Bucket Lists, Careers, and The Meaning of Life: Why Do You Do What You Do?

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Recently, a friend asked me what’s on my bucket list. He began to name some things on his—mostly travel to various places. I couldn’t think of a place I need to see in my lifetime, though there are a few places I’d like to go. Go or not, I’ll be happy.

Or not.

I no longer have a specific career goal on my bucket list either. Over the last few decades, I wanted to be a noted psychologist, a bestselling novelist, and a nutritionist. I imagined changing people’s lives with my insights and ability to motivate my clients to live a healthy lifestyle.

A more recent career goal (before I became a freelancer writer), was to be an awesome teacher to a special population of kids I really understood. Let’s just say politics got in the way of that goal.

But like I said, I no longer dream of accomplishing a specific career-related goal. I now see how all of these pursuits fit together.

There are a lot of things I’d like to learn—or relearn—before I leave this planet. I’d like to sing again, play tennis again, and I’ve always wanted to learn to draw. I have to learn about technology and digital publishing (but none of that is on my bucket list).

In fact, I’ll be fine if I accomplish any of these things or none of them, as long as I stay engaged in something.

A simple goal: Finding the meaning of life

So what is on my bucket list? What do I need in order to feel that my life has been worthwhile?

Well, it’s simple. I need to know—or believe, because we never really know anything, do we?—that my life has had meaning and that I’ve somehow made a positive difference. Isn’t that what most of us want.

Can I ever know for sure that my life means something? Maybe not. It may have to be enough to just believe. In many ways, I have yoga thank for knowing what’s enough. Yoga has taught me to be myself and to use my gifts without attachment to the outcome of my efforts.

It’s hard though. I won’t lie.

Making a difference

I suppose it’s obvious for some people that they’ve made a difference in the world, and it must feel good to know this. Respected doctors, best-selling authors, Noble Peace Prize winners and the like get some kind of tangible feedback and proof that their lives have meant something.

Do I need to be famous or remembered in history books? Of course not. Does it matter much that I may not be personally remembered by many once I’m gone? Not really, though it would be nice. But I do want to believe I made a small difference somehow. Because a small difference can have a huge impact. It can be part of a whole movement toward the development of good. I know in my heart that this is true, though I can’t point to any scientific evidence to support my hunch.

Your Career is Not What You Do, But Why and How You Do It

The other day in yoga class, my teacher, who always seems to know exactly what I need to hear, read a passage from Marianne Williamson’s bestseller, A Return to Love.  The book is a classic for good reason. It’s simple and brilliantly poetic. It’s about love.

The passage my yoga teacher read was about, of all things, careers. How did she know I’d been wondering about the direction of mine?

My friend who asked me the bucket list question is struggling with a similar problem. He’s at a career crossroad himself. The career thing is very different for him than it is for me in some ways. But in others it’s not. We both want to make a difference.

How to Make a Difference

How can we make a difference in such a complicated society? We have so many choices. On the other hand, as we explore each possibility, we often find our choices are, in reality, remarkably limited. They may lead us down dead end roads until we hit a wall.

And then what?

There is fierce competition for jobs, whether one is a corporate executive or a freelancer looking for her next gig. There is so much that seems irrelevant and pointless when it comes to using our gifts. Are we “qualified,” are we “certified,” do we have experience in a very specific field we know we can succeed in?

Simply using our gifts is not always enough—because of the competition, the bills, the tax laws, the stock market, and information overload. Every day my inbox is bombarded with the latest “secret” for finding clients and well-paying writing gigs. Most of them are regurgitations of the ones I received the week before. At this point in my career, few of them are useful.

But I shift through them all to find that needle in the haystack. Because there still needles to find.

My point (I do have one)

When I forget why I do what I do, I am tempted to give up. I need to remember to serve, and my way of serving is helping people communicate what they do (or know).

We all have gifts. If we use them well, we can craft a meaningful career, though it may not resemble what the textbooks say a career is supposed to look like. In other words, we don’t all choose a profession, get an entry level position in that field, and then slowly but steadily climb to the top until we are making a comfortable living, then retire and look back with satisfaction on how seamlessly our working years progressed. For many of us, this career thing is a mish-mash mess.

Enter the simply brilliant perspective of Marianne Williamson. As a writer, I’m in awe of her brilliant ability to cut through to the point and say it with beautiful simplicity. “Success,” says Williamson, “means going to sleep at night knowing our talents and abilities were used in a way that served others.”

Williamson goes on to say that what we do is not as important as how (or why) we do it. We should do whatever we do kindly. The key to success is to realize how we are connected—that the purpose of our work lives is not different from the purpose of the rest of our lives. It’s all to spread love.

Does Your Work Spread Love?

For some, it’s a stretch to see one’s job as work that spreads love. And some work does not (in which case the doer may want to consider a change). But every job worth doing has the potential to be done with love. Even if your job is to sell used cars—or carpets—you can do it with love. I mention carpets because I once knew a salesman who was joyfully helping people pick out carpets well into his eighties. That kind of thing can be inspiring.

Whatever you do, you can be kind, honest, and friendly while you do it, and your goal can be both making a profit and helping someone else, whether that person is a customer, client, or coworker. If you are doing your work solely for the profit, you may miss a lot of opportunities spread love. That is, you may miss your purpose.

My goal as an editor and writer is to help people communicate. I enjoy writing about others and helping them polish their work as much as I enjoy crafting my own stories. For the most part, I work in a niche that is easily about love—well-being—but it’s not the only way I use my talents. I’m also a technical editor, and I spend a good amount of time pouring over copy about digital imaging products. How is that about love? Well, the team I work with is a great group of people; for most of us, the work is about supporting each other’s efforts. Our collective goal is to communicate an accurate message.

Before I launched myself as a freelance writer and editor, I was a teacher, an administrative assistant, a nutritionist at an upscale gym, a financial aid counselor, and a research editor. Yes, I’ve had many jobs. In Return to Love, Marianne Williamson says the same of her life.

Marianne also says she’s had many jobs but only one career. I say the same.

The reason I’ve had many jobs (and clients) is I’m continually tweaking my work life to align with purpose. I’m looking for the best way to use my gifts to do what I came here to do—what we all came her to do—spread love and make a difference, no matter how small that difference seems.

If I can do that, I don’t need a bucket list.

 

Dream On, But Don’t Count on Your Dreams Coming True

Grand Canyon2I once heard it said that a dream is something that would make all the pain go away if it came true. And I got to thinking, what is it called if that doesn’t work? As one who has many dreams—most of which did not come true—I wonder if it really matters if dreams come true.

Maybe what matters more is that the pain goes away, no matter how that happens. Sometimes something unexpected comes along, and the pain goes away for a while. It may not even be something you ever dreamed of. Even the greatest dreams, if realized, doesn’t always take pain away. At least not forever. Pain, being part of life, inevitably comes back.

People who live privileged lives in the sense that they experience less pain than others have dreams. And those dreams probably keep these folks a step ahead of the kind of gut-wrenching pain that can make you wonder what the point of life even is.

What do you dream of?

There are things we’re all supposed to want: love, friendship, work we feel good about, and a sense of purpose are some examples. If we don’t find those things, we find ways to distract ourselves—sometimes very destructive ways like drinking or drugs or getting into other kinds of trouble. Sometimes better ways, like spirituality, yoga, meditation, the pursuit clean living.

It may be a stroke of luck that causes us to find our way to the “better” list. Maybe in some of those cases, it turns out that we’re lucky we didn’t find the love we sought or that our dream to become something didn’t come true.

So dream on, but don’t count on your dreams coming true. But don’t give up on dreams, either. They exist for a reason. But they also change.

The Greatest Dream of All

Maybe the best idea is to always have a dream but not hold on to any one dream so tightly that you don’t notice another more important one you can replace it with. For example, maybe letting go of the dream of finding true allows you to discover opportunities to become true love by serving others. Being love is, after all, the highest and most fulfilling pursuit.

Once you are united to your source—that is, once you know you are love —accomplishing or getting this thing or that thing may not become less important.

What is important is to keep trying to accomplish something, whatever it is. And keep trying to become something greater than what you are now.

That Locker Combination Dream: Listen and It Will Open

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I had that locker combination dream again recently. It was the one where you’re in school and you can’t get your locker open. You’ve probably had this dream in some form. This wasn’t the first time for me I’ve had the locker combination dream dozens of times, always awakening before I figure out how to open that door.

In the recent dream, I was once again in school. It was the first day of class, but oddly, my fellow students and I were well into adulthood. In fact, some were former teachers and administrators in the schools of my youth who are well past retirement in real life.

My Locker Combination Dream

In the dream, I was at first in my room in the home I grew up in trying to decide what to wear. Would I be comfortable in short sleeves or would it be chilly in school? While I was making what seemed like an important decision, I also realized I was late. If I didn’t get going, I wouldn’t have to time to get a cup of coffee to bring to class (I guess a reference to my college and graduate school days when I wouldn’t think of trying to get through class without coffee)!

Looking for the Locker

I got to school and discovered that not only did I not know my locker combination, but I wasn’t even sure where my locker was. “Not this again,” I thought (in the dream). I had carefully noted the location and the combination. How could I not know where to go or how to open the locker this time?

I was about to give up. I sat cross-legged on the floor with my head in my hands and cried. I’d been in this here so many times, and I just didn’t have the energy or desire to try to figure it out anymore.

After a few minutes, though, I realized that couldn’t continue to sit there on the floor. I forced myself up and look around, though doubted I’d find what I was looking for. I was on the third floor of the building, searching frantically for the locker. Still no luck.

Then a calm voice in my head reminded me, “It’s upstairs.” It wasn’t dramatic. It was just a quiet voice within. I followed some of the older people up one flight of stairs. Sure enough, my locker was there there on the top floor of the building. “I think it’s near the science rooms,” the voice in my head suggested.

I found my locker (my name was on it). It was the first in its row, a few doors down from the science wing. I noted that this locker was bigger and nicer than the gray, steel lockers of earlier versions of the locker combination dream (and real life).

But there was still the problem of opening it; I still didn’t know the combination.

Listen for the Clicks

“Just listen for it,” the voice said. “These lockers are designed to be used by thousands of intelligent people. Just listen and you’ll be able to hear the combination.”

Trusting that voice, I slowly turned the knob clockwise until I heard a very subtle click; then I turned it counterclockwise, then clockwise again. It opened with the combination “19-3-12.” I began repeating the numbers to myself as I searched for a pen the combination down.

My inner voice spoke up again. “You won’t forget this. It’s 1932, except not 2 but 12.” I could remember that, I decided.

A man next to me had just opened his locker, and he was delirious with relief. We exchanged recollections of all the times we’d had to go to the office to ask for our combinations in the past in other schools. Who knew it was as easy as just listening for things to “click”?

The Locker Combination Dream is Resolved. Or is It?

Quickly, something else occurred to me. If all I had to do was listen for the clicks, then anyone else could come along and do the same. Anyone, if they listened closely, could open my locker and steal its contents. As I thought this, I noticed a woman over my left shoulder. She was clearly watching for me to write down my combination so she could copy it.

“It won’t work for her,” I heard. “The combination is for you alone.”

Confident, I smiled at the woman, and went about gathering the books and materials I would need for class. But now a few people were gathering around me asking me to help them open their lockers. I wasn’t sure how I could help them. They’d just have to do the same thing I did, I figured. I didn’t want to disappoint them, but I didn’t know how to explain this.

And that, this time, is when I woke up.

I do like to analyze dreams, but in this case, I’m not going to try to figure out that last part just yet.  The rest just makes me smile. At least now I can open my own locker.

Dealing With Anger Like a Yogi

dealing with anger like a yogi

I don’t know about you, but I haven’t met a lot of angry yogis. I don’t mean yogis who get angry. I mean yogis who are angry at their core. It’s not that anger is not a characteristic of yogis (in fact, a lot of us turn to yoga to deal with anger among other emotions), but because dealing with anger like a yoga means learning to work with it, not against it.

Think of an encounter you’ve had with someone who is angry because he or she has been treated badly. Or maybe the anger is directed at God or the universe because a non-compliant higher power is perceived as the source of the person’s suffering.

How do you react to such a person?

Anger Gets Counterproductive Quickly

My guess is you don’t like to be around anyone who is angry for very long. If you’re a sensitive, empathetic person, you may feel for the angry woman or man, especially if you witness the slight or mistreatment that triggered the anger. Maybe you even try to help, which is great, as long as you’re not fueling the flames. Hopefully you help the person let go of that troubling emotion.

But then something else happens. The person experiences more misfortune (as everyone does), and you see the same wrath again and again. And if you continue your connection, the anger may eventually be directed at you. What gives?

Why do we get angry?

Like all emotions, anger serves a purpose. It’s a warning of sorts. But also like all emotions, we can become too dependent on it. But here’s the truth: Anger does not solve problems; in fact it usually makes the problems we have worse. The angrier we are, the worse our problems get.

Think about it. Your colleague steals your idea. You are incensed. While you are seething, are you productive? No. So hopefully you don’t seethe for long.

But what if you didn’t seethe at all? Well, then it’s possible you’d just let the colleague steal your idea and perhaps you’d become someone who is continually taken advantage of. So dealing with anger well means understanding that it serves a purpose (in this case, it says, “don’t share your ideas with this person”). But—here’s the kicker—anger will only work for you if you let it go, and let it go quickly.

I promise you that every moment you spend angry is a moment you are stealing from your own life. Human beings are not attracted to anger. And as humans, we are social beings who depend on each other to thrive. We can all find reasons to be angry all the time, but if we don’t learn how to work with that anger and take responsibility for our actions at the same time, we are doomed.

Anger does not just hurt you socially and professionally. It also causes physical harm. It raises your blood pressure, weakens your hurt, and pumps your system with cortisol (which leads to a host of other problems). When it gets out of control, anger basically renders you unable to function, unable to move forward, unable to thrive.

Angry Yogis

As yogis, we often think that we can’t be angry. We may try to push the feeling of anger away before we even feel it fully, but this is as unhelpful as holding on to anger for too long. Problems occur when we get used to being angry, and in particular blaming people, circumstances and systems around us for our own suffering. When we do this, we’re missing something key.

If no one or nothing in the universe ever gave you a reason to be angry, you’d still be responsible for your own happiness.

You cannot be happy, successful, or content if you think you’re not because of all the things that make you angry. And further, many of the things that make you angry may incense you not because you are being victimized, but because you’ve made a habit of getting angry.

No matter how many terrible things happen in your life, anger alone will not solve your problems. You will also need to be a person that attracts the attention, support, and “good karma” that leads to happiness. Dealing with anger is not easy, especially if you’ve had a lot of setbacks, but there’s really no way around it. Good fortune is not just about luck (though luck does help).

Dealing with Anger

No one’s life is perfect all the time. In order to make any situation you face better, you need to be part of the solution. And that means taking responsibility for your actions, whether you have reasons to be angry or not.

So, yes, be angry when you need to be, but first be sure that you need to be. Then be careful where you direct that anger, who you blame, and how fiercely you hold on to your role as victim. All of those things only hurt you. Use anger as fuel for action, and burn that fuel quickly.

Perhaps one of the best guidelines for dealing with anger (as well as hurt, disappointment, and other misfortunes) is in the words of the Serenity Prayer:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I can’t change, the power to change the things I can, and the wisdom the know the difference. 

There are lots of things to be angry about, but in the end, anger is not a requirement; it is an option. Choose wisely.

Would You Like to Join a Circle of Yoga Friends?

yoga friends

As many of my yogi friends know, I’m working on a project called Yoga Circles, a guide for small groups of yogis who want to meet, talk about yoga philosophy, share the joys and frustrations of the practice, try new things, socialize, and have some fun!

To give you a better idea of what the project is all about, there’s a link here to an excerpt of the book.

If you’re interested in receiving a free preview of the entire manuscript, please contact me. I’m looking for beta readers. All I ask is that you read it and let me know your thoughts. All suggestions are welcome!

Has yoga changed your life? Would you like to write about it? I’m also looking for people who would like to contribute stories of transformation through yoga to be included in the book. If you’re interested, you can download more information below, contact me via Facebook, or email me: maria@wellbeingwriter.net.

CONTRIBUTE A STORY

Thank you! Om shanti.

The Real Power of Gratitude

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????One morning in a yoga class a few years ago, our teacher read some verses about gratitude by Melody Beattie. They were timely words for me, because just that week, I had started to keep a very simple gratitude journal. It’s something I hadn’t really done before—not because I’m ungrateful, but because I was always distracted with other things. A few days before that yoga class, the seventh in a ten-day series of emails about stress management arrived in my inbox. It suggested that gratitude was one way to manage stress.

Of course I’d heard this before, and I usually thought, yes I have a lot to be thankful for, even though it often seems like there is a lot of room for improvement in my life.

Too often, that’s about the extent of my focus on gratitude. Maybe it’s the same for you.

What I learned in just a few days of writing down just one or two sentences, is if you make a commitment to focusing on something you are grateful for every day, you may be surprised by just how many blessings you have.

I am not exaggerating.

You’ve probably heard this idea of keeping a gratitude journal. You may even do it. But if you haven’t gotten around to trying it yet, maybe now is the time.

Your cup runneth over

Melody Beattie’s words on gratitude are almost magical. Read them, and see if you agree. There’s an excerpt below, but I highly recommend the entire poem, better yet, the entire book.

As I listened to my yoga teacher read these words, I realized that gratitude’s power to turn lack into plenty is real—even while there are things I’d like to have, improve, or change.

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.” ~Melody Beattie

Where do you feel lack? Are you hungry? Gratitude can turn a meal into a feast. Are you lonely? Gratitude can turn a stranger into a friend. Feel like a screw-up? Be thankful because your mistakes may be important events.

If there is anything missing for you right now, I invite you to read Melody’s words again. Try reading them slowly in a still, quiet place, and let them work their magic.

Thank you, Melody Beattie. And thank you, yoga teacher Michele for reading this in class and reminding me to be grateful!

 

 

How to Cultivate Passion (for Your Life)

????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Last weekend, I attended the second of a year-long series of monthly yoga and aromatherapy workshops at Ma Yoga in Mahwah, New Jersey. The theme this time was passion, and so I decided to prepare myself to explore this theme by asking myself the obvious question…

What, exactly, is passion?

After some thought, I decided that passion is a strong connection to someone or something—so strong that you lose yourself in the object of your passion. I have a passion for writing, yoga, and The New York Mets, for example. I also have a passion for certain relationships.

The type of passion I’m describing isn’t always there, of course. Sometimes I’m not lost in my writing or I’m watching the clock in yoga class or I turn off the game because the Mets are losing. And of course there are times when I need a bit of space between myself and loved one. I was excited about the workshop because, I thought, it would be great to discover some tools for cultivating passion for the people and things I love more often; in other words, tools for keeping that passion alive.

Passion for Everything

To my surprise, Jan Jeremias and Dee Andalkar, the workshop presenters, went a step further with their take on passion. In fact, Jan described something that in a way was the reverse of what I was thinking. She suggested that, rather than think about passion as coming from the things we’re drawn to, we can be passionate about everything.

Really? Everything? Can I really be passionate about doing the laundry or the tedious job of editing a technical document or listening to a loved one rehash a problem for the sixteenth time this week?

Well…maybe I can. It turns out that passion is presence. And when we do things with passion (that is, when we are compassionate), we are simply there experience those things fully. And when we do that, we come alive.

Here are some ways to cultivate passion for everything in your life:

1. Practice yoga, of course. To make your yoga practice more about living with passion, do the poses with more presence than ever. Of course, we yogis know that being present is a key aspect of the practice, but we really do need to be reminded of this often. So when Jan led us through poses, she made sure that we were present by cuing us to slow down, breathe first, and even to add movements purposefully—for instance stretching our arms out to a “T” position and pausing there before reaching them up in high lunge. Try this when you practice, and you’ll begin to appreciate each pose even more. Then take that off the mat and into your everyday life.

2. Use essential oils. We were treated to a beautiful essential oil blend called Passion, which is a combination of cardamom, ginger, cinnamon, clove, sandalwood, jasmine, vanilla, and damiana leaf. I couldn’t help noticing that most of those ingredients are the comfort spices I associate with autumn; I don’t know if there’s a connection, but I do notice an extra energy for life in the early part of that season. Another oil combination we sampled was ylang ylang and wild orange. This is a simple blend, but its effect is amazing. Other oils that can help cultivate passion and enthusiasm include

3. Chant the mantra “Ang Sang Wahe Guru.” Dee led workshop participants in this Kundalini Yoga chant that celebrates passion for life. According to Spirit Voyage, the translation of the mantra is, “The dynamic, loving energy of the Infinite Source of All is dancing within my every cell, and is present in my every limb. My individual consciousness merges with the Universal consciousness.” Every cell. Every limb. It’s hard to think about that and not to have more passion for your life!

4. Be present! You can’t be passionate about a life you’re not there for. So to connect with this simple truth, we did a short mindful eating exercise. I’ve done this before, and although I usually do make an effort to eat mindfully, it never hurts to be reminded of the power of attention to the simple things in life. I chose a slice of juicy tangerine and noticed the not-too-sweet burst of citrusy flavor that filled my senses when I bit into it, then very slowly chewed it until only the pulp remained to swallow.

A few days after the workshop, as I finish writing about it, I realize that I’ve gone through the first part of the week with a noticeable boost in my passion for life. I’ve started two new, exciting projects, so that helps, but it’s more the overall feeling of connection to my life that I’m noticing. When it begins to wane (I’m human; I know it will), I have these awesome tools of yoga, essential oils, mantra, and mindfulness to turn to, and for that I’m very grateful.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Nativity

Buster celebrating Christmas in 2009

With all the bickering and sometimes outright anger over whether or not it’s appropriate to wish everyone a Merry Christmas, I thought I’d cover both bases. Merry Christmas to you, and if you prefer, Happy Holidays!

I don’t know why people get so bent out of shape about this either way. Look, if I am going to a birthday party for my nephew, I don’t wish my neighbor a happy birthday, unless I happen to know that it’s his birthday too. But if my neighbor wants to wish me a happy birthday on his wife’s birthday, I’m cool with that too. This is really not something to get upset about if we truly want to keep the spirit of Christmas in our hearts.

And speaking of birthdays… that is, after all, what Christmas is. You know that, right? It’s a birthday party, or at least it’s supposed to be. If you’re not celebrating it as such, than don’t be offended when people wish you a generic happy holiday.

So, the birthday boy, as you probably know, is Jesus of Nazareth—a man born a couple of thousand years ago, give or take, in the Middle East. Whatever you believe (or don’t believe) about this man, the fact remains that Christmas is a celebration of his birth (though, we know, not his historical birthday).

Jesus was a man on a mission to save humanity. How you interpret that is up to you. For Christians, he was the “Savior,” which is a bit difficult to explain, so I’m not even going to try.

Over the many years that I’ve paid attention to stories about the life of Jesus, I’ve come to believe a few very important things.

Jesus did not intend to start a new religion.

Now don’t misunderstand my point; there’s nothing wrong with the religion that grew as a result of his existence on this earth. But I’m always struck by the fact that he seemed to be more of a reformer of the religion of his followers, and they more or less ended up creating a new religion with as much need for reform as the one it came from. This is fine. This is human, and it’s not the main point of Jesus’ life, at least it’s not to me. Jesus said he did not come to abolish the law. We all need laws, or sets of beliefs to live by. The problems comes when… well, you know where the problems are, and discussing them is not my point with this post.

No matter what you believe about Jesus, you cannot deny that he was not of this world.

By “not of this world,” I am not, at this moment, addressing whether or not his was “God incarnate,” I’m addressing the fact that he knew that peace and happiness do not come from pursuing the things of this world: money, possessions, status, empty relationships, competition, revenge, etc. Jesus knew that we are all worthy of love; that’s why his main message was love one another. Jesus knew that we were created to love, and that most of us spend a lot of time doing anything but that. (And yes, loving ourselves is part of this.)

Jesus was divine.

Jesus was very well tapped into the “greater than us” part of whatever it is that caused us to exist in the first place. He was focused solely on divinity, and he wanted to bring all of us to that place with him. He promised that if we set our sights on entering the kingdom of heaven (the dwelling place of our divine nature), we would be set free from the perils of earthly life.

There are many people who, for whatever reason, do not know a lot about Jesus. It’s kind of hard to deny that it might just be the “luck of the draw” that determines whether you are a Christian or a Jew or Hindu or a Muslim (and I did not mean to leave anyone out; I just don’t want the sentence to get too long). If you focus on Jesus (not the religion, but the being), it gets harder to become wrapped up in the war over whose religion is best or “fuller” or whatever we need to believe to convince ourselves that we’re on the right path.

You’re on the right path if you love.

Happy Birthday, Jesus!

The Yoga of Transition: Reflections on Thursdays with Marla

om chakraLast week, I took a Thursday morning yoga class for the last time—not the last time I’ll ever attend yoga on a Thursday morning, but the last time I’ll likely take this particular class with this particular teacher. A week ago, Marla (the teacher) announced that her schedule will be changing after the holidays, and she’ll be teaching on a different day—a day on which I already attend another yoga class at another studio.

This “shift,” as Marla called it, is part of the unfolding of her path as a healer, and she’ll soon be branching out with new offerings for the community. This is good news for the community.

Of course I was sad about the class, but it’s not the first time my yoga life has shifted. Years ago, I was told (also around the holidays) that the entire studio I’d been practicing at would be closing, and between then and now, several other classes with inspirational teachers have been dropped from schedules or switched to days and times when I can’t attend.

But part of being a yogi is learning to accept change. When one yogic door closes, another opens.

And there is always more! (That line is borrowed from another teacher whose class I miss.)

As often happens when things change, I’ve been thinking about how I’ve grown as a yogini and as a person over the years since I became serious about my practice and especially about what I’ve learned from practicing with Marla that will remain with me. Marla is unique. She is so filled with inspiration that you almost have to “hear” her without attachment to words. This, I believe, is because she transmits wisdom that is bigger than any words she can use to describe it. If that doesn’t make sense, don’t worry. The teaching is bigger than any words I can use as well.

Here are five awesome things that I will stick with me as a result of Thursdays with Marla.

1. Letting go is doable. Recently, Marla shared a teaching from Kundalini Yoga that suggests we can have negative thoughts and emotions, but we must let them go after nine seconds! I think about this often. Of course it sounds like a ridiculously short amount of time, but it’s the intention to let go as quickly as possible that matters. To me, the “nine second rule” is an acknowledgement that we don’t practice yoga to become empty and emotionless. We practice so that we can be fully human and at the same time connect with our divine nature. Part of that practice is learning to feel something and then (when necessary) let go as quickly as possible. When you aim for a seemingly impossible nine seconds, chances are good you’ll get the job done more quickly than you would have otherwise!

2. Twists are awesome. When I think of Marla’s classes, I think of twists, in particular prayer twists, but also “twists” on typical poses. Have you ever twisted in downward dog? If not, you need to take a class with Marla! The cool thing about all the twisting (other than how great it feels) is that you learn how versatile and powerful twisting can be. You can “twist out” negative frustration and you can gracefully navigate your way through the twists and turns of life.

3. “Yay!” is a spiritual word. Marla’s classes can be intense (in a great way), but then all of a sudden, while she’s guiding you into a somewhat complicated pose and you get there, instead of saying “beautiful!” or “good!” or something more typical like that, she says “Yay!” It makes me smile every time because it reflects the fact that Marla’s very approach to the practice is a celebration of life.

4. We can often do more than we expect to do. I can’t tell you how many times I was surprised to find myself in a challenging pose (or two or three) in one of Marla’s classes. It’s not that being challenged is surprising, it’s just that Marla’s class is billed as “gentle,” which often suggests “easy.” But the trick is that through her gentle guidance, Marla can slyly lead you to do something like crow or side plank on one leg. And you do it. Because you can. (Okay, I still can’t do crow, but I’m getting there.)

5. When we have something to offer, we must not be afraid to put it out there. Marla’s tirelessness about offering so much in her teaching has made me more confident about doing the same with what I feel called to share. In fact, Marla was one of the first people to read a draft of my Yoga Circles And while it’s still a leap of faith for me every time I hand (or email) the manuscript to someone else, Marla has been an example to me that putting it out there is usually the right thing to do.

So I look forward to whatever unfolds as a result of this latest shift in my yoga schedule. I know it’s a shift that is happening with intention and the universe has good things in store for all of us. Thank you, Marla, for sharing your gifts.

In Baseball and In Life: Sometimes the Outcome Just Sucks!

CififieldIf you happen to be a New York baseball fan like I am (and not one of those who cheers for that team in the Bronx), you probably had a bit of a broken heart recently when the Mets lost the World Series. I use the term “lost” loosely, because if you know baseball, and if you watched these games, you might consider “gave away” or “blew” more appropriate terms.

It’s Just Baseball

Robin Ventura quoteAnyone who spends the better part of six months cheering on a baseball team with the emotions of a die-hard fan has probably wondered why these emotions are so strong at times. It’s perplexing, isn’t it? You know it’s just a game. You know that your real life will go on whether your team wins or loses. You know you have nothing to do with whether or not they win or lose, and you know there’s big marketing behind the hype and drama that draws you in.

And yet you can’t help the fact that somehow it matters. When your team loses the big games, it stings.

The Yoga of Baseball

If you’re also a yogi like I am, when things like this happen, you immediately try to be all yogic about it. After all, yoga gives us many tools for dealing with disappointment, frustration, and loss—the most obvious and appropriate being the law of non-attachment.

Well, you know what fellow yogi New York sports fans (and everyone else)? It’s okay to forget about that for just a while. Go ahead and be sad—and angry—and disappointed. Just for a while. (And yes, keep your real life in perspective.)

No, it didn’t happen for reason. No, there is nothing to be learned or gained from watching a pitcher pitch the game of his life for 8 innings only to blow it within minutes in the top of the ninth. There’s no life lesson in the fact that your team, which was not expected to make the playoffs much less be in the World Series, had a surprising, fun, and amazing season—and then broke your heart, for a moment, in the end.

It just sucks!

So feel that for a while. Mope, brood, yell. Do whatever you need to do. But just for a while.

Then you can come back and be all yogic about it. If you like, you can try to make sense of it all, because as all baseball fans know, baseball is a lot like life. And as you try to make sense of it all—because baseball is a lot like life—don’t forget to be grateful for the fun, and don’t forget to feel the joy.

Opening Day is only five months away!

Namaste.

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