When I arrived at the retreat center, I had an idea of how the retreat was going to be. I was there at the same time last year, and it was a retreat of similar length. I expected I was going to have extreme responses (both pleasant and the unpleasant). I expected I was going to be overwhelmed at times, and at other times feel like the monastic life is where I want to reside. None of this happened.
Everything was fine. I meditated, walked and did qigong feeling mostly content. The times I did not feel content were the times I was waiting to feel something different. I was waiting for anger to come storming in or bliss to wrap me up and take me away.
My expectations of what the retreat should be were taking away my experience of what the retreat really was. Last year I was in the state of beginner’s mind because I was a beginner. This year, even though I only have one other retreat under my belt, I noticed that beginner’s mind had faded a bit.
Why is beginner’s mind helpful? When we meet something without expectation and with presence, just as it is, we do not bring all the shoulds or should nots into the experience. We can simply experience the moment, and that can be a liberating experience.
Eventually I allowed myself to stop looking for the extremes, and I was able to experience contentment. How wonderful! Feeling this level of ease for a few days was such a gift. I realized how often I discount the neutral experiences in my life. My content feeling was not bliss, it was not incredibly pleasurable. It was fine, neutral, easy, quiet, peaceful. There was not a lot of emotional or physical charge to it.
This lesson of neutrality was my second lesson that has stuck with me. Since retreat I have continued to honor and notice when I am feeling neutral (which actually happens quite a lot when I stop and notice it!). The extremes in life are loud and usually demand our attention. The neutral, quiet parts of our lives can typically go unnoticed, but they can be such a beautiful thing to notice. Notice when you feel just fine. Try it right now.
Scan your body and notice what parts are the loudest (it might be a spot of tension or tightnes or pain). Breathe into that sensation for a few moments. Now feel a part of your body that is quiet, content and potentially has a much subtler sensation (possibly the tip of your nose, your ear lobe, ankles, fingers). Breathe into the sensation of neutral and quiet for a few moments. What do you notice when you watch your quiet sensations?
I look forward to seeing you on or off the mat soon, and I invite you to listen to my latest guided meditation. Although I will not be writing every month about lovingkindness, I practice it on a daily basis and here is a 10 minute lovingkindness meditation focused on you. Enjoy!
Chronicles of Kindness
At the end of May (Memorial Day weekend) I will have completed one year of daily lovingkindness practice!
This morning as I sat in meditation, I thought about how amazing it is when something becomes a habit. At times this year I have struggled with the practice becoming automatic or routine. I would sit down every day, and need to encourage myself to say the phrases; May you be safe. May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you be at peace. Now, my mind just settles in and does it.
I also notice when I am out in the world, my mind does the practice as well. This morning I walked by an old dog that was struggling to walk in his yard. After I passed the dog, I noticed my mind was sending him lovingkindness without me having to set the intention. My mind (at least some of the time) is set to a default of lovingkindness, and that is very cool.
Pattabhi Jois, the founder of Ashtanga Yoga, said, “practice and all is coming.” At the culmination of this year, I am seeing how true this is. Through loving-kindness practice, I have literally changed the thoughts that unconsciously come in and out of my mind! However, I do have other thoughts, or older patterns of thought that are still present. I still notice thoughts all the time that are much older and as not as compassionate or kind as the lovingkindness phrases. These habitual thoughts have not gone away, yet I have intentionally added to those thoughts, new loving-kindness thoughts that are becoming just as habitual.
I invite you to notice what you are practicing right now? Is it a practice you want to become habitual? This might be a physical or mental practice.
If you are practicing something you want to intentionally turn into a habit, do that now for just a minute or so. Embody the practice.
If you are practicing something that is habitual but you are hoping to change that pattern, intentionally practice something else right now for 1 minute or so.
If a lovingkindness practice resonates with you, say these phrases to yourself 3 times:
May I be safe.
May I be happy.
May I be healthy.
May I be at peace.
Then notice your reactions to this exercise. Feel free to let me know how it went!
Chronicles of Kindness
Dear Yoga community,
March begins my 9th month of daily lovingkindness meditation, and I have been contemplating the “difficult person.”
In the lovingkindness practice there is a gradual progress where we start with our benefactors (those people in our lives who always have our back), then we send lovingkindness towards ourselves, then our loved ones, then neutral people, then difficult people and finally to all beings everywhere.
Whenever I teach lovingkindness and we get to the difficult people I always recommend starting with the easy difficult people. This may be a co-worker, or a person who cut you off in traffic. This person may be a loved one. As the practice gets easier, we gradually include others who are more and more difficult.
I have been consistently sending lovingkindness to both an easy difficult person and a difficult difficult person for several months now, and I had a realization that helped open me towards this compassion. I realized that I am an easy difficult and a difficult difficult person myself! Now this may seem obvious, but for months my meditations cultivated separation and an attitude of “I am right” and “you are wrong.” When I approached my meditation this way, and when I approached these people in this way, it felt as if I was looking down on them. My meditations would go from pity for these poor difficult people to anger, thinking they should have known better and they should not have done x, y or z.
One morning, as I was feeling anger at one of my difficult people, it dawned on me that maybe in someone else’s meditation I was this person. When I allowed myself to feel the weight of being a difficult person, I was able to open up to feel more compassion towards the difficult people who come into my meditations. It also opened me up to looking at the times in my past when I have done things that I wish I had not done. I held my difficult parts in lovingkindness and tried to forgive myself for the wrongs I have committed towards myself and towards others. When I was able to hold the easy difficult, moderately difficult and difficult difficult parts of myself then I was able to more easily hold others in lovingkindness not from a place above or a blaming place, but from a place that we are all difficult and we all need compassion.
Do you want to try it out? I have added a guided lovingkindness meditation on my website! Stay tuned, as I’ll be adding a new guided meditation each month.
Chronicles of Kindness
February 2 marks the one year anniversary of Satmato Yoga! I can not believe how much I have enjoyed being in private practice, and I am thrilled to see what year two will bring.
A little over a year ago I did not want to be in private practice. I had the best job I could have imagined working at The Samarya Center with my spiritual community and my friends. Times were changing though, as they always seem to do, and with that my job could not remain as it was. I thought about working in an agency or immersing myself in another yoga studio. None of the options sounded appealing, and going into business for myself was a very scary thought. Some of my incredible friends, Stephanie Sisson, Cyndi Kershner, Tristan Elliott and Victoria Gordon, all decided to go into private practice, and their dedication and risk-taking inspired me to try it too! I bow to them for being such beautiful examples of courage and vulnerability.
This past year has been bursting at the seams with gratitude. I am grateful for The Samarya Center for the support and guidance she gave me for over five years. I am grateful for the changes that happened which allowed me to grow in new and unimagined ways. I am grateful for my spiritual community and friends that I still have, and that have grown instead of diminished in the past year. I am grateful for each and every person who walked through my door and offered me the opportunity to serve in some way. I am grateful for my assistant, Amy, who helps me in uncountable ways. I am grateful for my partner, Eric, who sees things in very different ways than I do and makes me popcorn after a long day.
As I dive wholeheartedly into my eighth month of lovingkindess practice I honor my benefactors. In the lovingkindness practice we traditionally start with invoking our benefactors. These are the beings in our lives that have always wanted us to be safe, happy, healthy, and at peace. They always have our backs. They love us and want us to succeed. They might be someone from our childhood (i.e. a teacher, grandparent, pet, relative, etc.) or from our current life (i.e. friend, spiritual teacher, neighbor, etc.). We might have one who stands out, or there may be many. Who always has your back? Who loves you no matter what? Think about this being, and as you do notice what happens in your body, your mind, your heart. This ignites the fire of lovingkindness, which we can then offer to ourselves, others and the world.
Chronicles of Kindness & Happy Anniversary
I was lucky enough to spend part of my New Year’s Day cultivating, teaching and practicing lovingkindness with 30 other lovely people. It was a treat to welcome in the New Year with kindness and compassion towards myself and others.
The New Year is a perfect place for gentleness and intentions for contentment and ease in our lives. I have spent many a New Year’s Eve and Day thinking of the things that were wrong (I should meditate more, I should cook more, I should run more, I should donate my time more, blah, blah, blah). Usually I failed at my New Year’s resolutions because I was attempting to beat myself into doing something that is good for me. But beating myself up isn’t good for me!
A couple years ago I made a New Year’s resolution to cook more. This time around I made it extremely easy on myself, and I committed to cooking one meal per month. That was it, and it was completely doable. After I did my one meal/month I felt successful and proud of myself. Usually this led to actually cooking more meals!
Looking back on that year of cooking, which led to a major lifestyle shift to cooking most of the time rather than the rare occasion, I now see I approached making a change from a place of kindness, not rigidity or harshness.
So if you are making an intention or resolution this year what would it look like if you were to approach it from a place of kindness? Making change in our lives is completely possible, and, in my opinion, even more successful when it is approached with love towards ourselves for trying something that is hard. I would love to hear how it is going for you!
Chronicles of Kindness
December marks 6 months of committed, daily lovinkindness meditation for me. Most days I am able to find that 30 minutes to sit and do a formal meditation. Some days I find the practice difficult to do either because of resistance, time management, forgetfulness, or some other reason.
On the days I do not make it to my cushion I try to incorporate this practice into my life in other ways. Here are some of the small lovingkindness practices that have blossomed during this six months:
1. Lovingkindness on the bus. I ride the bus almost daily, and it is a grand place to put this practice into effect. I find people I gravitate towards, people I am neutral about, and people I gravitate away from. I practice repeating the phrases (May you be safe. May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you be at peace.) towards all these individuals. When the practice becomes difficult I turn the phrases towards myself. If you do not ride the bus you can do this while you are driving towards the people who pass you, who are stopped next to you at the light, to the people who cut you off, etc.
2. Lovingkindness while walking. When walking near my office in Pioneer Square I pass a lot of people. Sometimes I just use one phrase for each person I pass. (Safe. Happy. Healthy. Peace.). Walking meditation!
3. Lovingkindness when I hear sirens. When I hear an ambulance, fire truck, or police car I used to think of the sound as a loud annoyance. Now it brings to mind that someone is in pain somewhere, and I pause to send the phrases towards the person or persons who are needing the help and the helpers. I try to do the phrases as long as I hear the sound.
4. Lovingkindness falling asleep. Sometimes when I have difficulty sleeping or I wake up in the middle of the night I send the phrases to myself, and then to everyone else who might also have trouble sleeping. This practice has helped me relax and fall asleep quickly.
These are just a few of the ways I attempt to infuse my life and daily activities with lovingkindness. How do you incorporate compassion and kindness in your daily life? I would love to hear!
Chronicles of Kindness
This month is my fifth month of a yearlong commitment to lovingkindness. At the end of October my dear friend, Tristan, challenged all of her Facebook friends to a “Gratitude Challenge.” At the end of my meditations for the past year or so I have named 10 things I am grateful for, so I thought this would be a lovely addition to my practice.
Recently I was asked what I get out of my gratitude practice, and I had to pause to think about my answer. Here is what I discovered from that question. Gratitude helps me appreciate the common experiences, feelings, and things I have in my life. Gratitude helps me to remember the parts of my life I take for granted (i.e. heat, electricity, my eyesight, my able body, etc.). When I am in pain (due to physical illness or emotional pain) gratitude helps me remember that I usually do not always live in pain. It helps me have perspective that my life is so full (of people, love, abundance, and health), even when I am feeling sad or sick or anxious. This does not mean I do not feel sick or in pain nor that a gratitude practice takes away pain. What I notice is that is makes it easier for me to accept the pain I am in as well as see the parts of my life, self, community that I am also so glad to have during times of pain.
What does this have to do with lovingkindness? I think this particular practice helps cultivate gratitude as well. Many times when I have sat down and sent the phrases of safety, health, happiness and peace to myself I have the opportunity to notice that I already feel those things a lot of the time, and I can easily take these incredible parts of my life for granted. By pausing and saying those words to myself I allow myself to feel what it feels in my body, heart, and mind to be safe, happy, healthy, and at peace. When I extend the phrases to others it helps me connect to those people in a way I do not usually do. Until 5 months ago I did not actively take time to send my partner intentions of safety, happiness, health, and peace. When I do now I feel more connected and more grateful for him.
So lovingkindness cultivates gratitude, and maybe gratitude can cultivate lovingkindness. Do you want to join the Gratitude Challenge? Go here! It is not too late.
Here is what I am grateful for right now: this new newsletter, Amy for her help, Eric for always supporting me, Buddy for making me smile, Nurse Jackie for entertaining me, heat, Thai food, my hands, my feet, and sweat. What about you?
Chronicles of Kindness
This month I was going to write about resistance and boredom, which has definitely come up at this point in my yearlong commitment to lovingkindness meditation. Then something happened that brought me back with renewed dedication.
Last week I was walking my dog towards a beach we go to quite often. When we were almost to the beach I saw police tape, news crews, and flashing lights. Three hours before we arrived someone had been shot and killed in his car, a reporter told me.
My immediate response was to cry, so I did. My next response was to practice lovingkindness. I did not get angry. I did not feel scared. I did feel sad. I did feel helpless. I did feel like I had to “do” something. So I walked to the water, and I meditated. I sent the intention of safety, happiness, health and peace to the man who had died, to his family, to everyone who knew him, then to all beings everywhere. Then I sent this same intention to the person or persons who committed the crime, to their family, to everyone who knew this person(s), then to all beings everywhere. Then I sent this same intention to myself, my sadness, my helplessness, my desire to help the world and sometimes feeling so overwhelmed by the world that I do not know what to do.
In yoga there is a sutra that loosely states: Practice happiness for those who are happy, practice compassion towards those who are suffering, practice goodwill towards those doing meritorious deeds, and practice indifference towards those doing demeritorious deeds.
There is much pain and suffering in this story, and according to Patanjali what is called for in suffering is compassion. I can also see there were non-meritorious actions that happened, and how can I practice indifference towards that? How can I practice indifference towards someone taking another person’s life? I am not sure I can. Another word used in this sutra sometimes is acceptance towards those doing demeritorious deeds. Acceptance means that I can acknowledge what happened. I know there are many occasions where I become stuck in “this is not right,” “this should not be happening,” or “this needs to stop.” Acceptance means I do not deny the pain or injustice that is happening. Acceptance or indifference does not mean that I like it, nor that I do not anything about it. It means I see the truth of what is happening without trying to block it out nor meet it with another demeritorious deed. What I also know is true is that the person(s) who committed this crime is suffering and in pain as well, and that brings me back to compassion. I believe compassion, acceptance, indifference, and lovingkindness give me more choices for the suffering I experience in myself and the suffering I see around me.
Don’t surrender your loneliness
Let it cut more deep.
Let it ferment and season you
As few human
Or even divine ingredients can.
Something missing in my heart tonight
Has made my eyes so soft,
My need of God
Chronicles of Kindness
Month three in a yearlong commitment to lovingkindness brought me reflections on witnessing other people practice compassion towards others.
A few days ago I got a call from my dad. My parents had a mouse in their home, which they had caught in a no-kill trap and released to the forest preserve. The problem was there were baby mice, a total of three, appearing from the stove. They did not know what to do for these little beings, and my dad called me for advice. They researched how to care for newborn mice, and nursed them for days: feeding them cat food, putting them on a heating pad and rubbing their bellies to help them poop. They called pet stores to try to find a nursing momma mouse in hopes she would adopt these little ones. These mice became a part of their family, my family, for a few days until they passed away. My parents did everything they could to both help them survive and also to die as peacefully as possible.
I first learned about lovingkindess and compassion from my parents. I remember many times in my childhood that we would be taking care of a baby bird that fell out of a tree, a dog that was starving on the street, a pregnant cat, and many other animals. I recall picking up the worms off my driveway before we could move the car. In my family all the beings were important, and to be treated with love, kindness, and compassion.
As I have been on this recent journey of lovingkindess meditation, my parents’ expression of kindness and compassion reminded me how natural and easily this practice can come. It is beautiful to stop and intentionally sit to send lovingkindness to different people and beings (the mice became part of my practice), but what is even more beautiful is when we see the fruits of that in our lives. When we stop to help someone who is in pain. When we do not turn our backs to suffering, but see how we can help. An intentional practice to help set the stage for those fruits to happen, but they are happening all the time. Where is it happening around you now? In your family? At work? With an interaction with a stranger? With a friend? Tell me about it!
Chronicles of Kindness
My second month of a yearlong commitment to lovingkindness practice continues to bring new insights and information about myself, others, and the world.
Sometime last year I remember having an urge to pick up litter around my house. I walk my dog everyday, and if I collected just one piece of trash everyday that could make a difference. But I thought about picking up trash way more than I actually did it.
One year or so later, and after 2 months of lovingkindness practice, picking up trash is coming more easily to me. I’m not sure why. Maybe I have thought about it enough to actually put it into practice. Maybe I am thinking about being loving and kind towards the Earth, my neighbors, and myself.
What’s interesting is that this is not the only thing coming to me with more ease. I find that I usually think about offering help (i.e. directions, answers to questions, etc.) way more than I actually offer the verbal response. One morning when Obama was visiting Seattle, someone asked where he was going. I took it as an opportunity to connect with this person. I looked it up on my phone and shared it with her. When I was walking on the street I noticed someone ask another person for directions. I turned back and saw he was going the wrong way, so I took the opportunity to help him find where he was going. While I was standing in a restaurant I saw the sticker from the department store was still on the back of a man’s shirt, so I had another moment to connect by taking the sticker off for him.
These are such small actions, but they are difficult for me sometimes. I wonder if I should speak up, or what someone else might think. I sometimes tell myself that those small things do not matter: that person will find his way, he will eventually get the sticker off his back, etc. This is true. The person on the bus did not need me to tell her where President Obama was going to be speaking. But with this new practice, I am seeing doorways being opened to put lovingkindess into action in very small and concrete ways, and I believe it’s helping me be able to walk through those doors with more confidence and ease.
Chronicles of Kindness
Last month I began a yearlong adventure in lovingkindness, and I now have one month under my belt.
Everyday I do a more formal meditation where I sit for 30 minutes sending lovingkindess (May I/you be safe. May I/you be happy. May I/you be healthy. May I/you be at peace.) to myself, to loved ones, to neutral people, and to difficult people. Some days I never get past myself. Some days I am particularly focused on one person, and other days I go through all the categories and even send lovingkindness to all beings everywhere.
One of the interesting aspects of LKM is how it has become rather routine in just a month of practice. It is almost becoming a default place for my mind to rest. Instead of “I should…” or “I am bad because…” I, at times, am resting in “May you be safe. May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you be at peace.” This is not to say that those underlying judgments about myself do not surface. They are still alive and well, but they are not thriving as much as they were just 30 days ago.
Through my yoga practice I have learned to watch and observe my body and mind, and through this I know my underlying thoughts/judgments intimately. I have also learned to acknowledge them and let them go (some of the time). With these new phrases of lovingkindness becoming such a big part of what I intentionally say to myself, I think they are actually beginning to replace some of the shoulds, rights, wrongs, goods, and bads I have about myself, others, and the world. And that feels empowering for myself, my loved ones, my clients, my students, all the neutral people I encounter everyday, and the difficult people in my life. I can not wait to see what another 30 days will bring!
Metta; A Study of Lovingkindness
Over Memorial Day weekend, instead of BBQing I spent four days in silence at my first meditation retreat. It was hard, humbling, beautiful, and eye opening. I learned a lot about myself, my mind, my meditation, and my yoga, and I cannot wait to go back.
The retreat, held at Cloud Mountain, was based on Metta, lovingkindness meditation. The teacher, Adrianne Ross, explained Metta as a lovely partner to Vipassana, mindfulness meditation. She talked about mindfulness meditation as a practice of awareness, and lovingkindness meditation as a practice of affection. For those four days we practiced being kind to ourselves no matter what came up. Awareness and affection.
I learned many things throughout that weekend, but one struck me in particular. I teach about impermanence quite a bit. I learned about impermanence in a whole new way. It was pretty incredible to go from feeling angry, to sad, to sleepy to blissed out in a thirty minute sit! I did not actually realize how impermanently impermanent I am. We all are. The other incredible thing was that I did not have to do anything about it. I did not have to talk to someone, journal, run, draw, eat, scream, or anything else. The feelings and sensations came and went on their own accord. My only job was to be with them and to be kind to them! Practice awareness and affection.
Upon return to Seattle I have decided to commit to Metta for one year. If you would like to join me I would love that! If you have never done a Metta practice, or are curious about more information I would suggest reading Sharon Salzber’s book Lovingkindness. I will be sitting 30 minutes everyday practicing this type of meditation. You choose what the practice will look like for you (i.e. I will sit 10 minutes every day for a week, month. I will practice lovingkindness everyday on the bus, etc.) Let me know if you have any questions.
“You can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe deserve your love and affection.”
A Path of partnership
Last month I started a new series for Depression and Anxiety at Lotus Yoga in Columbia City. I had a few months of not teaching this particular class, and when I started teaching it again I realized how much I missed it and how much I love it.
In IMT, the type of yoga therapy I do, there is an overarching philosophy that says that the teacher and student are unlimited in their potential to heal. This class is an example of that philosophy for me. It is a reminder for me to be gentle with myself. It is a reminder for me to use the word “could” instead of “should.” It is a reminder for me to be present with myself and my feelings.
Sure, I might be the one in front of the room offering the teaching, but the group of students that show up bring the class to life. They challenge me and bring their own insights. They use different language than mine to highlight tools that are helpful for depression and anxiety. This class truly feels like a partnership. I deal with depression and anxiety, just like all the students in the class. We all deal with depression and anxiety on some level because it is a human emotion that everyone experiences.
Recently, I had an upsurge of anxiety and I thought of this particular class. I remembered what I taught the week before, and the conversation the students and I had around compassion. I attempted to be kind to myself and my anxiety. I labeled the anxiety as anxiety and not as a bad thing that should be pushed away or punished. I tried to be present with it and breathe into it. And lo and behold, the anxiety diminished when I was able to sit with it.
I feel blessed that I have this opportunity to teach yoga and yoga philosophy. The more I talk about it and teach it, the more it becomes a part of me. The role of teacher and student can become fuzzy because my students teach me so much. I like to think of my students as partners on this path of self-discovery, contemplation, and yoga. They have so much to offer me, just as I have something to offer them.
The Truth I Don’t Know
This morning I subbed a class at a studio I have never taught at before. I am subbing more classes than ever before, and it has been an interesting practice for me.
When I go to teach “my” students in “my” classes I feel confident, relaxed, and comfortable. When I go teach for “someone else’s” students there is an interesting process I go through. First I get excited that I will get to teach to new faces, bodies, and minds. Then the day that I am headed to the studio I get nervous. What if I forget how long the class goes? What if they don’t laugh at my jokes? What if they think I talk too much? Then I start teaching, and usually all my “What if…” stories fade away and I just relish in the fact that I get to teach.
So there is the moment of suffering that comes in when I fall into the place of “I don’t know what is going to happen,” and I start creating stories of what might happen. The students might not laugh at my jokes (or they might!). The students may think I talk too much (or they might not!). In reality, I don’t know what is going to happen in any moment. So why do I choose to create stories that would cause me more pain and suffering? I have also lived through each of the above scenarios. I have forgotten when a class was supposed to end, I have had students not laugh at my jokes, and I survived!
So tomorrow I go to another studio and I teach for “someone else’s” students. I am going to practice living in the place of “I don’t know.” Rather than wondering what other people think of me or not, I will walk in with a confident sense of “I don’t know what is going to happen.” That can be a scary place to try to cultivate, but it can also be a place where there is less suffering and more settling into the truth (i.e. satya). If and when those old stories start to arise I can remind them: 1. I don’t actually know if that is going to happen, 2. This story is creating suffering for myself right now and 3. It probably has happened before, and I am still a good person.
Compassion and Judgment
Recently I had big moment of judgment. I’m not going to share who or what I was judging, just that I was judging and it was taking up a lot of my headspace.
I was walking down the street, and it struck me. I wasn’t judging myself for judging! I was just judging. Now to me this is a bit of a breakthrough.
Before yoga I spent a lot of time judging. Then I started doing yoga and realized how much I judged! It was like every single thing that came into my awareness I had some thought of how it should or shouldn’t be different. Sometimes the difficult thing about yoga is becoming aware of all the thoughts and behaviors you have that you were not aware of before an awareness practice. Is ignorance really bliss?
Through yoga and meditation I started cultivating my awareness, and noticed that I actually started to judge less. I cultivated my muscles of compassion and not knowing. Everyone is suffering in some way, and everyone is trying the best he or she can with the resources he or she has. I do not know what brought him or her to this place to make that decision. If I was in the same exact situation I do not know if I would do anything differently. These tools have helped me release some of the judgment in my life.
Does that mean judgment has gone away forever? Not at all. Someone once told me that we (as human beings) will always judge. That in itself is not the problem. The problem–or the solution!–is what we do with that judgment. Do I judge myself for judging (in turn creating more suffering for myself)? Do I give voice to my judgments (which may or may not be helpful)? Do I watch with kind awareness? Do I try to push my judgments away? There are so many approaches to our internal reactions to how things “should” or “shouldn’t” be.
While I was walking down the street I watched with kind awareness and even some humor. I noticed I was judging and just let it run its judgment course. I did not add much to it, and I even chuckled at it a bit. Then after just a few minutes it had passed, and I was onto thinking about something else. This is not always the case when these reactions come up, which is why it seemed like a breakthrough to me. How do you respond to judgments? About yourself? About others? How has yoga helped with your relationship to judging?
Healing, Service Abundance and A Crow
Last week was the first week in my new office. I have finally settled into my very own space! It is beautiful, cozy, warm, and quiet. I like to think of it as a little healing nest, and when I was taking time to just be with this new space the words that came to me were healing, service, and abundance.
The morning before I headed to my office for the first time I was walking with my dog, and he came across a crow that was sick and not moving much. It was 6:30 in the morning, so I did not have many options to reach out to people for help. I left messages at 2 different vets, and I called animal critical care. They advised me to call animal control. I felt resistant to that. Would they just kill this animal? What if he/she could be rehabilitated? Was animal control going to be kind? They assured me that if the crow could be saved, they would save it. Maybe they told me that to soothe me. I don’t know.
The words healing, service, and abundance came back to me. This was an opportunity to take care of another living being that was suffering and possibly going to die. How could I be of service to this crow? I decided to call animal control and leave a message. I also said I would like the crow to be rehabilitated if possible. Then I found an old towel and wrapped the crow in it. He had frost on his wings, and I wanted him to be as comfortable and warm as possible until someone could come and help him.
I received a call from animal control letting me know that the crow died before they got to him later that morning. I was grateful for the phone call, and to know that the crow was no longer suffering. I was grateful to animal control for the kindness they extended to me for letting me know what happened. I can only hope I gave the crow some comfort and relief in his last few moments. I do not know if I did, but I do know that I tried.
Which leads me to thinking about abundance. We all have so much to give to each other, our children, our neighbors, our friends, our family, strangers on the sidewalk and even those beings that we may not notice all that much. We all have the ability to help, to comfort, to make this world a better place. How can you use the abundance of healing and service inside of you today?
Cultivating Your garden
Yesterday I watched and assisted as my yard turned from a typical yard, to a chaotic, messy yard, and finally to a piece of beauty. It is still in process (like all things), but there is a beautiful beginning of a Japanese-inspired garden.
The process of helping and watching this happen made me think of the idea of being in process. Everything that is beautiful, or worthwhile or satisfying probably took at least a small amount of work. Most likely it took a great amount of effort to get there. It can be easy for me to get lost in the work and chaos of the transition (right now we have a looming 4 foot mound of debris in one side of our yard), and want to give up. Then I get a glimpse of beauty that reminds me that all the effort is worth it.
The Beauty of Change
This fall has been glorious! It has been an awe-inspiring show of colors, sunshine and stop me in my boots beauty. I love watching people stop to look at the trees, and I love the pauses that I have taken to soak in the color, and witness this natural and magnificent change from summer to fall and fall to winter. Change can be difficult and challenging, and it can also be awesome and amazing.
I am writing this month to tell you some exciting updates and changes I am going through. I am looking forward to these new steps, and I hope I may even get to see some of you more frequently!
Asmita and Holding New Identities
It has been awhile! I realized the last time I connected with you was in July. Hopefully I’ve had the opportunity to connect with you in person in a class or a retreat since then. If not, I am happy to be back to writing.
A lot has changed since July. The most exciting thing is that we closed on our house on August 26 after a month of couch surfing and a lot of stress and excitement. That process was a humbling and powerful experience for me. As many of you know, I consider myself a person who takes care of others. I am usually the person people go to for help. It was an opportunity for me to ask for help, to be supported instead of supporting, to be the talker instead of the listener, to be willing to receive. It was definitely a challenge, and it was also incredible to be surrounded by so much love and support. It reminded me of being flexible in the identities that I choose (or sometimes don’t choose, but are thrust onto me). In the Yoga Sutras there are 5 obstacles to happiness. One of these obstacles is asmita, or I-ness. It is clinging to the identities that we claim, and also thinking that those identities are the totality of who we are. I hold the identity of caregiver, and I love that identity. For that month I got the opportunity to focus on the opposite, cultivating being taken care of and holding the identity of a “care receiver.” Honestly, after I settled into the role I loved it. It felt different and empowering to not try to power through something difficult on my own. It was hard, and ultimately fantastic to offer people in my life the opportunity to take care of me. I reminded myself throughout the month that I love taking care of people. It feeds me, fulfills me and helps me feel like my life has purpose. I was able to give other people that experience, and that was a gift. I am in such deep gratitude to the people who helped take care of me throughout my home buying, couch surfing process. Thank you Rebecca, Kate, Eric, Buddy, mom, dad, Sharon, Gary, V, Tristan, Tom, Sam, Molly, my Samarya sangha and my beloved students who offered beds, shared their own home buying stories and just generally took me out of the process momentarily be letting me teach them yoga.
As I settle into my cute little home, The Samarya Center and my current job as it looks like now is in transition. One of the many things that is emerging from this is I am committed and determined to be teaching more in the New Year. I am thinking about spreading my wings further than The Samarya Center and the YMCA (my two current teachings gigs). I am open to hearing what you are interested in or what you would like to see. I have already added a 6pm Yin class on Tuesdays at Samarya, and I would love to see you there.
My teacher, Molly Lannon Kenny, has said on numerous occasions, “Practice in the straight away what you use in the curve.” Well I have hit the curve.
In the last month we have unexpectedly began to move out of our apartment, started the process of buying a house and my beloved
Samarya Center has run into some major financial difficulties (radically changing what my job looks like). At one point I told someone I felt like a toothpaste tube that was being squeezed, but the cap was still on.
So this is where the practice just becomes more and more important.
One thing I am so grateful for is my meditation practice (I know several of you took on the challenge last month. Good for you!). It has helped me continue to stay present through all the challenges of “what if…?” There are so many questions I don’t know the answers to right now, and when it doesn’t feel like I can handle it I now (sometimes) remember to close my eyes, focus on my breath and take this moment just as this moment.
I can handle anything that is thrown my way, especially when I take it each moment as it comes. Something else I have heard from my teacher is that we are not given anything that we can not handle. On occasion throughout this process I have felt like this was all too much. Then the next day that wave had passed and I felt more hopeful and optimistic. The idea of impermanence has also been a huge gift. I know not only that I can navigate all these waves, but I also know nothing lasts forever. There will be a time where I do not feel like a toothpaste tube being squeezed, and there have even been moments where the feeling has lessened even in the midst of it all.
My practice (both on and off the mat) has given me the strength to meet the challenges and obstacles in my life and even use them as opportunities for growth. In this difficult process I am finding myself turn to yoga and my sangha (spiritual community) for support. My mat becomes a sanctuary where for an hour I do not have to think about if my loan went through, or how the inspection will go or where we are going to live in my meantime. My meditation cushion reminds me to stay present and take just this breath and just this moment. I don’t have to do it all right now. What a relief!
How has yoga helped you through a challenging time? How have you used your practice on the mat to assist you in my your daily life?
A Challenge for You
I have a challenge for you. It is the same challenge that was presented to me 6 months ago, and I am grateful for my teacher who presented it to me.
I have wanted to meditate for a long time now. I have started, and stopped. I have dreamed of meditating as a daily practice. I even gave up my daily journaling practice a few years ago in an attempt to replace it with meditation. No luck. There was always something else I “had” to be doing, or I wanted to be doing, or I just forgot I had the intention of sitting. I read books about meditation, I have looked at meditation retreats on-line without ever having the practice established.
This month in our book club (3rd Tuesday of the month from 6-8pm at Samarya. We would love to see you!) we were focusing on the Bhagavad Gita, an ancient yoga text. In the text, Krishna is talking to Arjuna about action, and the importance of taking action. Krishna teaches Arjuna that the vacillation in taking action is part of what causes our suffering. I have been vacillating in my meditation practice for years now. I want to, I don’t want to, I’d rather do yoga poses, I don’t have time, I’ll do it today, I’ll do it tomorrow. Oh, it is exhausting! I wasn’t doing the action I wanted to be doing, yet there was definitely a lot of action happening around thinking about meditation.
Which is where my beloved teacher came in and helped. She gave me that extra push to the action I had been attempting to do with limited success. She helped me stop thinking about action and “just do it.” Once I fully made that commitment I “just did it,” and I have been sitting every day since December.
Another aspect of the Bhagavad Gita that I love is Krishna also informs Arjuna that no effort is ever wasted. So all that thinking about meditating was getting me to the point of being able to fully commit to the practice. It too was a part of the process, and a helpful part.
So my challenge to you: Sit for 10 minutes every day for the next 30 days and you can miss just one day. Sit whenever you can (morning, night, break at work, etc.). Pick a focus and stick with that focus for the next 30 days (i.e. the breath, a mantra, a candle flame, etc.).
Let me know if you are up for the challenge, and I would love to hear how it is going for you, what are the challenges and what are the successes?
I will Remember Your Heart
Last week in my yoga class my teacher told the class that “I won’t remember your name, but I will remember your heart.” It made me think about my “essence.” Now, what is essence? How do I find it, connect to it and even understand it? Let me try to break it down the best way that I can.
In the Yoga Sutras there are 5 different obstacles to happiness (I talked about attachment and aversion when I was Christmas shopping in December), and one of them is “asmita.” Asmita translates to “I-ness,” and it commonly refers to the ego. When my inspiring teacher told me that he would remember my heart, it stimulated me thinking about myself beyond my I-ness. We all have identities that we cling to or adamantly avoid. I am a Laura, I am a yoga teacher, I am strong, I am a partner, I am a therapist, etc. These are the identities that I generally cling to. I like these identities and this is my “I-ness.” Or at least the I-ness that I want the world to see. Then I have other identities that I am definitely not. I am not overbearing, I am not mean, I am not violent, I am not impatient. I clearly want to avoid being these things, but have I ever been overbearing? Absolutely. Mean? Yup. Violent? Yes. Impatient? More often than I like to admit.
Another story. Another identity. I have claimed and clung to the identity of triathlete for several years now, and then January came. I set my race goals for the summer, and then proceeded to completely stop running. In the past I have been forced to stop running due to injury, and that caused a lot of suffering because of my identity as a “runner.” Yet, this time I am not suffering over it. Maybe it is because it is my choice. Maybe it is because I know (or at least I have faith) that I will run again. I don’t know why, and maybe that is ok. What has been interesting about the process though is that part of my “I-ness” is that I feel like I should be suffering because I am not doing something that aligns to my claimed identities. I am suffering because I am not suffering! Oh the mind!
So my “essence.” My essence is the part of me that is beyond the running, yoga teaching, kind, mean, impatient partner that “I am.” According to yoga philosophy I am all those things, and I am completely beyond all those things. If I can see beyond those identities I choose for myself I won’t suffer when they shift, change or completely go away. When my teacher said he would remember my heart that is what I heard. He would see the me that is beyond the suffering, the identities that I love and those that I hate. He would see my bright and beautiful heart that is sometimes covered in fear, impatience, irritation or hurt. When I can begin to do that more for myself, then I can continue to see my students, my friends, my family, my community, the person who vandalized my scooter, the person asking for change are all beings who have an untouched heart that may be covered with a film of despair, hopelessness, or panic.
If you are curious about my fantastic and heart-centered teacher who inspired this letter, check out Todd here.
I have recently been learning quite a bit about my wrist. I have been having pain on and off for several months now, and finally got the diagnosis of a ganglion cyst. In the big picture of my life this is not a big deal. It is harmless, fairly common and does not affect my daily activities too drastically. Yet in the big picture of my life it is a big deal. No full extension or flexion of my wrist for a minimum of 2 weeks and possibly up to 8 weeks. What that means to me is no arm balances, no downward dogs, changing the way I do Thai Yoga sessions and my hands-on techniques in teaching.
What that also means is that I CAN do some pretty amazing things. My creativity in my yoga practice has increased exponentially. Did you know you can do crow on your forearms? I have learned to rely on more than my wrists in providing bodywork sessions. Your feet and legs are way more powerful than your arms, and I am learning more about cultivating the sensitivity of my feet. I have also learned how much I take my wrist and hands (and frankly, my whole body) for granted most of the time. I am learning new ways to be in the world.
In yoga, there is the idea of samskaras, or patterns that we get stuck in. It has commonly been referred to as a car going down the same dirt road over and over to create deep grooves in the road. If the vehicle (or myself) wanted to get out of these grooves that would prove to be quite difficult depending on how deep those grooves are.
My yoga practice has helped me in uncountable ways with my own habitual patterns (some of which serve me and some of which don’t). Continuing to use my wrist in the same way I always have proved to not serve me right now. I did spend several months continuing to deepen that groove. This is how I do bodywork sessions, this is what my yoga practice looks like, etc. Maybe if I ignore this it will just go away. I am pretty skilled at ignoring, and rarely does “it” (whatever that may be) go away.
So my ganglion cyst is now my teacher in learning to find new ways to interact with my students, myself and the world. I am learning to create new grooves of kindness towards my body (rather than ignoring), creativity (rather than relying on what I always do) and gratitude (rather than ignorance) of how truly amazing the human body is. I am learning to create new grooves that ultimately serve me and the world in a more sustainable, loving and compassionate way.
A Year in the Kitchen
At the beginning of 2010 I decided my New Year’s resolution would be to cook one meal per month. I lived off of take out food, and I wanted to eat healthier. I took care of my body through yoga, running, biking and swimming and of my mind through yoga, journaling and meditation, yet I still was not making the best choices around food. I wanted to be more conscious and more connected to my food, but it was also a difficult notion. I never learned how to cook, when I tried it in the past it did not turn out well, and I did not find enjoyment in being n the kitchen. In my mind, the only thing a kitchen needed was a microwave and a refrigerator (for keeping my leftovers hot and cold).
It all started with a box of food. I did a trade with a farmer where I received food, and she received bodywork. I came home with pumpkin, delicate squash, potatoes, onions, garlic and sauerkraut. At this point I had no idea what to do with any of it, but something shifted in me. I have a talent for letting food rot in my fridge because I never get around to making it. All of a sudden, I was putting my hard-earned time and energy (from giving that session) into my fridge, and I could not let that go to waste. So I asked a lot of questions, I perused allrecipes.com, and I made my first pumpkin pie. I remember bringing my precious pie to my work meeting and telling my co-workers and sangha about it. They loved it, and I loved sharing it with them. I could not wait to make more.
As a yoga teacher and therapist, I strive to help people feel successful. When making changes in our lives I encourage small steps. If I set myself up for success by giving myself easy and achievable goals I will feel successful, and therefore continue doing what I am doing. So after my first box of food was gone, the New Year had arrived. My small step was one meal per month. In the first week of January I had cooked 2 meals. By the end of the month I lost count of how many dishes I had prepared, and I had completely fell in love with my kitchen.
In this first year, I have accumulated cook books, started reading about cooking and visited farms. I joined a community-supported agriculture program where food is delivered to our home from a local farm every other week. I spent more time at farmers’ markets and at our local co-op and less time at Jimmy Johns. I am beginning to understand what food is in season, what happens at factory farms and why I want to support local, organic food. I even started using cooking and baking as my own form of therapy after a difficult day at work.
It was been a life-changing year, and I can’t wait to see what 2011 will bring. What are the small steps you are taking this year?
Attachment and Aversion Swinging Back and Forth
I have been very aware of my attachments and aversions lately, and I have been noticing how closely related these two “opposite” things are. I have also been noticing now quickly I vacillate between the too.
An example. I get very excited about Christmas shopping (attachment). I make lists of all the people I am going to buy things for, give experiences to and share my love with. Then I get to a store and I am paralyzed (aversion). What if she doesn’t like this? What if I am wasting money on something that just sits in a closet? I think she might like that, but I’m not 100% sure. Many times I end up leaving stores with nothing in hand, and thinking. “I hate Christmas shopping.”
Another example. The snow. When I lived in Chicago I always hated the snow (aversion). When the snow started there you knew it was not going to end for many more months. In Seattle I love the snow (attachment). It means slowing down, doing less and making snowmen.
In yoga there are 5 obstacles to happiness, called the kleshas. Two of these obstacles to happiness are attachment (raga) and aversion (dvesha). If we can see past these obstacles we might live happier lives.
What I have been noticing about this pendulum swinging is that attachment and aversion are two sides of the same coin. The reality not changing. My reaction to that reality is changing. The snow is just snowing. The Christmas shopping is just Christmas shopping. Depending on how I interact with this reality is what causes me suffering, not the actual reality.
With this in mind I have been cultivating a sense of humor around my mind that swings from attachment to aversion like a monkey swings easily from branch to branch. Here I go again. I love this, now I hate it. I’m sure I’ll come around to loving it again as well. And then well…hating it again. While my mind swings I can remember that my mind is just doing its wacky thing, the snow or the shopping (or whatever I am currently clasping to or avoiding) is not causing me pain. My mind is. If even for a moment I can step out of my mind and the swinging branches I can see just the snow for what is truly is: snow.