Stillness.

Stillness is a secret door,
isn’t it.

Hidden,
in plain view.

Locked,
until you find the key.

Plain to the untrained eye.

Uninteresting,
A dead end,
Boring.

Until you stumble into its wondrous garden of mind-blowing wonder.

What was that?
How can I get back there?

Call it meditation
Or call it prayer
Call it the universal pause
At the end of each exhale

You get there through God
I get there through stillness
They get there through movement
Others get there through alcohol

We must get there
Which is Here
The space between doing and thinking
Where everything,
I mean Everything
Reveals itself.

And when we come to,
our hearts will have expanded
through breakage or gratitude
at the smallness of being human
and the largeness of our experience.

We will return Here
you and I
to sit in the garden of Truth
where everything is as it is
and where the nothingness gets transformed
not into something,
but into Everything,
into All The Things,
into This.

This hug
This look
This pain
This heartbreak
This laughter
This wail
This darkness
This glow
This confusion
This anger
This love
This kiss
This question
This answer

This moment.

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We are the Space

YouAreTheSky

We are the space that holds the light {however bright it may be.}
We are the space that holds the darkness {however dark it may get.}
We are the space that holds the energy {however charged and wild.}
We are the space that holds the silence {however long and still.}

We are the space that holds the laughter {giggles, belly laughs and laugh/cry combos.}
We are the space that holds the grief {heartbreaks, heartaches and heart roars.}
We are the space that holds the beginning {the wondering, the exploring, the innocence.}
We are the space that holds the ending {the fragility, the no mores and the emptiness.}

We are the space that holds life {in our bellies, in our hearts and in our eyes.}
We are the space that holds death {of our partners, of our children and of our dreams.}
We are the space that holds the question {who am I?}
We are the space that holds the answer {when it comes, in its own time, when we least expect.}

We are the space all our experiences flow through, the space our being rests in, grows in, lives and dies in.

Honor that space. Hold that space. Enter that space daily through our breath or through our yoga or through a hug, a cry, a laugh, a word or a pause. Create the doorway into our self and then walk through it and witness the magnificence that is called being human.

Originally published on YogaOneBlog.

Still.

IMG_2143If I sit very still
(as still as a stone)
I can almost see the growth happening
in me, in the soil around me

as the first green stems push up
un-earthing

Such is growth.
un-earthing what is possible
what is unknown
what is to be

I can almost sense the earth’s rotation
and my rotation
around my heart,
my axis

If I sit alone
(for longer than I like)
I can almost hear my voice
small and uncertain
daring to speak up and break the silence

like a bird’s song at dawn
rousing me from sleep
inviting me to listen
to the silence that follows
to the beat of the universe

If I walk slowly
(as slow as the sun sets)
I can almost hear my blood swishing through my veins
and my heart pumping
thump thump thump
and my breath swooshing
inandout inandout inandout inandout

The symphony of Life
I am the conductor
and I am the spectator

So here I sit very still
(as still as the moon)
watching it all
being it all
allowing it all
remembering it all

So that even when I move
(quicker than I should)
and break the spell
some of the magic lingers

like morning dew
or the smell of rain

proof of what was
and what is
and what will be.

How Long Should You Meditate For?

yogaMeditation has been heralded as a great healer through the ages, and scientists are finally starting to understand why it works.

One scientific study found that the relaxation response elicited through meditation, especially in long-term practitioners, is very effective at reducing stress disorders, such as hypertension, anxiety, insomnia, and aging.

Meditation has also been described as Metacognition; the ability to think about your own thinking. It’s not about getting rid of your thoughts. It’s about watching them as they come and go. From this seat of the watcher you can notice things you don’t notice from the seat of the thinker.

For all its benefits, some meditation experts are concerned about the long-term effects of meditation and question whether meditation can have a dark side.

I personally would not have been able to find my way out of depression, grief, and ten years on antidepressants if it wasn’t for meditation.

The way I’ve been able to answer the question of how long to meditate is by asking myself another question:

Why do I meditate?

Knowing why you meditate can help you find a practice that’s best suited for you, as there’s no end to the practices and suggestions out there. Do you meditate to relax? To regroup? To heal? To find yourself? To let go of yourself? As a spiritual journey? It’s often recommended to find a practice you like and stick to it, not to jump around from one style to another.

Meditation is like going on a roadtrip to yourself. You don’t know what you’ll encounter on the way or what you’ll find when you get there.

Over the years I’ve tried lots of wonderful practices, from visualizations to mindfulness meditations to month-long meditations for each chakra. These have all been helpful to a point, but recently I’ve started simplifying my practice.

I start with the breath.

I end with the breath.

It’s that simple. It might not be the best approach for you, but it’s what’s working for me these days.

I bring my attention to my breath.
My mind wanders. What am I going to eat for lunch?
I bring my attention back to the breath.
My mind wanders. Has the baby been sleeping too long?
I bring my attention back to the breath.
My mind wanders. That fire truck siren is definitely going to wake him up and I won’t be able to finish my meditation. Wait a minute, I’m not even meditating, I’m still thinking.
I bring my attention back to the breath.

Eventually the thoughts start to space out. It’s like I can actually see the space. When the space between thoughts becomes long enough, I notice my breath comes to the center of my attention. Naturally. Without me having to force it. It’s like it just rises to the surface.

Ah, hello breath. Thank you for waiting for me.

I stay here, in this conscious place for as long as I can.

That’s how long I meditate. Until only the breath remains.

There’s No Prerequisite for Presence

I’ve been practicing Yoga Nidra (also known as yogic sleep) the last few months to help me unwind and rest. The tape I’ve been listening to has this instruction early on:

Bring your attention to what’s already happening.

I like to think of attention as being my full awareness, senses, and being. This is altogether different from merely bringing my mental attention to something. The first is a tangible, full-body experience, with the latter often being a distant, detached evaluation.

In the context of yoga nidra it’s referring to bringing your attention to a particular body part, but I love the phrase because it can be lifted out of my yoga nidra practice and applied to anything in my life.

Bring your attention to what’s already happening.

It does not ask me to change or fix anything. It asks me to show up for what is already there.

The most successful shifts, progress, and change I’ve experienced in my life have come from this simple act of being with what is. The more aggressive approach of trying to fix or change something has never worked very well for me.

But I forget that sometimes.

I forget that the most powerful healer, shifter, and connector is presence. I forget I have this tool with me at all times, and I forget how simple it is to use.

I like to make it harder than it is. I tell myself I need to meditate or I need to do yoga or I need to get outside or I need to rest before I can be present.

While those things make it easier to show up and soften the resistance I often bring to the present moment, the truth is they aren’t a prerequisite to presence.

There is no prerequisite for presence. It’s simply a matter of bringing our attention to what’s already happening.

When I step into my reality I find a unique clarity as what is comes sharply into focus and everything else fades away. This clarity and focus allows me to step consciously in the direction of my choice.

From Here anything is possible.

Enter a Prisoner, Exit a Free Man

This is how I would describe meditation. A breaking out of of bondage. That has been my experience with the mental transformation that happens ever so subtly every time.

Whether the practice kicks up dirt, unearths troubling layers of thought, or is a peaceful experience, we always emerge freer than before. Lighter than before. More open, more peaceful.

More like our true selves.

When I start searching for validation, peace, contentment, love, reassurance outside of myself, I know it’s time to tune back in. Time to take ten minutes (or more) and reconnect with my true essence.

Because it’s not out there, what you’re looking for.

That feeling, that connection, that peace, that answer, that assurance, that validation, that savior… it’s not outside.

It’s inside.

Yes, sometimes we think we’ve looked inside. Searched the corners high and low. The answer’s not there we swear. So we search and chase and cling and beg and plead with whoever’s out there controlling this world to give it to me.

Give me what I need.

We think they’re not answering because nothing changes.

In reality, they’re not answering because we already have the answer.

We already have what we need.

We are just looking in the wrong place.

Today’s full moon is a beautiful reminder to tune in deeply with silence, with stillness, with what already is, whatever that may be.

If you think you’ve already looked inside, look again.  But not with your eyes or your mind. Look with the part of your being that doesn’t need to see to believe, doesn’t need to understand to accept.

The freedom is there. It’s our choice to access it. We are the only ones who hold the key.

Below is a simple meditation if you are wondering where or how to start:

Spirituality À La Carte

How do you define spirituality?

I grew up thinking being religious meant you were spiritual and vice versa. When I walked away from organized religion in my early 30s, I thought I was walking away from spirituality as well.

When I would experience blissful moments of peace, connection, or unparalleled stillness on my yoga mat, I had no word for it. This is just yoga, I thought. When I was introduced to mantra and chanting and started to look forward to it at the end of a class, marveling at the higher resonance I experienced through it, I again thought to myself, This is just yoga.

When yoga teachers talked about the Universal or mythical gods and goddesses, it made me a little uncomfortable because it started to sound a little too “spiritual.” This part’s not for me, I thought. Yet I could feel myself drawn to classes with an emphasis on philosophy more than hot yoga classes.

The more I began to focus on meditation and living and moving mindfully, the more I began to run across the word “spiritual” in my research and in my search for like-minded people. My practices of yoga, meditation, and mindfulness were bringing me home; home to a body I had never inhabited before. They were delivering me to my fullest life and preparing me to handle life and loss like an inhale and an exhale.

Due to my deeply religious upbringing, I would see parallels everywhere. Practices that existed on opposite ends of the spiritual spectrum seemed to me to have a lot in common. The humility and reverence at times present in both prayer and meditation. The devotional feeling present both in singing and chanting. The trust in a marvelous higher source called the Universal or God. The life force of prana and the life force of the Holy Spirit. Buddhist concepts like right effort, right speech, and respect sounded just like what I’d learned Jesus to teach.

When I first heard the suggestion that violence is the result of humanity “forgetting who we are,” or forgetting our inherent true nature, our universal oneness, I was reminded of Jesus’ dying words: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

According to professor of psychology David N. Elkins, Ph.D., “The word spirituality comes from the Latin root spiritus, which means ‘breath’ – referring to the breath of life. It involves opening our hearts and cultivating our capacity to experience awe, reverence, and gratitude. It is the ability to see the sacred in the ordinary, to feel the poignancy of life, to know the passion of existence and to give ourselves over to that which is greater than ourselves.”

I see many people redefining spirituality these days, allowing it to exist and thrive as an internal state, independent of organized religion. Others would call that kind of talk sacrilegious.

And I see many people struggling to find an acceptance and a validity to being spiritual without being religious. For some their religious roots haunt them, and for others the stigma of “spirituality” blocks their curiosity, even though they often find themselves face-to-face with a yearning for a deeper connection to life.

The dispute over whether yoga is religious and should be allowed in schools continues to create controversy. I personally don’t feel yoga is religious. It is not a religion. It may, however, allow you to have some deeper experiences of being that some would call “spiritual.” It is largely our labeling that creates divisiveness.

If I have a non-dualistic experience of universal connection through yoga or meditation, and you have a dualistic experience of universal connection through church and prayer, and mine prepares me to live and die in peace and yours to live in heaven, who’s to say I am right and you are wrong? The two of us are here on earth, side by side, striving to be the best human beings we can be.

Many people become spiritual seekers in the wake of loss, trauma, or in old age. The reality of death seems to wake up a sometimes dormant spiritual need.

We will all die one day. I’m more interested in how you choose to live than in how often you go to church or how often you meditate.

In the words of English-American revolutionary Thomas Paine, “The World is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion.”

Falling Awake

A number of years ago I was quite lost and disconnected. Lost in my own life and disconnected from everyone and everything. There were a number of small steps that started me on a healthy path to Here. Below I share with you Step No. 2.

Through my writing I attempt to offer everything that has helped me on my path, with the hope that it may lead someone out there to the next step on their own path or remind us all, including myself, of what really matters in our lives.

We all have the ability to shine a light. Often one person will shine a light on something we had missed or forgotten. On our individual paths we sometimes find ourselves in the dark and have to wait until another light reveals our next step.

Or until we learn how to feel our way in the dark.

The video I share below is a talk by Jon Kabat-Zinn, the creator of MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction).

Mindfulness, as it’s known today, is the modern term for the ancient practice of Svadhyaya, or self-reflection. Self-reflection, rather than being self-absorbed, is the process of seeing clearly that which we are.

Which means that we will also see clearly that which we are not.

The practice of mindfulness, or svadhyaya, is a direct path to our fullest life. It literally brings our lives to life. The more we practice, the more we develop the courage to show up for our life. It sounds easy and pleasant in theory: just show up for your life. In reality, it’s pretty terrifying.

Kabat-Zinn’s book Full Catastrophe Living was the second step on my path to Here. It’s a powerful book that teaches the reader how to handle pain, physical or mental, and how to handle life in its most catastrophic moments.

The video I share below is a poignant talk by Jon Kabat-Zinn at the UCSD Medical Center. It’s lengthy and not light listening. It will bring you back to your senses. It will question if you are falling asleep or falling awake.

It will hold up a mirror and invite you to look within.

The poem by Derek Walcott can be found here.

Ten Minutes to Freedom

Ten minutes has been my work lately. Tuning into time as the doorway to timelessness.

Ten minutes first came up at work last week, when I needed a brief 10 minutes to fix a problem. My coworkers reacted as if I was asking for an hour. I was surprised. It’s only 10 minutes, I thought.

The next day it was me who didn’t want to wait 10 minutes. Wait 10 whole minutes? That’s so inconvenient, I thought.

Everywhere ten minutes keeps showing up. Something runs ten minutes late. How do I react? Ten minutes to do a more thorough job, ten minutes to take a detour from my hard-and-fast mental schedule for something fun.

Ten minutes is my teacher these days.

Every day taking ten minutes to tune into my breath. Ten minutes I’m sure I don’t have, but when I emerge from meditation 13 minutes later, I feel as if I have all the time in the world.

Ten minutes to enter the day and ten minutes to exit.

Set your timer. Watch your breath. Free your Self.

Remember Who You Are

Halfway through my morning walk with the dog, I realized I wasn’t even on the walk. I was in my head the whole time. It wasn’t a bad place to be – quite interesting in some ways – but an overarching, intangible part of me started to notice a feeling of dissatisfaction, of dis-ease. So I would reach for more thoughts or urge the dog to, “Come on.”

The dog knew better than me and continued to pause and sniff.

I knew deep inside that that was the more aligned choice: to pause and sniff.

To be still.
To stop reaching.

I stopped walking and let her sniff. While she sniffed, I started to listen to the sounds around me.

There were birds chirping. Each bird had a different chirp, and it came from a different direction.

Layered behind that I could hear the ocean’s soothing roar. Crashing roar and then silence.

Crashing roar and then silence.

I kept listening as I started to move.

I heard my jacket swoosh when I walked,
The dog’s feet on the concrete.

Every time my mind wandered off, I would bring it back by tuning into the sounds.

The practice of mindfulness, of being present, of choosing to be present, is a continuous practice of being reminded to tune back in,

because we forget. We all forget.

When we are reminded, then we remember.

We remember who we are,
where we are,
what we are.

When we remember, then we return.

We return to ourselves,
and to the present moment.

When we return, then we can choose to reconnect.

Reconnect to our breath,
to the sounds,
to our essence.

When we reconnect, then we can recommit.

to ourselves,
to our lives.

When we practice returning to ourselves daily, we are realigning with what is.

Here in what is, be it good or bad, is ease, acceptance, fullness, beauty, and truth.

It’s not so much a matter of getting there,
because we are already there.

It is more a matter of remembering. Remembering we are already there.

You are here. I am here.

The world opens up to us in all its infinite possibility because the question now becomes:

Where will you go from here?