Settling my Mind.

mind is like water

Image found via Pinterest.

I admit it…I’ve been phoning in my meditation lately.

I’ve been combining it with Constructive Rest Pose, laying on my back with a strap tied around my legs to keep them from splaying open. But when I lay on my back, my mind drifts. I plan my yoga classes for the day, going through sequences in my head. Then because my mind is like that meme where all the browser tabs are open, it’s off and running.

Why did I say that?

What’s for dinner?

That was a weird dream last night.

Why hasn’t she texted me back? She must be mad at me.

What’s the weather?

Can I go for a walk?

I should cancel my gym membership. I hate the gym.

But it comes in handy when we lose power and I can shower there.

Yeah, the ONE time that happened.

My mind is exhausting.

Lately, I’ve gone back to meditating at the end of my yoga practice, sitting up on my cushion, spine tall, body supported. And, I have to admit, it is different.

Of course my mind wanders. That’s what it does. But I am able to notice it quicker and come back to my breath. Back to the moment.

This traditional sitting posture connects me to the power of meditation, the power of the present moment.

I try to fit in a meditation at some point in my yoga classes and I tell my students that my mind often feels like a snow globe when it is all shook up. Meditation allows it to settle until there is some clarity. And I can finally glimpse the quiet and stillness that is always there.

 

 

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Dancing with the Blahs.

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I woke up feeling meh this morning.

Nothing tragic. Nothing terrible. Just meh. Blah.

Now, much of the time I give in to that feeling. Give in to the physical, mental, emotional and energetic inertia by hunkering down on the couch with Netflix and my phone and hours later, (surprise surprise!) I feel ten times worse.

I want to be clear. This is not depression. This is just a normal ebb and flow of energy, of emotions. Today, instead of giving in to it I chose to dance with it.

I got on my mat and did a gentle practice just moving in a way that felt good, not to achieve anything other than being present in my body.

Then I meditated for 15 minutes.

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Then I took my dog over to the park where we walked around the lake for an hour, more moving of the body and connecting with this beautiful world that often doesn’t feel beautiful when I view it from the incredibly myopic view from my phone.

Then I brought myself here to the bookstore, one of my happy places where I can browse and write and dream and be out in the world without really having to talk to anyone.

After all that I am feeling much less meh. Much less blah.

I am feeling content.

Finding Alignment On and Off my Mat.

I am aligned

Image found via Pinterest.

Alignment is an important aspect of our yoga practice. It keeps us physically safe and supported in a pose. Proper alignment keeps us from exerting unnecessary effort.

Practicing physical alignment on my mat reminds me to find spiritual and energetic alignment off my mat.

I am having one of those off days. I can’t find things I need and am getting very easily irritated. I feel off balance and need to ask myself where exactly I am out of alignment just as when I check in with my own body in a pose or that of my students.

I haven’t stepped into my yoga room in about three days. This is so unlike me. I usually get onto my mat at least once a day, if not more. I’ve been busy and wanting to hang out with my daughter who is home from college so I’ve been staying up later which means I am sleeping in later which means I haven’t made time to practice.

Just as a tiny imbalance in the hips or spine can create misalignment throughout the body, not attending to my personal yoga practice sends ripples throughout the rest of my life.

Alignment happens when I can hear my inner voice. If it’s cluttered with crap because I haven’t been taking the time to meditate or have been merely phoning it in (which I have been doing) then I feel out of flow with myself, with my life, with the Universe.

I am in alignment when I make time to care for myself.

I am in alignment when I notice that I am out of alignment and pinpoint where I strayed, with compassion, not judgment.

I am in alignment when I really show up to my yoga practice, when I fully show up to my meditation practice.

Basically, I am in alignment when I show up fully to each moment just as it is, just as I am.

Walking Unplugged.

walking unplugged

Today I walked unplugged.

Today I heard the sound of my breath,

the dull click of my dog’s nails against the concrete,

the rustle of leaves as a squirrel scurried by,

the music of the wind.

Today I walked unplugged and listened to the breathings of my heart.

Today my mind was open to what was all around me,

what was within me.

Today I walked unplugged and felt a deep connection to the world,

to myself,

to the beauty of life that surrounds me.

Observations on Being Without Power.

 

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Image found via Pinterest.

Our state recently experienced an historic power outage due to winds of up to 60 miles per hour. My house was without power for over 72 hours. Here are a few things I observed.

Of course there is the initial annoyance. No power (and no generator) meant no lights, no heat, no water, no refrigerator. At first, it wasn’t that bad. It almost felt like a reprieve from normal life. But soon, it got old. I went to the bookstore for the afternoon to get warm and charge my phone and laptop. That night, my husband and I drank some wine and played a few games of Cribbage by candlelight. Sweet, fun and a little romantic. But waking up to a really cold house the next morning, the reprieve glow had worn off. I went to the gym to work out and take a shower. My daughter and I tried to find a place to get warm and charge our phones but every place was full. So, we got food to go and went to the yoga studio where I teach. No classes in the middle of the day so we had it to ourselves: warmth, wifi, outlets to charge. All in all, a pretty nice afternoon especially since I wrote over 2000 words on my current WIP.

That night we stayed in hotel where my husband had a business meeting. Perfect timing. Enjoyed a warm bed and a hot tub. Woke up to news that the power was back. Yay! On my way home, my daughter called to say the power was NOT back on. Boo!

I began to notice how easily swayed my mood was by things completely out of my control. I found myself getting incredibly irritated when the DTE app hadn’t updated the repair status and that irritation began to spill out all over the place. It made me wonder how often I let my mood be influenced by things out of my control. How often did I let irritations pile up and feed off each other until I was just miserable to be around for myself and others?

Each time I walked into a room, I hit the light switch. Every. Single. time. It made me realize how ingrained our habits are. It made me wonder what else I do just out of habit, basically on auto-pilot?

As the irritation began to build I realized that I was just waiting to get the power back. Just waiting. Filling time until everything was back to normal That’s what drinking the wine was about the first night. Let’s make this a little less uncomfortable and make the time pass a little easier. I wonder how often I did that, bypassing what was uncomfortable, waiting for things to happen that I want to happen.

As offers to use friends’ refrigerators or freezers to save our food, or their house for warmth or an invitation to sleep in their spare room came in, I found how awkward I felt when offered such gifts. I have no problem at all offering such gifts to others, but receiving is not easy for me. Even when it was my best friend in the whole world. She had me come down to her home for the day where she made me a fresh salad, had bought my favorite tea and crackers. I said, “My gosh you are spoiling me.” She said with a lot of passion that somebody should spoil me, that I deserve it. That I take care of everyone else all the time and the sometimes I needed to be taken care of myself. I heard the words, and I tried to receive them with an open heart but I could feel myself closing up against them. How often do I refuse to ask for help or feel guilty when accepting it?

Finally, being powerless felt like a huge, neon metaphor for how I’ve felt since the election. Certain things are just out of my control no matter how many calls I make, marches I attend, petitions I sign, meetings I go to, postcards I send.

So, with so many things out of my control, what is within my control? Always my response. Always. I chose to get irritated by the power being out. I chose to check the app twenty-five times a days, hoping to see an update. I chose to drink several large glasses of wine to escape the situation in front of me. But I also chose to seek out warmth. To continue my meditation practice even if just for two minutes. I chose to continue showing up to my current WIP, making progress despite what was going around me. Chose to notice when it felt uncomfortable accepting offers of help. I chose to accept the help anyway, learning to get comfortable with it.

Now that the lights are back on, I hope to stay aware of what is in my power, and what is not. To stay awake to my habits instead of sleepwalking through my days. To be grateful for help when it is offered and brave enough to ask when I need it, believing that I am deserving of it. To be grateful for all that I have that I blindly take for granted as I easily flip on a light switch to light up a room or turn on the faucet to receive water or open the refrigerator full of fresh food.

Just like Dorothy, the power is always within us.

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Image found via Pinterest.

 

The Art of Seeing Myself Clearly.

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As part of an on-line program, Spring Equinox 30 Days Back to You, I did a full two-hour vipassana meditation this morning. It is a practice of seeing ourselves clearly, of staying present to exactly what is happening in the moment, gradually purifying the mind and getting rid of attachments which are the root of suffering.

Where to start? At the beginning I suppose.

First up was the question of where to do it. I thought I should do it in my yoga room. Then this morning I decided I would sit in my nook in the living room. It didn’t look like I pictured it “should” in my mind—me sitting on my mat, in my yoga room, spine straight. But I decided I needed to make it as doable as possible. This chair is comfortable, it is cozy, I had the house to myself so I wouldn’t be interrupted. It made me wonder how often I tend to sabotage myself before I even begin by not making what I want to do as doable or accessible as possible.

Lately, I’ve been meditating and practicing self-reiki in bed as soon as I wake up. I used to think I “should” be doing it on my mat, after I practice. But this works for me. I wake up and before I do anything else, I do some reiki. I am still in that soft space after just waking, this keeps me there then it leads me straight into a sweet meditative space.

When I first read that I was going to have to meditate for two hours by first reaction was,”NO FUCKING WAY!”

But I was also intrigued.

I thought it would be so hard, so tedious. I thought it would be painful physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually.

But I also thought it could really interesting.

I went into it without expectations. I deliberately didn’t read about others’ experience with it before I experienced it myself.

I got my cozy blanket, a glass of water, lit a candle, put my phone on airplane mode so I wouldn’t be disturbed, set the timer and just did it.

At first it was loud in my head. It felt like “Inside Out” in there. I had the rebel dressed in black muttering, “This is bullshit.”

There was one wringing her hands worried that we weren’t doing this right at all.

Another desperately taking notes so we could write about this afterward.

Another patrolling with a ruler in her hand, enumerating all the ways this was an utter waste of time.

The first time I checked the timer only 15 minutes had passed.

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I shared the space with my dog, Izzy. She slept on the couch then at some point got up and moved to the recliner closer to me. I thought, her whole life is a vipassana meditation. She is always just in the moment, doing what she is doing. I tried to be more like her.

I was acutely aware of my body and the shapes it made. The places where my body connected with the chair, that line or veil between the two seeming to dissipate.

I was hyper aware of my face and neck.

I heard the clock above the mantel ticking away, the hum of the refrigerator, the creaks and groans of the house, distant traffic, a siren.

Odd images would flash behind my eyes. It felt like I was watching a movie.

It felt like that limbo between wakefulness and sleep though I never teetered over the edge into sleep.

The next time I looked I had 37 minutes left.

Then only six.

Then the timer dinged and I came back.

And it felt like coming back.

From where, I’m not sure. A journey of some sort. A deep inner journey.

I don’t remember a lot of the details. I am stunned that two hours went by.

I am surprised that it wasn’t more of a struggle. I’m surprised that I was able to just allow my mind to go where it went and didn’t engage with it. I felt like an observer. A curious, compassionate observer.

I stopped struggling to remember everything that I experienced and just allowed myself to experience it.

Just allowed myself to be.

Just allowed myself to see my Self more clearly.

The Practice of Embracing Silence.

Pascal quote

Image found via Pinterest.

I’ve never been good at being alone.

Never been comfortable with silence. Which explains why I resisted meditation for so long. Even when one of my favorite writers/teachers highly recommended it for writers, coming just shy of touting it as the magic key, I still refused to sit with myself in silence.

When I first went away to art school, I arrived before my roommate. I had the apartment to myself for almost a week and I didn’t know a soul. I didn’t have a TV. This was well before personal computers, much less iPhones. I didn’t have a stereo. I think I did have a cassette player with earphones. And books. And myself.

Those few days were excruciating. I remember sitting on the couch in view of the apartment across from me where I saw other students, hoping, praying they would notice me, take pity on me and invite me over.

They didn’t.

When I was a young mother, I craved time alone, even if just in the bathroom. When I was lucky enough to get that time to myself, I almost always squandered much of it in front of the TV. Or I’d call family or friends and talk to them. Anything to fill up the silence. Anything to avoid being alone with myself.

Now, my daughters are both away at college. This week my husband is out of town so it just me and the dog and cat. And the silence.

As I sit in my cozy reading/writing nook in the living room I hear the tapping of these keys, the gurgling hum of the washing, the clock ticking over the mantel and the muted thrum of highway traffic. That’s it. No TV or radio or music to fill the silence.

No barriers between me and myself.

I no longer resist silence or being alone. I embrace it.

What changed? Me.

I don’t know when exactly it happened but it’s been since I started practicing yoga, since I finished my YTT. Yoga has allowed me to dive deep and figure out who I am, how I feel and to, you know, actually feel those feelings.

I think I was afraid of feeling too much so I avoided being alone, avoided creating space where feelings could surface.

Being alone no longer feels lonely. I am not always comfortable with being alone or with silence. Sometimes I still get that feeling of wanting to crawl out of my skin. Of wanting to fill in the gaps of silence that press on me.

The difference now is that I allow myself to feel comfortable with being uncomfortable.

And that is something that has definitely emerged from my yoga practice. I find my edge in poses that aren’t comfortable but I stay there, I breathe, I feel my body, I note my resistance and choose to stay.

Staying there when I want to flee is where the growth happens. It’s like a muscle that I push to its limit and it grows stronger. That space of hanging in past resistance helps in my writing as well. It helps with everything, really.

So, as I find myself sitting in the utter quiet of my home, I note the butterflies in my belly, I note my shallow breath and the urge to turn the TV on. But I don’t. I choose breathe deep. I choose to embrace the silence.

And in embracing the silence I am embracing myself, exactly who I am in this moment.

I wish eighteen-year-old me had known this. But she was young. She didn’t know or appreciate the beauty of all of who she was.

That’s okay. We know now.

 

 

The Art of Wabi-Sabi.

gold lotus om

One of the challenges of the holidays can be the added pressure of striving for perfection: finding the perfect gift, decorating the perfect tree, cooking the perfect meal, throwing the perfect party.

Today, on this Winter Solstice, is an ideal time to release the idea of perfection. Perfect according to who, anyway? How will you know when you’ve reached perfection? The truth is, you never will. That little voice in your head? That’s its job, so it’s never going to allow you to find perfection since that means it would be irrelevant.

Allow yourself to release the heavy burden of perfection for the lightness of wabi-sabi: a way of living that focuses on finding beauty within the imperfections of life and accepting peacefully the natural cycle of growth and decay.

The other day my husband and I were putting the finishing touch on my yoga room—a gold wall decal of an om symbol within a lotus flower. It’s about three feet by two feet so it was a little unruly to work with, trying to get it centered without it sticking too much to the wall, then getting it to stick enough to peel off the backing but leave the gold on the wall.

We encountered tiny air bubbles along the way. My husband dutifully and gently attended to each one, trying to make the surface perfectly smooth. The foil and wall did not cooperate.

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Finally, I said to just leave it as is—air bubbles and all. They aren’t all that noticeable and when I do notice them they remind me of all the hard work and love he put into creating this sanctuary for me.

In that moment I practiced wabi-sabi and found the beauty beneath the supposed imperfection.

In that moment I released the heaviness of perfection and welcomed in light, joy and peace of the beauty before me.

What can you release? What can you welcome in?

Embrace the Holy Moment

The gold clings to the

softly mottled blue wall

Shimmering, majestic.

Small pockets of air arise

Marring the surface,

Disrupting the flow.

Pressing gently,

attempting to feather

the air out and away.

Searching for a perfectly smooth

Sheen of gold

But they stubbornly return,

again and again.

Finally I surrender,

Instead of erasing them,

I choose to embrace

the beauty of these

So-called imperfections.

Pursuing perfection is fruitless

It leeches joy from the moment.

How much easier life becomes

when we no longer judge the

usefulness and beauty of something

based on such shallow, unknowable standards.

How much easier to

embrace the holy beauty of

The imperfect,

The impermanent,

The incomplete.

How much easier to

embrace the holy beauty

of each moment

As it is.

How much easier to

embrace the holy beauty

of yourself

Just as you are.

The Practice of Slowing Down.

Tortoise

Image: Chad Sparkes / Flickr

I wish I had found yoga (or it had found me) back when my daughters were little. I think it may have slowed down time a bit. Kept me present once in a while instead of moving mindlessly from task to task, need to need—always looking ahead to the next phase, the next step.

The thing about time is that we think it is much less fluid than it actually is. We think it is fixed purely in increments of hours, days, weeks, months, years, etc…

Time is actually much more elastic than the structure we, as humans, have imposed on it. And it all depends on our awareness. If we are always looking ahead to the next thing on our to-do list (for the day or for life), life seems to fly past us in a blur. That’s how my daughters’ childhood was to me—a fast blur of time. It seemed like I blinked and it was over. Now they are both in college.

The holidays are also apt to pass in a flurry of activity. Our days and weeks are packed with things to do: buy presents, wrap, bake, parties to attend, decorations to set up. If we aren’t careful, the season is over before we know it and we didn’t even enjoy it.

I may not have been fortunate enough to have yoga twenty-two years ago, but I have it now. The practice of showing up to my mat no matter how busy a day is allows me to slow down my body, slow down my breath, slow down my mind.

The more I practice on my mat, the more I am able to carry that mindfulness off the mat and into my life.

It’s like a superpower—slowing down and being present actually slows down time.

I know that the less time I believe I have for yoga, the more I need it. The more I practice, the more time I seem to have. Funny how that works…

Explore your own ability to stretch time by just being fully present to what is happening within and around you.

Next time you are in line at the store take a moment to check in with your body. How does it feel? How do the clothes feel against your skin? The floor beneath your feet?

Stuck in traffic? Notice your breath. Is it shallow or deep? Warm or cool? Does your chest expand with the inhale? How about the low belly? Try to elongate the inhale and exhale, making them equal of length.

If you are baking a batch of cookies, take your time to notice what the ingredients looks like, how they smell, how they feel in your hands. And, of course, how they taste!

Savor the moments this holiday (and everyday) by allowing yourself the luxury of slowing down and just being present to what is.

And here’s a lovely reminder by Danna Faulds:

Walk Slowly

It only takes a reminder to breathe, 

a moment to be still, and just like that, 

something in me settles, softens, makes 

space for imperfection. The harsh voice

 of judgment drops to a whisper and I 

remember again that life isn’t a relay

 race; that we will all cross the finish 

line; that waking up to life is what we 

were born for. As many times as I

 forget, catch myself charging forward

 without even knowing where I’m going, 

that many times I can make the choice

 to stop, to breathe, and be, and walk

 slowly into the mystery.

-Danna Faulds

Source: Walk Slowly: A Poem http://blog.freepeople.com/2014/11/walk-slowly-poem/#ixzz3uKdGgyHc

 

Meditation as Bicep Curls?

I’ve resisted a regular, sustained meditation practice for years. Even when, at a retreat with Natalie Goldberg, and she pretty much guaranteed that meditating would help my writing, I still blew it off.

Even after becoming a yoga teacher, I blew it off.

Sure, I’d show up for a few days, weeks, even months but then I’d miss a day, then another and another.

I think I’ve always had this picture of how meditation should look and the way my wild mind flitted all over the place like a hummingbird on speed did not fit that picture.

In short, I felt like I failed every time I sat down.

Of course, I knew that bringing my mind back to my breath or mantra was the practice. But mostly I knew that in my head. Part of me still felt like I should get past that stage, that it was a hoop I had to jump through.

Being laid up these last few weeks, I’ve had plenty of time to meditate. And I have. Daily.

Along the way, I stumbled across this video, which I just love. First, it’s animated and takes some of the heavy seriousness out of meditation. Second, one phrase in particular has stayed with me. That each time we bring our awareness back to the present, it’s like a bicep curl for our mind.

See, the thing that I feared was failing is exactly the thing needed to strengthen my practice, my mind, my awareness.

It’s so liberating.

I no longer fight my thoughts. Each time I notice my attention has strayed, I bring it back to my breath or mantra, knowing that that moment, that moment of starting over is the whole point.

It’s not failure.

It’s the practice.