A Good, Fierce Practice

The first of the 8 Limbs of Yoga are the Yamas, the conscious restraints of our behaviors, of which there are 5. I find myself, of late, balancing between the second and fifth yamas…satya, truthfulness, and aparigraha, non-possessiveness. The others are ahimsa, non-violence, asteya, non-stealing, and brahmacharya, moderation. In the practice of satya I find myself gravitating towards the element of non-judgement…holding space for those who don’t flow the way I flow, allowing their differences to teach me rather than unsettle me, staying grounded in opposition and finding an even deeper anchor in the steady practice of remaining compassionate.

It is a very human urge to judge. We make judgements all day long, every day, from simple (“I should drink more water right now because I’m thirsty,” to complex, “I should tell my husband he needs to pay more attention to me because I’m beginning to feel detached from the relationship,”). Just because a judgement comes up does not mean it’s fair, correct or appropriate, but it comes up nonetheless. In my practice of satya, which also encompasses being honest and forgiving, I aim to see clearly the thoughts I have and judgements I pass rather than trying to stifle them. I meet them with kindness and love. I examine, dispassionately, their truthfulness and concede that, inevitably, there is always an element of falsity to one’s own judgements.

It is also quite human to be possessive. Possessive of time, possessions, even other people (this is where it has been trickiest for me). It makes me think of the story of the traveling monk. A man meets a monk in an airport. The man is sitting with his humble suitcase, waiting for the plane to arrive. The monk is sitting across from him with nothing, hands folded peacefully in his lap. The man smiles at the monk, and asks him, “Where is all your luggage?” The monk smiles back, “You yourself only have one small suitcase, where is the rest of your luggage?” The man glances at his conservative suitcase, “Oh…I’m just passing through,” the man says with a shrug. A gentle pause, and the monk replies, “So am I.”

Point being…how does a suitcase full (or, let’s be honest, HOUSE full) of possessions really serve us? In many ways we are served by the things we own, we use them daily and are grateful for them. But in many other cases they simply weigh us down, like anchors around our ankles. Keeping us stagnant, keeping us stuck at home paying for the expensive things by which we are surrounded. What I find is worse, in my experience, is being possessive of another human being. We cannot own one another, we cannot even own our own selves. Our spirits, yes, but these bodies and minds are temporarily on lend from God.

The Divine has placed us for a certain amount of time on this planet to — what? To do what? My answer is to BE LOVE. Not to own the world’s finest things, not to own one’s partner or children or dearest friends, not to base one’s self-worth on the accumulation of material goods or even notions…but to be good and do good. To love oneself and one another. To leave a mark on this planet, a jet stream if you will, of truth and love. Of light. Of authenticity. To have lived fully, for one another, humbly and with utmost regard to the phenomenon of this opportunity at human life. To have all that we have, and to have it for the great lengths that we do. The blessing of cognitive reasoning to even have this conversation, to even digest this notion of living more simply so as to open oneself up to love and freedom. Because that is what the 8 Limbs of Yoga are about…leading one in a solo, spiritual, cosmic journey towards liberation. Freedom. I certainly don’t anticipate getting to the 8th limb, which is Samadhi (enlightenment) in this life, and frankly I wouldn’t want to. I have much work to do at the bottom rungs. I have been blessed with the lives preceding this one to know that I have done much work already, and now I am consciously aware of the ladder before me. I start at the very base rung, on the very first yama, and work my way upwards…with integrity, passion, awareness, purposefulness and, above all, gratitude.

This practice of yoga is one that is lifelong, if so we choose (and it’s quite obvious I’ve chosen). There are fierce practices that can last a lifetime embedded in each yama itself, not to mention the intricacies of the other 8 Limbs. This practice will not gift us with immediate relief from the suffering of life. In fact, quite the contrary. The practice will open us up to greater depths of feeling, which can at first cause suffering. But, by always coming back to the yamas, we can ground ourselves in the pulse of our own true nature and not get carried away with self-judgement.

My two chosen yamas for current practice come to mind yet again. Truthfulness – forgiving myself for the urge to judge myself, and embracing my imperfect human tendencies as simply the container for my beyond perfect spirit (all of our spirits are untouchably perfect). Non-possessiveness, being non-attached to the outcome of my practice (a huge challenge) and trusting the process. Practicing diligently, with Grace, and always asking for the guidance of the Divine in the endeavor to stay calm and non-possessive of the very relationship between the tangible self and the God within. I believe that, whether or not one is a yogi, the 8 Limbs are universal. Anyone can practice them. Anybody living out in the world, amongst other human beings, can find a fierce daily practice in these simple yet profound concepts. We are devastatingly beautiful in our humanity…and it is up to us to see and embrace that, as our souls traverse this journey. May we always vow to uplift one another and see our selves in one another, so as to proliferate the most healing energy that could exist…compassion. The work is done on the inside, the effects radiate outward, and the ripples undulate onward…

Namaste

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Let Presence Become Us

Are you like me? Do you regularly find yourself enjoying the moment so much that you become protective of it, defensive, afraid it will pass too quickly?

We’ve gotten a lot better since I finished college and became able to visit home more frequently and for longer durations, but my mom and I are pretty infamous for doing this, both together and individually. This is going to be such a fun weekend I hope it doesn’t go by too quickly I just don’t want it to end! I can’t tell you how many times the two of us have echoed that very sentiment. It’s just hard to get past the fact that the most delicious moment seems to be at the very cusp of the weekend, before anything has even really happened, perhaps before I’ve even arrived…everything that’s to come suspended in time, yet to unfold, so delicious in its anticipation. I find this experience very human, and a borderline epidemic amongst the sentimental. But the truth is indulging this excitement, excitement that is laced with dread, is like taking a drug and only focusing on the impending comedown. How can we really enjoy what’s in our palms if we’re only focused on what’s just left our fingertips?

Is it possible to be too present? Can we be so present that we’re actually still in the past, envisioning the future, desperately hoping the moment doesn’t go by too quickly…or suddenly in the future itself looking back on the past and desperately wishing it weren’t over. Can we shatter the realm of the present moment by trying to anticipate or prolong the inevitable?

I’ve done this my whole life. Birthdays. Christmases. Vacations. Long weekends at home. Romantic getaways. Spa appointments even, for goodness sake! As much as I want to enjoy all that lay ahead there’s also a little part of me that wants to just freeze that moment, before it’s begun, before it’s been spoiled by the start of the ticking clock (as though the clock weren’t ticking all along). It sort of falls into the theme I often speak of, the “enjoy your life now,” thread; the “don’t wait for friday or vacation or retirement to be happy, find your happy now, in monday, the day after vacation, the heat of responsibility and obligation” notion. A notion so much easier spoken of than embodied. Seriously. There’s a reason people in the grocery store answer, “How are you?” with, “Well, it’s friday!” at the end of the week. As though a day of the week could suddenly revolutionize an otherwise dismal outlook, foul mood, boring day.

I’m all for being present. Being in the moment. Living life now, right here, with everything as it naturally is. I dream of finding contentment from moment to moment, regardless of the circumstances, finding a way to always love what is. Which is why I’m so cognizant of this behavior I exhibit quite regularly, this habitual desire to slow down the good parts.

Take today, for instance. It’s Mother’s Day. I was able to get the day off work and spend a whole afternoon lazing in my aunt’s backyard, sitting beside my mom, getting barreled over by my yellow lab and teaching my Noni how to hula hoop. It was a perfect day. Gorgeous weather, not too hot, not too cool. Delicious food. Surrounded by my family. My happy puppy running circles around the yard. Nowhere to be and nothing to worry about. For the first time in a long time neither my mom nor myself made a comment about wishing the day wouldn’t end. Looking back, it makes me smile. We were just there. We didn’t try to squeeze the moment so hard it burst, we didn’t struggle to slow down the day, making the inevitable departure doubly melancholy in its weight. No, we just simply were. We laughed, ate, gabbed, smooched, relaxed.

The moment we stopped worrying about trying to stay present or control the pace of the moment was the very moment we released ourselves and presence became us. That was the very moment we moved away from resistance. The energy of the day danced around us in perfect tempo, encasing us inside of it, and that alone was enough to slow down time.

When it came time to leave we gave big hugs and caravanned down the freeway. The place where the freeway splits taking my parents one direction and me in the other, towards our respective homes, was up ahead in the distance. We cruised alongside each other, each of our windows down. My mom and I held extended hands out the window, fingertips reaching out for one another, smiles hanging lazily on our mouths, jaws slack with the pleasure of the day. At the split we blew kisses and waved, sun kissed, grinning faces fading as the pavement carried us apart. There was nothing in my heart but ease. No angst over the parting (as there typically is). There was no “ripping off the bandaid” feeling that usually accompanies having to say goodbye to my mom to taint the otherwise perfect day.

We had managed to move with the grain, with the churning of the earth, leaning into gravity and letting the natural rhythm and air of unassuming presence carry us. We did not fall towards resistance. Instead we turned our backs on it and embraced what is. The sheer tangibility. The reality of our lives, sprawled all around us, both behind and in front of us. Today…five perfect hours. Sultry air moving through the leaves of the trees. My mom and I, deck chairs tucked in the shade, barefoot and holding hands. The dog’s wet, flaxen coat glistening in the midday sun. The crimson juice of a perfect summer strawberry staining my fingers. The artless flavor of an afternoon with nothing to do but be.

I’m certainly not poised to write a “how-to” book on being present, as I’m clearly still endeavoring to master that skill, but I’m beginning to understand the process. As ever, less is more becomes my mantra. Sometimes it’s in the release, the surrender, the acceptance of life it its simplest nature that brings us most vividly into the present moment. We can’t slow it down, nor can we speed it up, nor can we really be where we are any more fully by suffocating the moment. Casually sitting back, in neutral observation, that is what lures the essence of the present moment… and it is through the untroubled savoring of that sweet nectar that presence becomes us.

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Happy Mother’s Day to my amazing momma…the woman who gave me life, is my best friend, greatest spiritual guide and who anchors me to this earth. I love you mumma. Jai MAA!

All Power Lies Within

I’m sure it’s not news to any of us that our thoughts create our reality. They quite literally define what reality means to us as individuals. My teacher says that our present state is a direct representation of the thoughts we’ve had in the past; our future state is going to be a reflected by the thoughts we are having right now. So if ever we believed our thoughts didn’t matter, that they don’t matter right now, we were gravely mistaken. The thoughts we’re having this very day are manifesting the experience we are to have tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after that, and the day after that…

The other day an idea occurred to me. I was having a blah day but, in the world of working with the public, such “blah-ness” is not always entirely appropriate. I’ve written before about the pressure to always be “on.” The outside expectation placed on a “happy people” to always be bubbly, upbeat, grinning from ear to ear. Well, friends, I’m sure it’s (again) not news to any of us that such an expectation is just not realistic. Whether being asked of “happy people” or otherwise. That being said, I felt pressured to meet the hammering of questions from co-workers with some legitimate reason for my lack of…fluff. But the truth is I didn’t have one. Well, I did have a reason, and it is certainly legitimate in the confines of my own heart, but we should not have to share the deepest, most personal cries of our spirit with just anyone for just any reason. Just because they asked. No, that’s not how it works. We are allowed to keep our personal battles to ourselves if we so choose. We are allowed to have flat days, “off” days, and we’re allowed to offer no justification for our shifted energy. As long as we’re still treating those around us with kindness and respect, of course, we’re allowed to feel and be however we are. That may sound selfish but I believe in offering ourselves space to work through the ups and downs of being human. I believe in giving ourselves the patience and respect we’d give a loved one, and not needing to bare our soul to anyone ever if it’s not of our own volition.

This is all beginning to sound a bit dramatic and, I assure you, this day was quite the opposite. I just felt strongly that I needn’t have a reason to feel blue. Sometimes we just do, and there’s nothing the matter with that. So I resorted to offering my acquaintances the, “Oh it’s just one of ‘those’ days, having a bad day” excuse to, for lack of kinder words, shut them up. It seemed to work and yet I found myself feeling like a fraud, which I am not. I was having a bad day, but the deep-rooted gratitude practice I keep was whispering from the depths of me this isn’t even close to a bad day, you have so much to be grateful for. And that’s the truth. What I longed for was not sympathy or a shoulder to cry on because, well, what I was experiencing was nothing more than the price of being human. Having emotions. Experiencing life. Being sensitive. Trying to conquer fear with love. A natural process. It’s just a challenge sometimes to go through the motions of life in front of other people, not to mention when working in the public eye. Sometimes we just need what is so beautifully referred to as a “mental health day,” a day where we don’t need to talk to or even interact with anyone. A day where we can be alone with our thoughts, sort through our experience organically. (I always imagine myself at the coast, feet in the sand, wind blowing my hair…no cell phone, totally detached from reality…although, who am I kidding, I’d never turn my cell phone off for a day for fear of an emergency and the moment I got to the beach I’d likely be texting my mom saying aw wish you were here… Ha!). But in reality we need to work, at least I did that day, and so I had to suck it up.

I made it through the day just fine and was ultimately grateful to have caring people around me, people to whom my happiness matters, who appreciate my natural demeanor of positivity and enthusiasm and who are concerned when it goes missing. I anchored in silence and my personal practice once I made it home and had closed the doors on the world for that day, and all was well again.

But something interesting occurred to me in the midst of my funky mood. It struck me in the middle of that day, that day that was spent so very much up in the clouds of my own head, and I realized more than ever how powerful a mechanism of manifestation the mind is. I mean, truly.

Have you ever had one of those days where you fake ill? You tell your boss or your teacher or your parents that you’re unwell, you’re sick, and you have to fake it in order to get away with whatever brought you to weave the untruth in the first place? Whenever I have done this, almost inevitably, the fabricated ailment has taken root in my body. I begin to feel poorly, just because I am using my mind to convince the external world that I am indeed feeling poorly. Even still, with the knowledge that I am just telling a fib, my body responds. The degrees vary, but almost always I shlump to some extent. I fall victim to my thoughts. The result has usually been some measure of guilt for having lied, as well as truly feeling physically crummy. At the very least I have had to remind myself that I am indeed fine, that it had just been an act. Crazy, right?

The mind is a powerful, powerful instrument of change. Manifestation. Creation. I truly believe that it will occupy most of this life, the practice of harnessing and utilizing this power. I am fascinated by the potential. I’ve pondered, and written about, this phenomenon quite a bit…but I never fail to be amazed at how many forms it takes. We are spirit beings on a quest for total liberation from the chatter of the mind. But the mind is not something we’re trying to toss out with the bath water. The mind is a tool, an implement that we can master and employ as we see fit, with practice. If we can work towards freeing ourselves from our own uncontrollable thoughts (or at least learning how to dance with them and not be controlled oby them), we tap into the limitless potential with which we were born.

The mind is a powerful mechanism of manifestation. The way we perceive the world, ourselves, one another, our lives…is up to us. The lens through which we see our experiences writes our reality, our story, the chapters at our heels and the pages beneath our feet. What we are in control of is how we fill the blank pages up ahead. Our thoughts have a physiological effect. We can rewrite the chemistry of our bodies, our physical beings, by altering our thought patterns. How does one go about doing this? Awareness. Practice. Concentration. Faith. All power lies within. Because Divinity lies within us, fills our breath and bones and cells with light. We are Divinity personified. This is the truth, the highest truth, and it’s about time we start recognizing it. Acting accordingly. We have the power to change our thoughts this very moment and, in doing so, we have the power to alter the route of our existence. We have the power to write whatever we want onto the blank sheets of our future. Our bodies believe what our minds say. Our physical chemistry responds to our state of consciousness. So let’s harness that power. The choices is ours. We are earth angels, beings of light, guided by Grace and armed with wisdom.

Our bodies believe what our minds tell us. Our thoughts write our reality.

How does your next chapter start?

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