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

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????What’s on Your Bucket List?

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.

 

Improving Communication Starts with Listening Longer

balancing the fifth chakra

I was flipping through channels on TV and came across a psychologist doing an audience Q & A. Someone asked him for tips on how to communicate better with loved ones.

The psychologist’s answer was simple (but not easy). “Listen longer than you want to,” he said.

Improving Communication Starts with Listening

I’m often told I’m a good listener, but I’ll be honest. There are many times I just don’t want to listen anymore. Usually, this happens when I’ve heard the same thing before—sometimes many times before—from the same person. You’ve probably been here too. Your friend or spouse or sibling is going on about the same problem they’ve shared seemingly a thousand times.

And you’re just like, “OMG, get over it already!”

I don’t feel great about this. But I think we must be honest with ourselves. Even the most compassionate, skilled listeners have a point at which they don’t want to have the same conversation again.

But why not? It doesn’t take more time to hear the same thing than it does to hear something new.

I think the reason is listening to someone struggle with something you (and apparently, they) are unable to change, makes you feel inadequate. Why, after all, do they keep coming to you with this problem? If you haven’t helped them get past it the last fifteen thousand times you’ve listened to it, what will be different this time?

Okay, I’m exaggerating. It’s usually only a thousand times. But there’s a point at which no amount of listening will make a dent in improving communication.

Communication is Connection

One definition of communication is the exchange of information. It implies a connection between two or more parties to impart and receive information. When we speak of communicating with people close to us, we’re usually interested in more than information. In fact, information is easy to communicate.

When we talk about improving communication, we’re usually talking about connecting on an emotional level. We want to understand intentions, values, and things that are difficult to describe using words alone.

Yet, we use words because words are the best tools we have for communicating. When we’ve heard the words and nothing has changed, though—we neither understand more nor feel understood more than we did before—it may be time to think beyond the words.

Listening longer than we want to does not just mean hearing sounds. It doesn’t only mean being silent while words are spoken. It means being present and tuning in to those words and the message the speaker is trying to impart. This isn’t easy. To do it, we need to suspend our own egos and check impulses to be defensive or have answers. And often, we need to sit with impatience when we realize we can’t fix someone else. If we look closely, we may find it’s ourselves we’ve lost patience with.

And the truth is, if the other person isn’t a good communicator, there may be nothing more we can do to improve the connection.

Meditation for Improving Communication

Want to practice communicating better? Learn to meditate!

Meditation teaches us to be present, suspend, the ego, and tune in—the very things we need to do well if we want to be good communicators. It also teaches us to listen and to pay attention when we listen, not just to words, but to emotions and things beyond words.

And it helps us stay present, even when the connection isn’t happening the way we’d like it to.

So yes, if you want to be better at communicating, listen more than you want to. But empty your mind and be present while you do it.

 

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.

Do What You Want (as long as you don’t hurt anyone)

world peaceRecently, I had a conversation with a friend who suggested that a good motto to live by is “Do what you want, as long as you don’t hurt anyone.”

On the surface, this seems like great advice. But something about it didn’t seem quite right to me, and I found myself thinking about it more for the rest of that day. The question nagging me was this: Is it really possible to always do what we want without ever hurting other people?

I finally decided that the answer to my nagging questions depends on what’s meant by “what I want.” There’s an implication that what I want disregards anyone other than me. Of course this isn’t always the case, and I know  it’s not what my friend meant when he shared his motto.

As it happened, soon after that conversation, as I was mulling over this idea of doing what I want (without hurting anybody), I picked up a book I was reading called “Awaken,” by Reverend Jaganath Carrera. And there, right on page 94, the very page where my bookmark was saving my place, was this quote:

“The beneficial is one thing; the pleasant is another. These two, differing in their ends, both prompt to action. Blessed are they that choose the beneficial; they that choose the pleasant miss the goal.” ~Katha Upanishad

In the book, Reverend Carrera goes on to explain that when we do something that is pleasurable in the moment, without regard to whether or not it is beneficial, there is no lasting value to that action for ourselves or for anyone else. “Beneficial acts improve someone’s material security, physical and psychological well-being, and advance spiritual growth,” he says.

We’re all connected, and our actions affect each other

Personally, I think that the only way to live and “do what you want as long as you don’t hurt anyone” is if you have no relationship with others or with the planet in general for that matter. A more valuable and enriching philosophy, I think, is to make choices that are beneficial (including—maybe even especially including—those that are pleasurable).

Perhaps the most important person to consider when weighing whether or not an action is beneficial is not necessarily other people (though they definitely should be considered), but you.

I’m no authority on anything, but I do think we should do things that help us grow physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. That doesn’t mean they can’t be enjoyable; enjoyment of life is part of overall well-being. The problem is if our goal is simply to “not hurt others,” the goal has little value and in fact (I believe) is almost impossible to reach. The reason is it’s often not obvious when our choices, pleasant and innocent as they may seem, in fact hurt others—and ourselves—in the long run.

Try to think of something you can do that doesn’t affect anyone, either positively or negatively. There’s really nothing. As human beings, like it or not, we are all connected, and in some way, everything you do affects at least one other person. So let’s just say for argument’s sake that what people mean when they say, “I’m not hurting anyone” is “I’m not hurting anyone that I’m aware of at the moment.” And just to cover all bases, let’s also say that “I’m not helping anyone” means “I’m not helping anyone that I’m aware of at the moment.”

Either statement works best if you have no connections to other beings. So, the only way the philosophy of doing what you want as long as you don’t hurt anyone works as a general way of life is if no one cares about you. If you’ve created a life in which there is truly no one who cares about you, then you have hurt the most important person of all—you.

It’s highly unlikely that no one cares about you, although it is quite possible that you don’t believe anyone cares about you or that you don’t feel cared for. In such a case, it’s easier to understand why you would think you can do what you want. But trust me, there is someone who cares about you that probably will be hurt if you always do whatever you want.

A better idea (I think) is to do what you want as long as it is beneficial. And remember that you can be the one who benefits.

Think about the things you would like to do that you don’t think will hurt anyone. Are those actions hurting you? Are you sure? They are hurting you if they are not adding something truly positive to your life. The benefit has to outweigh, or at least be equal to, the pleasure. Notice the pleasure is still there. (Yes, there are times when we need to do things that aren’t so pleasant because they are beneficial, but those are not the things I’m talking about.)

Does it feel good to eat a cheeseburger and drink a six pack of beer when you are alone and there is no one around who notices or cares about whether or not that’s good for you? Perhaps, but what’s the benefit?

And here’s another wrinkle. I also think there are times when our actions do hurt someone, but it’s still the right (more beneficial) choice. For example, if you’re the type whose friends rely on you to validate, support, and help them with all kinds of problems, no matter what the time of day or night or how realistic their expectations might be, you may need to consider how beneficial your “help” really is. Obviously, we can’t accommodate them every time, but some of them—because of their insecurities or histories of rejection or whatever—may feel hurt or offended when you don’t come through or when you choose to do something for yourself instead. Is it beneficial to continue to play the role of “good friend” at any cost? In a case like this, it may be better to do what you want even though it hurts someone else.

I think deep down we would all like to spend our lives growing, which brings me back to the quote I mentioned a few paragraphs back—the one that got me thinking about the value of choosing what we do. It’s a really great quote, and so here it is again:

The beneficial is one thing; the pleasant is another. These two, differing in their ends, both prompt to action. Blessed are they that choose the beneficial; they that choose the pleasant miss the goal. ~Katha Upanishad

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.

Questions? Ask a Tree!

tree

Trees are awesome. I know this is true, but I was happy to be reminded of the many ways in which it’s true when yoga teachers Jan Jeremias and Dee Andalkar chose trees as the theme for a recent yoga and aromatherapy workshop. On this March afternoon, we talked about the gift of trees and considered ways we can be more like them.

Why would a person want to be like a tree? Well, the words we associated with trees at the beginning of the workshop might give you a few reasons:

  • Grounded
  • Strong
  • Branches
  • Flexibility
  • Roots

Trees Offer Many Gifts

Do you remember the book, The Giving Tree? Indeed trees have a lot to offer, most notable the oxygen that keeps us alive, of course. Trees also give us the gift of aromatherapy. There are many tree essential oils, including the one Jan and Dee diffused for the group: Douglas fir. The oil has a light, citrus-like quality. It’s a clean, purifying scent that’s good for the respiratory system. It’s also uplifting and can help with focus.

Another essential oil we sampled was cardamom. While not a tree oil, cardamom does have the grounding quality associated with trees. A combination of white fir and grapefruit was another treat that enhanced our yoga practice.

Get Grounded, Branch Out, Ask a Tree

One of the great things about trees is that they are strongly and firmly connected to the earth—to their source—yet they are flexible and able to sway in the wind. This gives trees a foundation from which to weather the storms that come their way. And that’s one thing I’d like to have in common with these beautiful beings.

I was especially struck by Dee’s description of the conversations she has with trees. Now before you start thinking she’s perhaps a bit crazy, let me explain. Better yet, try it! I’ve had a few chats with trees myself. If you’re stressed, confused, overwhelmed, sad, or feeling any other emotion that you’d like some help with, go outside and sit with a tree. Watch its branches sway. Watch its leaves rustle in the wind. Notice the beauty and strength of its trunk, the color of its leaves, and the uniqueness of its branches. I promise if you do this long enough (and without thinking about it too much), answers will come.

Whether the answers actually come from the trees or from somewhere within us is another issue. Trees, after all, don’t look to others to solve their problems. Perhaps they serve as reminders that when we need answers, we can find them within if get grounded, strong, and quiet. When we align with our higher selves, we can navigate what comes our way.

How to Be More Like a Tree

If you’re a yogi, you can be more treelike with a grounding yoga practice. Jan led us through a series of poses that were both grounding and expansive. Tree pose, of course, was one of them. In fact, we did some variations of tree pose that built upon the basic pose.

Poses like crescent lunge and warrior, which we also practiced, are treelike as well. We even did a wonderful flow in which we more or less became trees, moving from an “acorn” to a full-grown tree with “branches.”

My Chat with Trees

spring tree.jpgAsking for answers, as Jan noted well, is part of the human condition. We all want answers; we all wanted to be guided, and we hope that we’re able to be guides for ourselves. But all of us also need help. With this in mind, I spoke to the trees in my own yard the next morning. I had to listen intently to hear their reply since for the most part, the branches are still bare. But on that morning, the first of spring, as I watched the swaying seed pods (you know, those prickly balls that appear before the leaves return), the trees whispered these words: patience, hope, and renewal. Great answers to my questions for sure!

I urge you to speak with trees as often as possible.

 

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.

Finding Focus in the New Year with Yoga, Aromatherapy, and Meditation

yogamatlotusflowerThis past weekend, I attended a wonderful yoga and aromatherapy workshop. The topic was cultivating clarity, vision, creativity, and gratitude—great things to cultivate for sure.

Lately, I’ve been just a bit stuck in terms of vision and pursuing my goals. And while I haven’t been too concerned about it (the universe usually directs me eventually), I was thrilled when I saw the theme for this workshop. I knew immediately that I wanted to attend.

If you’re in the same or a similar boat, here are five things to try that will help you cultivate creativity, find clarity, and move toward your goals.

1. Set an intention, but don’t think too much about how you will get there.

Yoga teacher Jan Jeremias, one of the workshop’s two facilitators, read us a stunning passage from a book by Jeff Foster:

On every page of a book, behind the words—no matter what the words are describing, no matter what is going on in the story—there is the whiteness of the paper. Rarely noticed, even more rarely appreciated, but absolutely essential, so that the words can be seen.

As a writer, my first thought was that this passage minimized the impact of what I do, of the words that I write. But then I thought about it some more and quickly realized that while I do write (or edit) many words, my role as the whiteness of the paper is far more important. The point here is that our willingness to hold an intention may be even more significant than exactly how we go about doing whatever it is we intend to do. We can write and rewrite and edit the story. But without the white space—without the intention—the story can never be read.

So if you’re not exactly sure how to go about reaching your goal, that doesn’t mean you’re not ready to set the intention. Set it, and then be open to what unfolds. The words (the way to get there) will come.

2. Tap into the powerful benefits of aromatherapy.

Aromatherapy is a powerful tool for physical, mental, and spiritual transformation. In this workshop, we were introduced to several essential oils whose aromas are known to help with focus, creative energy, and vision. The two that stood out for me were peppermint, which is very uplifting and energizing, and a proprietary blend for mental clarity and focus called “In Tune.” The blend, from the company doTerra, consists of amyris bark, patchouli, frankincense, lime, ylang ylang, sandalwood, and roman chamomile. I’ll be using this at my desk often!

3. Chant a mantra for creativity.

In the Kundalini Yoga tradition, there’s a mantra for…well, just about everything. In this workshop, yoga teacher Dee Andalkar led us in chanting the mantra for creativity: Har Haray Hari Waheguru. If you don’t know it, you can hear a version of it here.

According to Spirit Voyage, this four-part mantra “represents the cycle of creative activity.  Har represents the seed potential of Infinite Creativity. Haray represents the flow of the Creative Force. Hari represents the manifestation of the Creative Force. Wahe Guru is an expression of joy and the wonder of this process.” Chanting the mantra, then, is like saying, “Idea, Flow, Here is it, Wow!”

4. Practice yoga.

I probably don’t have to elaborate on this. If you’ve done yoga even one time in your life, you probably know that setting an intention for the practice is a powerful way to focus and cultivate clarity and vision. It’s particularly powerful when the pose takes you out of yourself and connects you to something greater.

5. Be grateful.

As I said, the theme for the workshop was cultivating clarity, vision, creativity, and gratitude. So what about the “gratitude” part? While it may not always be immediately obvious, gratitude is a strong motivator for creativity. I can promise you that when you are grateful for the things you experience, you will open to more and more possibilities for creativity. For example, gratitude for the experience of attending a workshop can inspire you to write a post for your blog!

If you’re in the Northern New Jersey area, I hope you’ll consider attending a workshop with Dee and Jan as well; they’ve got a whole year of yoga and aromatherapy experiences planned. The workshops take place on the third Saturday of each month at Ma Yoga in Mahwah. The next theme up, on Saturday, February 20th from 3-5 pm, is “Living Your Most Passionate Life.”

 

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.

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