Viewing entries tagged
mindfulness

The only way out is in

Comment

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. 

Comment

Awake In a Dream

Comment

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

Comment

3 Tips for Your 2017 New Year's Intentions

1 Comment

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

1 Comment

Healing the Election Hangover, the Bodhisattva Way

Comment

Healing the Election Hangover, the Bodhisattva Way

Before and during tests in high school and college I'd repeat a silent mantra to reassure myself of my abilities, fighting to drown out the conditioned voice in my head saying things like, "Give up -- math's not meant for girls." And despite all I've accomplished, to this day at work I remain self-conscious about how I come across in any interaction. Too soft and thus an incompetent pushover? Too hard, so obviously a heartless bitch? Or just right and therefore still unqualified?

Over the years, my mindfulness practice has helped reveal previously unconscious beliefs I've been clutching, such as the harmful belief that women don't deserve the same opportunities men do, or that all men see women as objects, worth their bodies and sandwich-making abilities and nothing more. I've worked hard to unravel this conditioning that doesn't serve me or anyone else. And I've been making progress. Our nation, I thought, was making progress. Then last night happened. 

Last night we were forced to look at ourselves under unforgiving florescent lights, at a paranoid image of hate, fear, and separation. It was a shocking reflection for me and many others. I've known I've been living in a bubble in San Francisco, but I didn't understand just how different things were outside of my world of diverse, open-minded, open-hearted friends, colleagues, and fellow yogis. 

I woke up feeling like I'd been hit by a semi this morning. I did a reality check to make sure I wasn't dreaming. I looked in the mirror and saw tired, swollen eyes. I willingly drank the sadness cocktails my Facebook feed spun up, and I debated posting various vitriolic statements myself. But now I'm thinking about what comes next, and how I might be of service.

Recently everywhere I look I see this word: "bodhicitta." Granted, I've also been surrounding myself with books written by the Dalai Lama, but still -- this word in particular is catching my eye, ringing in my head. The practice of bodhicitta is the practice of putting others above ourselves. And a bodhisattva is someone so committed to bodhicitta that she chooses to delay nirvana, instead pledging to remain until all sentient beings are free of suffering.

Of course, this is no easy feat. But this is what we should all strive towards.

I've had a lot of thoughts today. We all have. But the end of the day I keep coming back to this: Despite our differences, we all have something in common. And that is the fact that we all suffer. Everyone does. Even Trump supporters. Even, of course, Donald Trump himself. Not everyone is suffering over the outcome of the election today, but we're all suffering over something. Loss. Poverty. Injustice. Unrequited love. Impermanence. Across the world there is pain.

But guess what, yogis? We can do something about it. In fact, we absolutely have to, if we really care as much as we've been claiming to. We can't leave our efforts at a Facebook-status-update level -- that's not enough. It's time to give more, love deeper, and serve harder.

Dr. Angela Davis said, "I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept." This is what we must do if we want to see the world awaken. We have to show up, awakened, and share our own light. This is the practice, and it's not on the mat. It's out there in the streets and schools and shelters, and anyone can take part.

With Liberty and Bodhicitta For All,

Ekat

Comment

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

Comment

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.

Comment

Mindfulness Matters

Comment

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.

Comment

[Short Story] The Real World: Universe Edition

Comment

[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!***

Comment

A cold cushion, still.

Comment

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?

Comment

Comment

This now is it

No need to announce the future. 
This now is it. This. 
Your deepest need and desire is satisfied by the moment's energy here in your hand.
Rumi
20150523_183745.jpg

Throughout teacher training "live in the present," "there is only now," "just be" and other versions of the same rallying cry were fed to me without pause in my lectures, course books and daily yoga classes. And I joyfully aligned myself with the yogic concept that presence unlocks fulfillment.

Then I finish my 200 hours and revert immediately to my old ways, to "What's the plan? Where do I need to be that isn't here? How do I get to the next level?" mode. To updating my living list of what to ditch and what to acquire. To scheming up new ways of producing a more gratifying, more perfect life for myself. And that's okay. (Coming back to the real world was a bit of a shift, after all.) What isn't okay is how long I've let myself marinate in this "lacking" mindset before taking a step out of my ego to instead become the observer of my ego. (Months.) 

Why did it take so long? You see, at this this point I have to admit something. Though it was a foundational component of our program, along with all the assigned reading and asana practice hours, I did not do the required meditation work. I didn't put in my stillness time, didn't quite deliver in the sitting department. And, truth be told, I believe that is the main reason I still have so much work to do. 

I recently finished the best book on writing I've ever read, Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones. In it, Goldberg claims her writing improved as a direct result of regularly sitting in stillness, focusing only on the breath and the present moment. As Allen Ginsberg once taught her, "When the mind is shapely, your writing will be shapely." At the time she wrote the book, Goldberg had over ten years of zen meditation under her belt. She used it to reveal her true self to herself by patiently cutting away all the jabberings of the ego. Meditation made her writing more raw and true, she said.  Reading her words gave me the motivation to get on my own ass and sit. I could use more rawness and truth in my writing!

It's also becoming clear to me that lucid dreaming - my other passion - can be improved through a regular meditation practice. I've been reading about lucid dreaming every night and every morning for the past month or so, and the more I read the more I realize I need to meditate if I want to thoroughly explore the subconscious and unconscious via lucid dreaming. After all, it's hard to remember within a dream that it's a dream and it's hard to maintain awareness once lucid. But awareness is a muscle that can be developed. The stronger the awareness muscle, the greater the capacity for profound lucid dreaming experiences. Meditation cultivates awareness like nothing else can. Thus I sit for dreamsake as well.

In a way, then, ironically it is my tendency towards aspiration that is making me get serious about meditation. I'm looking forward to applying its benefits to my writing and to my lucid dreaming practice. But on a deeper level, I'm  looking forward to the simple bliss of present living that meditation helps create. I know it's fruitless to spend time wallowing in the past or anticipating the future (trust me - I'd rather not anticipate the root canal I have to get tomorrow morning). But it's one thing to know this and quite another to live it. Meditation will make it easier to reside in the now. So I'm starting now (with 23 minutes a day).

Because this, now, is it.

Comment

Comment

The Subtle Body

My favorite yoga asana of all time is probably Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon Pose). I also love Camel Pose, Urdhva Dhanurasana (Upward Facing Bow Pose) and backbends in general. And I'm a big fan of handstands, though I'm still too scared to do them away from the wall (or, more accurately, my dresser). Recently, however, Savasana ("Dead Man's Pose") has been climbing my asana affinity charts. But not for rest or even absorption of the benefits worked towards during the practice - the reasons you might guess I'd enjoy it. I look forward to the obligatory end-of-class Savasana because I'm savoring a new courtship with my subtle body (the energy body we each have, made up of "nadis" instead of nerves), and this shape provides the optimal conditions for subtle body work and awareness.

We don't pay enough attention to the energy we're made up of. Until recently, I only paid attention to mine when walking under streetlights at night. (If you know me well, you know I have a strange capacity to turn streetlights on or off when I pass by.) Or on accident, perhaps when stumbling upon a particularly moving song. But lately I'm drinking the energy of life in a little deeper. And Savasana is tasting a little sweeter as a result. (As an example, I've been working on recruiting my focus to create spheres of concentrated energy in my open palms in Savasana - the successful manifestation of which I find exciting and extremely gratifying - and I'm getting pretty good at it!) This Saturday, though, my Savasana game was taken to a whole new level. Let me tell you about Kundalini.

Kundalini is the term used by some yogis to refer to our life force, housed at the base of the spine, which can be awakened with practice (via breathing, meditation, chanting and asana) to rise up through and engage our seven chakras. I experienced my first Kundalini yoga class on Saturday. The vibrations have mellowed out somewhat since I left the Portrero studio, but I still smell the rose oil our teacher had us rub between our hands before we left. And I still feel high as a kite. 

The class was unlike any yoga class I've ever attended. We did a lot of chanting, waving around, shimmying and singing. The urge to burst into laughter was pretty strong at the beginning (for example, when we were instructed to shimmy WHILE doing figure eights with our hips), but I did my best to avoid eye contact with my fellow teacher trainer and I soon surrendered to the weirdness. (This class was not the place to be self conscious.) We did a "happy dance," we practiced different breathing techniques, we shimmied some more and we sent a few praises to the sun, all while internally repeating the mantra "Sat Nam," meaning "truth is my name." We abandoned all concerns, and before I knew it we were done.

Finally, it was time for Savasana. Exhausted from the breathing and dancing, I laid back, closed my eyes and happily emulated a dead man. 

Shortly thereafter, ninety minutes' worth of meditation and Kundalini-stirring declared itself as power beyond measure. To my surprise as I lay there, energy coursed through me like a charging river. I already felt electric there, in the silence of our meditation, but then our (beautiful!) teacher began playing a loud gong. The electricity turned up ten notches. Maybe the craziest I've ever felt, I swear I could hear something celestial ringing true through the vibrations. For a few minutes, my soul sang.

I haven't been the same since Saturday, when I learned how to really pay attention to the universe. Somehow, I feel so alive it almost hurts. I want to sing. I want to dance. I want to smile at everyone I see. Maybe the new San Francisco heat is partially to blame, but, as the yogis say, "something shifted in me" that morning as my subtle body awakened. And I'm not looking back. 

Comment