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Just South of Zen

Where Gratitude Hides

With the proliferation of social media, November has become a month 11249836_10206890450573156_3368309315227665346_nwhere we focus on gratitude. A month once associated with family dinners, pumpkin pie  and a moment to bow our heads and speak aloud our thanks, it is now a time to take note and list 30 things (one for each day of the month) that fill our hearts with gratitude. Perhaps you have seen this on your News Feed on Facebook or perhaps a friend has shared this with you in a personal moment.

It is a good practice – being grateful – this noting the things, that we sometimes overlook; that bring us joy, comfort, growth, peace.

For the month of November, I made a decision to bring aspects of gratitude into each yoga class I lead. There are so many aspects of gratitude that I feel that this is something that our yoga class can go a little deeper into connecting with it.

As I was jotting down notes about gratitude to share at the beginning of the class. I started to think about how some people are uncomfortable with the idea of being thanked or even uncomfortable for being thankful for things in their own life. It is as if they are certain that if they acknowledge something that is important to them or sacred, that some dark entity will swoop down and snatch it away from them. The things that they love must be kept secret, hidden away, acknowledge only in a fleeting thought or whisper. Don’t acknowledge the value of it or someone may steal it.

Where we learn this fear I will never know.

But I too have had this horrifying thought more than once in my own life.

And I realized something as I was doing this exercise.

In order to fully immerse ourselves in the practice of gratitude, we must learn to be comfortable in our skin. Our practice of gratitude should not necessarily start on some outside notion, some homage to the things we are expected to be grateful for (family, job security, homes, cars, love).

In order for us to connect with gratitude it must start in our own skin: in this body that we drive; in these limbs that we flail; in these hands with which we create; in these feet and legs that carry us through a sometimes hostile world; in these lips, tongue and mouth that speak our truth; in this heart that beats and holds more love than we ever knew existed.

Our gratitude needs to start in our bodies; in our “home.” The place that houses our spirit. We need to start with being grateful for everything about our body that disturbs us or makes us uncomfortable. Dare I even say, “ungrateful?”

We need to bow and have gratitude for our feet that hurt sometimes, our curvy thighs, our skinny necks, our aging skin, our blemishes, our graying or fraying hair, our weakness, our strength, our undeniable beauty, our wisdom, our belly that fills with laughter, our hands that hold and heal and that face that meets us each morning in the mirror.

Yes, that face. That beautiful face that will smile back, if you only smile first.

When we recognize that our bounty lies in our being, we can work from that root and extend our gratitude outward to the world around us. One of the hardest things we can do is have gratitude for our physical selves because we are told constantly that our physical selves are not good enough. How can we love something that we are conditioned to hate? How can we truly have gratitude for something that we are told is less than because it is growing older, it is too thin, too thick, too something.

Guess what?

That’s crap.

You are good enough. You are more than good enough.

You, my beautiful friend, are SO ENOUGH that your mind would blow wide open if you could wrap yourself around the truth of it and BE it.

I have found that Yoga takes us to this place. This place of truth and being enough.

When we are on our mat moving into a pose, we feel the strength in our body, we connect with our breath and we feel the bliss our body can know; we stop and listen and we can feel the love that radiates from us into the world.

There is a quiet knowing in this moment when our body and breath connect. This is the moment that makes us ripe for gratitude.

Life is one amazing gratitude project. We each could list hundreds of things that we hold sacred and we know we are blessed to have in our lives. I don’t mean material things. I mean love. I mean children. I mean parents, friends, nature, stars, mountains, sunshine, a hand to hold, the moon on a cold winter’s night, the taste of an Asian Pear, our health, sweet memories, music, the hoot of an owl when we are dozing in the early morning hours, wind chimes and our breath each morning when we awake.

Let’s start at square one. Let us embrace the fact that we are enough, today, right now, this moment. Let us remind ourselves of the beauty and value we bring into the world. And let’s take a moment and have gratitude for that – that beautiful person that you are and how Mother Earth is grateful to the Universe for sending you here.

November Gratitude Project

Day 1 – 8: My body, my breath, my mind, my spirit, my heart, my beauty, my wisdom – MYSELF

Be the Gratitude that you wish to see in the world. Let your authentic beauty touch those around you. Be thankful for your presence in the world and shine bright. Shine so bright that the world needs shades.

Namaste’

Sleeping Beauty

Come on girls Do you believe in love?
‘Cause I got something to say about it
And it goes something like this…….
– MadonnaIMG_1083

Wake up my lovelies!
It’s time to talk.

There is a video that is circulating Facebook, the web, e-mail boxes, etc. It’s a Dove commercial that features a forensic artist sketching women based on their personal descriptions of their face and then another person describing them. The comparisons between the sketches were fairly astonishing. If for some reason you have missed this you can check it out here.

When I watched the video, I cried.

Brutal, uncomfortable honesty.

I cried, because I saw the undeniable beauty in all of these women. As they described themselves, I felt that they couldn’t see it. That something, someone, some societal standard, brainwashing bullshit had corrupted their ability to see their own beauty. Okay, it’s a commercial. I get that. But how often does this happen in real life?

Truth be told, Beauty isn’t skin deep, it is whole-istic. It is also very subjective.

We can spend hours picking ourselves apart and primping ourselves to enter the world. We worry that we are not the ideal shape, texture, color, style, …or whatever.

We hyper-focus on showing up in some expected way. For what? So that people will like us, men/women will love us? We will be accepted, feel empowered, recognized, valued, loved?

Ahh, there’s the kicker.

You are more powerful than you realize.

And you are Valued and Loved.

Stop right now. Stop the insanity. Put down that mascara wand, throw out the SlimFast, put the Valium back in the cabinet.

Repeat, “I am valued and I am loved.”

Now, I am not going to get into the whole Divine, Goddess thing, because I know that makes people uncomfortable. But if you are connected to something higher, (like Steve Winwood sings, a Higher Love), then you know you have that “love connection.”

But let’s start at home, with something a little more tangible and less whoo-whoo, shall we?

Let’s start with ourselves.

We, as woman (and men too) have to start valuing ourselves and loving ourselves, first. Not waiting for that moment to value ourselves after we have landed a significant other, not because someone said our dress was pretty or because we are having a good hair day. Not because we lost 35, 55, 95 pounds.

Right now. Right where you are. With who you are today.

Because the packaging may change, but you are YOU, right now. You will be that YOU tomorrow. You will be that YOU with lipstick. You will be that YOU at 30 and at 85. You will be that YOU in skinny jeans, baggy sweat pants, short hair, long hair, sans make-up, awake or asleep.

So let’s wake up a little bit.

Let’s stop hurting ourselves.

Let’s start a REVOLUTION, damn it!

Let’s wake-up and take back our power.

We are beautiful. We ARE different. But that difference, our individuality, is what makes us unique and so amazingly beautiful!

Stop holding yourself back. Let that fire and beauty within you shine bright.

Be a beacon. Light up the world with the energy that is inside of you. Allow that loving energy that courses through you and dances with your spirit to shine out into the world.

Let people see how amazing you are!

Look, I am curvy woman. I know it.

Do I sit around having self-loathing thoughts because I am not thin? Because I am not the shape that is reported to be the “in” thing? Do I fear that people are judging me? Making comments about how my jeans fit or about my ass?

I could. I really could. It’s so easy isn’t it? Everything we are inundated with tells women with curves that they are not of value. Diet plans, models, commercials, societal expectations. It makes me want to hit something or someone, sometimes.

Or scroll up and take the Valium mentioned earlier and wash it down with Prosecco.

You know what I do?

I remember that I must be “asleep” if I am thinking this way. If we are sleeping we are clearly having a nightmare, because this “crap thinking” is not real.

It’s programmed.

Don’t buy into it.

Stop buying into the garbage that is meant to take away your power and start investing in the actions and energy that will guide you to claiming it.

Rather than focusing on “dieting,” focus on health. Rather then focus on “working out,” grab your yoga mat, even if it is just to stretch and lay in calming Savasana. Instead of focusing on whether or not your face is pretty “enough,” (which it is, I assure you), wash off your make up and go out and sit in nature and let the sunshine warm your sweet cheeks. Instead of hyper focusing on your hair, go out and let the wind blow through it. Do something you love. Do something you were always afraid to do. Follow a path that calls to you.

Breathe, my sisters. Breathe.

Nurture yourself. LOVE yourself. Love Each Other!

You have the spark of something more than this world within you. (Atheists look away).

You do. That spark shines bright in you. When you devalue yourself, you devalue that spark. Connect with it and let it bring your true beauty forward.

I babble a great deal about choices. This is also a choice. A more challenging choice given the brainwashing we have been subjected to. But, still a choice.

We can continue to be asleep and buy the crap that we are being sold – that we are not beautiful based on some absurd template, that we are not of value because we are not beautiful and thus we don’t have power.

Even worse, we can judge other woman because they don’t measure up to the same garbage rating system we use on ourselves.

Or we can stop, drop and roll.

We can wake up and raise ourselves up and raise our sisters up as well.

Tell another woman she is beautiful. (Thank you Anna)

Give her a hug.

Hold her hand.

Celebrate each other!

Bond together in sisterhood instead of tearing each other down.

Go even further, let’s bond together in human-hood and raise each other up!

Be the damn Change that you Want to See in the World!!!!

Guess what my beautiful spirits? You do have the power.

Do not let anyone, anything or any standard try to convince you otherwise.

Now claim it! Claim yourself!

You are valuable, you are important, you are vital, you are perfect and you are whole.

And baby, you are stunning.

Don’t forget it.

XOXOXO

Life’s Artistry

4824_1110118126530_4144722_nEverything Shapes Us.

How can it not? We are a sum total of our experiences in this lifetime. It starts when we are children and we are gradually molded as we grow into adults. Our joys, our hurts, our excitement, even some of our interests can be traced to something at some point on our path.

We are the proverbial mound of clay that is shaped and molded and formed into what stands before your mirror today.

This shaping is not without its pinching, though. We do not suddenly arrive at the doorstep of our wise selves without some challenges and frustrations along the way. I would even be so bold as to suggest that the more difficult situations that we have experienced are what cast the defining elements to our spirit.

Lucky for us (read with dripping sarcasm), these definable moments usually involve other people. These “other people” are usually working on their own stuff and have decided on some level, either conscious or unconscious to take us along for the ride. Perhaps it is a family misunderstanding, office gossip, angry neighbors, a lover or boyfriend who chooses to disconnect, a friend who betrays you, an angry uptight human in traffic or just some perceived miserable person in line at Starbucks.

Is hell really other people? Or is hell the way we respond to other people?

It’s a two-way street, baby.

Someone is acting like an ass (well, at least in our opinion) and we become outraged. Perhaps we become indignant, tearful, or down-right head banging against the wall furious. Maybe it screws up our whole day. Maybe we feel it screws up our life.

But does it? Does it really?

This is where it is imperative to stop. I mean really s-t-o-p and b-r-e-a-t-h-e.

How much power are we giving this person or the situation? How much of ourselves are we giving away to something that is, in of itself, temporary? In some, crazy transcendental, whoo-whoo way, should we not be blessing this situation and use it as a moment to practice compassion, awareness or simply practice being a spirit in a human body?

Believe me when I say this, if someone had told me this yesterday, I probably would have thrown something at them.  But out of the fire, we can rise, reborn. We can have a complete meltdown like the Phoenix and rise up, up and away from the ashes of our own “stuff.”  The powerful fire of fear and anger has the capability to burn off what we do not need.

If we have the wisdom to let it go.

It does not serve us to “hold on” to the things that come to shape us. They are tools. They are part of the grand design. They chip away at our marble surface and they cut away at the fleshy bits to get to what matters – spirit- that amazing energy that percolates within our cores. That amazing ju-ju that can truly guide us if we can let go of the emotions that drown out its gentle voice most of our waking lives.

It’s okay to get pissed. It’s perfectly fine to want people or situations to be different then what they are at any given moment. It’s cathartic to vent our inner dialogue and shout (or howl) at the moon. It’s really not okay or healthy or purposeful to cling to those negative emotions.  As a matter of fact, it can be downright destructive if we spend too much time and energy trying to hold on to them once they arrive in our lives.

As I have suggested many times before, we do have a choice. We have a choice to release it.

Let it go.

Fly, Robin, Fly.

An even crazier thought is to bless it. Be grateful for it.

“Thank you Universe for sending this crazy, gossipy, cheating, miserable, negative person into my life. Thank you Universe for reminding me that I am powerful and valuable and I am filled with Light and I can release this at anytime. Thank you Universe for all this bullshit because it shapes who I am.”

Well, you get the idea.

But as crazy as that may sound when you are in the heat of the moment, try it. I’m not kidding.

Seriously, s-t-o-p, b-r-e-a-t-h-e and thank the Universe for that jackass in traffic. Then send them a little blessing.

It’s amazing how something as simple as that can immediately change the energy of a frustrating situation. In that perfect moment, if we listen, we can be reminded of our true nature.

Michelangelo is credited with saying, “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”

Maybe that is what is happening to us when we encounter mean people. Perhaps the Divine is trying to set the angel within us free.

And it’s our choice to release her.

What will you choose?

50 Shades of Green

“It’s not that easy being green
Having to spend each day the color of the leaves
When I think it could be nicer being red, or yellow, or gold
Or something much more colorful like that” – Kermit the Frog

7-15-10 002

The grass is not always greener in the other yard. Or so we are told. The truth is, we really do not know what shade of green the grass is  in the place we long to go or the experience we long to have, unless we embark on that journey to see for ourselves.

There is nothing inherently wrong about imagining what it would be like to have a different experience. Trust me, I do this ALL THE TIME. I imagine what it would be like to live back in the beautiful southwest or what it would be like to live in a hip town like Portland where I could grab a vegan meal at an actual cafe’ or even what it would be like to live off the grid on a mountaintop with just the bare minimum of modern conveniences. Yes, this would include a commode. Daydreaming is good. It taps into the creative aspect of beings. It helps us thrive and grow. It expands our way of looking at things.

The problem happens when we attach to this “other” experience. The insidious ghost pops in when we believe that we cannot be happy unless we are living in Utah, driving a fancier car, working at a different job, not working at all and painting river rocks with the face of Buddha or even in a different relationship or living single.

Now we have created a funky energy that makes us miserable. Each day we wake up and think about how miserable we are because we are not living off the grid on a mountaintop. If only, I could sell all my belongings and just go. If only, my spouse would get abducted by aliens so I could run off with the lead character from that reality show, if only, if only, if only.

Ouch.

Then the spiral starts and then, much like the pull of gravity, we start to find things that are wrong with EVERYTHING that has not aligned perfectly with the fantasy that has somehow grown wings and is flying around the room shrieking.

Chances are, before we even began this little exercise, everything was probably okay in our world. Maybe some things needed tweaking, maybe they needed complete overhauls. I am not saying there is not room for improvement. What I am suggesting (from my own personal experience) that when we move beyond the moment into an unknown space in the future, we can cause ourselves great discontent.

I have been living like this, on and off, for the past 7 years. There are weeks that go by that I am perfectly content. But then something may happen that reminds me that I have always wanted to live in Santa Fe, New Mexico and I am currently living in the deep south. Then things start to go to crap very quickly. I look at everything with a judging eye. Accents drive me crazy. Bible thumpers make my head hurt. The lack of vegetarian cuisine becomes a crying shame. I overlook the beauty right in front of my eyes for some fantasy that I currently cannot touch.

I am dreaming about green grass when it is right in front of my eyes.

I realized that I was not only not living in the present moment and practicing compassion and gratitude, I was also making myself miserable with a “what if” scenario. Something that is just not possible at this juncture in my life. Something, that if it is meant to be, will be. But for now, I have responsibilities and people who I love that need me to be here. Right here. Right now. In this present moment.

Life does not always reflect the romances on television or in books, where you live does not always look like travel books, the food you may prepare does not always look like Martha Stewart cooked it and your family is probably not the Cunninghams. But that’s okay because if you stop and look  – whatever you have cultivated in your life is probably pretty damn amazing in its own way.

The panacea for much of our discontent is as simple as opening our eyes to the beauty around us and make a commitment to stop playing the what if game and start participating in active gratitude When we do this, it is  very easy to see that the grass is the brightest shade of green it could possibly right in our own backyard.

I have made the critical error for the longest time of living for “tomorrow.” But the sad thing is, when we live for tomorrow, we miss the “today” that is unfolding right in front of us. We miss the birds singing, the wind blowing, the children laughing, the music playing, the tastes, sounds, caresses, joy and beauty of this moment.

Life isn’t about building fantasies. It is about being present in the present.

Truth be told, the present is a marvelous gift (pun intended) if we stop and focus on unwrapping it slowly and being filled with gratitude for what is, right here, right now.

And what amazing gift it is.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

A Stick Called Willingness

All things in life have by-products.

Our actions have by-products, our words have by-products, our use of fossil fuels, food choices, material possessions and personal relationships all generate by-products. Many times the things born from these choices are not the most positive. We are seeing global change at a phenomenal rate, animal suffering that would make your head spin if you really looked at it and human suffering that is just not acceptable. These are all by-products.

But I am not here this morning to share negative or sad or apocalyptic words or theories. I wish to share with you the by-product of positive action, born from conscious change and effort.

When I started merrily down the path of simplifying and minimizing things – obligations, commitments, space and words – with my little mantra (Is it needed? Is it beautiful? Does it bring value?), I believed the benefit would simply be more space and more time. Oh, and possibly less drama.

I envisioned closets that did not throw-up stuff, clean floors, an organized kitchen, flowing routines and more money in the bank.

For the most part, this is true. But I have discovered another wonderful by-product that has developed.

Trading stuff for experiences.

I had heard of these amazing things called “experiences,” from the far reaches of the universe and had read about them in books and blogs. But who knew one could actually experience them for oneself? Who knew that you could do stuff you always peripherally thought or dreamed of doing once you cleaned up all the stuff that was blocking the door and preventing you from getting out into the world.

But the interesting thing for me is, I noticed that after I moved the piles of stuff that were clogging up the energy and space, my “willingness” to venture out increased. I suddenly WANTED to do things that were outside of my comfort zone.

Because of this new-found willingness, I found myself last evening at a Kirtan/Satsang in Columbia.  Our friends, Kristen and Randall Brooks of The Bhakti House Band, are an amazingly talented couple who bring their wisdom and musical magic to people across the country by sharing kirtan. My husband loves to promote these events and has helped many groups and local yoga studios “hook-up” and offer gatherings in our local area.

Usually, I skip the festivities. In the past, I have made a million excuses.

“I need to stay home and take care of our son;” “I don’t feel well;” “I won’t know anyone;” “It’s not my thing.” Or secretly, “I’m scared as hell and I just can’t bring myself to go.”

I may have a big mouth sometimes, but the truth is I am a scared and shy little girl who is afraid that someone is going to say something mean. So I do not do the things I want to do because in my mind they are complicated or I might get hurt.

Holy crap, this is absolutely no way to live your life, is it? But, I am one of the most resistant people you will ever meet – especially when it comes to doing something new.

But this blockage, this internal clutter, has started to change recently. The outward clearing I have been practicing has started to clear out the garbage in my head.

When I stopped spending my time and money shopping and bringing crap into the house, I no longer had a process to hide behind.

My process use to look something like this:

I have to go grocery shopping; I have to look for a new pair of shoes; I have to buy the boy a winter coat; We need broccoli; I have to put gas in the car; I need a new handbag because this one is not simple; Let’s go to the bookstore and buy books written by people who have simplified their lives and/or are doing amazing things so that I can live vicariously through them.

What the heck am I admitting this for, right?

It’s all part of my process of being “willing;” willing to be honest, willing to see the truth, willing to live open, and willing ….gulp….to try to new experiences.

I have said it before but it is worth repeating, when you release the resistance and open up to the possibilities, amazing things rush into your life.

My willingness over the last month has included a spontaneous – in the middle of the week – trip to the mountains; attending the Blues Festival; exploring our town; talking to strangers (that are now friends); healing past hurts; approaching intimidating people; crafting and executing an amazing Halloween party; hosting a very late night dinner and visit (on a work night no less) with close friends from out-of-town; developing a new approach to holiday traditions; planning travel for early next year; new food choices and recipes and shopping local and working with what is available; drawing; and a very late night satsang that had echoing effects on my spirit even into today.

As part of the kirtan last night, Kristen (one half of The Bhakti House Band) asked all in attendance to pull a stick from a small vessel. Individual words were written on the sticks; awesome words like intention, synthesis, faith, truth.

My stick? “Willingness.”

At first, I wanted to toss it or pick another one. It felt like fire in my hand.

Oh, how it burned!

I felt the familiar resistance and the same fear-based langauge started playing in my head.

But then as I sat with it, I embraced it. Willingness had brought me to this place with this roomful of amazing people.

By connecting with willingness, I had been able to release “stuff” that I identified with and that I thought defined me; Willingness had opened up space for things to flow into my life; and by being “willing’ I had been able to release a continual and deeply ingrained fear and step outside of my comfort zone.

Essentially, I had embraced a willingness to experience life and open up my heart.

The heart = A place inside our chests that fear closes up if we are not diligent.

And we must be diligent, my friends.  Because as Kristen pointed out last night, if we all live from our hearts and find peace within ourselves FIRST, then that peace will naturally propel itself outward into the world.

We will never have peace if we do not have a personal willingness to live from our hearts and to find peace within ourselves first. We will never save Mother Earth if we do not have the willingness to release our attachment to the practices that are destroying her. We will never evolve on a personal level if we do not have the willingness to release the things that limit us in order to discover the things that expand us.

Trust me, even now, as I sit here writing and feeling all ooey-gooey and high from the good vibes of old and new friends, it is still scary as hell.

Living from our hearts is scary has hell. Because our ego and the part of us we identify with believes we will ultimately get hurt.  It believes we will shatter under the pressure of unkind people or inconsiderate words. It believes we will break from a cruel stare or an awkward moment.

We won’t.

We, our spirits, our hearts, our essence, is so much stronger than that. Look at the amazing things people do everyday simply by living from their hearts. These things have a resounding effect and long-term power because they are born from the most fragile place within us. This is the stuff that real life is made from and we only have to take a chance to try it for ourselves to see how amazing it can be!

Each year at Halloween, I set an intention for the coming 12 months. It is an old Celtic family tradition. Originally, I was going to choose gratitude. Even though, I feel this important, I have decided to acknowledge the pointers that I have been given and choose “willingness” instead.

Willingness encompasses gratitude. Willingness surrounds everything we wish to do or change. Willingness is all we need, to see our situation as it is and find peace with it and then move toward change if necessary. We need willingness to have gratitude for every single thing in our lives rather than complaining about what we do not have.

Most important, we need the willingness to love. Love who you are, love where you are, love the people who are in your life and love the possibilities that are ahead of you.

Perhaps all we need is love.

But first, we have to have the willingness to do so.

Even though I returned the stick at the end of the night, I can still feel its fire. But rather than a fire born from fear, it’s a fire for change.

I continue to hold that stick and its fire close to my heart, igniting my willingness and lighting my way through this sometimes crazy world.

And you know what? I am going to let it shine bright for all to see.

Cruel or awkward stares be damned.

Namaste’ my friends.

The Power of Things

Things have power. Much like the grinding gears and whirling mechanisms behind the grumbling, floating head of the Wizard of Oz, many things have an illusive power that transfixes us. These things possess the magical power to trick us into believing that we cannot live without them; or if we relinquish them, we will be social outcasts lost in the world or even worse, we could find ourselves “in danger.”

I ran through this entire gamut of emotions recently when my cell phone plan was up for renewal. Like most companies, my provider was offering an upgrade with a new 2-year contract.

I wanted to see if I could “Go Further” with my cell phone. I really did. I wanted to march into the store and ask for a downgrade from my hot pink encased i-phone. But every time I even thought about it, I would immediately have a mental freak out session.

“What if I get lost again in the mountains and need the GPS on the phone?”

“What if I need to find a phone number on the internet?”

“What if I need to check my e-mail?”

“How will I check Facebook?”

Ok, the absurdity of that last question broke the spell.

How the hell was I going to check Facebook? Really?

In the dawning days of cellphones, I wanted to own one simply for the security factor.  I wanted the ability to call someone if my car had problems or I needed to reach out for assistance. Back in the old days, I felt safe having the phone locked in my glove box.

But technology is a funny thing and marketing is its evil assistant. If you are not careful, you will end up believing that you NEED all kinds of things: a smart phone, a lap top, a desk top computer, a tablet and a digital book reader.

The crazy thing is, they all pretty much do the same damn thing.

But the marketing is slick, baby. As a marketer, I know this. I also acknowledge it when I view a really catchy or smart ad on the internet or I see a glossy print ad. I think, “damn, that’s good.”

Here is my litmus test whenever something bright and shiny hits the screen or jumps out from a magazine:

You don’t NEED a dozen doughnuts. You WANT a dozen doughnuts.

You don’t Need <blank>. You Want <blank>.

I decided that I did not like the hold that my i-phone had over me. I am working diligently to reduce my possessions, eliminate clutter and bring my life into something sane and  manageable, right? I was minimizing to what was needed, beautiful and of value.

Did my i-phone fit into this criteria.

Sadly, no it did not.

I paced outside of the provider’s store for five minutes before I finally walked in and approached the counter.

“Hi,” I said, “I qualify for an upgrade and I would like to downgrade my phone.”

“Sure!” the perky young lady said, “Let me show you our smart phones. We have the new i-phone.”

“No wait,” I said slowly, “I think you misunderstood. I actually have an i-phone. I want to downgrade to, well, just a phone.”

She blinked at me confused. “I will have to talk to my manager.”

Crazy, but true.

There is a happy ending.

More or less.

I did finally downgrade to a regular phone that has a Qwerty board that flips out for texting. I liked the phone, not the texting part. Texting to me is just as much a distraction as mobile Facebook and e-mail. If I want to have a conversation with someone, I will call them, knock on their front door or walk into their office.

So with that in mind, the Universe accommodated me.

Three days after obtaining my new downgraded phone, it fell into the dog’s water dish.

It happened at night, right before bed and all night I was panicked – literally PANICKED – that my phone was never going to work again.

I kept getting up, checking on it and pushing buttons to see if the screen would return to normal and the buttons would work again.

I asked myself, “Why is this happening? I did a good thing by downgrading. Why am I being punished?”

Or was I?

Maybe it was the Universe simply saying, “Go Further.”

That simple, yet dramatic splash into the dog’s water dish made me realize how much power this new thing had over me. In my mind, there was a potential for a broken phone, a monthly bill, cut off communication on the road, etc.

My husband lost his cell phone over a year ago and has not had a desire to obtain a new one. He gets along just fine. Let me rephrase that, he gets along beautifully. There was a powerful lesson in this for me that I really needed to see.

I was still attached to a “thing.”

I stopped, took a deep breath and just released it all.

If it worked, it worked, if not, I would figure out Plan B.

The cell phone story stops here. The phone works  – to make phone calls only – the text keyboard does not. The phone is serving the purpose that I originally desired and I am not distracted by having to respond to texts. As a matter of fact, I am going to cancel my text service and save another $10 a month.

I am no longer distracted by Facebook messages when I am driving and I am no longer distracted by the “ba-bling” of e-mail arriving into my mobile mailbox.

What I have received in return for releasing this menagerie of distraction is something you cannot buy.

Time.

Sweet time.

I have decided that allowing things to have power over my life, whether they are smartphones, technology, clothes, cars, jewelery or a garage of crap is a waste of my time.

“Things are not what they appear to be: nor are they otherwise.”  Surangama Sutra

I can buy things. I can’t buy time.

And in the world of a million commodities, time is the most precious.

So I ask you:

What thing has power over you? Can you release it?

Going Further

When I first started practicing yoga, I was extremely resistant to certain postures. I was convinced that I was not flexible enough, strong enough or secure enough to even attempt them. I did not want to push myself further for fear of physical injury or public embarrassment. What if I hurt myself? Even worse, what if I fell over, crashed to the ground, rolled to the side and knocked down the unsuspecting man or woman next to me? So, when a certain yoga teacher came over to adjust me, I would start to sweat profusely and quietly say, “No thank you,” like I was turning away cake or a ride from a stranger.

After a few of these encounters, this particular teacher said to me in the kindest voice you can imagine, “You can go further.”

Yeah? No, I don’t think so.

Or so I thought. The funny thing about yoga is that it not only stretches your body, it also stretches your mind and awakens your awareness.  So the more I practiced, the further I went. I found myself pushing a little harder, bending a little more, using straps less and  trusting myself and being open to where the experience could take me.

The experience ultimately took me on the journey to become a yoga teacher.

I needed this reminder recently as I attempted to “Go Further” with clearing the superfluous that still clings to parts of my family’s life. We have been simplifying and downsizing on and off for a while now. We released things when we moved from Florida to South Carolina. We released things when we arrived here. I released things when I changed jobs, But we have never honestly looked at our belongings and asked the important questions:

“Do we need this?”

“Is it beautiful?”

“Does it bring value?”

We recently developed these questions to help us define what we should keep and what we should release. Yet, there still seemed to be closets filled with miscellaneous items, drawers filled to the top, stacks of books and cds, piles of blankets, oh, the list does go on.

We would tackle closets and we would seem to release things. We would end up with bags and boxes for trash and donation. Yet, it still seemed that every time we opened a closet, crap would fall out on top of us and we could never find the item we went searching for in the first place.

Clearly, we were kidding ourselves. We were just moving the stuff around. We were saving it for (fill in the blank). We were just organizing it.

I have realized, that for me personally, organizing is a fancy word that starts with an “O” that means, “kidding yourself.”

We had to go further.

Much like Chaturanga, I resisted it. I was not ready to stretch that much. What if, what if, what if…..

I would open the linen closet and look at the stacks of sheets and blankets and think, “What if we have a bunch of company and there is a snow storm?” I might need this stuff.

I would open my clothing closet and dodge the pants and sweaters that would fall from the top shelf. I would rationalize, “I am lucky to have this many choices, I might need it.”

I think the turning point for me was when I counted the spare pillow cases and realized I had 52.

Fifty-two pillow cases? Seriously?

Yes, seriously.

Releasing “stuff” in order to live a sane and manageable life is not an easy process, at first. There are sweaty palms, pacing, words of frustration and FEAR. We are afraid of what we are doing. We have been conditioned, marketed and trained to buy and collect material possessions.

Stuff = happiness.

Right?

Ahem, no, wrong.

The moment we start to let go of things, we feel like a salmon swimming in the wrong direction. It doesn’t help that everyone along the path has to make a point of telling us that we are swimming the wrong way.

But the power lies in the simple act of asking a question, “What makes you think that I am the one going the wrong way?”

Having an original thought usually scares the bedazzle out of people.

The first time I went through the closet in my office, I thought I had done a great job. There were bags of things for donation and bags of trash. The second time I went through the same closet, there was even more.  I went through it a third time over the weekend and took out three shelves so I would not be tempted to put anything else in it.

Now I can find my cameras, my journals, photo albums, my portfolio, important documents and painting supplies, all without being injured by flying objects. It is such a wonderful feeling to open the door.

The same goes for the linen closet. The 52 pillow cases have been donated to a non-profit agency along with sheets and extra blankets. Winter is coming and there are people who will need to be warm. Real people,  not the imagined company in my head.

My clothing closet is down to 33 pieces of clothing. Yes, my friends, you read that correctly. I will be happy to share this liberating process in a future post.

For the most part, who really gets up in the morning and says, “Yes! I want to get out of my comfort zone!” It’s more like, “Where is the coffee?”

But imagine if you went further. Just a little bit. Imagine if you trusted yourself enough to know that you could. Imagine the possibilities.

We all have things we dream of doing and long to accomplish. Sometimes the simplest path to achieving these things is stretching ourselves outside of our comfort zones, swimming up the river in a different way or just asking a challenging question. Sometimes it is taking our bodies into Chaturanga kicking in screaming.

And sometimes it is as simple as realizing that 52 pillow cases is not a path to happiness.

How can you go further? Can you imagine the possibilities?

The Path of the “Do Over”

ImageEveryone we encounter can teach us something of value. If we hold this Truth close to our heart, we can be open to the lessons that manifest in front of us on a daily basis. When I practice this, I find the world opens up to me in new ways. Sometimes the lesson is challenging and frustrating. Sometimes, I feel like I need to take a bath and a shot of tequila afterwards. But if I remind myself of this personal, Noble Truth, I find myself a little further along the path of compassion.

When my son was young, perhaps six or seven, he figured out that he had opinions that differed from mine. This was an interesting time for both of us because he was not quite sure how to “get his way” and I was not quite sure how to deal with his new demands in a peaceful and “zen” like manner. Sometimes arguments and disagreements would escalate. However, my inherently peaceful child developed a solution rather quickly. He would come up to me, take my hand in his and say
in a calm voice, “Can we please start over?” From here, we were able to both find our center, reach a compromise and solve the conflict. Out of a perceived frustrating and difficult situation, a few simple words spoken with compassion reconnected us to each other. We no longer were fighting to be “right,” we simply released the garbage emotions and reconnected. Egos be damned.

Thank the Divine for the “Do Over.”

When we start over, we are able to start where we are no matter what has gone before us. We do not have to cling to past hurts, indiscretions, misunderstandings, perceived inadequacies or any other mind trap we choose to fall into at the moment. We are fresh and new and filled with the same potential we always were. We are just reminded of it. We can start over at the New Year, on our birthday, in the morning of a bright and beautiful new day or we can start over right where are standing. Right here, right now.

If we can let go of the baggage, the need to be right, the negative language in our minds and the critic, we can move forward.

I took a digital sabbatical from writing here to regroup. I felt disconnected from the vision I originally had for what I share here. I needed to just write – write short stories, write poetry, write my novel, doodle, dance, scream, sleep, cook, daydream, home school, meditate, paint, practice yoga, wander, create – all without technology.

But when it was time to come back, I was paralyzed at the next step. I did not know where to start or what to say. I had reached an impasse with my Spirit. So of course my ego pipes in and says, “Don’t bother, let it go. What the hell are you going to do? Who wants to read your mumbo jumbo anyway? etc.”

When will it learn to shut up?

It won’t. Ever.

We have to learn to stop listening to it and turn our attention to that tiny voice deep inside of us that whispers, “You can do it.” It sings to us in dreams and tells us to paint New Mexican sunsets or sculpt flowers from clay or write love songs, write a story, knit a sweater, make peace with the neighbor, learn the guitar, help others, dance in the moonlight, bake bread or just breathe in the sunshine. It is the part of us that inspires us to not just do good, but be great and do wonderful things. It is the part of us that inspires us and consequently, inspires others.

So I ignored the negative babbling in my head  – the string of critical thoughts that had a Judas Priest soundtrack set to it. I turned it down so I could hear that lovely whisper.

That sweet, whisper with a fairy-like voice sighed above the din of Rob Halford and said gently, “Can we please start over?”

Of course we can. Because when we come from a place of Spirit, we can do anything.

So I sit now, reaching out to all of you, fresh and new and filled with the same inspiration and potential that was always there – ready to start over with something a little different, but still Just South of Zen.

Thank you to every one of you who reached out through e-mail and messages with words of encouragement and to check in with me. I appreciate it more than you will ever know.

I love where we have been together. But I am excited about this next step, this new beginning right here right now. Zen but just a little south.

Carrying A Big Stick

“Give up defining yourself –
to yourself or to others.

You won’t die. You will come to life”
– Eckhart Tolle

My family and I live in a magical place.

A place, where we balance on a cusp of all things civilized and all things wild.

Located between the city and country, we balance on this cusp in a pleasant area of houses with acres, wild lakes and woods. People have manicured lawns and ancient trees, asphalt driveways and gravel, landscaping and nature’s handiwork. It is a wonderful area of contradictions and dichotomy.

The streets are hilly and wind their way through our neighborhood offering a wonderful way to exercise in nature. Working my way up some of the more challenging climbs prepares me for when I hike in the mountains and offers me an opportunity to breathe a little harder and feel my heart and lungs stretch out of their comfort zones. The descent downward reminds me to watch my footing and bask in the contrast of what I just endured moving up the incline.

And I do it all while carrying a big stick.

Everyone who walks in the neighborhood carries one, so I’m not the only one. To be honest, I only carry one when I am walking in the dark, wee hours of the morning because I have seen everyone else carry one. I figure they must know something I don’t, right? But some people even carry them in broad daylight and at high noon.

I am sure the reason is because one just never knows what they may encounter in this magical place between worlds. This is a place where the howl of coyotes can be heard from the depths of the woods. On more than one occasion, I have encountered a fox scurrying across my path and even a snake curled up on the edge of the street. One of the more exciting and (at the time) scary encounters was when a large buck emerged out of a patch of wooded trees, stared directly at me and then disregarded me and sauntered off into the entrance to a larger wooded area. I stood amazed and petrified. Not that I ever thought that this beautiful creature would harm me but it was the largeness of the experience itself that was so amazing.

I have never used my stick. I assume I take it for protection in the event that a buck should charge me or a coyote goes berserk and tries to attack. Or maybe if a giant bear or chubacabra should emerge from the woods…..

Okay, let me be clear, I would never kill or hurt an animal. So, I have no clue why I take this stick with me. Maybe it is to ward off a human attacker, though I can’t imagine who in their right mind would be cruising our neighborhood at 4:30 in the morning other than the reluctant, newspaper delivery person. I can’t imagine what my fellow walkers would be doing with their sticks either. It’s not like a rabbit is going to fly out of the woods and attack an innocent passerby, like a scene from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”

But still, we carry our sticks.

We all carry big sticks, not just the ones you can swing and wave around and use to ward off attack rabbits.

We carry big sticks in our every day lives as a sort of protection as well.

My big stick used to be my job title and job responsibilities. I was really caught up in that whole trip before I left the “big job” and moved to our quiet magical, place.

No matter what anyone would throw at me or think of me, I had my “big stick” of my title and how many people I managed and how much money I made and what my resume looked like and who I had worked with historically. Oh, so impressive!

But I left that big stick behind.

Now, I have a job that I enjoy, people I like seeing each day and even though I am proud of the things that I create and are a part of, I don’t talk about it a great deal outside of work. When people ask me what I “do,” now, I usually name a project that I am working on or a recipe I am building or a brief description of the chapter of the book that I am developing or maybe the weeding I need to do in the garden. It’s not that I am not grateful for my employment, I am trying to not identify with things that are “outside” of me. I am attempting, everyday, to be more authentic.

“It doesn’t interest me  what you do for a living.  I want to know what you ache for and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.” – Oriah  Mountain Dreamer 

The crazy thing about the “big stick” and setting it down, is that you may find yourself picking up other “big sticks” or perhaps small sticks that we feel make us seem more interesting and impressive. Some of the things I listed above could be little sticks if we attach our identity to them.  We have a tendency to use what we “do” as our definition of who we are, rather than how we connect with Source and use that energy to reach out and connect with each other.

So why do we carry our “big stick?”

Well, the true authentic us doesn’t carry it.

You guessed it! Our E-G-O-s do!

Ego is so afraid of not being considered important or impressive that it has to carry a big stick for protection. Nobody wants to be considered less than anyone else and in a world where people around us seem to invalidate us and belittle us (ego’s perception) it is comforting for this primal thinking to carry something that can protect it.

The truth of the matter is, no one is better than anyone else. You probably heard your mother say that a thousand times. But it is true. I find myself saying it to my own son, now.

The more we fill our time and space with our own self-importance, the further we move away from our core and our Divine spirit. Sometimes we carry bigger and bigger sticks so that we can win in any battle – real or perceived. Sometimes the burden of carrying so many sticks weighs us down so that we can never fully experience our deepest potential and our brightest light. We cover up our heart and our Truth with the stories we tell ourselves and others so that we never have to feel vulnerable or not worthy. If we carry this burden and remove ourselves from authenticity and real experiences then consequently, we won’t get hurt. At least, that is what we believe.

If we look deep within our own Truth, we will inherently know that Divine spirit does not see us as better or even separate from each other. We are all aspects of that experience. We are all fingertips of the Divine or as my good friend Serena used to say, “We are all drops in the ocean.”  As individuals we are viable and worthy, yet no one drop of water is “better” than the next. But combined together, drops form into puddles, into waves, into tides, into oceans – it is a marvel and it is magical.

“And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” – Marianne Williamson

Our sticks that we carry keep us separate.  But also, if we spend a great deal of time observing other people and what they “carry,” that keeps us separate as well.

I am reminded of a presentation Eckhart Tolle once gave and how he summed up ego and our perception when dealing with others.  He suggested that when we are “not enlightened” or not working on ourselves, we see everyone as separate and we get really caught up in who is saying what and doing what and how we are being invalidated. However, when we start to do the work and we experience these same experiences, even with the same people, we tend to say things like “These Egos, they are all out to get me.” It’s rather funny. It’s like the Ego calling the Ego – “Ego.”

Other people’s sticks are as much ours, as they are theirs – if we let them be.

For me, I am starting to observe if someone is waving around their stick and how I start to look in my pile for what I can whip out to impress them or beat them. It’s kind of stupid. Wait, it’s really stupid. Because no one can ever win this asinine battle. It only serves to move us away from our path of learning and our path of serving.

We spend so much time trying to one up each other in order to protect ourselves from feeling less than worthy, that  we miss the whole point of this experience.

“If you are humble nothing will touch you, neither praise nor disgrace, because you know what you are.”  — Mother Teresa

We are here to take care of each. We are here to grow exponentially on the spirit level. We are here to be a part of this wacky life experience with all of these wonderful other aspects of the Divine in all of their crazy disguises.

This morning, when I took my walk, I left my big stick at home. At first, I was afraid (perhaps of the Monty Python bunny). I kept having this feeling that I had left something important behind and perhaps I wouldn’t be safe.

But the further I walked, I realized leaving the stick behind was freeing. It was liberating. I could walk with my arms moving more freely and my chest open to breathe in the fresh morning air. I didn’t have to drag extra luggage with me on my journey. It was just me and the world around me.

And in the quiet morning hours of pre-dawn, as I thought about the sticks I use to carry and still carry on occasion, I smiled at the realization that I could just as easily leave those behind. It would be scary at first, because I might not feel safe.

But it would also be freeing and open my heart to the true beauty of the world and to the real and authentic experiences that this journey offers.

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