Flying through the air with the greatest of ease

I don’t know why or where it exists from but ever since I was a child I love to go to the local playground, monkey bars, climb, hang upside down and swing from one bar to the next. So needless to say many years later watching a friends pictures and experience on the flying trapeze, it just seemed like a normal ‘yep I have to do that’ moment. I looked for those to join me but nobody would or could go with me. Still I waited years before I called a place and found out when I could go and moved forward with this desire; going even if that meant alone. My husband came with me and was prepared to support and take pictures but wasn’t interested in trying this himself. As we drove to downtown DC together and my stomach was upset and my nerves took over. As I approached the office I could feel my body go numb and my breath faster in non-existent. Fear and doubt. A bit of judgement, expectation and completely scared out of my mind.

Being quite familiar with identifying my feelings I just kept moving forward. “This will be ok – just keep breathing. You have been through worse.” True, said the left side of my brain but the right side kept taking over. This is obviously one of those times when logic just won’t help. As I approached the office I could hear them explaining to others that a heavy thunderstorm was approaching and that we may have to reschedule. But first, lets wait. “Oh great!” I thought to myself. What a relief. I kept processing all the things I could be doing instead as I walked out to tell my husband who was so sorry for me. “Yeah it sucks” I said. He felt bad for me and I acted as if I was so disappointed.

As we sat in lawn chairs waiting to see which direction the weather would take us, I sat watching some advanced trapeze students and teachers float from bar to bar, catching each other and flipping around in the air. Wow – could that be me? Is that me? Wait, do I even want that? Doubt started to set in. Some were wearing tiny , little sports bras and shorts; so skinny that I was afraid if a rib popped you would actually see it pop out. I didn’t look at that with envy at all. A male instructor came over and said “lets at least get you guys started on the first part of the training.” So we walked over to a location with a single monkey bar and large pad on the ground. We practiced hanging, lifting ourselves up to hang ourselves upside down, grabbing the bar, undoing and letting go. Of course I’m making this sound easier than it really is. Pulling ones weight up is quite hard not to mention making yourself small enough to cross your legs into your chest, up and around the bar so you can rest the back of your knees on the bar. Coming out is way easier. Also it was so different from when I was 8 years old for sure.

The reality started to hit me – this was happening and then all of a sudden the thunderstorm came in. Oh what a relief. “Can I go now?” I’m not sure just what I was thinking, but I rescheduled for a week later and would return to start the training over. We left and I started to relax and then ever so excited to return. “I hope I remember everything they just taught me.”

The week went by and I had to take off work to come on a weekday that had an opening. Once again my husband came. We sat outside and watched the traffic of people on the other side of the fence walk by; often times just watching with amazement, but sometimes you get those who think it is fun to yell and heckle those up on the trapeze. I was introduced to a new teacher and a group of others who looked just as scared as I was. Many had friends with them but they were so nice to let me join them as we practiced and trained. We started to support and cheered others on -“Yes you can” “You can do it”.

After training we were told what to expect, the process and that we would get started. OMG. It is happening on this beautiful day. So we were each told of the line-up. I wasn’t first but at least I wasn’t last – I don’t think I can take the waiting any longer. I just know once I do it once I’ll be ok. I watch one young lady go up. She yells back and tells us it is higher than she expected. “Oh great!”. She grabs the bar and with the help of teachers up there she manages to go, swing, hang upside down and then let go to fall into the net. Ok I think – I can do this. I mean she makes it look so easy. We clap and support her ready to hear about her experience. The next woman goes and has a similar experience. But then it is my turn. There is some chalk on the ground and I grab that to help with my very wet hands. It is meant to keep you dry; so do you think I can dunk my body in it? Just kidding I think to myself. Even my mouth is so dry that I can’t even feel myself swallow. I start to hook my rope to the ladder and start to climb. “Just take one step at a time. Don’t look down.” I tell myself. I climb slowly and carefully and when I reach the top there is just a tiny board to stand on. Very tiny in fact. The woman there is helping me move the rope and set up. She grabs the bar for me and goes over what I will be doing. This is just me swinging by myself, I tell myself; just be a kid again. Suddenly the training lesson escapes me. Wait – was I supposed to count 1, 2, 3 or was it 1,2 and 3. “OMG Do I go on the 3 or the AND – I can’t remember just when to sway, squat and go.” My timing was off which meant she stopped me and started it over. She starts counting again and I don’t move. Mainly because I can’t find my rhythm. “I’m overthinking this” I say. I kind of wish she would just stop counting, repeating the same thing over and over. It isn’t helping. I can feel her getting annoyed from her tone and attitude. Does it really matter if I go on the 3 or the AND or 4, 5 anyway. Who cares! It isn’t as if I’m coordinating with another for a catch. I just want to have this first experience.

So by the third or fourth attempt I either got it or she just gave up, but either way I was off on my own swinging on the bar. So relieved to be going; I knew I could do it! The teacher on the ground starts yelling out to lift which I do, hang upside down, swing and hang. Loving this. As I undo and drop to the net I’m so happy.  I was so proud because I really did let my body and mind take over and could remember being a kid again. He helps me off the net and talks to me about the count and how to go about it next time. Really repeating what I obviously didn’t understand. I hear him but still I’m not sure of exactly what to do but he has to move on so I just agree and move on. But not worried – I’ll figure it out. So I’m back in line talking about my experience.

When it is my turn again I go up much calmer this time. I don’t need any chalk. I tell myself to stop overthinking this ‘take-off thing’- just feel it you know you do better that way. The teacher again starts with the verbal count but I pause and it starts again. When do I sway, squat and go? Is it on the 3? “Oh no! Not again.” This time though I pull myself together at least on the 2nd attempt. Lift and hang upside down. Wow – I’m starting to get the feeling of this. I come off though I’m told that only some of us can go again, based on time and progress to try a catch. That would be those of us that they felt could move on to the next step. Of course that wasn’t me. So I got a “Thanks – keep coming back.” Can’t they see how far I had just come in just two experiences? So why do I feel like I failed then?

I stayed though to support and watch the few that moved on from the first lesson to try a catch. Ok so that isn’t me up there trying this, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t succeed. I should be so happy with myself. This is not a competition, I have to remind myself. I notice on the ground nearby a couple of the teachers are busy playing around with “acro-yoga” (parnter poses) with each other and I look at them completely understanding that what looks one way is an different experience internally or to another. What looks impossible or hard isn’t so – especially when you partner with or have the help or support of others. It becomes – FUN.

Here is what I forgot in the midst of that experience. I had so many people there, with good intensions for sure, telling me what to, how to do it, correcting me – yes even myself. I forgot to just have FUN! Not to care if I was disappointing someone or if they would be upset, mad or judging my performance. Who cares – in the end all we have is our own joy in the moment, even the small every day moments. I was wrong to let myself be drawn away from that.

Sad to say I’ve never gone back to try it again though. Either way though I carry the experience with me as a reminder that “Yes you can” even if you don’t do it perfectly or to others expectations remember that as long as your intension was right that the only real failure is by not moving forward or trying. This is true today as I venture out into the unknown in my career. I took a career risk recently and within a short time I went from high praise to being told I was told wasn’t needed, they were reorganizing, and I received a lot of blame. Then I saw days later that the ‘reorganization’ was redirecting money to an expensive advertisement; a business decision for sure- nothing personal. Only I didn’t have any warning it was coming so was shocked.  Today I’m picking up the pieces and figuring out where to go from here. Days later I continue to hear of others with their stories and experiences so it helps me heal. I was reminded though that much like the flying trapeze that I’m floating in the air. I’m floating between the bars; leaving one well known and convenient bar for the next one – not knowing when,where and what that will be. So a very scary place.  The amazing support I have received has shown me that I don’t have to go at this alone for sure. Exploring today, this moment and to have FUN.

Now I’m sure many will have different feelings about my story – some will judge it, compare it or even admire it. Not important though – if you can see past that for a moment there is a place to realize something within all of us – intension is more important than your failure or success. Go past being the critic and pause in that place.

Which makes me think of one of my favorite quotes from Theodore Roosevelt that I have on my desk:

“It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, who face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of the high achievement, and who at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” – 1910 “The Man in the Arena”

 

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Slightly Imperfect – Just sayin’

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Funny enough I was looking at my calendar this week and saw that we have a Friday the 13th lined up with the 14th this Saturday for Valentines day. This made me smile. For many one day is a curse and the other is quite lucky. But wait … which one am I referring too? Sometimes we jump and naturally make assumptions; thinking our way is right and others views are stupid or wrong.

Although life has so many ups and downs I used to spend so much of my time getting ready, planning, imagining the day ahead and what would happen. Always going about my work, chores and family events as if there was tons of time later to do other things. Never feeling quite satisfied and focused on the next thing. Yet when the present day came I was already busy and off to the future thoughts again. Or even worse I had done so much expecting that when it happened sometimes my reaction could be so overblown and dramatic; more from the build up of the expected disappointment than the real moment.

Then something even stranger happened when I turned 40. Going about my day and I found myself doing things and really taking the time to listen, make eye contact, observe, be right there in the moment – even when I was taking care of my chores. I had read a book called “Hand Wash Cold” by Karen Maezen Miller that really got me thinking – why not do the dishes with the intension of being right there. The title refers to the fact that we don’t treat ourselves like our clothes i.e. delicate cycle with care. Instead we often toss ourselves into the big load, on hot and hard spin cycles. Lets get that dirt out! Always pulling, pushing and squeezing.

I started to enjoy and appreciate the tiny moments around me I noticed something. Someone asked me how I was doing and I stopped and thought about it. “I’m fine” I said. Wait what? It wasn’t great and it wasn’t bad. My first reaction was there must be something wrong with this feeling. There wasn’t some funny story or something to fix or solve. I was really just “ok”. Shouldn’t I be more than that? Aren’t we all looking in some way to find peace, less stress and happiness? Is that always just the light at the end of the tunnel – off in the distance? But what would this feel like if it were right here? Would I know it if I saw it?

For years I imagined what it would be to be a stress-free, peaceful and happy person. I lived with an image of those I admired and thought that will be me… someday.  When people are asked to think about someone they admire who is peaceful and loving the person most often thought about is the Dalai Lama. Calm, always happy and blissful. Nothing bothers him… right?  So “Tomorrow” I thought. I spent my present days trying to eliminate sadness, fear and anger and would sit still to meditate but nope. Instead I would judge myself, blame, or give up. Might as well stop… there is always tomorrow. My sister would call me out on it and say “See you are angry – what kind of yogi are you? Yogis aren’t angry” I struggled with the answer for a long time. Fact is the more I tried to be someone else the more I failed. Then with the help of a wonderful yoga and meditation teacher he taught me to stop trying. I had to stop resisting and learn to be ok with who I am right now – faults and all. I wasn’t going to stop being angry; just like the Dalai Lama who has talked about his anger, regret and fear.  We are all imperfect human beings.  Instead my practice helped me identify the feelings there, recognize them and pause more. It was this action that helped me reduce the stress and pain of regret.

So here we come at the end of this week to a back to back day of what could be completely up, down, both or maybe neither. No doubt though that both days will spark feelings and emotions. Some will avoid and others will embrace it. On Valentines Day there will be pictures of flowers, chocolate and hearts shared on all social media for sure. Some will push it away, waiting for it to just pass. Others will rebel with comments about how this is just a marketing day and try to push away the feelings. There are also those who won’t have a special someone to share the moment with at all and they may be down or depressed. I’m not judging or saying one is better than the other though. The avoidance of the real moment or experience is what I’m writing about – whether happy or sad it is bound to be there; even as we reach for the phone to share our moments, try to capture it, save it, instead of being in it while it is happening.

No matter our own personal and unique feelings to either days though, what if we each treated ourselves like we needed the gentle cycle in life? Is that not the luckiest act of love?  Sure there are times for the bulk cycle but wouldn’t we last longer and be just as clean if we went about it in a slower, softer way? It took me a long time to realize this and maybe that just comes with the experiences we each face. Things I used to do in the past I could bounce back from so fast – even if it was bad for me. That changed. Now I see that my actions take longer to recover from – especially if I hurt myself. More importantly I stopped putting off to tomorrow…

…Love and Live for today.

“I never expect a perfect work from an imperfect man” Alexander Hamilton

“Without Present there is no basis of past and future” Dalai Lama

 

Oh so glad it happened

Two years ago I had a major life change. Those that know me or read past articles know I had a stroke. Yes young, healthy and active and yet it happened. Many, including myself, tried to understand it, push past it and I found myself trying to put others at ease. Life doesn’t provide guarantees or answers though – why becomes because that is life. I know many who are young, healthy and die way too early. I also know of many who are unhealthy and yet live to an old age.

Looking back on the past two years though I can really embrace that this major event happened. Strange huh? I have told many that I was grateful for my yoga practice at that time but I think many thought I was talking about the exercise when in fact I was referring to so much more. My awareness really made me mindful when I was grasping or pushing away. When I would want to cry but instead would resist and deny the feelings. The Pushing Away -we simply refuse to admit what is going on. Instead we’ll fight it all the way.

Aversion. Also known as anger, fear, dislike, resistance or hatred. We may not think to call or identify it as Aversion but that is just what that is. For me yoga isn’t just an exercise but should allow us to tap into our emotions and improve awareness. Instead of what I WANTED we can work towards what COULD happen. That is why Yoga doesn’t have to be contained or just held on the mat – it is all inclusive in our daily life. It is the way we move, stay still, sit, eat, sleep, work, interact with others and ourself. This is why I prefer yoga with an experienced teacher rather than a video. It is way too easy to hide away and maybe miss what someone else can see; good or bad. Helps us to expand past our habits and maybe break free of our aversion. A good teacher should allow you to have a safe place to experiment, try things and be yourself. Right now I am reading Stephen Copes latest book and love a saying he wrote: “Pain will happen but suffering is a choice”. Thats it! The choice is how I wish to hold that experience.

Aversion doesn’t have to be in major activities though. Often we experience it many times each day. Ever gone shopping for Clothes? Of course you have. So many us hate it and are scared of what the clothes will tell us about ourselves. We resist or resort to blaming ourselves. We hate that our body doesn’t match up to our expectations or even worse to societies expectations. If we can pause there though we may be able to just accept that some clothes will fit and others won’t. It isn’t personal! Stop it! We can start to see the difference between “this outfit isn’t right for me right now” vs “I’m ugly and therefore not good enough for this outfit”. For me it has been a struggle learning this body over the past couple years. I have changed and needed larger sizes. Once I started to let go of this I simply stopped blaming myself, I dressed myself with what looked and felt right. I cut the tags out so I don’t have to have a reminder of what someone else calls a large, medium or small. Instead I was dealing with my body as it is now. We even set up this resistance in the styles or kind of yoga we practice. We associate our self or status with it. Sad to say I find that some clothing lines for Yoga as well as some Yoga studios have a long way to go in accepting different bodies, types and styles. Models in the name of yoga are typically there selling the idea that you too could be something other than yourself.

Of course it is easier to see Aversion with major events. We declare war on it instead of just seeing the moment as it is. Even when I was in the hospital two years ago I remember they ran so many tests and were there telling me that in addition to what was happening my tests showed signs that I am a candidate for Arthritis someday. Really? My choice right then was to thank them but laugh about this. I told them I can’t live my life worried about what may or may not happen. Including if I could have a stroke again. The manner I was told about the results didn’t offer me more than just fear. No suggestions to living a happier life.

What we see visually is tough because for many of us we put so much value on what we see. We see signs with tests and determine someone’e future with it. We look into the mirror and judge what we see. We see pictures of a model and long to be them – unsure if they are happy –  but heck if I could be them I sure would be. Right? It never works that way though. There is more to each of us than the image. That is why I’m not a big fan of pictures of yoga poses especially on social media. To me it seems the complete opposite of what Yoga is really about. It isn’t about “Nailing it” or look at me in my practice. I believe in letting myself experience the entire process of the pose; beginning, middle and end. More than simply using our sight we feel, smell, touch and taste the experience and that can’t be seen in an image.

It is hard not to compare though – that is just human nature. It is normal to lock down and sometimes resist the moment. Human nature fights really hard and whether politics, religion, race, groups or classes – each one is busy averting from anything unlike them. They rationalize that one is better than the other. It snowballs until it resorts to being harmful, painful or killing in the name of it. Even last week in Paris those who were threatened by differences decided to kill and try to use fear to suppress. Unfortunately it never works the way many intend. I’m glad too see that it unites and reminds us to embrace our human right to our thoughts & opinions. Even North Korea tried this recently and for me it really made me appreciate what I could easily take for granted.

For now and today all I can do is be the best person I can be – faults and all. My actions can help or hurt another. So it starts with what I choose. That is why when I had the stroke I found myself returning to teaching yoga and helping others. I examined that I had even more to offer after this experience and I’m glad that it happened. Sure I did experience a lot of pain but I didn’t have to suffer. The choice was mine.

 

The Best Love Story…

I’ve had some good, ok and really bad new years eve nights. I wish I had known then what was wrong was my expectation. I had someone else’s idea of what it was supposed to be. Never quite turns out ok when I try to do that though.

It is the time of year where we reflect on the past year and make plans for the year to come. Recently I heard someone say “the best love story is the one we have with ourselves”. I love this and the meaning of loving our true self. Not the one I want – but person I truly am – faults and all. You know that unconditional love we receive but rarely believe about ourself? What would happen if I started to be less judgmental and critical? We all do this of course. In fact each year we make promises to change and find it doesn’t last very long. Then we feel guilty and return back too our old habits.

Often I write and speak about Fear but there is also another emotion that is also holding us back….Hope. Not that there is anything wrong with a little hope but we often identify too much hope.  We get easily caught up with hope while sitting in meditation or yoga too.  We want enlightenment, peace or even too master a position.  We grasp for it and this creates a resistance.  Then when it doesn’t come out we allow it to dictate our happiness or performance. Marketing knows that we hold onto hope as well as fear. Each ad or news article reminds us of what could happen or what we could be. We buy into it all the time.

I once heard someone say “My happiness doesn’t rely on the success or failure of this posture”. In the context of yoga postures this means that what lies past the physical body movement is a decision to let things happen and remove myself from the blame, judgement or criticism. I am not the success or failure of what happens in other words. When we practice yoga this hope can be just as dangerous as fear. We see video and pictures of someone else and want to be that or do that.  What we don’t see visually is the mind’s process of doubt, examination of measuring up; am I winning or loosing.

What I’m talking about is easier said than done of course. We like to avoid the truth facing us. In yoga what we call our inner truth is called Dharma. It is our code that each of us was born with and that we can’t be anything other than who we are. When we are young we may resist this – we do things all the time and see things happen of course. If you do something long enough something of course will happen. Long term though it doesn’t last and can have a harmful effect if unhealthy or wrong. Somehow the body or mind responds and we often call it a breakdown or burnout. We didn’t want to listen to the truth often out of fear or hope.

One example of our conditioning is to examine the way plays and stories are written & designed to tap into these emotions; the format used today exists as far back as the Ancient Greek times. There are often 3 acts. The first act is where things seem to be going along fine but not great. Something is missing. The second act something happens to really shake things up or change and often there is a struggle – just want to get back to the way things were in first act. By the third act the resistance to the change settles and although different it is better than it was. Now hearing this you may agree or not but try examining TV, Movies and even real life to see if you can ID the Act. Why we often find ourselves moved because we know this is human nature.

So beyond knowing it happens now what do we do?  Detachment.  Not from trying, playing or involvement but from the outcome.  Recognizing helps but then you can move into the allowance and investigation of the experience. Sometimes it is enough just to allow for it. Try to pause and witness it. Instead of rushing past it, surprising it – can you ID the feelings right then and there?

So why do this act of detachment?  The mind is playing a tug of war with itself – split in two.  We may even think we are being mindful because the mind isn’t full of our usual worry.  However when we are practicing yoga or meditation and focused on the outcome we are still separated from the here and now.  When we learn to be more focused on the actual experience the mind is no longer grasping and is free.

I know for me I have happened upon my Dharma and sat there thinking “of course”. I came across mine not even trying. I found myself investing a lot of my time going to college for my accounting degree, getting my CPA and 15 years in CPA firms. I came from an insecure environment growing up. I remember professors asking me about other routes but no – I was going to be an accountant and earn lots of money. Accounting is quite logical thought process to me of course. I love to solve things and organize. However I was pushing away so much, was unhappy and all along in my life I had great feelings in helping others and writing. So I took a big risk to leave it and haven’t regretted it at all.

Often though it doesn’t have to be something as big as a job or relationship change. Sometimes it is just the little day to day stresses of worry and concern that we can become more aware of. I have had times where I was between jobs and worried what will come next. I don’t know what to do or direction to take. My husband is great at reminding me that things are always ok. As I let go of being the driver and just be a passenger in life I find myself sitting back and enjoying the ride. Now I’m not saying I’m a great passenger. I’m not. But I’m able to pause and observe what is happening right then. When I’m afraid or scared I can feel a tightening in my chest that goes up to my throat and jaw. My breath is shallow and I feel sad, angry and hurt. It isn’t just one feeling. Right there though I can allow for it and with nonjudgemental awareness and ID what it is. Often that is enough to settle into the experience.

The greatest love story is the one we have with ourselves. Letting ourselves be ok just as we are right now and as we start to ID our own path, Dharma and routes, the rest starts to unfold for us.

Yoga is this for me. However the word Yoga, just like ones Dharma, is different for everyone. Instead of worrying about what it is, try letting go of the expectation and go see what feels right to you. What works for one may not for another. It will change over time as well. It may not be right for you at all as well. Just don’t avoid it from a place of fear (I can’t touch my toes) or from Hope (I want to touch my toes). I know it seems crazy but that place in the 3rd Act exists when we let go. It really can happen.

“The love you take…is equal to the love you make”

Life is full of annoyances and problems and I’m sure we know this but sometimes we get caught on the “hamster wheel” of life – simply repeating over and over. When the wheel changes or stops we panic and although we hated just running in a circle we often just want it to stay the same. “Bring back the familiar!”

I say this not with judgement but with compassion as I too do this myself. I find by improving my awareness that I can identify when I’m off track faster and let go with greater ease. The art of Compassion is one I find helpful to further my own awareness more. It is the art of seeing another persons point of view or side to things with love and grace. Scientifically speaking compassion is a part of the brain that has to be used though. So we can talk about it all we want but have to “use it or loose it”.

This holiday has been great for me to meet up with so many I haven’t seen in a while; practicing the art of compassion to be a better listener myself. I try to make good eye contact and take in what the person is saying vs already thinking about my response back or what I wanted to hear. It makes it even harder when you are in a crowded room to stay focused, but I like the challenge. I tell myself “Stay right here” as I focus on their eyes, voice and hear them.

I had a great conversation the other day with a good friend about her need for a new couch. She just had a baby this year so she started describing a conversation she had with her husband about their need for a new couch. He really wants to get something nice. Her reaction to this was full of worry and concern. “The couch is going to get stains, have spit-up from the baby and get dirty – I don’t think he understands.” Her solution was to stick with the old dirty couch they had. I found myself listening, having compassion and views to each side. Then out of my mind came this thought “But life is full of stains – does that mean I shouldn’t move on or forward because it will be messy?” She and I laughed at this simple idea and I witnessed where she was physically holding within herself body as well. Once she let go of the stress her shoulders relaxed. She realized that maybe a compromise was reachable and not quite as hard as she had imagined.

Compassion is something that has to be cultivated and will change over time as well. Anything born out of causes or conditions is bound to change, yet our first response is often to resist it. To build compassion doesn’t mean that you toss aside yourself -which we often do. This is where finding a middle ground is tough. Yet I have to be upfront – although there are tons of articles, stories and books on “being balanced” – I don’t believe we were meant to be in the middle all the time. What yoga and meditation has taught me is that just like a physical balancing posture – I will wiggle, fall or struggle. Being more mindful of the experience though I can listen for the signs and try to come back to my center again. But more than making balance a focus or goal – we can start to relax into the experience just as it is. Even if that just happens to be sad or painful.  (Those I teach Prenatal Yoga already know that I talk  about this in class already)

What I’m talking about we may agree but it is the practice that is quite a challenge. I think we rationalize for the big events but it also happens in the small areas too. I live and work in a DC which has tons of traffic congestion. Sometimes I find myself yelling or getting upset at yet another person driving up the shoulder to squeeze in. The art of driving with compassion becomes an every day area that I can take advantage to practice it more. If I explore the moment, I find that my chest gets tight, that my breath is shallow and my jaw hurts from clenching. When I make the choice to let go I’m able to find myself first being kind to myself and then to others. Telling myself to give more space to my breath, relaxing my grip on the wheel and just let them go. Maybe they too had a hard day and often they wave back in such a way that they really appreciated the help.

Besides teaching yoga, I am also a recruiter. One reason I like helping those look for new jobs is that I often come across those who just need guidance or help. Some come to me very upset that they just got laid off. They disliked their boss, tons of hours, travel and even who they were themselves, but then they are quick to panic and just want it all back. I often suggest to them that this could be a great chance to make yourself happy. Start by letting go of the material things and ask yourself what that is? Sure I get paying bills, eating and providing. But our fear often keeps us from doing what is best for our happiness.

I’ve been there though – shocked and stunned, crying because I didn’t know which way to go. I’ve had management point the finger, blame and say some hurtful things. In the end I found myself drawing inward to meditate. Sometimes by waiting I see that the anger was the cause of something deeper from the source; I was just an innocent bi-stander.

For years of working in accounting, recruiting and teaching yoga I have seen many “burn-out”. The word is so common but do we admit to ourselves when it has happened? We talk about how out of balance we are but balance can be different things to different people so it isn’t as simple as – “they work too much”. I think it comes down to “Why” you are doing what you are doing – not What it is. Your Dharma or purpose is your own unique code. If your purpose is to give, you do so each day without alarm to the time spent. Yet if it is for something like things, money, ego – it doesn’t last very long.

We each have our own stains – some are more obvious than others. But finding time to be still and quiet I find helps me come back to my own code of what is right for me. Sometimes that means saying “no I can’t do that”. My upbringing used to make me feel bad for saying “no” but I have long learned that just like the instructions you get on the airplane about the drop-down oxygen masks – I have to put the mask on myself first if I’m going to be of any help to anyone else.

So this holiday I suggest we each take many moments to put the mask on yourself first. From this you will find yourself serving and giving too others more. I myself will be giving myself my holiday treat of stepping away from my social media, phone and email for the week with my family. I know it will be hard at first but I started doing this years ago and found it amazing how much time there is to do other things when my computer & phone is put away. Especially on the holiday it is a time to listen, be with others and appreciate all we have today.

May you be peaceful and happy this holiday. Shanti.

—Paige Lichens

 

Fav Beatles lyric but makes sense to remind ourselves that we are what we give.

Being Truly Thankful

thanksgiving-picture-quotes-4

The cold weather has come in and with seasons things change. It is quite normal to hang on to what was and when faced with challenging times think it is permanent; when in fact it isn’t.

I’m being gently reminded of this as we go into Thanksgiving Holidays. Besides the marketing and sales, that seems to start earlier each year, we end up being sold a bag of goods to compete, keep up and of course – be prepared. Just like the changing moments of the seasons if we can pause more, we can experience them more fully.

For me I like to remind myself “this too will pass”. I use these words to myself in every day moments as it helps me to observe when I’m tensing up, holding my breath and letting my thoughts take me on stressful journeys.

Thoughts are quite powerful. We all have them and can have thousands of thoughts and conversations within ourselves each day. The Buddha said that ‘with your thoughts you create your world’.  We end up rehearsing stories over and over that start to shape our belief of the experience with those thoughts.

Easy way to understand what I’m referring too here is practicing yoga postures. I have been postures and found myself thinking about where I wanted my heals to be in down-dog, working over and over to get into a headstand to see ‘progress’ and getting very upset when it wasn’t happening. Suddenly one day I realized that even though my thoughts weren’t on outside influences, that I was still quite distracted. My mind was still floating to the past and future of the postures. Then I started to stop and just bear witness to the pose just as it was; it allowed me to cultivate further awareness.

All this is of course is easier said than done and I have to remind myself to come to this each moment – each day. I do incorporate this thought process in yoga classes I teach. Yesterday as I taught yoga there were a few who were groaning and making statements how impossible something was. It was a flow that was moving and challenging especially for the first 45 minutes. Then we cooled that down and restored, meditated and after class so many said how refreshing and calm that was. I guess they forgot their struggles and groans. We all do this though – we have stories and start believing them vs the true experience. We sit in yoga and think about what we will tell others over dinner and at dinner we are off thinking of yoga.

More than just concentration or awareness though is taking that thought process to the next step. What I’m talking about is one of the limbs of yoga called Pratyahara or sense withdrawal. The eight limbs, that I’ve written about earlier, which are a classic form of yoga and lists steps or actions to achieve bliss. (The steps don’t have to be followed in order though.) This crucial step transitions us from the purely physical aspect of yoga and moves into mediation and then finally bliss. It is something that can’t be seen in videos or pictures. It ends up being felt and experienced from the inside.

Have you ever played the game “telephone”? You pass a message to one and they pass the message to another and it goes around till it arrives back to you. Yet the message is never the one you started with. We each have different ways of processing what we hear, sense, experience and feel.

With Thanksgiving coming soon it is easy to reflect on the past and get stressed way in advance of the upcoming event. If you grew up as I did watching Charlie Brown Thanksgiving I know the message has changed for me each time I watch it. What I see now from the story is the expectations we have or put on ourselves. Yet are the material items or food really the part that is memorable? Of course not. But our thoughts can take us on this route. But don’t give up! Start by noticing it, become aware and then Pratyahara becomes easier.

Practicing Yoga Postures or not, each of us can do this and benefit from this kind of mindfulness. We could consider shifting our thought process and relationship to our views especially this holiday, and de-stress, be peaceful and slow down. For example, don’t just eat but chew, taste and experience the food. Think about all those that made the food possible, from the farmers, shippers and stores. How does the food smell? Can we take in all the senses of the moment? Become a better listener to those around us who have stories to share? Grow even more compassion to those who are hurting, hungry or alone?

If you consider trying this even for a moment you take words into action and become “Thankful”.

The Noise We Make

A long time ago I was a summertime day camp counselor for little 3 & 4 year olds. It was there that I was taught that if I communicated and said “no” or emphasized what NOT to do, chances are they would just do it. Instead they encouraged me to consider using positive suggestions of what to do instead. At the time I didn’t understand but gave it a try. It has been many years since then but I do see the value in this and how we as humans think, process and learn. Let me just disclose though right here and now that there is a time for “No” or expressing “nots” but what I’m talking about is how we can impact change with a kinder and gentler form of communication.

Today I work with others to suggest ways to change or consider something new and see that it is often better to suggest what to do than not to do. Say you are starting a diet and you are told all you can’t have. It is right there that our focus turns to what we are missing or deprived of. Yet if our focus turns to what you can have, it allows change to happen.

I was thinking of this when another “Bullying” story came out the other day. Seems to be quite popular to talk about how one was bullied and then we turn our attention towards telling the general population to stop. I know I’m not alone in the fact that all of us have experienced bullying but how many of us want to admit that we have ourselves been a bully? It doesn’t make it right but I wonder what change we expect by just pointing fingers and saying “stop”. What I believe needs to happen to create change is to grow compassion and notice positive ways to communicate instead. But first you have to be aware of your actions. Only by growing more awareness can we see the bully within each of us and change how we communicate.

The other day I had a work situation where someone did something that didn’t follow company procedures. In pointing out the wrong the management was quick to reply that our office seems to make complaints often. It made me think why that should matter and why they wanted to resort to shaming us in such a way. The injustice was still wrong and that is the fact. Sometimes though it is tough to stand up for what is right even in the face of being made to feel bad for speaking up about it.

Long before video and youtube, my Father used to work for the VA Administration and made movies, called motion pictures, that helped to train those with various training topics to those within the government. In the 70’s I was in one movie called “Feelings”. This training movie reflected two men who were responding to letters. One man just typed out his responses fast and without care to the person he was writing. Take the same situation though and the other man found that he could write disappointing news but with care for the person he was writing; ie compassion. In the short part I was in, I take the letter to my “movie Mom” and she reads it. She tells me that we aren’t approved for the benefits we had applied for. I stop and say “Isn’t that bad?” But she reads it and looks at me and says “But I feel that he is truly sorry we didn’t receive it”.

So have times really changed so much? Seems easy to point to today and say there is more bullying. Yet are there really more bullies or are we just able to express it faster and easier than before? In older times would you have thought or said something that was hurtful but it didn’t matter because it never went far? Still the same number of bullies though. Today Twitter or Facebook call the bullies “Trolls” or “Haters” and many I talk too shut down their accounts as they grow tired of the replies and hateful comments. That is their choice and I do understand the action as it is often easier sometimes to walk away. I fear though that leaving allows all the social media bullies to show that hate is normal and ok. Allowing them to continue to use ways to verbally abuse someone, threaten,  hurt or embarrass other person. The speed to reply may have become faster but I believe the method of communicating with kindness is still something that each of us can work on and improve at any age.

When we respond from our first reactions it is from fear, anger, envy, jealousy and hate. Sometimes we are overworked, tired, stressed and words just slip out. Family members, friends and even strangers fall victim to our harmful communications. I offer this message to each of us to consider ways you can communicate with compassion, even if you disagree, are tired or upset; show loving kindness to each unique person you encounter.

Just consider taking moments to pause before you hit a reply button, yell out, text or call; think of how you would feel if you received the comment. Is there another way for you to communicate your feelings without harm, name calling or stereotyping? In Yoga we refer to this action as Ahimsa or non-harming; the first limb of yoga. The next limb is “truthful” but without loosing focus on Ahimsa (non-harming). Believing that in speaking the truth in a kind compassionate way that happiness can be found.

Sure composing or communicating with thoughtfulness it is hard, tough, and takes effort but nothing worth while is easy. Be creative! Don’t wait to receive it yourself – start by offering it to others Give it a try and see what blossoms from it. Pay it forward. Jai!

Without fear, we are able to see more clearly our connections to others. Without fear, we have more room for understanding and compassion. Without fear, we are truly free. - Thich Nhat Hanh
Without fear, we are able to see more clearly our connections to others. Without fear, we have more room for understanding and compassion. Without fear, we are truly free.
– Thich Nhat Hanh

 

Why me?

Teacher Tony Robbins says we ask ourselves questions all the time and the common question is usually, “Why does this crap always happen to me?”

When I heard this over the summer I thought – exactly. We all do this. We listen to those thoughts and somehow feel we are alone or unique in them.  Yet that isn’t true. When I heard this statement I was at Kripalu and found myself surrounded by many who have similar views on health, yoga and nutrition. For this reason I find it quite helpful to find times in my life and days where I can step away from feeling so singular.

This way of thought processing happens in our every day life. Have you ever received an email and then started getting upset, composing your response but then waited before sending. Only to find yourself so glad you waited. Stopping has allowed us to take an important pause and we find that our response changes. I once read an email, prejudged, saw who it came from and read into it what I wanted to see or hear. I waited though and re-read it later and was so glad. As I put away my initial feelings, wants or desires I was able to examine the message and process it differently. I was so glad I hadn’t responded and waited.

That is how our thought process works though. Science is still figuring it out but scans of brain function under MRI’s and CAT scans shows that as we pause, meditate, process etc there is a part of the brain that grows and expands. This growth is just like a muscle and if we don’t use it we loose it. I’m simplifying the way the brain cells work but it only goes to show that we do need continued brain development. Nutrition, exercise, sleep and meditation is just starting to show how important all of it is. I only wish more people were interested in developing their brain as much as their physical body.

When I teach or even practice yoga on the mat I often instruct that Yoga is beyond the physical practice; that this is going to help brain cell development. Here in the West we are used to using our visualization more than our other senses; so we don’t develop areas such as listening, touching, smelling or tasting; only by using them in the yoga practice can we be more aware of it.

Of course I’ve seen some yoga students upset and want to blame They start to get upset because they aren’t used to to using the other senses and instead find that it is easier to get mad- at the teacher, the mat, the person next to them or the posture. The physical posture is confused often when discussing yoga. The point wasn’t to achieve something physically. The point of the physical was to show that by understanding the thought process we could go past the limits we set for ourselves. Therefore to someone who is new to yoga they see visually what is “unbelievable” but it all started with how we process our thoughts.

Yoga off the Mat goes outside the classroom and into our world as we apply this concept to life. I woke up this morning to read how a second person has been found with the Ebola virus in the US and some of the comments I read are full of anger, blame and hate. Some even go so far as to blame the government and wishing them harm. “I hope the White House gets Ebola”. (No I’m not kidding- I read it.) Going back to my earlier point though on brain function – people are reacting this way as a method of protection – avoiding air travel, taking supplements and even arguments. It seems easier to get mad. But there is a lack of mindfulness when we respond from this part of the mind.

First off I’m all for improving, changing and evolving but this again taps into a deeper part of our brain function to find solutions. We have to put aside the egotistic reaction which isn’t helpful at times like these. Part of finding solutions is to observe this and go beyond hate, anger, and fear.

Buddha’s teachings talks about Dukkha – that suffering happens. It is the founding lesson from Buddha that mankind will be held back by resisting Dukkha. Now the concept is logical and we gladly accept that we will change, grow older, die of course. Yet we spend our lives contradicting it all the time. You don’t have to agree with Buddhist ideals to understand this principal – it stems from nature – the way things happen in the universe.

Now what do we do with this idea? We don’t need to give up or assume the worst. It is from our “pain that we can appreciate our pleasure”. We don’t have to place our hopes on one person, guru, idea, political party, religion or leader.

If you know the story of The Wizard of Oz you know that Dorothy travels far in hopes that the Great Wizard will help her; he will have the solution! Only in the end she finds out the power was within her all along. Dorothy asks the Good-Witch why she didn’t just tell her in the beginning and she is told she wouldn’t have believed her. So sometimes we need to go on that journey to figure it out when we are ready to hear it.

We’ve all had those moments, sometimes repeated, where we trusted, adored, idealized and even worshiped someone or something. Only to find the illusion crushed at some later point. It feels awful and like a punishment but it is natural for us to experience this as it balances us from one area to the next phase of our life. It will go up and down. With time and mindfulness we may be able to go from one extreme to the other to find the middle – that place that see’s those as they truly are – full of wisdom and fault; good and bad; beauty and ugliness… just as we ALL are… naturally.

Compassion is understanding this message
Compassion is understanding this message

“So the pie isn’t perfect? Cut it into wedges… never panic.” Martha Stewart

Recently I was talking to a young woman who had just started teaching yoga and has been meeting at different places to audition at different yoga places. She was telling me about her experience and I remember one of mine being exactly the same way almost 6 years ago. She explained that after her audition the manager spent over an hour breaking down and judging her in such detail; stated that in the end that if she wanted to work there she would have too mirror the manager in style, voice and method. This young lady left that audition questioning herself and I asked her to stop, listen and trust herself. There isn’t anything wrong with learning and taking in new things but there comes a time you have to take that , understand the root of the message, maybe motive and decide if it is right for you. I could see her face relax and she knew the answer from within. That is what happens when I pause and trust a deeper place from within that lets my authentic voice and expression come out. It is from a good and honest place for me and I’m so glad I know how too tap into it.

This reminded me of a Jivamukti Yoga workshop I attended years ago in DC. Tons of Yogi’s busy Flowing with Sun Salutations as each position was called out. One of the founders stopped us, Sharon, and suggested we move with our breath instead. Suggesting that if we did this instead of all moving together, as it was called out, we would look less like soldiers. Making each of us listen to our uniqueness from within. Finish the breath and then move. The breath can’t be faked – it is nature at work. No need to be the same because we aren’t. This way of thinking helped me refine and trust myself from then on – way beyond just yoga.

Of course I know that my personality is drawn to order and discipline. I’ve had many people in my life really disturbed by my desire to be organized and I know I’m a handful; I don’t deny it. I like to make the bed before I go on vacation. I like to keep my desk and email organized each day. I like knowing the kitchen is clean before I go to bed. I’m not suggesting I’m perfect – I let things slip of course – I’m human. Keeping things in balance though – I also can quickly identify when that need to be that way is harmful, stop and let it be. Those I work with know that I’m this way and sometimes like to be messy just to watch me twitch.

Even today I continue to see those in management positions think that if they make strict detailed standards they can feel in control. They sit in endless meetings talking about what to do, say or not do over and over. They often ask “How” a lot. “How did you do that” “How were you successful” – tell us so we can be just that way as well. All so afraid. Life is up and down – the “How” isn’t the right question – some could do the same and not have the same result. Instead the best managers have known just when to trust; first in themselves and then in those they have delegated. It is a fine balance between being the leader or a dictator.

At a very early age I wanted to be an accountant. I liked it for its logic and it has a way of pleasing the part of me that likes order. I did well with employers that didn’t come back with answers like “that is just the way we do it” or “the way it has always been done”. I admit I like to rock the boat and ask “Why” a lot. Sometimes I’m asking questions as my way to solve or think things out and I see now that it bothers people. They feel as if I’m challenging them when that is my way of processing or thinking – (so now I just tell them that straight out.)

One time I remember as a CPA, with over 10 years of experience, I was interviewing for a job. The interviewer had me there for over 3 hours and then proceeded to give me written tests – accounting, spelling, basic math. I did a few but then they started to hand me more math tests that had fractions and it seemed like it wouldn’t come to a close. I declined to go further as the interview was already longer than I was told to expect. As it turned out they were smart enough not to put all their choices into the test – and I got the job. Today as a recruiter for employment I still don’t understand the choices made by managers; especially on who receives tests and why. Do we really think personality can be completely measured in a personality test? Why hand a CPA a math test, for example. CPA license means the person passed the hardest math test ever! I think employers feel they are being fair by applying one set of rules for everyone. However a great quote I read a long time ago said “There is nothing so un-equal as the equal treatment of others” I can’t help but agree.

History teaches us this too. Anytime we have used the word “equal” to mean fair, nature comes back and slaps us in the face. I know this isn’t profound thinking but I like to remember that it isn’t just the big moments in history that we can experience this. We can grow so attached to roles or titles; in society, religion, politics and even yoga. We somehow feel it has defined us but we find ourselves stuck. In Sanskrit it is called Kleshas; states of mind such as anxiety, fear, anger, jealousy, desire, depression that will keep us right there. These will hold us back unless we can be mindful of that moment of being overwhelmed. Only then can we find truth. The truth is we are more than we often give ourselves credit for but instead respond to protect change from ever happening.

The other day Jason Werth of the Nationals was interviewed and asked what it was about their manager that he liked. He said, without hesitation, that his manager stays out of their way and lets them get their jobs done. I smiled so hard and thought exactly! Steve Jobs was known for saying things like hire great people even before the work is there for them. He knew it would come if he didn’t try to control it. So great managers in history have understood that there is a balance to things and you don’t need to micro-manage good people to mirror what you want them to be.

Of course I’ve learned so much from both the good and bad managers; learning so much of what doesn’t work sometimes is the best teacher. This has made me appreciate my amazing mentors, managers and teachers even more. I admire their love, patience, compassion and ability to let me be who I am- imperfections and all.

Walk this Way

I heard someone recently say that dogs live shorter lives because they don’t need as much time to figure things out. I like this cute saying as a way to remind us that as humans we just go about life letting ourself believe that we are the better species and sometimes justify that we are better than other groups of humans too. We tell ourselves we are so evolved and yet we aren’t as aware as we could be. Taken to other levels I find most children are so aware, less filtered and so present, that we could take from dogs, children or other parts of life, listen and learn.

 
I teach Yoga in an area known as Old Town Alexandria. This is a historical area that George Washington and others during the American Revolutionary time would visit, live and work; large area for boats to ship and doc at. Many old homes that have been turned into retail and restaurants. The sidewalks are made with brick, mostly uneven paths now, and small spaces, so tourists often come, wander and stand around. For a native trying to get somewhere it is challenging of course. I find some nights I’m walking fast, dodging the people and wanting to get to my destination.

But there are many moments I’m reminded as I watch the tourists that they are on vacation and really taking in the moment. We do that on vacations and yet I wonder why we can’t be like this more often. Then I am able to catch my anger, look around, take my time to smell the boxwood bushes and take in the sounds of music that is often played by local artists on the street corners. I pass tour groups and take a moment to listen to the history I live in and the stories being shared.

Same can be said for the entire Washington, DC area that is my home and yet I don’t get to view or experience it as many tourists do. I have to stop myself and allow myself to be a witness to this area and how wonderful it is that I get to live near some amazing parks and monuments. Just like the dog I can take in all the smells, sounds, sights, touch and even tastes in my everyday moments. Once I start doing this I find that my field of awareness expands and I start to see the distance, clouds, moon and storms that are pending long before they are here. I may start to notice just every day things and people more this way.

I use this growing awareness to my driving in DC as well. Anyone that knows this area knows that commuting here is a challenge. Last year we beat out LA as the worst place to drive. Yeah! Ok wait – that isn’t something to celebrate. Nevertheless we have to deal with the high stress in commuting and beat the stoplights or people around you so you can get to the next point even faster. Believing that only once you get to your destination can you really relax. Even if you don’t drive, those on foot, pedestrians, are also busy texting while walking out into streets totally unaware of the on-coming traffic. I always feel reminded to stop and slow down when I see an emergency vehicle behind me and I move over and stop. Yet there are those I witness as they dart ahead to get further and don’t want to pull to the side. Times like these I feel bad for that person. Always trying to get ahead in life and yet is always in a state of anger or stress. Additionally what about compassion towards those in the emergency vehicles? I’m not sure why some play this game of being more important or better than others. Why can’t we just accept differences and that being different is normal and healthy? Social, religion, political and even yoga.

Even if you don’t know yoga well, most know the Downdog pose. Many of the poses in yoga are from nature, but as humans we get caught up in what we see visually and try to force our bodies into it. We may even see a result from all the pushing and practice a specific pose till we take a selfie or video showing the world how we ‘mastered it’. Makes me laugh when I see this. What are we mastering exactly? No matter the outcome of the posture -what makes it yoga is the living breathing here and now observation; you have to see that moment as success. For tomorrow will soon be today and who knows what that will be. Just like the dog – we have to notice when we are chasing our tail round and round.

Sometimes we go about postures so unaware that there is something else happening. We lock our chest, try to push our heals to the floor and our wrists are hurting but we stay right there locked in our elbows and knees. We let our mind wander all around, discussing the pose, judging the body and getting angry at those around us. To the outside it may appear like yoga. Yet it isn’t. Life is always changing and yet we resist it. What else could be there be in the down-dog that the dog knows and understands yet we are so unaware of?

When I watch my dog Sadie do her morning movements she bends, stretches and proceeds to lick my face. Then she sits up and wags her tail. Jumps around telling me that it is another day and she is ready to go outside. Also as she ages her movement changes and she takes more breaks to rest. She will run and then as she starts walking again she gets a kind of smile on her face. Ready to get water and lay in her favorite chair. She eats when she is hungry and stops when she has had enough. She loves to meet others and can sense energy including knowing when behind a closed door there is a stranger there.

Lately I have been teaching Yin Yoga which many here in DC are still learning about. What is Yin? There are fewer postures and instead you stay in them longer – 3 to 6 minutes; a specific restorative style that helps the joint areas physically. In the practice Yin one of the item to be aware of is that although it may be a similar pose in other styles of yoga, in this style you don’t find your edge; You find a gentler place to be. That being said there are those who come, push and have to move quickly. That is fine of course but they often miss the message being offered. They punish themselves by judging, criticizing and when faced with the next posture go into it with the same ‘push it’ attitude. I had one expecting mother in prenatal yoga last night that went into a posture, butterfly, and used the bolster on her lap. She hurt her foot recently, so I was offering a bit more restorative prenatal last night for her. As I talked with her to setup this posture and reflected on the mind, she looked up, laughed and said “see right here I think I can do more; I could go further and harder.” I said “Yes, you could but that is not the point of this moment”. It is from this place of not doing, that so much can be done. Kind of the like the life lesson of childbirth. Yet we often don’t pay attention to it. I find this is one reason I like working with those who are pregnant or dealing with an injury. They are at the place in their life to consider listening more to their mind, body and spirit.

Building awareness can start on places like our yoga mat but can reach out in our daily life as well. You won’t be easily detected as doing yoga by others. You can start by observing far away and bringing it into yourself or the other way around. Can you recognize the here and now? Allow for it and investigate it just as it really is. Pause.

Sometimes though I am discovered by others as I’m practicing yoga in my daily life. I will have a smile on my face and find that my mind is right here with nothing else to do, solve or be. Sometimes strangers will ask ‘what are you so happy about?’ Be prepared for this – happiness, although it is sought out by mankind, makes many uneasy. If they aren’t ready to be happy I just tell them not to get too close – it is contagious.