What Are Your Values? And Why Does It Matter?

values

A friend of mine is writing a graduate school admissions essay. You know the kind. You look at your life and explain why you want to get the degree or certification or credential in question. When he told me about the essay, we started talking about our values and how they align with what we do every day.

I thought I knew my values, but I was surprised once I started listing them that I have more values than I realized. If someone had asked me how many values underlie the things I pursue or the way I behave, I might have said four or five.

Of course, I saw an opportunity to write, so I started listing and describing my values. I came up with sixteen before I decided to stop (for now). After all, how much can I expect you to read!

Aligning Values with Actions

I try to align with my values with my work (writing or helping others write), my yoga practice, my spiritual life, and my relationships.

I enjoy things that align with my values, like nature, animals, music, the arts in general, and baseball. I’m not exactly sure where baseball fits in, so I’ll put it with family. It’s a connection I’ve had with my dad since I was eight years old, and in the beginning of our relationship, my husband and I bonded over our love for the sport.

I share my list not because I think you care what my values are, but because you may recognize something that resonates with you. If you want to share your list with me, I’d be honored!

My values are…

Spirituality – I value seeking and staying on the path to God or enlightenment (same thing in my mind). I’m not sure if spirituality is a value. Maybe faith in something greater than me is what I should call it. Or knowing who I truly am. I’m not sure how to explain this, even though it has been my primary value for as long as I can remember!

Silence – I believe that except when we have something useful to say, it’s best to be silent. It’s in silence that we learn to recognize truth.

Kindness – No one likes meanness. If you’re with people and you’re not helping them feel better about themselves, you’re better off being silent. That said, I recognize it’s not always meanness that prevents others from feeling good. Some people cannot accept kindness. They are the same people not likely to be kind. So, again, if your kindness is not received, be silent. The value of kindness is probably obvious. If you’re not sure what’s valuable about it, be still and notice what you feel next time someone is kind to you.

Simplicity – I think the more we have and do, the more crowded our minds become and the lower our vibration becomes. If you’re a spiritual seeker, you know that vibrating at a higher frequency is the key to transcendence and enlightenment. So, I don’t want a lot of stuff or too many places to be or too many superficial relationships. I don’t want a house full of things or a closet full of clothes. I want the energy to flow, and that requires simplicity.

Being organized – Clutter and chaos slow the flow of energy as well. I was born with the ability to organize, so maybe this is more of a trait than a value. It’s also another reason I value simplicity. It’s easier to keep things in order when you don’t have a lot of them!

Discipline Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today tends to be my motto. In my case, it might even be don’t put off until noon what you can do at 8 am. I know this makes me unusual, but it’s who I am. I’ve never been able to procrastinate.

Listening – You will learn much more by listening than speaking. You will grow much more by listening than speaking. And interestingly, you will help more by listening than speaking. If you have ears to hear (as Jesus said), do so. Listen. Hear. Reflect. And then you will know what to do.

Gratitude If you want to be happy, be thankful. I learned about the power of gratitude gradually, mostly from my yoga teachers, who speak about it often. They do this for a good reason. Gratitude has the power to fill your life. The less you think you have, the more you’ll gain from being grateful. I’m serious.

Following through – If I say I’ll do something, I do it. And I do it by the time I say I’ll do it. In my work, I never miss a deadline. Of course, because I value being reliable in that way, I’m also careful not to commit (or appear to commit) to things I’m not sure I can do.

Learning – In the past, I would have said education. I come from a family of educators. I earned a master’s degree but didn’t think that was enough. I wanted a PhD. I now realize I wasted a lot of time in school meeting requirements when I could have been out there actually learning something. I don’t think I’ll ever stop wanting to learn.

Integrity – Integrity is a kind of honesty that isn’t so much about conveying facts versus fiction but honesty in intention and staying true to my values when I make choices about what to do or what to say.

Care of Creation – I try to value all of creation. It all deserves to be treated with awe and respect. This includes inanimate objects in my care, such as books, my home, and my yard.

Helping others – This is certainly a value, but I mention it with a caveat. We often think helping others means bending over backwards to do everything for anyone who asks, even things that don’t align with our natural gifts. Our natural gifts are ours for a reason. We have them to serve. When we align with them, helping others comes naturally too.

Animal rights – One of my favorite quotes is Gandhi’s quote about animals. The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated. The more I explore this idea, the more I see the truth in it. We can learn a lot about life from animals and a lot about compassion and kindness from people who treat them well. Unfortunately, we also learn a lot (mostly about greed and selfishness) from people who mistreat them.

Family –  Here, I expand the definition of family to anyone—whether related by blood or not—who you love and who loves you as close to unconditionally as humans are capable of and who is as committed to your well-being as you are to theirs. And by that definition, of course, biology is no guarantee that you are a family.

Health of body, mind, and spirit Here is another way my work aligns with my values. I should also say that my interest in health is mostly holistic. Mind, body, and spirit are intimately connected, and I’ve explored that from every angle for decades.

Humor – Without a sense of humor, life would be much more boring and difficult than it needs to be. I sometimes think talented comedians do the most good in this world.

Creativity – I don’t have a great way to explain why I value creativity, but if I value creation, then I guess it makes sense that I value creativity.

I encourage you to think about your own values, and maybe make a list (be prepared for it to keep growing). If you do this, you may be surprised by how much bigger your life feels and how much more sense it makes.

If you don’t feel that, it may be because you’re not living in alignment with what you value.

Love is Never Having to Define Love

need self-love

After my mom passed away, I wondered: Can I still love her? After all, doesn’t love imply some type of action?

Well, that depends. Is love a verb?

As a child, I loved my mom by doing my chores, being a good girl, and doing my best to get along with my siblings. As an adult, I loved her through our conversations, trips to the mall when she didn’t want to go alone, and daily visits when she was ill.

No what can I do?

Thinking about this led me to consider the question no one can really answer: What is love? The word is probably the most over-used, misused, and possibly meaningless word in our lexicon.

Here are just a few of the ways I’ve seen the word love used:

Love is the opposite of fear.

God is love.

Love is a decision.

Love is extending oneself to nurturing one’s own or another person’s spiritual growth.

If you love someone, set them free.

Love is never having to say you’re sorry.

I’m in love with my husband.

I love coffee.

To love another person is to see the face of God.

Love hurts.

All you need is love.

Be love now.

Looking back over the list, I can see that some of the statements involve action (extending one’s self, deciding, setting someone free) while others are more states of being (God is love, or love is the opposite of fear). Still others involve feeling good in some way (about my husband or drinking coffee). In one case, it even feels bad (love hurts).

So, what is love?

Part of the problem in defining love comes from the fact that it’s not a concrete thing. I can’t define love—or describe it even—the way I can tell you about a tree or a candle flame.

Is love an emotion? Is it a behavior? Is it a state of mind?

Maybe we need more than one word for love. Or maybe we should forget about the word entirely. We do have more than one adjective to use with it, as in agape love, romantic love, Divine love, etc. In each of these cases, though, we assume the word love refers to the same thing.

Another Definition of Love

A definition of love that works well for me is love is the driving force that propels beings toward union with their source. So, for me, God is love, be love now, and love is the opposite of fear are the most useful descriptions. If I live in union with God, I become love, and I am no longer afraid.

My behavior can change based on my ability to experience love. I can make decisions or extend myself or enjoy someone or something once I’m in tune with my true, higher Self.

For a while, I had no idea why anyone would make a statement like “love is never having to say you’re sorry.” Then I realized the beloved, not the lover, was the one who needn’t apologize. Love means forgiving our loved ones when they act in ways that are not so loving.

Love is Beyond Words

Love, like God really cannot be defined. No one knows for sure what it is, but most of us believe to some extent that it exists and that it matters.

Maybe there are as many ways to love as there are ways to describe it. Rather than settling on a single definition of love, I think I’ll just work on getting better at it.

The Trumpet Shall Sound: Daring to Live in Awe of Mystery

trumpet shall sound

In 1983, my dad took me to hear Handel’s Messiah at Carnegie Hall in New York City. It became a holiday tradition, and he and I have attended a performance of Handel’s masterpiece almost every year since. Many years, my mom came along as well, and when I met my husband, he also became part of the annual tradition.

This year we weren’t sure we’d get there. My mom was very ill as the holidays approached, so we put off buying tickets.

A few weeks after Mom went home to God, we decided we’d go ahead and attend the performance. I’m glad we did.

The Magic of Messiah

Handel composed the music for Messiah in an astonishing 24 days. If you’ve heard it, you know what an awesome feat that was! I’ve never doubted, as many who love this music agree, that the composition was divinely inspired.

A tuned-in listener can’t help but feel comforted, hopeful, and full of faith when experiencing Messiah. That same listener might also feel challenged in a way. It is, after all, the story of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, beginning with the prophets foretelling the birth of a Savior.

You’re probably familiar with at least a few of the choruses or arias (solos). Most people have heard the Hallelujah Chorus, for instance.

One aria has always held me captive, but this year it was especially significant. That solo is “The Trumpet Shall Sound.”

Toward the end of the performance, the music features passages from the Acts of the Apostles about the resurrection of the dead. The lyrics are taken from 1 Corinthians 15. The bass soloist sings a recitative:

Behold, I tell you a mystery.

We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed

In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye

At the last trumpet.

And then, the magnificent aria. If you haven’t heard “The Trumpet Shall Sound”—or even if you have—take a few minutes to listen to it here.

Then come back, and I’ll tell you my story.

Did I Really See That So Clearly?

As you might guess, the words were especially significant for me this year because we attended the performance only a month after my mom’s passing. And there’s just a little more to it than that.

As a multi-focal contact lens wearer of a certain age, I’m rarely able to make out details of performer’s faces or instruments when I attend a concert. That was the case at Messiah…until the trumpet sounded.

When the bass began to sing, I suddenly realized I could see him very clearly. I thought, Wow. Why can I see that so clearly?

And then I thought about what I had just thought.

Perhaps you think I’m grasping for meaning in a time of grief. Maybe I am, but that is what I experienced.

Living in Awe of Mystery

The story of the resurrection—not just the resurrection of Jesus but the idea that we too shall be changed—is hopeful and awe-inspiring for many. Many others doubt it or flat-out reject it. But no matter where you stand on the matter, can you find a way to live in awe of mystery? Do you believe only what you can explain, or do you accept there is something more?

Without belief and trust in what we cannot understand, we are small, pathetic creatures. But when we dare to take leaps of faith and connect with mystery—with the idea that there is a greater truth and a purpose for our existence—we embody the meaning of the Christmas season: The awesome became accessible to us if we choose to accept it.

A Sign From Mom: The Mourning Dove and the Cross

dove and cross

My mom loved to tell the story of a memory she had from when my nephew Matt was a toddler. Mom and my dad cared for Matt—in fact for all four of my sister’s kids—while my sister and brother-in-law were at work.  She had a favorite memory for each of them.

Her memory for Matt was of a day when a mourning dove was cooing in the yard. Mom pointed to the sky and told Matt to listen for the sound of “the owl.” (Eventually, she realized it was not an owl, but a dove.)

The dove cooed, and Matt asked, “Grammy, if I point to the sky will it do that?”

The night before my Mom passed away, Matt, now 19, had a dream about an owl. Or maybe about a dove. The next day, as our whole family sat with her during her final hours on Earth, my sister told Mom the dove would be our sign.

“Send us a sign,” she whispered in Mom’s ear.

Mom passed away peacefully with her husband, children, and older grandchildren by her side. We’re heartbroken, and as I write this, it’s hard to imagine the pain will go away. But I lean on the words of my dear friend who told me that despite the pain and stress, this experience would also bring us the key to a new kind of love. He is right.

Our Sign

After Mom’s funeral mass, as we left the church and got into our cars for the drive to the cemetery, my sister said aloud, “Mom, you were supposed to send a sign!”

At that moment, she looked up and saw a mourning dove in the sky, “sketched” from clouds.  (“Mom really couldn’t draw,” she joked, though later when she sent me a photo of a mourning dove in flight, I thought it wasn’t such a bad sketch after all.)

mourning dove in flight

A mourning dove in flight

And that wasn’t all. Next to the dove was a giant cross. It followed our cars all the way from the church to the cemetery. Another sign, we’ve decided to believe, that Mom is okay and with God.

Our Mom’s Christian faith was the cornerstone of her life along with her love for her family, friends, and students. So, it’s fitting she’d use the cross along with the dove as our sign. The days ahead will be difficult, but we choose to believe that not only is she with God, but that both she and God will always be with us.

 

 

 

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 a local studio. The theme this time was passion, 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 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 a loved one. I was excited about the workshop because, I thought it would be great to discover some tools for cultivating more passion for the people and things I love.

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?

Maybe I can. It turns out passion is presence. And when we do things with passion (that is, when we are compassionate), we are simply there to 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 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 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 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.

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 citrus 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 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 passion 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 grateful.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

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’m 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 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 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; a great religion grew as a result of his existence on this earth. But Jesus’ goal was more to reform the religion of his followers. They ended up creating a new religion that now has 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.

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

By “not of this world,” I am not, at this moment, addressing whether or not his was God. I’m addressing the fact that he knew 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 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. 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 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

Last 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 class with this 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 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 I’ve attended have ended for one reason or another.

Accepting Change

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 listen to 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 will stick with me from my 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 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, even if it takes longer than nine seconds!

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 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 of yoga teachers, she’ll say “Yay!” It makes me smile every time because it reflects Marla’s 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 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 book. And while it’s still a leap of faith for me every time I give the book to someone else, Marla’s has been an example to me that putting it out there is usually the right thing to do.

I’ll miss Thursdays with Marla, but I look forward to whatever comes next on my yoga journey. I know the shift 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!

If 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

Anyone 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.

My Awesome Experience With Reiki, A Crystal, and a Healer’s Visions

For a while now, I’ve wanted to explore alternative methods of healing. I’ve always been interested in going beyond what’s mainstream. So when I was recently invited to try reiki—a healing technique I’d heard of but knew little about—I happily accepted the invitation.

When I think of reiki, I remember an episode of “Everybody Loves Raymond.” Debra treats herself to a reiki session, and Ray flips out because she’s paid money for “a massage where they don’t even touch you”! But Debra insists she feels great after the experience.

It’s true that reiki is not like other kinds of massage. In fact, I think it’s more accurate to call it a form of energy healing. Jeanne Placier, a yoga teacher and healer who invited me to try reiki at her new location in Ridgewood, NJ, explained that reiki is an exchange of energy in which the practitioner holds her hands just above or lightly on various parts of the body.

When I walked into Jeanne’s massage room, I instantly felt relaxed. I’m sure this had something to do with Jeanne’s friendly personality as well as the peaceful décor. There is definitely a special energy in her space.

Healing Crystals

Before we started, Jeanne and I talked a bit, and she asked me if I’d like to hold a crystal during the session. I had no idea why she was asking, but I said, “Sure. Why not?” She offered me an amethyst crystal because I’d just mentioned my strong attraction to third eye energy. While the color for the sixth chakra is traditionally indigo, Jeanne said she likes to use amethyst for both the sixth and seventh (crown) chakras.

Later, I asked Jeanne why she offered me the crystal. She explained that gems enhance the energy-healing experience. “I’ve always been drawn to crystals and colors, especially in jewelry,” she told me. “As I got older, I started to understand their healing properties and started to collect them to wear, admire, and use for healing.”

Jeanne is someone who trusts her intuition, and that trust pays off. She went on to explain that sometimes a client has something going on that he or she prefers not to share, but in choosing a crystal, that person instinctively chooses a color that corresponds to whatever is going on.

After the session, if the person is interested, Jeanne shares information about the properties of the crystals the person chose. “It’s always dead-on related to an issue they have,” she said. “The experience is inspiring to most clients because they learn they truly know how to heal themselves.”

My Reiki Experience

Still not exactly sure what to expect, I settled onto the massage table, holding the lovely amethyst crystal in one hand. Jeanne then explained a bit more about what to expect; she told me people have a variety of experiences with reiki. Some see colors or “something comes up,” she said. “Others report feeling very relaxed and lighter.”

It must take a lot of courage, I thought, to offer this kind of service and trust the outcome.

According to The International Center for Reiki Training, the word reiki can be loosely translated to mean God energy. If the word God doesn’t work for you, call it the energy of the universe or a higher power. Reiki works, says Reiki Master William Lee Rand, by changing the vibratory level of the energy field around a person’s body. The benefits can be physical, emotional, and/or spiritual.

During a session, there’s an exchange of energy between client and healer. The exact nature of the exchange, as I understand it, depends on what’s being worked on—a headache, emotional issue, back pain, or chronic fatigue, for example.

As Jeanne began to work on me, I immediately felt intense heat radiating from her hands, which she held in various spots around my head. I didn’t know until later that she stayed in that space because, she said, “There was a lot going on there.”

A lot going on in my head? Sounds about right, though in recent years I’ve tried to lessen the noise with the help of my yoga and meditation practice.

Oddly, I also had the sensation that my throat was constricted. It wasn’t something I expected to experience during a healing treatment, but I felt it for a few minutes. Then I started to feel very relaxed and the sensation of constriction went away.

Light and Color

I was in a more or less meditative state for a while when I began to see an intense bright white light. Though my eyes were closed, my first thought was it must be the sun coming out from behind some clouds and shining through the window. But it was so intense that I began to suspect it was something more.

As I focused on the light, it turned green. I waited to see other colors, in fact I tried to see other colors (Is that allowed?), but I only saw green. The green then dissipated, and I drifted back into a meditative state.

Then again there was an intense bright white light that faded and turned green. Throughout the entire experience, I continued to feel the comforting warmth that radiated from Jeanne’s hands.

When the session was over, Jeanne asked me about my experience. I told her about the constriction and the white and green light. I already knew green is the color of the heart chakra. Maybe the constriction had some connection. I often feel like I can’t speak my truth to loved ones for various reasons, not because I don’t trust my truth but because my loved ones have trouble receiving what I tell them. Rather than cause conflict, I often choose to stay silent. The white light, of course, is the crown chakra, my strong connection with intuition and a higher power.

A Healer’s Visions

doll

I thought that was the end of the session, but to my surprise, there was more. Jeanne shared some visions she had while working with my energy. She told me she saw a newly paved black road (“like brand new and freshly paved,” she emphasized) and a beautiful goldfinch with bright yellow feathers and a black crown.

She also saw a little girl dressed in a pinafore holding an old-fashioned doll, the kind with arms and legs that move.

I paused and digested this, struck by the image of the little girl with the doll. We talked a bit about the obvious symbolism of the “new road” and the bird (which can fly), and I agreed it was related to the book project I’m working on.

The little girl in the pinafore holding a doll made sense to me as well. She was me, of course, and while I’m not quite sure why she showed up, I knew exactly what she was wearing. It was a pinafore with a blue and red flowery print my mother made for me when I was a child. Just the other day when I visited my mom, she was repairing the garment, which she’d found in her attic!

The doll  was one of two cherished toys I still have from my childhood. It was a gift from my grandparents, who brought it back from Italy when I was six years old.

The Goldfinch

I left Jeanne’s space intrigued with all this symbolism and imagery. I knew for sure that a freshly paved black road was important symbolism for my life. As always, I was making an effort to move beyond the past.

But what about the goldfinch? Its golden color, we’d decided, is associated with the solar plexus chakra, the center of power. And of course it has the ability to fly. But I wondered what else the goldfinch symbolizes.

So I went home and looked it up.

According to Spirit Lodge, as a spirit animal, “the presence of goldfinches usually indicates an awakening to the activities of those beings that are normally relegated to the realm of fiction.” The beings in question include angels, fairies and the like.

And maybe also things like reiki if you have a skeptic’s mind going in.

Perhaps more importantly, goldfinches are said to help us understand the value of change. In particular, they can give us the “ability to resolve family conflicts in a healthy manner, creating balance in dealing with different people.” Goldfinches give us an “understanding (of) the power of voice.”

Wow.

So if I put this all together, I need to speak my truth in a new way—a more effective way, I guess— and I can do that on my journey down that freshly paved road. The little girl holding the doll—my former self, a child who always quietly and respectfully held back so as not to get in trouble—is not who I am now.

As Jeanne Says, There’s Always More

Obviously, there are lots of ways I could have put the pieces of my reiki experience together, but the point is like yoga, reiki seems to be a practice you turn to for one reason that ends up offering so more than you imagined it would.

As it turns out, reiki is not only relaxing and healing, it’s an excellent tool for self-discovery if one is open to that kind of thing. Of course, you’ll need to find a practitioner who is right for you to work with. In my case, Jeanne’s down-to-earth friendly nature and her amazing power as a healer worked perfectly for me.

So what about you? If you haven’t experienced reiki, why not give it a try? If you can find a reiki practitioner you click with, you might be inspired and surprised by all this practice has to offer. And if you’ve already discovered the practice, I’d love to hear about your reiki experience!

Finding Neverland and the Paradox of Growing (Up)

There’s a scene, or more precisely, a musical number, in the play Finding Neverland that captures the paradox of life perfectly—if you believe such things can happen. In the scene, the playwright J.M. Barrie and the boy Peter are singing a song called “When Your Feet Don’t Touch the Ground.”

The play is based on the story of how J.M. Barrie came to write Peter Pan. While it’s not clear how much of the play is fact, the idea is that Barrie befriended four brothers and their mom in the park while he was trying to come up with a fresh new idea for a play. The children’s father had recently died, and one of the brothers, Peter, had lost his innocence and “grown up too fast.” Barrie, on the other hand, is an adult but refuses to grow up.

In the scene I think is the play’s defining moment, Barrie is singing about flying above the clouds to cope with the pain of life: “When your feet don’t touch the earth, you can’t feel the things that hurt,” he croons.

At the same time, the boy insists his feet need to be kept on the ground and that living in a fantasy world is a mind trick that won’t do any good. “With my feet on solid ground, I can face the things that hurt,” young Peter sings.

The man singing as if he were a child and the boy singing as if he were a man is what makes this moment so powerful. But the important message is the paradox and how we must learn to live in it. We can’t dwell on the pain of life, but at the same time, we need to face our challenges. It’s how we grow.

As children, we want to grow up and do our own thing. Eventually, we become adults, and many of us find we’re no longer able to dream, imagine, or feel the joy of simply being alive that we had as children. And we think: “I’ve become too serious, too responsible, too much like the person I thought I was supposed to be. This isn’t good.” And perhaps there’s nothing sadder than seeing a child get to this point too soon.

That we need to maintain our ability to dream, believe and fantasize is a powerful and important message, but it can also be a dangerous one if we don’t learn to live in the paradox. The solution to pain and challenge is not to go back to being a child. We’re not meant to be children forever, and moving from childhood to adulthood means we have to let go of some childish things. The problem is we often let go of too much.

There’s another scene in the play when the characters are wondering if they’ve forgotten how to play. Does this mean they should be playing the way they did as children? Maybe you’ve met adults who refuse to “grow up” in any sense of the word.

Yes, children know how to have fun and dream and be whatever they want to be (at least in their own imaginations). And yes, there is value in this, but children are also dependent on others and often haven’t learned to be part of a community.

I think we’re children before we’re adults so we can learn how to give back when we come of age. It may not be politically or socially correct to say so, but there’s a downside to being a child.

While we’re not meant to be children forever, I think we are meant to maintain some of our child-like nature—and that’s the paradox. We need to hold on to the ability to escape into dreams and fantasies and stories, even as we acknowledge that none of these things can solve our problems and take away the pain of living. We need to keep some child-like qualities simply because they get us through the harsher realities of being “grown up.” We need to grow without growing up so much that we lose our connection to the magic of being a child.

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