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.

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

reikiFor 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, it’s more accurate to call it a form of energy healing I think. 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 holdsher hands just above or lightly on various parts of the body.

I have a feeling Jeanne’s reiki sessions are beyond ordinary even for reiki. When I walked into her 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, which can be used for both the sixth and seventh (crown) chakras.

Later, I asked Jeanne she had offered me the crystal. She explained that the 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 that 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 that 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 definitely 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: 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 that 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

dollI 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 this very 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 of 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 no longer who I am.

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 practices you turn to for one reason that ends up offering so much 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. If you’ve already discovered the practice, I’d love to hear about your reiki experience!

Finding Neverland and the Paradox of Growing (Up)

Finding NeverlandThere’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 (and the whole point of this play, I think, is to teach us the importance of believing). In the scene, the playwright J.M. Barrie and the boy Peter are singing the 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 exactly clear how much of the play is factual, the general 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, has lost his innocence and “grown up too fast.” Barrie, on the other hand, is an adult but refuses to grow up.

In the scene that I think is the play’s defining moment, Barrie is singing about flying above the clouds in order 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 that his feet need to be kept on the ground and that living in a fantasy world is more or less a trick of the mind that won’t do any good. “With my feet on solid ground, I can face the things that hurt,” young Peter sings.

The fact that the man is singing as if he were a child and the boy 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.

This paradox exists in the lives of most humans. As children, we want to grow up and do our own thing. Eventually, we become adults, and many of us find that we’re no longer able to dream, imagine, or feel the joy of simply being alive that we once 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. After all, 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, though, is that we often let go of too much.

There’s another scene in the play in which the characters are pondering the possibility that they’ve forgotten how to play. Does this mean that they should be playing the way they did as children? If you know adults who refuse to “grow up” in every sense of the word, you know that it’s not really a good thing. Yes, children know how to have fun and dream and be whatever they want to be (at least in their own imaginations), and there is great value in this, but children are also dependent on others and often haven’t learned to be part of a community. We’re children before we’re adults in order to learn how to give back when we come of age. It may not be politically or socially correct to point this out, but there is 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 escape mechanism of dreams and fantasies and stories, even as we acknowledge that none of these things can solve all of our problems and take away all of the pain and suffering in life. We need to keep some child-like qualities simply because they get us through the harsher realities of being “grown up.” In other words, we need to grow without growing up so much that we completely lose our connection to the magic of being a child.

How to Do More of What You Love Every Day and Still Pay the Bills

having funThere’s a theme that comes up often in yoga classes that goes something like this: Do what you love. It has some variations, and chances are you’ve heard them go something like this as well:

I always suspected that the people who went around saying these things had either already figured out how to do what they love and make money doing it or they were being financially supported in some way!

But I’ve thought about it some more.

Do more of what you love

Today my yoga teacher suggested an activity that was a twist on the usual “to do” list – something another yoga teacher had suggested to her. The task was to make a list of things we enjoy doing and then to be sure that we spent this day (which happened to be a Monday) doing what we want to do.

Ah, if only I had that luxury, I thought. I’d probably go get a pedicure and then pack for a week away at luxury yoga retreat – preferably one that includes learning how to draw or paint. But unfortunately, there are bills to pay. And without getting into details, I, as a responsible adult, have little choice but to make that a priority right now, so…

It seemed more or less obvious that I could not afford the luxury of being sure to have some fun on this particular day.

But wait. Life should be fun, shouldn’t it?

I’m not an advocate of being miserable. I’ve shown that in my life by leaving one or two dead-end jobs and opting out of activities and relationships that don’t help me grow, thrive and live in love. But how do those of us who don’t have the luxury of pretending we don’t need to make a living manage this “do what you love” thing?

Well, it’s simple. If you can’t do what you love every minute of the day, then you need to find a way to love what you do – or at least find a way to not be miserable while you’re doing it.

A while ago, I wrote about this in conjunction with the idea that everything in life is a meditation. I’ve learned to do this with some of the more tedious aspects of my work and my life – like dry technical editing or grocery shopping. (Seriously, next time you go grocery shopping, try to go slowly and really notice the colorful array of fruits and vegetables in the produce section or the mind-boggling number of choices you have if you want a dozen eggs or a container of yogurt!)

Doing more of what we love each day is important, and so is taking care of our responsibilities. So, if you can’t quit your job or ignore a deadline in order to spend the entire day today doing what’s on your “things that I love to do list,” try loving the simple fact that you’re alive and functioning, and make it point to love (or at least like) whatever you need to do.

After all, the very fact that you’re able to do anything is something worth appreciating. And despite the fact that I haven’t been doing something I’m in love with every second of every day, here’s a short list of the things I’ve loved doing in just the last 24 hours:

  • I drank more than one delicious cup of coffee.
  • I ate a yummy breakfast, lunch and dinner.
  • I went to an awesome yoga class.
  • I watched my New York Mets win (again)!
  • I watched a fascinating drama on television.
  • I listened to some of my favorite music.
  • I noticed that the lilies in a bouquet of flowers that I bought a few days ago have bloomed and are gorgeous.
  • I did my “editing meditation.”
  • I wrote this latest entry for my blog.

Wake Up!

stress reliefThis morning, my sweet yoga teacher encouraged me to wake up. Not directly, as in, “Wake up and pay attention, Maria. You look a little sleepy today!” It was a general teaching for the class. But it caught my attention for more reasons than one. For one, I was a little sleepy. I’d noticed I was a bit slow in getting going and getting to class today – not completely unusual for me, but a little more noticeable on a gray winter morning. Another reason the topic caught my attention is that just an hour or so earlier over morning coffee, my husband and I were kicking around the concept of “waking up” in the sense of clearing cobwebs from our brains and becoming more focused and productive.

Then I got to class, where our teacher shared some wisdom that she’d learned at a workshop she’d recently attended. The workshop leader was Guru Singh, whose book, “Buried Treasures,” I recently read with my yoga book club. Coincidence? I’d say probably not. When I walked into class and saw another one of Guru Singh’s books at the front of the room, I knew the universe was trying to get my attention. As is often the case, yoga seems to get at the heart of whatever is happening in my life.

Awakening

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????I’m not sure when exactly how the idea of waking up came into play (since I was still asleep until it was mentioned), but when it did come up, I certainly took note since the topic had been so persistent this day.

So what does it mean to wake up in the yogic sense of the phrase?

We talk about awakening a lot in yoga. As our teacher (via Guru Singh) explained, it’s something that is always available. In my own practice, I’ve found that when we learn to pay attention, we open our eyes, hearts and minds to what is – what has always been. Of course, I can’t tell you exactly what all that is yet – because I’m still not fully awake – but I can attest to the fact that the more you pay attention, the more you will realize that you’ve really spent a lot of time napping.

Are you ready?

Another thing discussed today was the idea of waking up quickly. This came up not only in yoga class, but in the morning coffee talk in which my husband mentioned how he wished he could get going more easily in the morning. Our yoga teacher suggested that it’s not easier to go slowly, waiting until we’re “ready,” but instead, we should just jump in because we’ve either always been ready or we will never be! That didn’t sit well with me at first, but when I thought about it more, it did. But you see, I was even going slowly into the idea of awakening quickly. (The good news is I’m apparently not alone in this habit.)

There are things I’ve always been ready for (like starting a yoga practice), and it wasn’t so much that I didn’t want to jump into a practice but that I wasn’t aware that it was something I was meant to do until, one day, there it was. So I think the idea of dabbling and going slowly happens naturally when we’re not yet sure if the thing we’re exploring is meant for us. We’re not all meant for the same things, after all. On the other hand, there is probably at least one thing (and probably many more) that keeps coming up for you in such a way that you know it is meant for you. You just don’t know how to do it or where to begin.

Your teacher is already here

They say that when the student is ready the teacher will appear. But if resonate with Guru Singh’s position and you believe that you have always been ready for the thing (or things) you’re meant for, then maybe the real issue is that you’re not awake to the fact that your teacher is already here.

All I can say about that is wake up and pay attention!

Letting Go of What Doesn’t Serve You (And Embracing What Does)

???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????At a yoga class I attended during the last week of 2014, my fellow students and I were asked to focus on something that no longer served us – something that we wanted to let go of as we move into the new year. Suspecting that this theme would come up for the new year, I already had some ideas in mind when I got to class that morning.

Letting Go

There are many things in my life that don’t serve me. I hold on to most of them because I’m not sure what the alternatives are and because most of them don’t really harm me either. In fact, I think the inability to move forward does more disservice than simply holding on to the old and familiar things in our lives. It would be easy to let go of the old if we knew where we wanted to go and how to get there.

That said, there are certainly things I need to release. The first one that came to mind was regret. Regret serves absolutely no purpose; it’s not even filling space until I figure out what to do next with my life. It just makes me miserable. I can’t change the experiences I’ve had or the choices of made in the past. So I need to let go of regret and accept that what’s done (or not done) is history.

After regret, I want to let go of apologizing for who I am. I’ve had some great practice at this in recent weeks, having said no more than once without feeling (too) guilty about it – something that isn’t easy for me to do. But I was overwhelmed by the many ways in which I was being pulled, and I had to step away from some of them so I’d have the energy to be fully present when I did say yes. As hard as it sometimes is to be myself without apology, I know that I need to continue to do this as well, and I reflected on that as we opened the class by setting an intention to release something and leave it behind in 2014.

Message from the Angels

At the end of class, we were offered a deck of angel cards – an activity that always gets me thinking – and often writing as a result. I wondered if I’d pick the word “regret” or “guilt.” That would be awesome – a clear sign from the universe that I’m on the right track.

Instead, my word was “support.”

I stared at the card for a few moments because it didn’t seem right at all. Was this card suggesting that I need to be more supportive? I quickly eliminated that idea. It seems (to me anyway) that one thing I do a lot of is listen to and support others. In fact, I’d been in support mode full swing these last few weeks following an event that prompted a swell of somewhat complicated emotional turmoil for the people in my life who were affected by it. I found myself listening – a lot – and I was told more than once that it was good talking to me. So why was I holding this card? It wasn’t telling me that I should let go of my role of being supportive, was it? That didn’t seem right either.

Then it dawned on me that support was the right word for me after all. It’s not that I need to be more or less supportive, but that I need to stop denying that I also need support. I’ve been cast in the role of listener for so long that I’ve learned to act as though I don’t need anyone to be there for me. But what is that really about?

Now what?

For me, acknowledging that I also need support presents a problem because of how good I’ve gotten at not seeking it. It’s probably the same for you, whether you’re holding on to the same issue or something completely different. Once you acknowledge what you need to release and what you want to embrace, the real work begins.

Maybe the best thing I can do right now is put the intention out to the universe. Rather than asking specific people to support me, I can ask the universe to do it. The universe is much more likely to come through – though I’m sure that when it does it will send me specific people who can help me find my way. My job, of course, is be open to that.

Lifting each other up

In case I had any doubts that I gotten the message I was meant to receive in class that morning, the song that was playing during savasana drove it home for me in that awesome way that things have of coming together when you’re open to the possibilities. It’s a song I’ve heard before, though I’m not sure what it’s called. The chorus goes like this:

We shall lift each other up.

Higher and higher,

We shall lift each other up.

Lifting each other up is a great way to think about support. It doesn’t have to be one-sided. I suspect, though I haven’t really tested this theory, that at least some of the people who turn to us for help and support would welcome the opportunity to return the favor if we’d just let our defenses down and admit that we need it. And just think how high we all could climb if we helped each other along the way! And so I ask the universe for support in letting go of regret and learning to be myself without apology.

What Will You Let Go Of?

As you move into the new year, what will you release? And once you release it, how will you move forward, and what will you embrace? You may not know exactly what you need or how you’ll get it, but now is the time to take a first step. Set an intention and let the universe support you.

A very Happy New Year to all!

What Are You Supposed to Be? (Hint: There May Not Be a Word for It)

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????In “The Great Work of Your Life” – a book about dharma, author Stephen Cope explains that Walt Whitman was 47 years old when he found the “true calling” he had been preparing for all his life. When I first read that, a spark of hope went through me. Until that moment, I’d thought I was hopelessly past the age at which such a thing could happen. And here’s the real surprise. Whitman’s calling was not writing; it was nursing!

It can take a lifetime.

When I read Cope’s book a few years ago, I’d begun to wonder if all the seemingly disconnected wanderings from “calling” to “calling” that I’d been through in my own life were actually leading me to something specific – something that I could call my dharma. I hoped they were and that the “something” would make clear to me why my path was so disjointed and convoluted. I wanted – and still want – to cement the connection between writing, teaching, psychology and nutrition – the disciplines I’ve studied and worked in without ever really crystalizing a specific goal. I can see that there’s a connection. I’m just not sure what to name it or whether it even has a name at all.

Don’t do what you’re not supposed to do.

Surely I’m not the only person on a path that often doesn’t seem to make sense. I’m not sure I know what I’m supposed to do. I only know what I’m not supposed to do. I usually figure that out shortly after I start doing a particular thing – like studying to be a dietitian instead of a holistic nutritionist or taking a job as a financial aid representative when I really want to be a student counselor. But I continue to hope that all of those starts and detours have happened for a reason.

This very topic came up the other day in a yoga class, of course (funny, how that works). The teacher actually said out loud (though maybe not in these exact words) that the best way to figure out what you’re supposed to do is to figure out what you’re not supposed to do. So there you have it.

I’m a writer.

I’m not a physicist (and have never even considered the possibility that I should be). I’m no longer a financial aid representative, and I now know that I’m not meant to be a clinical dietitian. What I am supposed to be is a writer.

The written word has been a part of my life (and my dharma) for a very long time. The kind of writer (and editor) I am now has been shaped by all the things I’ve done or attempted to do before – including certain types of writing. In college, I wrote fiction. Just after that, I did a lot of journal writing that in an odd, Zen-like way, I destroyed in the early 2000’s in order to detach from the stories they told. I wrote journal entries as if I was writing fiction. More recently my writing ranges from technical to creative nonfiction.

No doubt there’s a reason it took me almost 20 years to return to writing after teaching and flirting with the idea of becoming a psychologist and then a nutritionist. I’ve written a lot about psychology and nutrition (and, of course yoga) in the last ten years. And while there may not be a formal title for what I am, I’m pretty sure that, for now at least, it is what I’m supposed to be.

What about you?

Do you know what you’re supposed to be? Have you found your dharma, and if you have, does it have a name? If you’re still not sure despite years of searching, remember this (which I’m paraphrasing from a quote I saw posted on Facebook recently): It takes a seedling many years to become a mighty oak. Loosely translated: Dharma is a journey, not a destination.

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