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Mindfulness

Why I left Google (and what took me so long)

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Why I left Google (and what took me so long)

After six full years at Google, last month I quit to be a full-time life coach and part-time yoga teacher, and, for the sake of your own self-actualization, in this post I want to tell you why.

But don’t worry. What follows isn’t a fluffy account of “following my truth.” (There are enough “Why I quit Google” blog posts of that sort already in circulation for your browsing pleasure.) Rather, what follows is a story about actively not following my truth and the cost of fighting intuition.

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India Diaries: Death Contemplation

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India Diaries: Death Contemplation

I guess this is how I go...

Helpless in the backseat on the treacherous drive from Madurai to Fort Kochi through the steep, jagged mountains of Kerala, my death contemplation practice has been taken to a brand-new level. And not by choice. We're driving at top speed on a winding one-lane road with no rules and too many impatient drivers. And every time we overtake a bus on a sharp curve, blind -- which is every few minutes -- I'm convinced it's about to be the end of me. I look out the window and see nothing on the side of the mountain to stop us, with one wrong move, from flying down into the deep valley below. 

I clutch my new skull necklace close to my heart. I bought it just before India to support my death contemplation practice by reminding me that everything and everyone will die, including me, and it could happen at any time (so I remember to treat each moment as the precious gift it is). And just yesterday I initiated a year-long Kali sadhana to deepen this practice by directly pursuing death of the ego and death of attachments, including to life itself. I feel like Kali's in the car with me now, saying, "This is what you wanted, right? The real stuff?" (She's the Dark One, so it's no surprise she has a dark sense of humor.)

Something odd arises in response. At the height of my conviction that this is the end, I'm surprised to find myself overcome not by a highly amplified version of the gratitude I feel and express on a daily basis, but rather by a deep sadness and disappointment. "So this is it, huh?" I think. "What a bunch of pain and suffering this life has been." Not exactly the thoughts I would have expected from myself.

Now I see that through this experience, Kali was simply reflecting just how much my ego is still in control. I was having what I assume from the viewpoint of the separate self is the inevitable experience of immanent death: Either fear born of attachment to the impermanent (invented meaning) or complete meaninglessness. For me it was a combination of the two: "I'm going to lose the things and people that make things matter" and "Nothing at all has ever mattered." These beliefs were fueling my fear fire. (And, man, did they burn!)

You're reading this blog post, so of course I didn't die. Somehow -- after eight hours of nonstop honking, innards clumping, head throbbing, and teeth threatening to slice off the tip of my tongue -- somehow, I made it out alive. I'm still integrating, but I know I was given the gift of seeing where I really am and the work that's left to do. And I know my skull necklace, after passing through this fire, holds greater meaning than before. There's a sense of greater urgency behind the need to live now. In every moment. And always. (More to come on what that'll look like.) And I have to wonder...though that wasn't the end of me, perhaps I'm one step closer to the end of "me."

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The only way out is in

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The only way out is in

Damn it feels good to be home. After an action-packed Advertising Week in New York, I almost cried with joy as I stepped out of the airport and into the clean and crisp San Francisco air. 

Between work and weddings and learning and teaching, I've been on 19 flights over the past three months. I've spent far too much time on the road for my taste and far too much time DOING, not enough BEING. And it's been cramping my style. Because though life's offered a lot of stimulation with all its recent assignments and activities, it hasn't been very spacious.

In fact, I've been feeling anything but spacious. Over the past few weeks, swept up in the throes of life's intensity and movement, I've felt overwhelmed, distracted, agitated, and rather confused. In fact, I even feared I'd gone backwards on the spiritual path.

Faced with all kinds of deadlines and deliverables, I've been stress-eating like hell (all paleo intentions out the window), overdoing it with coffee, grinding my teeth, waking up sweating, skipping practices, and constantly judging myself and others -- mind always racing a million miles a minute. And whenever I did find myself with free time, I usually chose to spend it either numbing out or trying to fill it with more activities, when what I really longed for, what my intuition softly called for, was presence, inquiry, and self-compassion.

Yet I didn't give myself any of that until things hit a breaking point in the Newark airport this morning, when I broke into tears over breakfast. Sadness + eggs do not mix in my world. I realized it was time to hit pause.

So I dropped the drama and sat in stillness for 30 minutes, allowing myself to get intimate with what I'd been avoiding for weeks: my own feelings, raw and unadorned. Then I reread my notes from a recent meditation immersion, relishing each insight, remembering who I am. Finally, I chose my themes for my upcoming yoga retreat -- not because I thought I should, but because I felt genuinely inspired. And as I slowly went through these three activities, as I turned inwards, all crescendoing angst, clenching, and desire to escape my life dissolved.

The fact is, I've been wanting out. But today I was reminded that the only way out is in. There's no chance of escape by numbing out, or powering through, or sensory distraction, like I'd been attempting. That only prolongs suffering and creates more anxiety.

Suffering won't go away until you go right into the center of it and be with it like you'd be at the bedside of someone you love if you were tucking them in after a tough day. With compassion. With presence. With love. With "It's going to be okay," but, more importantly, with "It's already okay, and it always has been."

Because it's okay to forget what really matters. It's okay to float out to the periphery and away from your core. It's okay to be human! It's more than okay, really. It's happening, so it's perfect.

And by the way, there's no going backwards on the spiritual path. There's no falling off it, either. We're never NOT on the path, and the path leads straight in. In other words, you're already home -- all you have to do is recognize it and remember. 

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Awake In a Dream

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Awake In a Dream

“Awake in a dream! Awake in a dream! I’m awake in a dream!”

This is my favorite dream yoga practice mantra. What’s it for? Making it a habit to repeat (and believe) these words during waking hours makes one more likely to repeat them in a dream, and repeating these words in a dream is almost sure to make the dreamer realize she’s dreaming. 

Lucid dreaming is both fun and incredibly powerful, but in order to deliberately navigate a dream, we first have to wake up within the dream state. Until then, we just stumble along, much like we do in this life, from one scene and situation to another, blind to the truth of our circumstance.

When we’re in our default state of dream consciousness -- that is, unaware we’re dreaming -- we tend not to question what we sense and perceive. (Why would we? Carried along by sights, sounds, smells, plots, and emotions, it's all we can do to slap on a role and keep up with what unfolds around us.) For example, in a recent dream I encountered a strange combination of a hippo and a mouse, the size of my palm. Someone in the dream told me the odd creature was a “baby seal,” and I took it in stride. “Sure,” I thought. “I guess that’s what a baby seal looks like.” But if I had simply paused to really consider what I was seeing, I could have snapped into lucidity, opening myself to the wonderland of conscious dream exploration.

It’s kind of funny, how blindly accepting we are in our dreams. But the fact that most of us live our “waking” lives in a similar way is not funny.

From the moment we rise in the morning, most of us are far from conscious. We wake up already steeping in the melodramas of our stories, our minds swirling with things we needs to buy, emails we needs to write, judgements about ourselves and others, conversations we had and conversations we imagine, fragments of songs, and fantasies for the weekend. We continue to bathe in the swirl of our ego's thoughts through getting dressed, eating breakfast, commuting, working, exercising, and interacting with loved ones, our inner commentary never on break. Finally, we go to bed at night with our minds still a circus until eventually we fall asleep.

As if our very existence were a dream, most of us spend our days without ever consciously pausing to witness, to establish real presence, to wake up to what is

To awaken in our dreams we have to realize we’re dreaming. To Awaken in our lives we also have to realize we’ve been dreaming. For a spiritually fulfilling life, we must wake up in the dream of this conditioned existence. We must awaken to the truth of who we really are and what really matters.

I can tell you who you really are: love. I can also tell you what really matters: also, love. But for you to hear this is one thing -- you won’t really know it until you feel it in your beautiful bones. And only you can wake yourself up. So go ahead and whisper it in your own ear: "Wake up, sleepyhead! It's lucid time!"

 

Blog photograph by Sarah Gustafson

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3 Tips for Your 2017 New Year's Intentions

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3 Tips for Your 2017 New Year's Intentions

This morning I woke up with a throbbing temple and smarting, knotted shoulders. My brain felt raw against my skull. "That's it!" I said to myself for the trillionth time. "I'm done with drinking!" Except this time it only took one drink to get me to this state, an Anchor Steam Winter Ale I cracked open and enjoyed last night over Netflix's new show, The OA. The brew was tasty and refreshing, a welcome treat at the end of a day's work. But was it worth it?

My body has been sending me consistently clearer signs it doesn't like when I drink, and I'm finally ready to listen. In addition to my ongoing "golden rule" resolution, my resolution for 2017 is to give up alcohol.

My New Year's resolutions for the past few years have consistently included "drink less," but this year I'm taking it one step further, because "drink less" hasn't been enough. I've wasted too many hours that could've been productive and full of life on hangovers. On headaches and body aches and misery and confusion and regret. Moreover, I want to be fully present and lucid in each moment. Drinking prevents that, and therefore has to be let go.

I'll admit giving up alcohol is not going to be easy for me. First of all, alcohol is everywhere. It's a quick way to (temporarily) destress. And, most importantly, I actually love the taste of beer. I crave it with dinner, after yoga (I know!), and during times of leisure (like when kicking back on the beaches of Belize as I'll be doing in January). I think it's fair to say I've been pretty attached to alcohol.

But now I'm starting to understand this renunciation won't be as hard as I've previously thought it would be either. With the growing clarity I've been cultivating through meditation has come a true courage that liquid courage pales in comparison to. The courage to just be, even when that being is awkward, bored, or stressed. These days I feel simultaneously grounded and light and strong. It's time.


As you set your own New Year's resolutions for 2017, here are my three tips:

#1 Think About What Really Matters

Are you looking beyond the superficial? A quick way to tell is to ask yourself whether your goals are driven by ego or something else. For example, is losing 10 pounds really going to solve your problems, or is there something deeper at the root of your suffering, such as over-identification with your physical form? If so, why not attack that instead?

#2 Keep It Simple

If you're like me, most years you make too many resolutions, and end up keeping very few. In our culture we tend do go a bit overboard with the drive to achieve. Last year I set more than ten intentions, including learning Turkish and finishing my 500 hour Yoga Alliance teacher training certification. (I did neither.) It's not that there's anything wrong with leaving resolutions incomplete. The problem lies in spreading ourselves too thin by attempting so many big things at the same time. We risk getting tired, forgetting to enjoy each moment for what it is, and losing clarity. Try choosing quality over quantity this year.

#3 Look Back On Old Intentions and Surprise Yourself

This one's for your own amusement, and perhaps for some inspiration as well. What did you resolve to do last New Year's? How about ten years ago? In preparation for writing this, I looked back through my old resolutions. Just three years ago, I resolved to "practice yoga two times a week." Now I'm teaching it, and three+ times a week! After you write down your resolution(s)/intention(s) this year, try hiding them somewhere you never look. If/when, years later, you stumble upon what you wrote, you might be surprised by just how much you've grown. As Pattabhi Jois loved to say, "Practice and all is coming!"

One last thing: When you break out your eggnog (spiked or not) and get down to setting your intentions, don't forget you're already perfect, so avoid thinking in terms of changing yourself, but rather removing the ego clutter layered on top over the years. And when you're done planting your seeds, consider treating yourself to a sweet 20-minute savasana :)

Happy Holidays, and see you in the new year!

 

Blog photograph by Sarah Gustafson

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Who needs Burning Man? Experiences from a first time silent retreater

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Who needs Burning Man? Experiences from a first time silent retreater

I'm recently back from my very first meditation retreat, the one I've been "training for" by sitting (almost) daily each morning for the past few months. The 6-night silent insight meditation retreat was at Spirit Rock (just north of SF), and the theme was "Mindfulness and the Spirit of Creativity." It totally rocked my world.

Before diving into a day in the life, I should note that everyone I've spoken with about the retreat asks if I was really in complete silence for the whole week. I wasn't. On this retreat, we were allowed to speak in our writers' breakout group as well as after the dharma talks if we wanted to ask a question. I also confess I engaged in some chatting during my work meditation. So go ahead and sue me :P


5:50am

Gonggggggg

Gonggggggg

Gonggggggg

Gonggggggg

One of my fellow retreatants hits the bell outside the meditation hall as part of his assigned work meditation for the week, waking me out of a light sleep in my twin bed in Karuna. I remember that I woke up belly-laughing in the middle of the night from something in a dream and this causes me to laugh again, though I can no longer remember specifically what was so funny. My roommate (who I can't talk to, of course) must think I'm completely bonkers. I'm too full of joy to mind.

In the dark I collect my toiletries and head to the bathroom down the hall to quickly wash my face and brush my teeth before shuffling through the pre-sunrise cold, misty morning to the first sit of the day.

Insight: I'm excited to meditate(?!)

6:30am

What I think about (or rather, what thoughts arise, some of which I pursue) as I sit in silence, trying to keep my attention focused on the sensations of breath at the tip of my nose: Broad City, whether or not my out-of-office message successfully turned on, the hard-boiled egg (with salt, pepper, and hot sauce) I plan to eat at breakfast, the fact that I should bring more socks, a blow dryer, and my own ground coffee next time, and what I might write a memoir about. 

Insight: Things I do NOT think about: alcohol, meat, social media, my cell phone, or my upcoming yoga retreat. (Okay, maybe I think about the retreat for a second.)

7:45am

After breakfast I wander up the path into the hills above our dorms. My first intention is to give traditional walking meditation a go, moving ever-so-slowly and focusing on the feeling of my feet rolling over the earth with each step. But after about six steps it's clear this isn't going to work. I could have forced it to, but it would have been a travesty to subdue the pure bliss bubbling up from the core of my being at the opportunity to go on the first solo nature hike of my life and EXPLORE. After all, my element is there in the beautiful, vibrating surroundings of the trail and it's calling me to come be one with it. I take the Tantric approach and embrace all of my senses. I don't regret it.

I climb into an ocean of fog and inhale eucalyptus. I'm buzzing as I take in all the life and sights around me. The energy in the land is palpable. Whenever I feel the urge to stop before a tree or lizard, I stop. I wonder. I bask. When I emerge from the fog I look around to see a breathtaking kingdom of nature below me, above me, and around me. I continue ascending to the peak and directly into the sun in outright ecstasy, laughing and crying at once, alone but also not alone at all.

At the top of a mountain I close my eyes and breathe, allowing the sun to soak into my skin. I've got nowhere else to be and nothing to do. But soon I feel a presence, so I lift my lids. A giant hawk has landed five feet away from me. We watch each other for a while. I recall Walt Witman's words. "Don't be afraid of the merge." 

"Did someone spike my coffee this morning?" I wonder. Or is this kind of bliss always available inside?

Insight: My hiking experience reinforces that nondual Tantra is the path for me. I don't want to renounce my senses, for THROUGH my senses (just as well as through withdrawing them), I experience the Divine. It's everywhere. All we have to do is pay attention.

8:45am

The second sit of the day is an hour long. After about 20-25 minutes every time I sit, without exception, my right outer hip area starts to scream a song of hot, hot heat. I try to tough it out for a few minutes, but eventually it's so distracting I stop reaping the benefits of meditation. So I transition to a hero's pose (kneeling), still seated on my two zafus. No big deal. 

This week I've introduced so much more compassion for myself in my meditation. When I want to check if it's a spider or a hair tickling my neck, I go ahead and check. It finally dawns on me that a little movement during my sits won't prevent my Awakening.

Insight: I've been too rigid with my practice for too long. Especially for a recovering uber Type A, an unforgiving, rule-obsessed approach to practice doesn't serve as much as a tender, merciful one does.

3:00pm

I practice yoga in my room. This isn't my usual home practice flow. This is 5X slower, with way fewer warriors and way more hip openers. I don't do a single chaturanga. I practice with my next sit in mind.

Insight: I'm practicing yoga the way it was originally meant to be practiced: as a preparation for lots of sitting. It feels amazing.

4:30pm

We reconvene in the meditation hall to listen to the daily dharma talk, which is led by a different teacher each day of the retreat. Today's theme is how mindfulness and creativity are connected.

At the end of the wise, wonderful teaching, an old man from the painting group asks about why creativity seems to come in bursts, even for great artists. "How can we sustain creativity?" he asks.

One of the teachers responds beautifully, likening creativity to a peach tree. We want to make a peach pie, so we're always waiting for ripe peaches, she says. But peaches ripen according to a process. And every aspect of the growth of the tree is just as important to the peach pie as the moment the peaches are ripe for picking. Creativity is a practice, just like yoga, just like meditation, just like enlightenment itself.

Insight: Awakening is an accident, and meditation makes us more accident-prone. Similarly, a creative bust is an accident, and mindfulness makes us more accident-prone.

5:50pm

"The difference between a flower and a weed is a judgement."

I smile at this quote on my teabag tag as I nurse a mug of echinacea. I've just finished eating a bowl of warm potato leek soup one sip at a time, eyes closed between spoonfuls in order to better savor all the flavors and textures and in gratitude for the food itself and those who prepared it. This is how we eat here, and I love it.

I glance up at the clock and realize it's time to gulp down the rest of my tea. Because I ate dinner at such a leisurely pace I don't have much time left before I need to go back into the kitchen to start my daily work meditation shift as a dishwasher. All day, I've secretly been looking forward to this moment.

There's something so satisfying about getting my hands dirty after all this time "just being." I enjoy my role of soaking and spraying down dishes, then passing them into the powerful speed dish washer. Also, this is my time to bond with my fellow shift-worker, Carolyn. It's the first time she's ever lived alone, she tells me today. I wonder if her partner has recently died, but I don't ask.

Insight: There is bliss in simplicity. And if I may go one step further, simplicity is bliss.

7:00pm

The second creativity breakout session of the day begins. (The first was before the dharma talk.) I'm in the writer's group. The other option was painting (which I might try next time). Thus far on the retreat I've written an ode to Shakti, several haikus, and many stream-of-consciousness recollected memories from youth. I've also free-written on many themes, including:

  • "The Song of Myself is the song of _____." (I filled in the blank with "the color orange.")
  • "A time I was lost" (inspired my an excerpt from Cheryl Stayed's Wild)
  • "That autumn night..."

Tonight our teacher kicks us off on a free write with the prompt "What will I miss when I die?" The only rule is to keep the pen moving. After about five minutes his duck alarm quacks. Time's up. He opens the floor for sharing, and it quickly becomes clear that the prompt was a triggering one for our group comprised mostly of Buddhists.

"I won't miss anything when I die," someone says. "I'll be dead." Five more people agree. 

Then one woman who has been grieving the death of her mother raises her hand. In tears she talks about how difficult the prompt was for her because of her fresh loss. But then she notes that recalling details about her mother as she wrote almost brought her mother back to life for a moment. "I realize that's both the pain and the pleasure of memory," she says, smiling through the tears. "And that's the pain and pleasure of writing."

Insight: When we write from a place of truth we write with one foot in samsara and one in the stream of the Divine. Details make the writing powerful. We should notice the images, thoughts, and emotions they evoke, but we don't need to get attached to these.

10:00pm

I get ready for bed after the 9pm evening group sit, the last sit of the day. Before I turn off the light on my nightstand and do my pre-sleep dream yoga, I jot down a few more insights: 

  • Anyone who cultivates mindfulness and openness can tap into mind-blowing divine creativity. 
  • Meditation isn't boring and practicing it doesn't make one boring. Quite the opposite, it seems.
  • Life makes sense, even if we'll never see or understand all its ruling principles. 
  • Who needs Burning Man when such deep connection, ecstasy, and transformation can be found in a week of renunciation and simplicity? Yes, I think I foresee a three-month silent retreat in my future.

When I think back to my very first meditation retreat, I'll think of tissues, knobby hands, yellow gloves, mugs, vinegar spray, socks, shawls, fog, bees, and wild mindful turkeys like aging pharaohs. I'll think with tenderness of my dishwashing partner and the many times I saw her sitting on a bench alone, baking in the sun and basking in the moonlight. I'll think of the beautiful humans I danced with in silence on the last night of the retreat and the hug I shared with a friend whose voice I'd yet to hear and name yet to know. I'll think of Anna's words: "Things come to you as a child, and there's no way to say 'No thank you.'" I'll see bubbles of disappearance and laugh at the memory of waking up to my own laughter. But mostly I'll think of the boundless love that I felt and that I intend to make it my practice to offer more of, more often.

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Mindfulness Matters

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Mindfulness Matters

     I was traveling the past week for work, which presented a great reminder of easy it can be to get swallowed up by irritation and general negativity when we step out of our comfort zones and hand over control (willingly or not) to external forces, in my case to flight crews, LA traffic, and packed schedules I didn’t set. All week on the road, I noticed myself and my companions complain about one thing followed by another, from flight delays to lack of bottled water. (First world problems, in other words.) Minor inconveniences can easily breed major disgruntlement if we let them, especially when we aren’t paying attention, which is to say the majority of the time. And most people don’t realize it, but the act of complaining only sows the seeds for more future complaining. (Do you think everyone’s out to get you? I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but unless you change something, that will only get worse for you.) 

     What if we didn’t say everything we thought and instead examined the source of our thoughts? What if we observed the ego instead of jumping to identify with it?

     I recently read in Mental Floss magazine about Trisha Prabhu, a 15-year-old girl who designed a mobile keyboard called ReThink to prevent cyberbullying. The keyboard creates a pause for kids (and teens) to review and rethink their messages on every app they use before choosing to post live (or not). Mindfulness by technology. Such a cool idea, I thought, especially since the part of the brain that controls decision making capabilities isn’t fully developed until the age of 26, and there’s unfortunately a strong resistance to directly teaching mindfulness as a practice in most schools (the argument being that “mindfulness” has religious connotations). Early research shows that taking an extra moment to reconsider significantly increases the chance a user will choose to refrain from posting a negative post they had planned to share. Rethinking works.

     But Trisha’s app wasn’t created for adults, thought there are certainly some adult trollers out there who could use it, and frankly not all situations can be intercepted with technology. So how can we instill a technology-free mechanism that allows everyone, child or adult, to pause and rethink our words and actions for just a micro-moment before we speak or act? We can all cultivate mindfulness through yoga and meditation.

     Yoga allows us to create space and meditation teaches us to listen. Together, the two practices beget mindfulness. In yoga we create space by opening and lengthening and twisting and compressing to untie the energetic knots that hold learned behavioral patterns (such as notice discomfort —> complain) which live in our bodies. The body holds our stories and not all of these stories are very productive. (Most of them aren’t. And, anyway, life is more interesting when we see each moment afresh.) The skillful linking of breath and movement we practice in yoga allow us to detoxify of our energetic baggage so we truly experience the present moment in the moment. And the space we create in yoga extends to meditation, where we take things one step further by sitting in complete stillness to better observe the fluctuations of our own minds and the ego created by these. When we meditate, we listen. When we listen, we learn. 

     Our task, then, is to apply the space we create through yoga and the listening skills we develop through meditation to decision making in the real world. When we learn to practice pausing between stimulus (for example, discomfort) and response (for example, complain or embrace and adapt), we can choose to respond instead of react. The difference between responding and reacting is everything - in our online lives, in our offline lives, at home and on the road (where there might not be water bottles in every corner but at least there’s always a floor to sit on in stillness).

     Mindfulness matters, more than we might realize, for both our own wellbeing as well as the general wellbeing of the universe. That’s why there’s so much focus in yoga and meditation on creating space. We create space so that we can pause at will. We lengthen and twist and compress to make room and detoxify. We tap into the breath to tap into the present moment and we sit in stillness to observe the fluctuations of our own minds. This is all to train ourselves for decision making in the real world. The goal is to cultivate the practice of pausing between stimulus and response, so that we can truly (mindfully) respond instead of simply react.

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[Short Story] The Real World: Universe Edition

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[Short Story] The Real World: Universe Edition

Excerpt:

Entrepreneur/salesman Steve the soul created the universe. And he wanted it to be utilized. Specifically, Steve wanted some of The Omnipotence to materialize itself and to test out his latest and most original creation (the universe) by assuming form and time to live in it.


Steve put together a pitch to this end, framing his offer as THE solution to the most considerable pain point of The Omnipotence: lack of experience. You see, The Omnipotence simply WAS. It didn’t DO and it didn’t FEEL. What it knew, it never learned. The Omnipotence had zero experience. And, quite frankly, The Omnipotence was a little bummed about this fact. Steve, as part of The Omnipotence, could easily empathize with the situation -- the Omnipotence Condition -- and, in turn, exploit it.

***Click post title to read more!***

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From You, To You

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From You, To You

Have you ever been slapped silly by spontaneous insight from within? Hit upside the head by an unmistakeable message? Just in time for New Year’s resolutions, I was, via dream. And I’m still reeling from it.

It’s said that traveling increases one’s chance of lucid dreaming thanks to the influx of unfamiliar stimuli during the waking state. I was in Florida for the holidays this year and, sure enough, one night in Miami I became lucid.

Flying is the first thing many people do when they become lucid. I actually became lucid because I was flying. “Wait, I can’t fly,” I realized mid-flight. “This has got to be a dream!” I remembered my intention to summon my "spirit guide," something that has been on my lucid dream bucket list for a while. I shouted “I want to meet my spirit guide!” up at the sky and soon I found myself face to face with a man (to my slight dismay - I was hoping for a goddess) who looked strikingly like Michael Caine.

I can’t remember all the details of the dream. (I let it go on for too long before waking myself up and I’d had one too many key lime pie martinis the night before to make myself write it down in the morning.) But I do remember one part distinctly.

“Do you have any messages for me?” I asked my Michael-Caine-looking guide. “Oh, we’re sending you messages all the time,” he replied, “in your dreams but also while you’re awake.” He motioned towards a towering contraption which seemed to include a satellite dish. “But you won’t receive them unless you’re tuned into a high enough vibrational frequency. Luckily that’s something you can work on.”

Needless to say, I woke up with my mind blown. The message could not have been more clear. Now, provided the contents of our dreams come solely from our own conscious, subconscious and unconscious minds, my spiritual “guide” and the other guides he referenced are probably just me. In dreams, and in life at large, we're conditioned to perceive everything in terms of "I" versus Other, instead of recognizing the ultimate truth: that there is no Other. So even though I was able to receive it visually and through a conversation (thanks to creative power of dreams) I believe what I experienced was my Self metaphorically messaging my ego self, “Yo dawg. U gotta be prepared 2 hear me. I’m the real U.”

I received the message like a slap in the face, so I kept it simply this year with only one New Year's resolution: In 2016 resolve to stay tuned into the highest vibrational frequency I can, where I can communicate with my true nature, just like my "spirit guide" said I should.

With my recently cemented intention of tuning in and remaining tuned in, attempts at contact by my Self to myself are becoming more recognizable to me, if only after the fact. For example, just in the week since returning from Miami I’ve had several conversation about dreams within my dreams, as if my mind were guiding me, even coaxing me to become lucid. In fact, last night I had not one but two dreams in which the topic of not just dreaming but lucid dreaming came up. In one dream a personified teddy bear was reading a manuscript I had written and asked me if I was on drugs when I wrote it. My reply? “No, it’s wild because it’s inspired by my lucid dreams.”

Other oneironauts might smile in recognition. The talking stuffed animal did not make me question my surrounding reality, but could there really be a more obvious prompt than the words “lucid dreaming”?  This kind of signal from the layers of consciousness should be unmistakeable, and, since it’s become frequent for me, starting today I will do my best to perform a reality check each time I read/see/hear/say anything about the topic of lucid dreaming or dreaming in general. (The idea is that I’ll make this enough of a habit that I’ll remember to do it in my dreams as well and will come to realize I’m dreaming -- when, after hearing a dream character say “dream,” for example, I look at my palm as a reality check and see the lines on it swimming around, instead of remaining static.)

The more often I have lucid dreams, the more often I can “talk” to my subconscious, unconscious and higher Self so directly. But, like Batman’s butler told me, dreams aren’t the only vehicle for insight. We’ve got 24 hours to be tuned in each day. Our “guide” is always there. Within. Tryna text us. So turn on your notifications this year, please!

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A cold cushion, still.

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A cold cushion, still.

One of my teachers is currently writing a book about yoga philosophy. I was chatting with him about the book's content earlier this week and he said there's a memoir element to it that he's trying to approach carefully. He explained that yoga teachers tend to publicly share only experiences in which they learned, overcame and grew -- in other words, experiences in which they came out on top. Because nobody relates to perpetual triumph, my teacher said he is consciously striving to include stories of failure as well as stories of success in the personal parts of his book. 

That makes sense. Enlightenment isn't an effortless pursuit, after all, so why do we yoga teachers keep acting like it is? So let me tell you about something I'm struggling with, for once, versus something I've achieved. Wouldn't that be a nice break from all the self-congratulations that flood your social media feeds each day? Wouldn't a splash of vulnerability be refreshing?

Now this is far from the biggest struggle of my life, but it's one I'm dealing with right now and it directly affects my yoga teaching: I teach mindfulness but I'm not always mindful. I should, but I don't meditate regularly.

Why not? Well, one, it's freezing in the mornings -- the only time I ever really successfully meditate -- and, two, I don't want to give up any sleep: those are my two pathetic excuses. Seems like they'd be easier to overcome, right? Especially when you compare the list of Pros to the Cons. 

What are the Pros, you ask? Why do I want to cultivate a daily meditation practice, anyway? To become more mindful, certainly. But also to no longer ever feel like I need a drink or a vacation or any kind of bigger retreat from what is. How crazy would that be? To have every day truly count, and not just the weekend days or those days spent "away from it all." And, of course, to more deeply embody what I already preach: presence. Yoga asana alone isn't enough to grant any of these benefits fully.

So here I am, still working towards warming up my sitting cushion, one day at a time. All it takes is a choice and I've been working on making the cold and sleepy choice for a while, with several previous blog posts about my intention to cultivate a meditation practice as proof. There are many weeks my butt never touches the cushion once. I'm not perfect yo. But I always set it out for myself with plans to return. 

Much like the practice of meditation itself, it's about recommitting over and over again. Recommitting to the cushion each time I observe my focus has strayed, my mindfulness has slipped -- perhaps when I catch myself checking out of conversations or reacting quickly and angrily at work or on public transportation -- just as while meditating we recommit to concentrating on the breath each time we observe the mind wandering somewhere else. 

So at least I'm being mindful about the need to be mindful. (See how I snuck that pat-on-the-back in there? After all, yoga teachers have egos too, if you haven't noticed yet.) But intention, sankalpa, isn't enough here. I know this. My work when it comes to meditation practice continues to be discipline. It's time for tapas, and I'm not talking small plates of delicious food. I'm talking sitting still and breathing and being bored and dealing with whatever shit comes up that I've been avoiding facing. That's my work right now. What's yours?

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City Stew: The Next Chapter

Over the past eight years I've been struggling with a sense of spiritual dearth. Eight years ago, I left behind a blissful state of self-actualization (along with my soulmate, the one person who could fuel my spiritual flame to its fullest), and moved across the country against my will. I traded in my beloved Idaho mountains for the base beaches of Florida, and out of loneliness lost myself to new passions - the most powerful of which being competition (a force I now recognize as a symptom of forgetting the most fundamental concept of existence: that we're all one and the same). 

After I moved I had nobody to distract me with propositions of spontaneous adventure and nobody to remind me of the beauty within my soul. So I put all my energy into getting ahead. Even in the context of relationships, I developed the need to always "win" and come out on top. By the time I started college, I was consumed by this motivation. 

Yet the more "successful" I became, the more I felt something was missing in my life: specifically, spirituality. I felt incomplete for eight years. Then everything changed six months ago, when the yoga journey commenced.

Yoga teacher training helped me remember who I really am and what makes life worth living. (Hint: it isn't winning an argument or getting into Duke or landing a job at Google.) But the training is over as of a few weeks. It happened - I'm a graduate! Now the question is how to self-sustain the kind of growth that was originally sustained by a rigid study schedule, regular group therapy sessions and, most importantly, my community of like-minded teachers and classmates. Just as the goal at the conclusion of a yoga class is to bring forth - into the "real" world - the stillness attained in class, my goal is to keep focusing on pursuing a purposeful existence without somebody else constantly reminding me to. It won't be easy, but I simply can't fall into the same trap I did when I left behind the zen of Idaho and the joy of being with my soulmate. The trap of thinking I need something or someone outside myself for fulfillment.

I just spent a week in New York City, the city that utterly embodies the everyone-out-for-herself attitude that I held close as my personal mantra for so many years. Even as I recognized the city getting to me last week, I couldn't resist its effect. Compounded my the discomfort of the heat and the rain, and, if we're being honest, probably also by the booze, I felt myself reverting to the unstable mindset I inhabited when I lived in New York the summer after freshman year when I was in the peak of my competitive grip. Last week as I conversed with strangers as well as friends, old fear-induced thoughts kept creeping to the surface. I couldn't understand where they were coming from. And I couldn't stop them. The stewing set in on my first night in the city as I dined with a friend, even as I shared with her the yogi view that approaching life through a lens of "me versus them" will not ultimately lead to happiness. And when she left to catch a train home, I took my stewing to the streets. The night hot, the air thick, the rain steady: conditions were perfect for a good stew, one that would lead me to walk alone for two hours from Chelsea to Washington Square Park and back to my hotel. In the dark and the rain, I walked and stewed, soaking my work shoes and rubbing deep into a few choice blisters. 

My goal wasn't to stew. As I embarked to my old stomping ground, my goal was to calm myself down. To recharge. But all the sat-nams in the world couldn't do the trick. I was in too much of a negative New York rut. Instead of counting my blessings as the night wore on, instead I kept thinking about more and more things that piss me off. 

But all the while, as I was brooding over my resentments and my intolerances, I was really trying to get to what they say about me. Because, thanks to yoga, even as I stewed I knew my frustration was revealing more about myself than the objects of my frustration. 

And that's exactly what saved me from stewing myself into a New York sewer: the awareness that's a by-product of yoga. It's easy to maintain chi in the middle of nowhere, Idaho or when on the mat, surrounded by people "om"-ing with breath slowed down 5x, but true zen is being able to maintain that chi anywhere (including the city that never sleeps) at anytime. And Step #1 is awareness. Awareness that we create our own chi. Awareness that all thoughts stem from either fear or love. Awareness of self. With awareness comes the opportunity for conscious change.

So that's where I'll start my "life after teacher training" chapter: with focusing on becoming more aware. (Heaven knows one can never be aware enough.) And, as much as I love avoiding it, that means meditating regularly. Starting yesterday. The saga continues!

Oh, and that soulmate I mentioned? The universe is reuniting us this weekend. Stories to come.

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