Rewriting The Story of More

This month I had to choose between my life and my livelihood.

The details don’t matter anymore, but in the end I had to choose between keeping a job that would require me to work 50 to 60 hours a week or losing that job.

I chose my life over my livelihood because if I fast-forward 40 years and ask my 80-year-old self which choice I should have made, I know the 80-year-old me will put more value on the hours I spent with my loved ones than the hours I spent making money.

The hard part wasn’t making my decision. The hard part was standing up and saying no to a society that routinely asks us to choose making a living over living our life; that gives greater weight to money and things than it does our health, our families, and our well-being; that values how we look over how we are, how we function over how we feel, and insinuates that those should be our values as well by praising us when we spend more, buy more, do more, achieve more, and subscribe to The Story of More.

We’re told this story our whole lives and often don’t realize we are fully capable of writing our own story and our own happy ending.

The Story of More undercuts our inherent enoughness. It tells us we are empty without more. More things, more activities, more money. It’s not enough to have enough. We must have more than enough. When we buy into The Story of More we slowly lose touch with our true needs because we are up to our heads in our wants.

I ask myself and I ask you, how much is enough? If commercials, magazines, and friends didn’t tell us we needed that bigger house, that new car, that better job, that new outfit, would we think we were lacking anything?

After getting to know indigenous people in sync with their habitat, photographer Cristina Mlttermeier distills it down to this:

“If you have clean water, a net full of fish, and a warm fire, that’s basically all people need to be quite content.”

We make a mistake thinking we have a lifetime when the reality is we only have this moment. We only have Now. Hopefully we’ll have 80 years of Now if we’re lucky, but it often happens that we only have 20 years of Now or 40 years of Now or even less.

The Story of More keeps gaining momentum and it’s hard not to get swept along with it. I experienced how difficult it is to swim against the stream in my work situation, but how can I teach my son to stand up for what he believes in if I don’t stand up for what I believe in? How can I ask him to walk his talk if I don’t walk my talk? How can I expect him to follow an example I don’t set? If I only stand on principle when it’s convenient how can I say I stand for anything at all?

At some point in our lifetime we will all be asked if we’re ready to walk our talk. The question might come from an employer as mine did or it might come through an illness or loss or some other radical life circumstance that sobers us up to the brevity and fragility of our lives.

I believe if we’re asked the question it’s because we’re ready to answer YES.

If I’m lucky, in 40 years when I look in the mirror at my 80-year-old self we will smile at each other knowing we wrote our own life story one precious moment at a time.

 

Originally published on elephantjournal.

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Body & Soul

I’m in search of a little bit of soul lately. The kind you find by going in and not out. It’s an itch I can’t ignore, and it usually grabs me when I’ve been neglecting myself for one reason or another.

This soulfulness I seek feels a lot like groundedness. I know it when I’ve got it and when I don’t have it I find myself walking around in a fog like I’ve forgotten something and can’t remember what it is.

It’s my true self that I’ve forgotten, and when I find it I feel connected, free, and simply alive again, regardless of my external circumstances. It’s like I land again into my own body, into my own soul.

The last few months I’ve been taking care of a new, tiny little body and soul that needs lots of love and attention. This beautiful little baby has flipped my world upside down, and I’m not just talking about my outer world. He’s rocked my inner world in ways I never imagined, much like a wave that pulls you out to sea. You’re grateful to come up for a bit of air, but other than that you are at the mercy of forces beyond your control. Not knowing what is up and what is down feels terrifying. My mind wants to know what’s coming. It wants to be able to control it.

When I stop trying to find a way out of the storm is when I find an inner calm. I find silence, stillness, my ground, my center, my truth, my self, my soul. Here in the solace and shelter of my own soul I can rest.

This going within is a road we all must travel alone. Someone else’s map won’t show you where your treasure lies.

There is so much information available nowadays. It’s so easy to go online and find a How-to for anything. How to be happy, how to find peace, how to get healthy, how to live better. We want someone else to give us the answer, to fix us, to tell us what the next step is.

We often exercise or go to yoga to get out of our body, to get out of our mind. It seems so much easier out there, outside of ourselves. Sometimes it is easier out there, but it’s only a quick fix.

Whether it’s tomorrow or ten years from now, through choice, illness, injury or loss, we will all one day find ourselves sitting in a room with only ourself. It might feel awkward and sobering to realize this body and being we’ve lived in for decades is a stranger.

Through this body I inhabit I find my soul every time. Sometimes it’s a pleasant journey and sometimes it’s a painful one, but the one thing I always learn is there is no other way home than through the door to my heart.

The authenticity and vulnerability I find within is sometimes blinding. I’d like to turn away but I know I can’t. If I can’t look myself in the mirror and see the true me, how can I ask anybody else to. More importantly, how can I authentically step out into the world if I can’t authentically step into myself.

That’s my question to myself and my question to you.

Find your treasure. No one else will.

The Beauty of Being Imperfect

Minding the Mind: Week 5 of Yoga Teacher Training

Things are starting to get intense. I knew it would get here, but I wasn’t sure how. We’re learning anatomy, new poses, practicing yoga five to six days a week, doing homework, practice teaching, and trying to stay present for all of it, not to mention our lives and jobs outside the training.

There is so much learning happening that my mind feels like it’s on overdrive. It’s so stimulating that it can be very challenging to keep an internal balance and perspective. Interestingly enough, just when I feel maxed out on yoga, I then go to yoga and feel refreshed. The irony makes me laugh.

Wabi-Sabi

One of the highlights of our anatomy training is when we learned about the spine. We looked at each others’ spines standing erect and folded forward. One of the physical therapists teaching us anatomy spotted a student who had scoliosis. We all gathered around to take a look. As the student bent forward, the uneveness in her spine became amazingly prominent. Many of us were so focused on the apparent “wrongness” of her spine that we were gasping in awe.

The therapist looked around and started to point out what we had missed. “Look how beautiful and even her hips are. Look how even her shoulders are.”

It was true. She was perfectly aligned. We had failed to notice all that was right with her pose because we were looking at what appeared to be wrong.

Our anatomy teacher commented on the beauty of scoliosis, marveling that, “The body will do what it needs to do so you are upright in the world.”

This reminded me of the Japanese philosophy of Wabi-Sabi. The idea that the imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete are beautiful. And not just in terms of physical imperfections. Wabi-Sabi goes much deeper and is more of an “aesthetic consciousness that transcends appearance.”

A growing interest in anatomy is one of the reasons I’m in this training in the first place. The more I practiced yoga, the more I became curious about my own muscles, bones, and how they function. The more I saw how body movements affected my state of mind and being, the more I wanted to learn the how and the why.

Every week I have fascinating experiences that confirm my choice to make this investment. We are just scratching the surface of anatomy and how it relates to yoga, but I feel like a clear path of learning is being laid out for me to travel in the years to come.

The Why & The How

I had a really beautiful experience in class this week. We partnered up to assist each other into handstand. My partner was a wonderful yogi I hadn’t worked with yet. She expressed doubt about whether she would be able to come up before we started. As she set up I reminded her to press into her hands firmly, hug into her own strength strongly, and trust herself as I assisted her up.

She came up strong, stayed up strong, and exited the pose strong. The smile she had when she came out of the pose was so authentic, sincere, and clearly lit up from the inside out. I knew then that this is why I will teach yoga. Not to force people into a pose, not to give them a workout, but to support them as they challenge their doubts, face their fears, and experience their own power and being.

The strength we experience in challenging yoga poses is, in my opinion, not our true strength. It is merely an external reflection of our true internal strength. We sometimes don’t know it in our head until we feel it in our body.

If standing on our hands teaches us we can stand on our own two feet, that’s the deeper value of our yoga.

We can stand our ground in yoga and in life. We can commit to difficult processes in yoga and in life. We can grow in many directions as we root firmly in yoga and in life.

At the end of our day my partner expressed gratitude for my help; however, I really felt like I was the one who had been helped. Helped to remember my intention for teaching, my responsibility as a teacher, and the value of supporting each other as we grow.

The Starting Line

When things get challenging in yoga, it forces me to focus even more. The more tired I am, the more I need to be present. So it is with where I’m at in the training and going forward. I breathe in my poses as best I can. I stay present as best I can. It’s the same thing we need to do in life when things get intense or tiring.

Breathe. Stay present.

I try not to get overwhelmed with the process or the practice because both are more than an 8-week program. This is a lifelong practice and process of learning to teach, and I’m just at the beginning.

My 95-year-old Grandmother’s Recipe for Health

I saw my 95-year-old grandmother this weekend.

She’s a treasure. I learn so much just being in her presence.

I videoed our brief conversation, not knowing what I would ask and not knowing what she would say. It just felt right.

The first question I asked in Spanish is, “Grandma, how old are you?”

The second question I asked her is, “Grandma, how do you stay so healthy?”

See her answer in the video below.

How to Live Your Life in 3D

We all love the incredible 3D experience of an IMAX movie. Watching a movie in 3D is intense, fascinating, riveting, stimulating.

You feel like you are actually there.

I started asking myself the question, Do I feel like that in my regular life?

Do I feel that engaged, that fascinated, that stimulated, that awed by my everday, regular life?

Do you?

If not, then explore the concept that not experiencing our lives in 3D means we’re experiencing them in 2D.

We’re watching our life as if it was a movie on a screen over which we have no control. We become the viewers instead of a participant. We hope for the best, but sit motionless, powerless over what is in front of us.

When we step into our lives, we change them from movies into experiences. Just like a 3D movie makes it feel like you can reach out and touch the water, like you’re surrounded by wild animals, or are surfing a 15-foot wave, so does complete engagement turn us into active participants in our own lives, capable of connecting strongly to our experiences.

If you’re wondering where to start, start here. Start now. Take a close look at what’s in front of you, who’s in front of you, and engage fully with it. This isn’t like starting a new job, where you need a new wardrobe, a new haircut, and a new external appearance to step into a role.

You are already in the role of yourself, on the stage of your life.

This isn’t about running away from our lives to some idealistic dream life. It’s about stepping into our life as it exists as if it were our dream life. Our external circumstances, favorable or unfavorable, are our current reality. As such, they are our starting point.

This quote by Nido Qubein puts it wonderfully:

“Your present circumstances don’t determine where you can go; they merely determine where you start.”

Here we all sit, at our starting point of Right Now.

Here you sit, in the role of a lifetime, ready to take the first brave step onto your stage.

When the credits roll at the end of our life, let’s not feel as if we missed out somehow. As if it should have been more.

As if we expected a better ending.
As if we expected a better story.
As if we would have imagined it differently.

Imagine it differently.
Do it differently.
Experience it vividly.

This is your chance.
This is your stage.

This is your life.

The Yogic Path to Happiness

When I first started practicing yoga, I was still digging my way out of a deep cavern of grief.

Something about this unusual method of twists, turns, and upside-downs kept calling me back. I didn’t know what it was initially, but as I began to settle into my body, things began to shift in my life.

I think of it as going from a paralyzed life to a walking life. If you are already able to walk and then begin to run, that’s liberating. If you are paralyzed and then begin to walk, that’s a miracle.

This was my experience with the power and patience of yoga. Learning how to walk into my life, transition from grief to peace, and eventually to happiness.

The peace and happiness we access on our mats is no accident. Although many write it off as just another exercise-induced dopamine high, yoga goes deeper than that.

The mind-body connection created in yoga facilitates change at a cellular level. Cellular memory is the idea that our bodies hold our histories.

Before you brush this off as far-fetched, consider that scientists and physicians have found compelling evidence that the brain and body send messages to each other through neuropeptides and receptors. Neurocardiology is a discipline that studies “the communicative relationship between the brain and the heart via the nervous system.”

Our nervous systems are what we’re tapping into in yoga. Retraining how psychological or emotional triggers set off our flight-or-fight response allows us the opportunity to rewire our sympathetic nervous system. The deep breathing practiced in yoga activates the parasympathetic nervous system, producing a calming, relaxed effect.

The relationship between head and heart has been described as a “dynamic, ongoing, two-way dialogue with each organ continuously influencing the other’s function.“

When we weave positive intention into our movements, we are imprinting these thoughts, not only into our minds, but into our bodies. We are effecting change on our mat that will allow for change off our mat.

Much of our unhappiness as humans comes from our thoughts or feelings. We judge our experiences in terms of good or bad. We experience feelings of inadequacy, powerlessness, embarrassment, humiliation, and we often keep track of what we don’t have more than what we do have.

A full practice of yoga, including meditation, gently removes these weights from our minds and our bodies. Not only does it remove them, but with time it can begin to reshape our attitudes, views, and thoughts.

The physical postures take us into our bodies in a nonjudgemental way. From this neutral viewpoint we can see huge possibility. Without being blocked by preconceived ideas of what we can or cannot do, we are free to try, to fall, to play, and to grow.

Physically yoga asks one simple thing of us: Show up.

Show up in mind, body, and spirit. These are things we can skimp on in other areas of life. Perhaps we show up in body to work or a conversation, but our minds are somewhere else. At times we show up mentally to a project, while our bodies slouch for hours, forgotten.

The integration in yoga of all these parts creates the prerequisite unity and connection required for happiness to bloom.

Once we feel unified and connected, we will access a deep well of joy that does not diminish when shared.

Yoga doesn’t just lift our spirits. It lifts our lives. It opens our eyes to the essence of who we are, and therein lies peace.

Therein lies the happiness.