I’ve been a mom for 8 months long enough to know that waking up with a cranky baby means long day ahead. She was beside herself. Meanwhile, my mind continued to monkey around. What could possibly be this upsetting when you aren’t even 250 days old?
“Can you please not waste any more of my time?” he said.
“Wow.” I thought, out loud, slamming the car door shut behind me. Does he realize how painful it feels to be called a total waste of time?
I don’t know about you but this time of year doesn’t always feel warm and fuzzy. The giving season often highlights one of the most difficult acts of giving, forgiving. A real F word if I’ve ever heard one. Maybe because deep down the pain beckoning us to let it go burns just as much as the first time.
Have you ever felt something, “to the bone”?
Henry David Thoreau said, Do what you love. Know your own bone; gnaw at it, bury it, unearth it, and gnaw at it still.”
If there is one thing I’ve observed in being human it’s that we all grapple with our “bones”. It’s difficult to live fully exposed. It’s difficult to believe we are deserving of a deeply meaningful life, that the purpose we feel underneath it all is something worth sharing, yet our bones remain the scaffolding of our physical existence. I’m reflecting on all of this with a revived appreciation for the jazz genre thanks in part to, A Night in Tunisia. Listening to Dizzy Gillespie on the trumpet you know jazz music is not just in his fingers and his breath–it’s in his bones. As natural as it was for Dizzy to pioneer the Bebop Era, you and I are pioneers of something natural and meaningful. What’s in your bones?
While structure is essential, it can’t move without muscle. So much of our strength goes to the gnawing and burying and unearthing and gnawing again. Mindfulness practices help us penetrate through the layers of doubts, fears, torpor, cravings, and aversions dominating our energy.
Lately I’ve been going toe-to-toe with torpor. Such a thick layer of slug I feel like I’m buried under! I’ve blamed my kaphic dosha and my baby and my job(s) and the enigma that is time, but often it really boils down to me hiding behind my lethargy. There are many days I’d way rather be in my bed than on my mat, and in Child’s Pose if I make it. This week I had one of those days. I show up to class, defying the repetitive thoughts in my head tired, lazy, lazy, tired. “Breathe” she says. “Listen to your breath. The point is to give yourself a break from the constant thoughts that repeat themselves over and over again.”
In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali mentions obstacles are a natural part of the process, as well as their consequences. Sutra 1.32 goes on to say:
One-pointed focus is the best way to prevent the obstacles and their accompaniments.
Many of the muscles we strengthen through conscious practices are unseen. Muscles like awareness, focus, self-compassion, and non-reactivity help us generate stillness and get back to the bone.
No matter how many times we bury them there is good news: bones are stronger than mild steel and alive, comprised of living cells and nerves and blood vessels that allow them to continue growing and repairing themselves. The other news flash? Every human framework is unique. Get to know your own skeletal variation. When the water is still, you can see the ocean floor. By creating stillness we can navigate through the natural obstacles that are generating waves in our lives. Whatever obstacles you’re up against, find your one-pointed focus and feel again, to the bone.
“Doesn’t life teach us the most when it brings us to our knees?” A question that has lingered since it was first posed by one of my yoga teachers years ago, feeling just as fitting now as it did back then. Sometimes things just feel really hard. A mantra that often comes to mind in these, am I cut out for this moments is, “Diamonds.”
Diamonds come from the Greek word adámas which means unbreakable. It is the hardest known mineral, hence its name, and each and every diamond is unique. Diamonds are formed under tremendous heat and pressure. These conditions exist miles beneath the Earth’s surface where temperatures exceed triple digits.
Life gets really hot and uncomfortable and overwhelming at times yet this heat and pressure are refining something really beautiful on the inside. My knees buckled recently. I think it might have been on the fourth, or fifth (?) night in a row of eating popcorn for dinner. Yes I am a dietitian, but I’m also a new mom, a full-time worker, and an overtime dreamer that often struggles to find the bandwidth to eat leafy greens and lean protein at every meal and stay connected with people who remind me I’m not alone. In a lonely moment, a former client of mine came to mind. She was a single mom, working overtime at a minimum wage job to support her three children, and wasn’t really interested in talking about getting 5-9 servings of fruits and veggies the first time we met; she needed to check and see if the cab driver she arranged to pick up her son and take him to karate class had actually shown up on time.
I was one of three too. I’ve caught myself in many moments lately thinking, “how did they do it?” wondering how my parents juggled full-time careers, a family business, a full house, their own dreams, and some hard times of their own. In the juggling, the hard often feels like a heavy weight that lands in your palm and folds you in half. I remember watching a juggler once. He dropped his balls and then you know what? He picked them all up and started again.
In the book, The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle shares the story of a beggar who had been sitting on an old box on the side of the road for over thirty years. One day a stranger walked by. “Spare some change?” mumbled the beggar. “I have nothing to give you,” said the stranger before asking, “What’s that you are sitting on?” “Nothing,” replied the beggar. “Just an old box. I have been sitting on it for as long as I can remember.” “Have a look inside,” insisted the stranger. The beggar managed to pry open the lid elated to find the box was filled with treasure. Until we realize our true wealth within–our diamond in the rough–we’re all beggars. Hard times confine. Stuck in our heads we grow separate from the wealth within yet like tarnished silver, we just need some good polishing.
Hard times also refine. Though our thoughts create plenty for us to mine through and purify, the treasure–however buried–is still in there.
“Perhaps the sea’s definition of the shell is the pearl. Perhaps time’s definition of coal is the diamond.” (Khalil Gibran)
Over time, coal transforms from its natural impure state to its purest form, graphite. As time goes on graphite can convert into diamonds. One of the most difficult yet valuable assets we have in life is this process of purification. The juxtaposition of many back-breaking, knee-buckling things awaits for us to be malleable enough to shift our perspective and see the good in the hard and embrace the process of purification these moments inspire.
The most incredible gems can’t be bought as they are buried beneath the skin of our own beings. When life brings you to your knees remember, Diamonds.
The featured image was created by the Spanish street art collective Boa Mistura when they were in Cape Town to film their documentary Diamond Inside. Check out more images at www.visualtherapyonline.com.
Autumn is officially becoming. In a world seemingly standing still, the equinox brings pause for a reminder that we are constantly moving. During this season sandwiched between the longest days and longest nights, nature teaches us the richness of the space between.
Transitions, the process or periods of change from one state or condition to another, defines life. Our entire existence is a series of metamorphoses moment by moment, day-to-day, year after year, from the subtlest aspects of our being to the most superficial. Our transitioning is a reflection of how we are living.
How is your space between?
There are some spaces that I can’t even remember. For years many of these were categorized as, “poor navigational skills”, until I realized it wasn’t that I was prone to getting lost all the time but rather my presence was nowhere to be found. Disappearing in the abyss of what is to come, the throes of what was, the attachment to what isn’t anymore, the accumulation of the “getting there” and all that achieving has been symbolic of in my life: worth, acceptance, and respect; much of my living feels like a void followed by a, how did I get here?
I caught myself in a daze this week, staring at the harmonium I’ve been meaning to start playing again on the floor collecting dust in the corner thinking, some things never change. My eyes roll. Then in rolls my almost 6 month old daughter who only weeks ago could barely rock her pint-sized body side to side. She lifts up her head and starts licking the polished wood. “Can you taste the music baby?!” I ask her jokingly. She stops licking long enough for a grin, the kind that lets you know she heard you, and how good it feels to be loved. I let the shakes of excitement that rivet her body when she hears my voice sink in, and the way her ears move when she smiles. For a few moments I could feel the richness of the space between. Here I am, I thought, somewhere between childless and the full acceptance of motherhood and here she is, somewhere between an infant miracle who can roll and crawl and smile and laugh and babble on for hours and a woman who will one day be 30, somewhere between childless and the full acceptance of motherhood. In between thoughts of defeat and frustration she was there to remind me of just how quickly life is transitioning, and to experience it now.
The space between thoughts, the space that lies in the dawning of a new day, the space between breaths, the space between what happens to us and how we respond, are all sacred spaces. What makes them so is the pureness of consciousness that embodies them.
Joseph Campbell said, “Your sacred space is where you can find yourself again and again.”
As significant as the seasons changing, how our house goes from dirty to clean matters. How our plates go from full to empty matters. How we get from A to B–departure to arrival, sick to well, healed to injured, jobless to employed, infant to adult, married to single, pose to pose, life to death, all matter. Every in between gives us a chance to be present, conscious, and in that practice connect with the more subtle spaces and experience a different kind of empty, an unadulterated, skew-less version of real–and real is finding ourselves, in our most sacred expression.
I got better at being present while navigating by using my senses. Noticing landmarks, rolling the windows down to hear the noise on the streets and let the wind whip through my hair, feeling the stiffness of the steering wheel and the energy of my hands holding it, listening to my internal compass–checking in, rather than checking out.
Where are you now? How can you resensitize through your own transitioning? Stretch your presence. Feel into the going through. May all of our lives feel less of a void and more like living. May consciousness bring us fullness, realness, and the experience of every changing season.
Full disclosure: there was a bit of an existential crisis encountered this week. While reconnecting with a theme for my yoga teaching on the “Higher Self”, I got caught way down the rabbit hole thinking about it. What is it really?
In the past I have shared what you’ve likely heard before too. As it is taught through many different faiths and traditions and cultural idioms, the Higher Self is the eternal, omnipotent, conscious, universal, unadulterated, and intelligent being who is one’s real, authentic self.
The first visual that came to mind however was far from that; an Olympian pedestal I imagined owning after clearing gold for beating the temptation to succumb to the part of being human that would definitely eat another pint of ice cream and give in to one more slight for the argument win. Superiority. Conceit. The voice of a know-it-all that makes you cringe every time they speak and reveal yet again they know nothing.
In that moment of self-exploration the ego showed itself fully charged and undissolved while securing the Higher Self throne. I could viscerally feel the pretentiousness of my self-righteous morality bubbling up. How can I possible continue teaching yoga?
Then I remembered a saying a teacher of mine in India shared.
“Ripened fruit need not be picked; when it’s ripe enough it falls from the tree by itself.”
The fruit—in this case the ego, the high and mighty Self, and the idea that it need be throned—has surely been ripened.
Naturally as rabbit holes often go, I began to dig for the roots. Where was this coming from? What I discovered was very telling.
The whipping man.
There he was, underneath all of this hypocritical and hollow moral high ground, provoking me to work until I win. As my own warped personification of inadequacy he has in fact been there provoking many achievements in my life. I’ve accomplished so much yet never enough, to the point that my partners, friends, colleagues and family have felt this reality as if I were the one whipping them. I’ve been whipped into shape, into new jobs and opportunities, in and out of relationships, through the overcoming of many significant obstacles in my life, and even—at least I thought— to the summit of the Higher Self. Then comes the moment in time you are reminded that you are above nothing and that there are many more mountains to climb.
A recent exchange with my partner while attempting to support him through a crisis of his own came to mind. “I feel like I will never be enough,” he said.
I have never said those words to him, yet he could feel them in such a real way. Out of the love I have for him and all beings whom I would never want feeling inadequate because of me, I know I have to more deeply confront this whipping man.
Rumi said, “There’s a voice that doesn’t use words. Listen.”
The Higher Self speaks softly through actions, and is a place that is not high at all, but actually there, in the lowest of lows, waiting for life to bring us humbly to our knees. It’s the open arms inside that choose to love ourselves when we’ve messed up or caused harm. It is believing we are enough. It’s the hand on another’s back sharing their struggles with an empathic, “You are not alone. I’ve been there before too, it is a deep, and dark, and challenging, and uncomfortable place.”
The good news? My banana has a few more brown speckles today. While the fruit may take a while yet to fall, I can feel my ego softening and it is a real feeling of being more human than ever before, and more humbled by how much I am learning and have yet to discover.
What fruits do you bear? What does your overpowering voice inside sound like? How does it provoke you away from the place that’s truly “higher”?
The process of maturation takes time yet as ripening teaches us, proves to be a sweet one. As you meet your own crises remember these check points are essential lessons to learn from and just through awareness alone, that which is overpowering will begin to have less power over you. Sayonara, Whipping Man, R.I.P.
“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day…
“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”
“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful.” When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”
“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
[Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit]
Real talk, straight out of a childhood favorite that I was reminded of while reading Brené Brown’s, Daring Greatly. Somehow I remember relating to the rabbit more than the Skin Horse even back then. It seems the challenge of being real–genuine, not artificial, authentic, “loved off”–has existed since the beginning. I suppose then the always truthful Skin Horse is right in his acknowledgement of realness being a, “becoming”.
In her book Brown stated this:
“When I look back on what I’ve learned about shame, gender, and worthiness, the greatest lesson is this: if we’re going to find our way out of shame and back to each other, vulnerability is the path and courage is the light. To set down those lists of what were supposed to be is brave. To love ourselves and support each other in the process of becoming real is perhaps the greatest single act of daring greatly.”
There is that “v” word again. Vulnerability. Most of the time I feel like a tree in the winter afraid to shed its leaves, a mask collector in this crazy costume party known as life, a hoarder of all things comforting: decorative pillows, artisanal dark chocolate, long sivasanas, existential Rumi poems, old photographs, oversized clothing, essential oils. Achievements. Make-up. Time. Bollywood movies. The Bee Gees Saturday Night Fever [Original Motion Picture Soundtrack]. I’ve been staying carefully kept for quite some time.
During graduate school I taught an undergrad Science of Nutrition course. I’ll never forget the time I showed up at a local ice cream joint and was greeted by one of my students with a bonafide, “Busted!“
How many times in your life have you been asked, “What do you want to be when you grown up?” We’ve been raised to define who we want to be, while existing in a culture of clones that expects us to be a very specific way. Be a dietitian, but don’t eat the ice cream. Do what you love but not if it isn’t making dollars and cents. Get married but not to a person of the same sex. Share your ideas and creativity but not if it is too out of the box. Practice your own faith, but what would Jesus do? There is this saying, “The opposite of courage is not cowardice; it’s conformity.” When we aren’t willing to be brave and broken for it, we conform and lose touch with what is truly real.
Often it feels like a game of hide and seek. We are enticed by vulnerability and then burrow away when it becomes too painful and uncomfortable. Realness doesn’t happen all at once and it does take time. Be courageous. I’ll look for your light as I explore my own wilderness and you look for mine. I’m certain there is enough buried treasure waiting to be [re]discovered for both of us and enough love in the world to find it, bit by bit.
When earthquakes happen, what do you do?
It was just shy of the ambrosial hours on Sunday in Oakland, California when the rumbling began. In a dreamy state of half-consciousness my thoughts became all sorts of interesting manifestations of worry; animals on the roof? A late season tornado whipping through The Bay, unannounced? A freight train on the loose? Apocalypse after all?
Nope, an earthquake.
It wasn’t that dramatic really, 11 seconds in total of feeling like we were housed in a tent during 35 mph winds, yet 11 seconds long enough to shake out my rug and leave me reflecting on the dust that had been unsettled.
What if something had happened to my partner, does he know how—and how much—he has inspired me?
What if the house came tumbling down, does the 27-inch iMac even matter?
What if something happened to my barely 5 month old baby girl, have I fully embraced what an awesome and humbling and deeply fulfilling level of exhaustion she’s helped me achieve?
What if something happened to you before I had the chance to thank you for being?
What if something happened to me, have I said all the things I needed to say, have I done the things I wanted to do, have I lived the life I have been charged to live?
A truthful pause broken. Broken by the wholeness of being with a gentle but firm, “N-O”.
Life has a way of shaking things up from time to time, of awakening us in ways we didn’t even realize we were sleeping. Earthquakes are natural—nature made—wake up calls. We need such riveting moments to bring us back to life, to fix our attention on being here now, to remind us that this isn’t a rehearsal, this is the real deal playing field on which no matter how prepared we might be for the game we will never entirely understand what nor whom we are up against, to serve as an impetus for us to recommit to our own unique dharma: life’s purpose, and its continued discovery.
Frederick Douglass said, “It is not light that we need, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake.”
Maybe your wake up call is an actual 6.0 on the Richter scale. Or maybe it is hearing about the shooting of another unarmed man of color on the 6 o’clock news, or witnessing a different crime on the streets, or losing a job or someone you love. Earthquakes come in morphing forms of sickness, injury, accidents, disorder, disasters—all sorts of unexpected fill-in-the-blanks that force us to reevaluate our existence and our presence in thereof.
What if we stopped keeping our later lists and pursued the fullest expression of life right now?
I’m telling my partner today that I live with less because he’s taught me that it can actually be more. I’m loosening my grip over materials that pale in the presence of meaningful experiences. I will hold my baby in the middle of the night tonight and say thank you for this unspeakable joy in my arms as she wails while her burps get stuck in the coils of her growing intestines. Thank you too, for sharing even a few moments of this lifetime with me.
As earthquakes inevitably come in your own life may you be vulnerable enough to let them rattle your cage in a way that brings pause, and ultimately leaves you journeying towards an existence that feels shared, expressive, authentic, and complete.
Dance when you’re broken open.
Dance when you’ve torn the bandage off.
Dance in the middle of fighting.
Dance in your blood.
Dance when you’re perfectly free.
Picture this: your working overtime just to break even, you can’t remember the last time you slept more than 5 hours straight, most of your clothes remain soaked in baby saliva and crusty spit-up, your full fledge in the circus of life feeling under par in your juggling skills with all the balls being thrown your way, your body is recovering well–minus the twisted knee, your passions are screaming for more attention. And you’re supposed to be dancing?
Word to the wise, yes. As Rumi and so many artists have encouraged in times that have past, now, when things feel lost, and broken, and tired, and confusing, and painful, dancing–expressing your self as you are, as vulnerably as you can–is a must.
Dance is as unique as the life form itself. Since the earliest of civilizations it has been used as a form of ritual, ceremony, celebration, communication, entertainment, and healing.
The Waggle dance is a term used to describe a trademark figure-eight dance the honey bee uses to share foraging details with other members of their colony.
Whirling dervishes have been spinning around in circles for hundreds of years as a form of meditative dance towards connecting with the divine.
Shiva, the archetypal God, the pure one, the force of destruction and transformation according to mythos, is responsible for the dissolution of disillusionment. Shiva is often depicted as Shiva Nataraja, the Cosmic Dancer, the pure King of Dance, performing the iconic Anandatandava dance of destruction within a burning ring of fire. This ring of fire known as the prabhamandala is symbolic of the impermanent reality of existence, the energy of wisdom, the transcendental light of truth. Believing that destruction is a necessary precursor to creation, Shiva dances in the fire with “ananda”—happiness.
The most natural dancer I know is my infant daughter. When she laughs she expresses so much joy that her entire 25 inch body vibrates. Her smile outshines the sun in any desert. Her dance of distraught is equally beautiful. One day this past week her evocative wailing began.
“Baby!” I said, “No crying!”
I caught myself in the moment; that particular point in time when the truth of the words coming out of your own buccal cavity comes into question. Wait a minute. Yes crying! Cry baby, cry away, cry it all out, be free in your crying!
At what point did we stop dancing?
Not the awkward side-to-side sway we did with our crush in middle school, or even the choreographed steps learned in ballet class. The dance that is in our bones, that is uninhibited, the authentic expression of self that connects us with something real and greater, the movement that speaks feelings, the healing practice that embodies transcendence through whatever is rising and falling away. We are born into freedom of expression as the baby, indulging in laughter, crying unapologetically, moving and shaking and rolling and communicating through every emotion as it comes as a way of being understood. Then we mature into fear of expression as the adult, foreboding joy, mistaking tears for weakness, and attempting every other obstacle imaginable to keep from having to feel vulnerable.
Friedrich Nietzsche said, “You must have chaos within you to give birth to a dancing star.”
Life is full of chaos.
Unexpected ups and downs and all-arounds that strip us down and bare a little bit more of our being until finally we throw our hands up and say, this is me. This is the unadulterated me who is perfectly imperfect regardless of where I am, where I’ve been, what I’ve seen, how I feel, what I have, what I’ve done. It is in that vulnerable expression of self that our light is free to move, and our brightness comes alive.
Struck, the dancer hears a tambourine inside her,
like a wave that crests into foam at the very top,
Maybe you don’t hear that tambourine,
or the tree leaves clapping time.
Close the ears on your head,
that listen mostly to lies and cynical jokes.
There are other things to see, and hear.
A brilliant city inside your soul!
You too have your own picture that makes it hard to move yet all the more reason to dance. Lean in to vulnerability. Express your self freely through the rhythm of your life. When we waggle and spin and dance through the fire we awaken our light. Share your soul’s brilliance, rock out in your radiance, let your good juju jiggle. Through the chaos of it all be born again as the star that you already are.
When was the last time you celebrated the sun’s birthday, the birth day of life, the leaping greenly spirits of trees, the blue true dream of sky, and gave thanks for most this amazing day? We spend so much of our time in the past which is dead and the future which has yet to be born. What about now? These types of connections are for the living, and the present is the only time we are fully alive.
Before you send the eyes rolling and write this one off as some more idealistic whimsical new age cow dung being regifted, hear me out.
I get it.
I’m not exactly high on life all the time either. I too am working overtime and often feel the elusive balance of existence. It hardly feels like there is time to take a breath let alone actually feel it! And that is the point. So often we place these types of mindful moments–and feeling in general–on the later list and overlook the possibility of mindfulness as a way to be. When we start to see mindfulness as the plate itself rather than another item on it, we start to understand its value.
To be mindful means to be fully present in the moment, without judgement. In her book, Daring Greatly, Brené Brown defines scarcity as the greatest cultural influence of our time. Scarcity, the “never enough” problem, is the judgmental default belief system we all perpetuate inside and out. As Brown states, “We get scarcity because we live it.” There is never enough time, or money, or confidence, or power, or certainty, or support, or…
We wake up each morning already feeling inadequate, and our own belief in inadequacy enables that in each other. The weight of each moment becomes too heavy to bare.
So how do we lighten the load?
A good start is by considering the opposite of scarcity which is “enough”. By continuing the practice of acceptance in each moment, just as it is–just as we are–we create an opportunity to expand the experience of the now, unadulterated. Who knows, maybe we will wake up to the birth of wings upon us and the gay great happening illimitably earth. Or maybe it will take a while for our days to feel that poetic. Either way, a step towards mindfulness, a practice that has been shown to help relieve stress, treat heart disease, lower blood pressure, reduce chronic pain, improve sleep, and even reduce gastrointestinal difficulties is indeed a positive one.
Mindlessness is the flimsy foam picnic plate as mindfulness is the fine china. Like anything worth keeping around, it requires some elbow grease to create. Before porcelain can be made impermeable and non-porous it must endure glazing and fire. To be here now takes effort and the enduring commitment to be nonjudgemental, no matter what life serves us. This level of vulnerability is uncomfortable yet something found admirable in anyone wiling to expose themselves so uninhibitedly.
What does being vulnerable mean to you? What’s on your plate, and how could mindfulness help you handle it with more care? How can you live more openly?
I need your openness as much as you need mine, and the entire world needs our full exposure of everything which is natural which is infinite which is yes.
Start by being vulnerable to yourself. Breathe and feel, observantly. Strip yourself down and dance with the unimaginable You. Let’s meet in the field beyond right and wrong doing that Rumi speaks of and share our own poetry.
Preface: I’ve been saying I need a wardrobe overhaul for a while now. My attentive partner, knowing my love for creative and thoughtful experiences, hired a fashion consultant as a gift for my 30th birthday. She came over this past weekend to help me clean out my closet. This blog is dedicated to him for all the many ways he has inspired me to let go.
“Let’s start with the dresses,” she said, pulling them out of the closet and sorting them into two distinct piles labeled, “casual” and “formal”.
There it was.
A small piece of my pain in the form of a BCBGMaxazria dress in taupe that was purchased in attempt to cover up what I wasn’t ready to deal with at the time.
“This color doesn’t do you any favors.”
Yeah, I know. Taupe, a dark tan, the french word for mole. That’s about right. I suddenly found myself plowing down memory lane to a time in my life I felt every bit deserving of the haute taupe dress that didn’t do me any favors.
Then there were the lavender ruffles, a desperate cry for my femininity to return as I felt through the fatigue of doing it all on my own. Those damn creativity-stifling responsibilities. Lavender ruffles.
We came across a green and teal and black satin number that I’ve had longer than I can remember, circa 2002, around the time of my high school graduation. As if that doesn’t say it all, the kaleidoscopic pattern exploding from the seams held captive my bright and shiny anticipation of a promising future, reminding me of my present-day clinging to youthfulness and all of its naive optimism, though I haven’t worn it for years.
“What do you think of this one?” Silence. What do I think of this one. The one I remember buying specifically because it was expensive, it had sex appeal, it promised fulfillment in the empty well I carried of feeling noticed and valuable and attractive. The one that adorned some of my lowest moments after I’d reduced my self-worth to nothing more than nylon, spandex, and polyester. It was definitely worn. “Well I think you are better than this.”
One by one we inspected each dress, every skirt, and shirt, and shoe, and jacket. We tossed out the larges–and extra larges–that were purchased from the dysmorphic lens of my bruised self-consciousness. We piled on items that have had their time, that have traveled the world and clothed my curiosity on the streets of Dubai and Mexico and Ecuador and Turkey. We let go of the pieces that were kept strictly for their materialistic value, those whose closet real estate had been preserved to mask the guilt felt for how much money was wasted on the attempted purchase of class and significance.
Funny how all of that was still hanging in my closet.
Thich Nhat Hanh said, “When we give ourselves the chance to let go of all our tension, the body’s natural capacity to heal itself can begin to work.”
I anticipated getting rid of some things. What I grossly under-anticipated was how much insight I would gain through the process, and how healing it would be. It’s amazing how much our stuff embodies our stuff. We created an impressive pile of physical materials to surrender, yet the metaphysical pile that was there was immeasurably more impactful.
My closet now holds empty space, the kind that is full. It no longer feels dingy and difficult to navigate. Inner spaces that were once warehousing tension I didn’t even realize I still had have also been liberated.
What kind of stuff is lingering in your stuff?
How can you let go of unnecessary weight and tension?
May every door be opened. May surrender remain one of our greatest strengths. May you too discover the fullness in emptying.
According to eastern philosophy, Sankalpa is the determination of our being subtler than thought, and more powerful than mind. “San” refers to a connection with the highest truth, “kalpa” means vow. Sankalpa is a commitment to support our highest truth. As the word personified alludes to, it is not just an intellectualization, but an actual embodiment of deep intention.
In reality, Sankalpa is difficult to maintain–it certainly has been for me. How many times have I intended on not stealing and stolen other’s time? How repeatedly have I committed to self-love and chosen pain? How often have I vowed to not judge and perpetuated thoughts of judgement? As sensual beings in a stress-provoking society it’s no surprise we get distracted and fall off the path of purposeful living.
Life from the outside in is an expert at rocking the boat, generating fluctuations in the mind and a wide range of emotions they elicit. When the mind remains rogue with no accountability our thoughts, words, and actions ride the waves and our deepest intentions are lost in the ocean of commotion. For this reason, we have to take time to connect from the inside out. As Patanjali reminds us in the Yoga Sutras, “yoga chitta vritti nirodha”, cessation of the fluctuations of the mind is yoga.
The waves don’t really stop. What changes is our ability to detach from them. When we detach the water becomes more calm and through this stillness we are able to reconnect with the core of our being. For many of us, the waves we endure are reflections of a deeper need or want that is not being fulfilled, a higher truth that has been buried or has yet to be discovered, a subconscious habit pattern that is repeating until we develop enough awareness and determination to move beyond it.
By studying the mind we can continue revealing what lies underneath. Through our own personal root cause analysis we can engineer a better understanding of our thoughts, words, and actions. With that understanding we can re-embody our deepest intentions, Sankalpa, to ultimately live a life connected with our highest truth.
Intention is hard work. It’s not just an idea or positive thought, it’s effort. Strengthening our resolve allows us to channel our energy constructively. As our determination takes root, old patterns–those that we were born with, samskaras, and those that we’ve created here–will weaken.
Start where you are.
Start by making the strong determination to embody what needs and wants you know to be true today.
Work your ways deeper in until you rediscover that momentous well of your being, your highest truth, Sankalpa.
“Your sacred space is where you can find yourself again and again.”
Sacred: Connected with the divine; dedicated to a higher power. The familiar words of Joseph Campbell came to mind as I rested in Child’s Pose, reaching within for that part of me that feels bigger.
As I turned inward I confronted the shrinking truth: I’m a new parent, with an expired maternity leave, on a foreign island known as, “this postpartum body”.
That’s not one–but THREE–full-time jobs.
Why now, where did the time go, how do I get back in? Do I even want to be in there?!
Forehead on the ground, balled up like my 3 month old baby in my own puddle of sweat, the door opened and my being warped into a kaleidoscopic eruption of colors and shapes. From the fiery, passionate, crimson red of distant desires to the irregular quadrilaterals of life’s circumstances that I wish were perfectly symmetrical, there it was, an explosion of WTF that made my throat burn. I wanted to scream. Instead, I breathed.
Breath by breath a space grew, and as the overwhelming close-up became more panoramic I began to observe the breath, this body, this season, this life in all of its changing colors and shapes–and shapelessness–and recognized that it is indeed divine.
From the seat of observation the chaos of being becomes a sacred geometry of its own. Like any religious structure the body is a worthy place of reverence, a sanctuary of perfect imperfections, an incubator for the unborn to be revealed.
All of the fluctuations if nothing more are an opportunity for growth, and what is growth if not a visceral reminder that we are in fact living? And life is sacred. And all of this is life. And that means all of this is sacred.
There is a sloka in the Isha Upanishad, “That is full; this is full. This fullness has manifested from that fullness. When this fullness merges into that fullness, all that remains is fullness.”
That is the sacred, and this is the the part of you that is in me, and all beings, unadulterated amid the ceaselessness of change and life’s attempted dilution. This is also the infinite change itself that we endure helping us evolve into something greater. This is even the dilution that breaks us down so that we can rebuild with a deeper sense of humility and gratitude and wisdom and meaning.
Everything is sacred.
The challenge is in creating and maintaining the space. Therein, sure enough we find ourselves, again, and again. In those moments of self-discovery–and recovery–it becomes apparent that the timing, the circumstances, the unknowns, are all part of the whole. In the acceptance of life completely, just as it is, fullness expands.
Be full, in this breath.
Be full, in this body.
Be full, in your life, as it is.
There is no greater fulfillment than being, fully.
Sometimes life brings you lemons.
Between the growing pains of parenthood and an unexpected job change, my partner and I decided it was time to make some lemonade. We packed up the car and headed out on the road for a 10 day camping trip–2 month old in tow.
John Muir said, “Keep close to Nature’s heart and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.”
Whether it’s pregnancy, adjusting to a newborn child, a significant job change, or something else life changes both big and small have a way of challenging stability. They quickly provoke concerns surrounding the mundane minutiae of daily living which can feel sometimes like your succumbing to shallow waters rather than staying connected to the deeper abyss of the Self and your life’s purpose. From the, “how will we make ends meet?” to, “why is she crying again?” or,“where is the diaper bag?” and, “when will I have some time for myself?”, there is this overwhelming rush of superficial unknowns that can become dispiriting, deflating, and even manifest as sickness and dis-ease in mind and body if given enough time.
There is a relatively new form of therapy, ecotherapy, based on the hypothesis that many of our health issues as a society including depression, anxiety, and stress are due in part to our alienation from nature. Some statistics suggest that the average American spends 90 percent of their days indoors. In times of stress, this can become even further inflated. The term,”biophilia”, meaning the attraction one has to the living or living systems, is the study of our natural desire to connect with living things and continues to reveal that even a brief period of time in their presence–such as a walk outdoors or a few minutes basking in the sun–can positively impact our health and wellbeing.
Far before such terms, statistics, theories, and the advocacy of nature’s preservation by John Muir, humans have had an affinity towards nature and have relied on it for healing. Thinkers have retreated there for clarity, artists have turned to it for inspiration, physicians have scoured it for remedies. With origins that date back to 5,000 BCE, Ayurveda has been subscribed to for centuries as a life science emphasizing the use of plant-based therapies to achieve balance in being. These practices are founded on the belief that our bodily vessels house the soul of all that is, and from gross to subtle everything is made up of the same elemental constituents. As stated in ancient Vedic scripture, “As is the atom, so is the universe. As is the human body, so is the cosmic body. As is the human mind, so is the cosmic mind. As is the microcosm, so is the macrocosm.”
Nature helps us nurture our interconnectedness. It awakens a sense of responsibility to our part of the whole. When change happens and our size and depth and stability are challenged, it has a way of broadening our purview and reminding us we are much bigger. It helps us effortlessly reconnect with the feeling of being alive.
From the towering sequoias to the gaping canyons, from sandy shores to mountainous peaks, it’s evident after only a short time in the wilderness that nature–despite its vulnerability to environmental extremes–has a deliberate preservation of equilibrium and inherent intention to exist harmoniously. To observe this while it so gracefully embraces impermanence does indeed offer insight, inspiration, and is a remedy in itself.
Our human nature too is one of homeostasis. Although we may not always feel in balance, the natural world is a reminder of all that we are capable of, naturally, in the world within. As we continue to experience life and its fluctuations may we lean outward long enough to feel empowered inward to root, grow, bend, evolve, and endure it all with a rejuvenated spirit of capability.
I’d say the lemonade turned out pretty great this time around.
As the one month mark of motherhood quickly approaches, one word comes to mind in particular: humbled.
My loving partner tells me I’m beautiful which is not the first word that comes to mind as I look in the mirror at my postpartum body dressed in spit-up soaked sweats that I’ve been wearing since Sunday, blemished face adjusting to hormones and parenthood, hair that looks like it hasn’t seen seen a brush or a pair of scissors in months, the list feels endless–as any new mother surely can empathize.
The collision of disruptive sleep [at best], sore breasts and body, energy deprivation, a haphazard diet, and sedentary lifestyle sans asana has proven to be a sobering one. I find myself questioning, “Is this what they mean by, ‘letting yourself go‘?!” Then reality answers; with a child solely dependent on your love and care for survival, you inevitably haveto let some things go.
C.S. Lewis said, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.”
Truth. Entry into motherhood has been a sincere invitation into a selflessness that I’ve never known. Sure, I’ve done for others and sacrificed my own wants and needs for the greater good but let’s be honest–nothing like this. There is though something strangely validating and inspiring in knowing this being that you co-created is dependent on your ability to put yourself aside. I’ve begun to recognize this as both the underlying challenge, and the ultimate gift of being a parent. I’m thankful for the opportunity to think of myself less, to put someone else’s existence before mine, and the challenge that comes with that in not thinking less of myself through the process.
There is a quote in the Bhagavad Gita that reads, “Yoga is skill in karma.”
Karma, a way of acting, thinking, and doing by which one aligns with self-realization by acting in accordance with one’s duty (dharma) without consideration of personal self-centered desires, likes, and dislikes. The karma of being a mother is a reminder that beneath the clothes, and the skin, and the hair, and all the exterior forces that draw us outward, there is indeed a beautiful self unfolding on the interior through the selfless service of caring for your child.
And so, as I return to exploring the stretch and strengthening that comes with nursing, laundering, diapering and the like I bow, humbly, to my 25 day-old teacher. What a different yet deepening yoga practice it’s been so far.
On this particular Pi Day, a celebratory occasion honoring the mathematical constant that never ends and never settles into a permanent repeating pattern, we honor irrationality.
What does it mean to be irrational, and why do we glorify it?
Perhaps because we can relate to it. As Dan Ariely, author of “The Upside of Irrationality” said, “When it comes to our motivations, we are less like hyper-rational Mr. Spock and more like the fallible, myopic, vindictive, emotional, biased Homer Simpson.”
Which leads me to the rainbow sprinkles. As a Registered Dietitian and a mindful yogi–particularly around the choices I make about nourishing my body–I found myself needing rainbow sprinkles this week. Before a 7:30 PM appointment my partner and I decided to venture out to the local grocer located in the opposite direction of our appointment at 6:45 PM, in hopes to get there before they closed at 7 PM. After successfully acquiring the sprinkles and completing the appointment, we then ventured to a local creamery where we grabbed a couple of scoops to go, and headed home (because the gluten-free ice cream cones were not available at the creamery, only in our pantry.) What comes after that was just a half-melted, successfully sprinkled, non-nutrient dense but absolutely delicious example of complete irrationality.
It is in our human nature to behave irrationally: thinking, talking, and acting without being reasonable. There is no doubt that the amount of non-optimal decisions we make far outweigh those that are optimal. Of course I am aware that the sugar, hydrogenated palm kernel oil, corn starch, corn syrup, red 40, yellow 5, blue 1, and soy lecithin are not ideal for my health. Of course I am aware that going the wrong way in rush hour traffic 30 minutes before an appointment to get sprinkles probably isn’t the most logical decision. Of course I am aware of the juxtaposition of putting said ingredients in a “gluten-free” 12 calorie cone. Still, the sprinkles won.
Whatever kind of “sprinkles” you are enabling in your day-to-day, it’s important to note that we all behave unreasonably at times, and acknowledge what’s been proven psychologically impactful and essential to the learning process: a willingness to be wrong. As it turns out understanding cognitive biases and irrational tendencies along with a willingness to misstep are incredibly crucial components of learning.
Perhaps our insensibilities are not so insensible after all.
On this day of veneration for 3.14159265359…remember that you too are immeasurable, non-duplicative, and in fact, an irrational expansion. Celebrate every step. Let your life and decisions be your teacher. Embrace every new direction–even the most ridiculous ones–that are unquestionably capable of facilitating growth beyond your boundaries.
A memorable line from one of my most influential yoga teachers. In fact one of the most influential practices I’ve gained from the mat, that resounds like Big Ben at the top of the hour every time I feel my insensitivity start ticking. A melodious reminder of how much time and energy criticism can squander, and a wake-up call to start again: find your breath, observe rather than condemn, and with awareness move on.
As Walt Whitman said, “Be curious, not judgmental.”
Curiosity is defined as a strong desire to know or to learn something. It has the cosmic powers to convert calloused insensitivity into mindful vigilance. It’s curiosity that inspires us to cultivate a deeper understanding of our own behavior and habits while judgement often becomes a barrier enabling our habitual self-defeating behaviors.
Whether it be losing focus in meditation, striking a match with my partner, neglecting the exercise routine [again...], I’ve learned to grow curious. Through this commitment meditation has become a more sustainable practice, relationships have become humbling teachers, and I’ve discovered that there are a slew of other physical activities more engaging for me than running in place on an endless belt.
How would your day-to-day differ if you too committed to being curious?
The next time you find your self hung up on shortcomings and throttled by self-defeat, without judgement, start again: find your breath, observe, and begin to reshape your debilitating cycles into spirals of continued growth and expansion. Start small, start today, and if for some reason you don’t…
It works every time.
That’s right, I am a two-for-one-deal. A yogi twofer. A soldier awarded the Medal of Honor gone AWOL while waging the battle between Self and self. A wise old owl, and a tireless woodpecker. A Saint of the 21st century and a Bonnie, desperately searching for her Clyde. I am often blue, but sometimes red, with unpredictable streaks of jet black. I am the seasoned teacher and new kid in school alike, and the best lesson I have every taught myself is that I-and i–still have a heck of a lot to learn.
Friedrich Nietzsche was a twofer too. As the great philosopher said, “Whenever I climb I am followed by a dog called ‘Ego’.” I know that ascend; it’s that summit of self where you feel you’ve finally “made it” despite the canines chomping at your ankles, and then you take a step back to survey the landscape realizing you’re not quite sure this is it.
And is it ever?
When it comes to the climb towards betterment, liberation, moksha, nirvana, disillusionment–whatever you want to call it–it often feels like the journey is never-ending. Whether we like to admit it or not, we are all traveling with the proverbial monkey on our back, as the notorious yoga Sage Patanjali suggests, blemished by the dot of asmita: egoism.
The ego is defined as the driving force behind maintaining and enhancing favorable views of oneself, the ultimate, “fake it ’til you make it”. We’ve all done our fair share of wrestling in this arena. The fatigue that comes with this facade can actually help us soften to the idea of no longer suppressing our fears and insecurities. Quite oppositely, allowing them to fully manifest and serve as a trusted guide up the mountain. There was a saying that struck me while contemplating this very subject with a yogi friend of mine in India, “There is no need to pick at the unripe fruit, first let the fruit ripen. Ripened fruit falls from the tree itself.”
Connecting with this idea from a real and vulnerable place allows liberation to evolve from an end, to the means to an end, when we are willing to embrace experiencing and expressing where we are in the ripening process of being completely, shamelessly, unapologetically, freely.
There is said to be an Asian tradition that when something is broken, its cracks are mended with gold because that which has cracked and broken appreciates in value. And so it goes for our cracks too. I have come to revere the valiant fails and destructive streaks, the constant pecking and the humility in not knowing. I have discovered that a bit of red mixed with blue blends into a divine shade of purple after all, and in the end, all of this is golden. It turns out that my own inner challenges and skewed perceptions of Self known collectively as “i” have served me immeasurably as one of the greatest teachers I have ever known. Is there ever a final peak, a pivotal point in the merging of our two selves? I cannot say for certain. I do know however that for now, there is plenty of trekking to endure and enjoy with the ever-blemished me, myself, and I–and i.
In my latest meandering through Oakland, California I ended up at a local bookstore and stumbled upon the timely text, “This Is Water”, a commencement speech and book written by David Foster Wallace including some pragmatic thoughts about living a compassionate life. The opening pages hook you with one of those, I’m-talking-to-you kind of stories:
“There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, ‘Morning, boys. How’s the water?’ And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, ‘What the hell is water?'”
I found it touching, actually more like a throttle to the neck, inviting me to take a few steps back from the granular focus of getting settled into a new home and city and its nuances like, “what kind of couch should we get?” and, “where should we hang the owl?” and, “should we prioritize the bed or the coffee table?”, and connect with the bigger picture. As Wallace alludes to and as evidenced by my own lived experience, many of the most obvious realities are those most difficult to see and talk about. In this case, the reality that the difference between California and Georgia is actually a state of mind; the unsubtle truth that perception is reshaped through embracing change, a challenging and often painful process of letting go and opening yourself up in new ways; the reality that stuff is a dime-store security blanket, material focus a momentary distraction from the emotional turmoil of “starting over”. Clearly it’s much easier–and has admittedly been preferred lately–to remain focused on the sheet set and table linens.
As I connect with the bigger picture however, I feel incredibly moved by this move. The awareness I am gaining is watering the seeds of compassion and courage that have been enduring a winter of complacency buried in the soil of the deep south. I suppose there is merit to the expression, “southern comfort”, after all. Awareness in any place and time is water, and water is necessary for growth. What are you swimming in? What’s withering in your life? What are you staring right in the eyes and not seeing? Be fearless in facing your own bigger picture. Notice what your unconsciousness has been camouflaging. Expand as you experience reality reminding yourself repeatedly, “this is water“.