Finding Our Soul Rhythm

“A child’s natural rhythm is much closer to a soul rhythm than that of most adults.”-Shefali Tsabary

reflectionLately my son has been trying to talk. He curls up his tongue and spits out whatever noises, grunts, or howls he can muster.

Unlike when he was learning to walk, he’s not cautious about it. He just keeps hammering away at sounds until, word by word, he’ll slowly begin to talk.

It’s made me wonder, When did I stop trying that hard?

Because if he tried to talk like I sometimes attempt new things, well, he’d never talk. He’d get frustrated with slow progress or self-conscious at how he appears and stop trying so whole-heartedly.

I love observing his nature and seeing how limitless, curious, and in sync with our natural rhythms we all start out. Somewhere along the line we forget that moving in time with our nature, trusting our five senses and listening to our intuition is how we accomplished amazing feats like crawling, walking, and learning to speak. No one tells babies this is what they should do. They are just naturally propelled forward by an innate drive to grow because it is how they survive and thrive.

I often observe myself reaching out for answers instead of diving in. I know people have been where I am or stuck where I’m stuck or going where I want to go, and so I want them to give me the shortcut so I can skip the hard stuff and get right to the gold.

The self-help empire is booming ($10 billion/year in the U.S. alone) because people are obsessed with getting happy, fixing themselves, self-improvement, and with “getting there.” On the surface this seems like a good thing, but what is being sacrificed in exchange?

Are we letting other people tell us what happy looks like, feels like, tastes like? Are we subscribing to other people’s definition of success, failure, and growth? Have we lost touch with our own version of happy? Have we stopped following our dreams, our instincts and listening to our soul speak?

We are here to support each other as we grow, often in deeply personal and intimate ways, but there is some work we must do alone. If we try to cheat and get the answer from someone else it may get us by for a while, but at the end of our lives we may realize we were walking someone else’s path the whole time and not our own.

Trusting my heart sometimes feels awkward because I spend so much time in my head. Speaking my truth sometimes feels vulnerable because I spend so much time listening to other people’s truth. Then I do the things I do to reconnect, recenter, self-regulate, and suddenly it doesn’t feel so awkward, so vulnerable. It just feels so right.

In those moments I know how my son feels: at home in his body, full of trust for his process and in sync with his soul rhythm.

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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.

A New Year’s Resolution

As this year is winding down the phrase New Year’s Resolution has been skipping through my mind.

It occurred to me that there is one approach to new year’s resolutions that most of us don’t take. That being to adjust our resolution. Not as in I resolve to be healthier. Resolution as in the ability to sharpen our focus and adjust our vision so as to see a clearer, more accurate picture of our lives and ourselves just like the resolution on a new computer or TV would be crystal clear.

My 11-month-old baby has been great at guiding me in my effort to enhance my resolution. His face often looks at something and lights up in a fall magicsmile as if he’s just seen the most magical, amazing thing. I turn to see what he’s looking at and I see nothing. It’s a box or a corner of the wall or the ceiling.

However, when I look closer I see that my adult eyes have missed the magic. On closer examination I find a tiny bug crawling on the wall or a swath of light on the floor. A small dancing monkey on the otherwise boring box of diapers. His mind is so in the present that he sees exactly what’s in front of him.

I stopped making new year’s resolutions years ago. They remind me a lot of diets that people start and give up on when they don’t see quick results. I prefer slow, long-lasting growth to quick fixes. Goals are wonderful tools, but I find it’s easy to get so focused on where I want to go that I forget to start where I am. When I step into my present body and mind I can take legitimate steps in my direction of choice because I can see where I’m actually going.

Enhancing the resolution on our life does not happen overnight. It takes continuous effort, consistent focus, honest introspection, and an ability to readjust over and over again. It is not a quick fix and things may get blurrier before they get clearer.

This time of year I renew my resolve to stick with my process, to keep removing the veil of judgement that often obscures my perspective, to step back on the path of presence when I lose my way and to look for the light that transforms the ordinary into the extraordinary and allows me to see clearly what is right in front of me.

The Practice of Remembering

I spend a lot of time focusing my senses on external things. It’s the nature of the mind to think, to get distracted, to stay busy. I often find myself mindlessly clicking through social media with a vague sense that I’m looking for something.

I never find it, whatever I’m looking for. An answer, a connection, a direction, a purpose.

I don’t find it because it’s not out there. It’s in here.

It’s in here, in the deep dark chambers of my heart where love and fear sleep side by side.

garudasanaIt’s in here, buried in my muscles that hug my bones where tissues and issues embrace.

It’s in here, behind my ribs where my inbreath and outbreath dance cheek to cheek.

It’s in here, hiding in the space behind my eyes where seeing gives way to knowing.

It’s in here, in the attic of my soul and the basement of my body.

It’s in here, in my throat that swells with song and wails with weeping.

It’s in here, in my chest that rises in love and bows in gratitude.

It’s in me, the answer I seek, the connection I seek, the company I seek, the purpose I seek.

I don’t have to find it. I have to remember it. When I do everything falls into place. Everything falls into the place it’s always been in, I just become present enough to see it, to stay with it, to appreciate it, to inhabit it.

This is my practice. Remembering.

We are the Lucky Ones

I was really crushed when I heard about the Malaysia Airlines tragedy.

For a moment. Then I was really angry.

I was angry about a lot of things, but mostly because I could feel the loss in my own heart. It was almost as if I was holding those broken hearts in my hands, and I couldn’t do anything about it.

So I wrote about it. I wrote about it for them and for me and for anyone who’s ever lost someone and for everyone who ever will. I wrote about it for the victims and for the survivors and for those of us who sit comfortably in our homes with our spouses and children and pets. We who get to turn off the TV when we’ve heard enough. We who get to forget about it tomorrow when we go to our jobs and return to worrying about the little things.

We are the lucky ones. We are alive.

May we be reminded of the fragility of life. May we eat differently and converse differently and live differently from here on out. May we live our lives fully while they’re ours to live.

*****

An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind. – Gandhi

Those words are easy to say when it’s not your son that’s been senselessly beaten, when it’s not your daughter that’s been raped, when it’s not your parent that was in the World Trade towers, when it’s not your fiancé that was on Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

Injustice rubs up offensively against our inherent sense of fairness. We want revenge, we want justice, and we want payback, but mostly we want the hole in our heart to stop bleeding. We want our suffering to end. We want the hurt to stop hurting. We want reality to stop staring us in the face even when our eyes are closed.

We want them back.

And they’re not coming back.

You who have lost, we have lost with you.
You who are howling, we howl with you.
You who are in shock, we are in shock with you.
You who are enraged, we are enraged with you.
You who are crumbling inside, we crumble with you.
You whose scream inside has not yet made it to your lips, we hear you.
You whose world just came to an end, we are here for you.

We are the only ones who are here for each other. I for you and you for me. Wherever you live, whatever you do, however you speak, we must hold each other in loss, in laughter, in life and in death.

Gandhi’s words don’t ask us to stop hurting inside. They ask us to stop hurting each other in response to our hurting inside, because if we don’t we will all end up blind and hurting and unable to help each other when we need it the most.

 

Originally published on elephantjournal.

A Return to Wholeness

When life presents themes to me over and over again, I try to take the hint.

I’ve been witnessing friends returning to their roots both literally and symbolically, as well as navigating a “return” of sorts of myself .

This concept of revisiting a place, emotion, or relationship as the conscious, aware, and present person we now embody can present a unique challenge as we attempt to introduce the new to the old.

The process of integrating what was with what is and what can be requires a tremendous amount of softening, surrendering, and strength.

I find it interesting that the words integrate and integrity both stem from the Latin integer, meaning whole, complete, untainted, undamaged.

It’s as if when we act, decide, or live from a place of integrity, we are proceeding from a place of complete unity and thus optimal strength. A unified mind-body-spirit allows us to better navigate life situations that require a grounded strength to heal, release, or integrate.

When wandering through the labyrinth of life, may we keep our eyes and hearts open, choosing to walk an old path in a new way.

The Return

sometimes we must find our own legs
before we can return to our roots
and stand over them with enough strength to kneel
and rise again

you reach your hands into that soil
that sprouted you and suffocated you
and ask yourself
can I forgive and embrace
the land from which I came

until you are strong enough you keep your distance
remembering the ground as unstable
as treacherous, barren, and powerful as quicksand

today you return
to stand your own ground
with your strong legs
and your open heart
and your deep gratitude
for your truth
for your past
for your beautiful scars
for your gnarled, twisted, nourishing, clinging, wild roots

that both held you back
and set you free

today you plant new seeds
in the old soil
whose roots will accept your invitation of life
and stretch wildly in ways you never imagined,
becoming the tree you’ve had in you all along
just waiting for the right time to grow.

Hearts of Stone

stone

A wise woman who was traveling in the mountains found a precious stone in a stream.

The next day, she met another traveler who was hungry, and the wise woman opened her bag to share her food. The hungry traveler saw the precious stone and asked the woman to give it to him. She did so without hesitation.

The traveler left, rejoicing in his good fortune. He knew the stone was worth enough to give him security for a lifetime.

But a few days later he came back to return the stone to the wise woman.”I’ve been thinking,” he said, “I know how valuable the stone is, but I give it back in the hope that you can give me something even more precious. Give me what you have within you that enabled you to give me the stone.”

This story is called “The Wise Woman’s Stone.”

I think the stone in this story is our heart. More particularly, the love we hold in our heart. It is our most valuable possession, and we are daily given opportunities to give it to someone in need or to hold it back.

I see love being withheld everywhere. I hold it back myself at times. When I hold it back it’s always out of fear or some part of my small self trying to protect itself or defend itself by putting up a wall, a shield, or a protective barrier.

Seeing this blockage pains me, both when I see it in myself and when I see it in others, because I know that when we hold back our hearts or withhold our love we are not just blocking love from exiting.

We are blocking love from entering.

There are so many great reasons to blockade our hearts. I’m sure you can think of instances or people in your life that you’d rather not love or let in for one reason or another.

Feel the hardness that creeps through your body when you bring them to mind. I can actually feel a physical hardening happen in my body at times. My muscles tense up, my jaw tightens.

Every time I feel that hardening I remind myself to soften. Not to open right away, or perhaps ever, but just to soften. Soften the tiniest bit to that old grudge, that old wound, that old judgement.

And it’s not for the other person’s benefit so much as it is for my benefit.

Softening my heart allows me to receive more and to give more.

It does wonders for my inner and outer world. It does wonders for my state of mind and my state of being.

Just as the ocean can wear down boulders over time, I am always surprised at the miracles positive reinforcement, repetition, and even the smallest doses of love can effect over time.

It takes radical courage to put down our guard, to forgive, and to expose both our need for love and our true capacity to love.

It is a wise human being that can love unconditionally, without exception, and without judgement.

I am so grateful to the wise beings I have crossed paths with that have shared their precious stones with me when I was in need.

I endeavor to pass it on every day.

photo credit: kittykatfish

The Truth About Yoga Teachers

IMG_1071Not so long ago two of my longtime yoga teachers moved away within months of each other. I felt strangely lost and began looking for a replacement teacher to attach myself to. As I searched I started to practice at home more. I tried a variety of yoga studios and classes. I took a yoga teacher training.

After a while I realized that instead of finding a new teacher, I had found myself. Being “on my own” forced me to trust myself more. There was no one leading the way, so I had to find my own way. I had to learn to be my own cheerleader, my own coach, and my own compass.

Practicing on my own allowed me to spread my wings, listen more deeply to my own body, and connect with my inner teacher. This is challenging because sometimes I go to yoga to get out of my body or to get out of my mind. At times my goal is to get out of my current state of discomfort, disease, or distress, and into an easeful, blissful, serene body and mind.

While these are often wonderful side-effects of yoga, they’re not always present. In the words of Richard Freeman:

“Yoga is almost a way of looking for trouble. You may be feeling pretty good, but then you start doing postures and all of a sudden you discover there is a holding pattern that goes way deeper into your very being. You have to breathe into it and observe it as it is. The postures and the breathing, or pranayama, are like a fine-tooth comb that take out all the buried stuff you don’t need anymore.”

Not long into my practice of yoga I saw this happening. There were poses I liked and poses I didn’t like. In general, I liked the ones I was good at and disliked the ones that made me feel uncomfortable, trapped, or physically inadequate.

I sometimes choose faster classes because I get into a rhythm with my breath and my body and it just feels so good. I feel really accomplished afterwards because I release tension in my body, increase my strength, and feel balanced energetically.

YogaIn contrast, when I do a deep hip-opening practice at home, holding pigeon for three or four minutes with the intention to observe and release deep-seated tension or judgement, the experience is very different. I notice the effect of my practice less in a yoga “high” and more in the way I relate to myself and the people in my life.

One of my teachers would often say, “You know your practice is working when your relationships improve.” This was a philosophical stretch for me early in my practice because I couldn’t grasp how an hour of yoga a few times a week could transform my life.

Thankfully, I just kept practicing. And it did transform my life. Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, the founder of Ashtanga yoga, said “Do your practice and all is coming.” I find this reminder especially relevant when I don’t feel like practicing.

Like any transformation or growth process, sometimes it’s beautiful and spacious and sometimes it’s uncomfortable and hard-going.

This is the deeper potential of yoga that all of us experience at some point in our practice.

Whether your yoga is clearing up your life or clearing out your life, trust your practice and trust your process. Trust that, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”

Don’t be surprised if that teacher turns out to be you. At times our teachers are our injuries or some other limitation. Perhaps your teacher shows up on your doorstep instead of your yoga mat, in the form of a life experience instead of as a yoga teacher.

I like to think of my yoga practice as a path with detours, alleys, and bridges. Sometimes I follow a certain teacher down one path until we reach a fork in the road. When the detour takes me to what seems to be a dead end, I realize it’s not a dead end at all.

It’s time to build a bridge or learn to spread my wings and fly.

May we all travel our unique yogic paths that lead us home to ourselves, connected in our common journey from who we think we are to who we really are.

*Originally published on YogaOneBlog

The Light in You

two motions

by A.R. Ammons

It is not enough to be willing to come out of the dark

and stand in the light,

all hidden things brought into sight, the damp

black spaces,

where fear, arms over its head, trembles into blindness,

invaded by truth-seeking light:

it is not enough to desire radiance, to be struck by

radiance: external light

throws darkness behind its brilliance, the division

nearly half and half:

it is only enough when the inner light

kindles to a source, radiates from its sphere to all

points outwardly: then, though

surrounding things are half and half with

light and darkness, all that is visible from the source

is light:

it is not enough to wish to cast light: as much

darkness as light is made that way: it is only

enough to touch the inner light of each surrounding thing

and hope it will itself be stirred to radiance,

eliminating the shadows that all lights give it,

and realizing its own full sphere:

it is only enough to radiate the sufficient light

within, the

constant source, the light beyond all possibility of night.

*****

My first reading of this poem took my breath away, as things do when they overwhelm you, amaze you, or humble you. It’s like Ammons took the inexpressible and the intangible and weaved them into these cohesive, comprehensive, magnificent lines I can hold on my tongue.

After bathing in the pure beauty and perfection of it, my mind started to step back in. It began to analyze the poem. This part I agree with, this part not so much… on and on went the mental banter.

The mental dissension came down to the concept of enoughness. One necessary foundation for presence – or perhaps the fruit of presence – is enoughness. Whatever we are is enough, whatever we have is enough, whatever exists is enough. It engenders a state of fullness, of ease.

Into this abundant ease we can relax, settle in, remove some layers of striving, and just BE where we are. Often this state feels so energizing, inspiring and alive that we can’t help but take an enlivened step in the direction of our choice. A step out of fullness, not out of emptiness.

I would say that every phase mentioned in the poem is enough in itself:

the willingness to come out of the dark
the standing in the light
the desiring radiance
the wishing to cast light

These stages in themselves are steps to what I would call the peak experience, the ultimate state of connection, of trust, of fullness.

when the inner light kindles to a source
when our light can  touch the inner light of each surrounding thing
when we radiate the sufficient light within
the constant source,
the light beyond all possibility of night.

When we tap into our own fullness, we have more than enough to share with the world. When we experience our own open-heartedness, we are not afraid to love or to lose. When we connect with our own internal, deep-seated truth, being, existence, we can’t help but see that in every living thing around us. We can’t help but connect to their source because we are connected to ours.

In order to get here, we have to be willing to come out of the dark. We have to stand in the light. We have to desire radiance.

We have to keep arriving and reevaluating the next step from Here. I suspect there is no limit to how full and how alive we can become.

In this context, one translation of the word Namaste I often hear in yoga takes on a new depth for me, and I offer it to you, wherever you are:

The Light in Me sees and reflects the Light in You.

A Closer Look at Mindfulness

I jumped on the mindfulness bandwagon about six years ago.

I attempt to live mindfully. I call my yoga classes, “Mindful Movement.” This blog is about incorporating mindfulness into everyday life. As you can see, I’m a pretty big fan of mindfulness.

So you can understand why I caught my breath when I read (and re-read) this line halfway into Jay Fields’ book, Teaching People, Not Poses:

“The problem with mindfulness is that it’s full of mind.”

I had the uncomfortable feeling everything following this line would directly apply to me.

She proceeded to convincingly lay out a number of ways mindfulness is full of mind and to make a distinction between a mind-full practice of yoga and an embodied practice of yoga.

Commenting on what it means to be embodied she says, “The experience of embodied presence feels soft and expansive to me, whereas mindful presence feels a bit numb and tunnel-like.”

Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine and creator of MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction), describes mindfulness as Falling Awake. He also calls it “The hardest work in the world.”

Most of us would agree that consistently showing up for our lives is no easy task, but it is a rewarding one. This is likely why the practice of mindfulness is becoming more and more mainstream.

As I reflected on my personal experience of feeling mindful versus embodied, I began to see Fields’ point. In my most “aware” and “mindful” moments I sometimes felt a sense of disconnect. While I seemed to be completely present with whomever I was with or wherever I was, my experience sometimes felt incomplete. Contrasting this with my experience of feeling “embodied,” I realized that when I felt embodied life felt like it was happening in 3D.

Everything felt alive, moved in slow-motion, and was incredibly fascinating.

Until running across that line in Fields’ book, I hadn’t considered there might be a problem with my mindfulness, and I hadn’t considered embodiment to be a separate process. The more I contemplated it, the more I questioned whether they were really separate processes. Couldn’t one lead to the other?

While musing over this concept I was presented with an opportunity to interview Julian Walker on his book Awakened Heart, Embodied Mind. With a title like that I figured he knew a thing or two about being mindful and being embodied. I questioned him on whether he felt “mindfulness” and “embodiment” could coexist and/or contribute to each other.

He responded in part, “If our mindfulness does not include embodiment, then we feel like a floating head! Ungrounded, disempowered, out of touch. If our embodiment does not include mindfulness we can be reactive, impulsive or negatively self-indulgent.”

His comments seemed to echo what Fields describes when she says, “I can do my entire yoga practice mindfully, and not at all feel connected to myself as an integrated bodymind.”

They are both expressing the need for integration, for unison, for a yoking of the body and the mind. One without the other leaves us feeling half-present, missing something, and not entirely alive.

Sitting with this concept for some time, I started to realize the question was more important than the answer. Being willing to ask and explore the question; “What is the state of my body-mind union?” This requires us to step back from what we think we know and step onto the unsteady, shifty ground of what is.

Plenty of people will tell you what it is or isn’t, but only you know when you’ve struck that balance and when your whole being is in sync.

Before reading Fields’ book where she dared to present mindfulness in a not-so-flattering light, I wasn’t asking myself this question. I was walking around trying to be mindful and wondering why it sometimes helped me feel present and sometimes made me feel less present. Asking the question forced me out of my comfort zone and into an undefined space of uncertainty and discovery.

From this unsure realm I could test my experiences with an attitude of exploration instead of looking for facts to defend my position. As I explored, I discovered that I jumped on the mindfulness bandwagon because it was a doorway from pain to presence.

As I entered the home of my body mindfully, I began to get to know this fascinating house called, Me. This process of stepping inside my own skin, of becoming embodied, required allowing my mind to coexist with my body instead of rejecting one or the other.

When I allow for an integrated mindbody experience something incredible happens. I feel at home, I feel awake, and I feel alive. In these moments “the hardest work in the world” doesn’t feel so hard at all. It feels delicious, grounded, and free, with nowhere to be but here.

This article was originally published on elephant journal.