mean by authentic neglect is the profoundly natural inclination to move away from an emotional state that does not serve our highest good. A response that says, this is not good for me, this is stressful and toxic on a cellular level, and I am benefited in no way by caring. We have that power! It just takes practice. Willful, repetitive exercising of that force. Those kicking muscles. We have to get to a place where our desire for our own peace and healing overrides any lower mind desire to obsess, wallow, regret or, ultimately, soak in the pond scum of negativity. We come to a place where we refuse to drink poison and expect the other person to die.

So, you see, learning to not give a shit is truly an art form. It requires practice, patience, dedication and compassion. It calls for truth, goodness, love and courage. It is by no means a throwing in of the towel. It is in no way a surrender. It is not even a “fuck you,” (most of the time). It is none of those things. But what it is is an act of self-preservation and of utmost benevolence. Choosing to remove oneself from the power struggle is the balm to the burn. This skillful choice cuts short the hurtful back-and-forth that ensues when one continues to care and, essentially, prod the wound. Adding insult to injury is never going to result in healing. Having the last word only gives the illusion of satisfaction.

Learning how, when and if to reply to criticism or conflict is a lifelong journey. But it’s one I hope we can begin practicing dedicatedly today. Right now. Because the more intimately familiar we become with the art of not giving a shit, the more deeply we can sink our roots into the moist, fertile soil of our truth.

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Give All Back to Spirit

Say “God” in a yoga room – much less any other room – and you may well lose half your class. Figuratively and even literally. The notion of God is tangled mercilessly in the web of religion. The image of a man in the sky with a long white beard ruling over humanity with staff in hand may come to mind when the G-word is dropped. Many of us were raised religious; some of us were even provided quite a patriarchal network painted as religion. Religion aside, though, God is a word often skirted around for fear of the ensuing implications. My yoga teacher Seane Corn has the greatest definition of God. It is, “that which exists within that is of truth and love.” Who could argue with that, right?

God, by this definition, exists within us all. God is whatever and whomever we, as individuals, deem proper. You could be drawn to the word “God,” or perhaps Divine Mother, cosmic consciousness, the Universe, higher Self or the powers that be resonate more deeply with you. The point is, God is me as God is you as God is everyone. We are all part of the Divine fabric, intricately woven threads each endowed with our own, marvelous sprinkling of Grace. Our expressions of spirituality are different, our prayers different, our vibration different. This is how it is meant to be! There have been wars waged over religion; unfathomable blood shed over what God is or isn’t. It’s devastating to consider, especially when the truth (as far as I see it) is no one man or woman is more Godly than another. We are all Godly. It’s just a matter of how, or if, we choose to express it.

How does one go about expressing God in day-to-day life? Kindness. Compassion. Love. Generosity. Gratitude. Just to name a few. While cathedrals and chapels and shrines are stunning, we needn’t go to such trouble to express our devotion on a moment-to-moment basis. We are Divine expressions of God in and of ourselves! Our bodies are our temples. Our breath and movement is our prayer. Our very existence is an expression of devotion and, with mindfulness and commitment to Self and other, we have the capacity to fortify the unification of humanity.

I am a yoga teacher and soul activist who is deeply spiritual and open about my faith in Grace, the Divine and intangible cosmic beauty. On this path, I have been faced repeatedly with the judgment that yoga is a religion. I was even told recently that all yogis are “going to hell” because they fancy themselves “above God.” What the what? First of all, the ancient system of yoga originated in India. It is a multi-layered practice, and asana is only one limb. Yoga is not a religion. Hinduism and Buddhism are the two most well known religions associated with the yoga practice, but they are completely separate.

It’s important to differentiate between spirituality and religion. Religion is the subscription to a specific dogma. “A particular system of faith or worship,” according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. On the other hand, spirituality is less a practice and more an embodiment. It is defined as “relating to or affecting the human spirit or soul as opposed to material or physical things; not concerned with material values of pursuits.” Quite different, yes? I will definitely admit there are some grey areas. A religious person can be deeply spiritual. But, on the contrary, there are countless spiritual beings who are not religious in the slightest. So one must be mindful of how one does differentiate, if discussing religion and spirituality. Especially when yoga is involved in the conversation!

Spirit is where we all came from. The Divine essence of existence. The pulse of the Universe. The rhythms of nature and the cosmos, the steady thread of unchanging bliss. My guru, Mynx Inatsugu, taught me what our “true nature” actually is. We are not the bodies we live in. We are not the minds we have in our heads. We are not the titles and various identities we accumulate throughout our lives. Because all of these are changing. Our bodies grow and age, our minds learn and change, our identifications come and go. The one steady constant we have had since coming into this life is the simple thread of awareness we were born with. It is unchanging. It is unaffected by weight, height, intelligence, memory, success or failure. It is the sweet nectar of our very being. It is our own personal dose of Spirit.

Spirit comes from the Latin root “spiritus” meaning “breath.” As yogis, and as human beings, everything comes back to the breath. Breath is life. Breath is prana; life force; sacred energy. Without the breath, we cannot survive. Similarly, without Spirit, we cannot survive. We can live completely disconnected from Spirit, in denial of it, or completely oblivious to it…but it will persist. It is threaded into our very spiritual matrix. We are vessels of Divinity. We are conduits of Grace. We are Gods and Goddesses in the flesh. We can argue it all we want, but we are vibrational beings of light living human lives on this sweet little planet. We come from the stars; we are literally made of stardust. The human restrictions of flesh and thought cannot contain us; we are inconceivably more than anything any human mind could even process. What power that offers, right? We all have this inherent capacity to “be good and do good,” by birthright. We are all cut of the same cloth.

It’s really easy to identify and cling to the changeable nature of things. Money, possessions, politics, relationships. It’s practically impossible not to cling to these things, at least some of the time. But the real problem lies in the belief in duality. The belief that you are different than I am. The belief that what I’m doing is wrong and what you’re doing is right. Seane Corn says that all things happen exactly as they’re meant to “so as for our souls to transform.” We are on a journey, all of us. We are here to grow, expand, transform and learn. We are here to spread love and be love but, most of all, we are here to remember how to love. We are here to teach each other. We are here to spend every single day practicing the art of seeing God in one another, of practicing compassion and kindness, to our Selves and to others. We are here with a great responsibility to the very magic of which we are comprised…to recognize the power that lies within, to never forget it, and to stand in awe of the great gift we have been given. You are God, you are Spirit and you are perfect – absolutely perfect ­– just by breathing.

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Soften and Surrender

Early tomorrow morning is the rising of the Blood Moon, and a total eclipse of the full moon. This moon is the Hunter’s Moon (the full moon following the Harvest Moon) but is being referred to as the “Blood Moon” as it is part of a lunar tetrad and ancient prophecy. All that aside…this full moon is bringing the heat. POTENT energy abounds…it’s yours to harness, my loves.

Mercury is also retrograde, meaning don’t be surprised if things go completely wonky (and I mean DON’T be surprised – this coming from someone who has, in the last 12 hours, had nearly every plan for the next MONTH get flipped on its head). Be extra mindful driving and where cars and electronics are concerned (again – take it from me, my car is currently tripling its original repair estimate as of 7am today, thanks Mercury!). More importantly, though, is how we react to these events. You may skate through retrograde without a hiccup, as many of us have before, and this Blood Moon may rock your friggin’ socks, being the wind in your sails, fortifying all the good and abundant already swirling around your personal little Universe (and I fist pump you heartily if that’s the case!).

But, if it’s not the case, you are in good company…and what matters most, what is absolutely vital, is that we react MINDFULLY to the circumstances. That we look quietly at the hand we’re dealt, chew on it, and don’t act without thinking. Being brash or overly emotional in these situations when there’s a full moon is like tossing a lit match into a puddle of gasoline. Just don’t do it. I have said it again and again but feel the need to reiterate (for my own sake, if no one else’s!), the full moon amplifies whatever is going on, especially internally.

So try and take a deep breath, go inside for a moment, have a little talk with yourself (yes, this is me talking to me, take what you will from it loves), and – most importantly – trust the process. Use the magnified essence of the Blood Moon to cultivate what harmony and surrender you can around the changeable circumstances and uncontrollable bumps that may occur in and on your path. We are in this together. Our sweet, sacred Divine Mother wishes nothing but to facilitate our highest good and necessary growth. We must trust, we must know, that sometimes these “what the F*CK” experiences are the only available mode of transportation in getting to that place of clarity.

Tonight, wherever you are, take a moment to get out beneath the waxing moon. Maybe say a little prayer. Maybe say nothing. Close your eyes, turn your face upward, and let her light soften your features. Leave your crystals and stones outside to charge beneath her radiance (assuming it’s not raining where you are and your crystals are in a safe place). Sit in meditation afterwards, inside, and take some deep breaths. Focus on your intentions and harness the sweet nectar of the moon to help give the manifestation of these dreams the extra gusto they need. Drink water. Put your legs up the wall for a few minutes. Ground into the earth. Indulge in a little bedtime ritual (candles, journal, soft music, eye pillow) and make sure you allot enough time to foster restful sleep. Ask for illuminating dreams. Then release. Soften and surrender. Breathe deep, seek peace.

Let love in.

Om shanti, shanti, shantihi . . . Om peace, peace, peace.

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Home

We are living in a physical realm; we bathe (hopefully) and feed ourselves; we sleep and build homes in which to live. But we are spiritual beings. We are particles of Divinity, made of stardust and light. We are earth angels. Our existence is fundamentally on a physical plane, we call it the “food body” – literally the flesh. But this is not who we ARE. This is not why we’re HERE. We are transcendent, astral bodies with the capacity to access our higher Selves. Our higher minds. Our highest potential. We also have the capacity to never experience our true nature. Because to experience it, really KNOW it, we must first see it. Acknowledge its presence, and then excavate it. This process is exquisite and a gift, through and through. This Truth lies within all of us, and it is made of love. When we see it we must really see it. We must recognize it. We must carefully maneuver it out from between the flesh and the bone and embrace it…knowing full well how valuable it is and promising never to squash it between our mortal fingers. We must bottle this up and carry it in our very human minds. A reminder, each time the flesh threatens to swallow us up in its complex web of existence, humanity and life and all the accompanying chaos, that we are light. We are untouchable. Our very presence here has a purpose and is an act of great wisdom by the creator (insert the Universe, God, Goddess, the Divie Mother, the cosmos…whatever resonates within your unique spiritual matrix). We are dancing between a physical realm and the celestial sphere…the latter being home. May we always, always, ALWAYS remember our way home.

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