Thursday, December 15, 2011

Follow your heart

I just want to get to the point today and I can't say it any better than this:

"When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like, 'If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you'll most certainly be right.' Since then. . . I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself, 'If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?' And whenever the answer has been 'no' for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something. Your time is limited. . . . . Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. . . .Everything else is secondary."
-From Steve Jobs' June 12, 2005, Standford Commencement Address

I don't think I have to explain who Steve Jobs is, and you've probably read this quote a few other places in the last 2 months. I am moved everytime I read another article about the man. I mean, who cares if you liked him personally or love or hate Apple. You cannot deny the man manifested his visions beautifully and powerfully and artfully. I love the way he thought of the first Mac as a bicylce. He even wanted to name it "Bicycle" (the orginial MacIntosh, not the Apple I). Do you know why? Bob Bellville, a senior engineer at Apple at the time said, "A bicycle, (Steve) felt, was the most efficient device that coupled human energy to motion, and the Mac coupled human creativity to the human world. We stuck with MacIntosh." from Death of a Genius, People, October 24, 2011, p.66

Love it. Just love it.

Follow your heart, people. Follow your heart.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Know yourself. Be yourself. Trust yourself.

This has been my motto for the last 13 years. I dreamt it one night during the year after hiking the Appalachian Trail in '98.

I am climbing the rockiest mountain side I have ever climbed, in the dark. I can see very well because the moon is so full, it is spilling silver over the rocks I am tripping through. A yoga guru standing on his head on the side of the mountain asks me, "Do you know what the secret of the universe is?" I can't speak, so simply shake my head no.

"Yes, you do," he admonishes me. Then he laughs this big, booming, deep, heart-felt laugh. He laughs so hard, tears stream down his forehead.

"Ho00, boy," He wipes his eyes with the heels of his hands, still standing on his head, mind you.

"That cracked me up."

I want to ask him what the secret of the universe is, but I still can't speak, so I sit down, cross-legged beside him.

"Everyone is rushing around trying to find the answer, but the joke is on them. They already have it. They just don't know where to look."

He turns his eyes on me and they are like the night sky, full of glittering stars and nebulous sky-dust. He taps his chest with his index and middle fingers, then taps my chest in the same place.

"Here, all the time." His face softens; the brow-lines melt away and he is neither old, nor young.

"The secret of the universe is this: Know yourself. Be yourself. Trust yourself."

And he laughs, only it sounds like the whole mountain is laughing.

I wake up with a start, sitting straight up in bed. Its so dark, I can't make anything out and for that magical moment, I am in between worlds. I am bobbing on the theta brain waves of twilight sleep; I say the words out loud.

"Know yourself. Be yourself. . . " and for a moment, I can't remember the last thing.

Then I hear it, softly, muffled by the thick darkness.

". . .Trust yourself."

Monday, December 05, 2011

Honor the giver by accepting the gift

Oh, how long it has been, dear reader! I’d begun to question my commitment to this process of self-examination. Maybe I’ve been busy. Maybe I’ve been pondering the esoteric, the metaphysical, the essence of being. Maybe I’ve been cooking turkey and pumpkin pie and working my butt off, literally. . .

Truthfully, I hadn’t felt inspired. I’d write down notes on ideas, but it wouldn’t get me going. It was boring stuff, inauthentic. And, I put a lot of pressure on myself with that last post. I gave you an assignment to start being conscious of your reactions and practicing letting them go. And then I promised the next step in the next blog. Yuck. That was my knee-jerk reaction. So, now I HAVE to write about samskaras some more and how to break out of them. Ugh. One of my well-worn paths is to resist the mandatory. I have to, huh? Well, you can’t make me! Thpptt!!

LOL! Yeah, I get like that sometimes. So, this morning I was thinking about gift giving and Christmas plans and logistics and resting in my Reeks-of-Dog rocking chair, surveying the Christmas decorations. And I thought about writing about gift-giving. You know, beyond the wrapped packages and iTunes gift cards. Giving of one’s self, giving by using your talents, blah blah blah. Good stuff, but again, not inspired.

And then I remembered a compliment my husband gave me a little while ago. He said he admired my ability to graciously accept compliments and gifts. I was a little perplexed and asked him to explain. “You make people feel good about giving to you. You know how to receive well.” Huh. My first instinct was to argue that I just said thank-you. No big deal. But, I paused before speaking (yay, me!).

I thought about it then, and I re-thought about it just now. I know I wasn’t always that way, but I have to admit he was right. A few years ago, I changed the way I accepted gifts and compliments because of my understanding of a line from the Sutta Nipata. The Buddha says, “Happiness never decreases by being shared.” I consciously chose to change a bit of programming I call the “I don’t deserve it” script and replace it with the "I am so grateful" script. And that's you're next step. Pick one thing, just one specific, non-productive or negative knee-jerk reaction and work to change it to something positive. You can't just erase it, tho'. You have to replace it with something new.

It doesn't happen overnight. It takes a lot of time, patience and practice, but I think I’ve got this one down. When someone offers me a compliment or a gift, I think about the happiness they’re passing on to me and gratefully embrace it, and sometimes the person, too. Now, I know not all gifts are given freely. There are sometimes strings attached, ulterior motives and even unsavory expectations. Some gifts do need to be declined; I acknowledge that. However, most times, we need to allow the other person to pass on a little bit of happiness.

I certainly understand how wonderful I felt sharing with others. How great it could be to find just the right gift for someone and see their face light up when they opened it. I also knew how disappointing it was to search high and low and find something wonderful, only to get the perfunctory “You shouldn’t have.” Eww.

I thought, at first, that I had failed somehow on the gift-giving test. Then, I thought that the gift wasn’t about me so I needed to not be concerned about how I felt when giving the gift. It was mighty selfish of me to want something in return when I gave a gift, even if it was just the happiness back that I was trying to share. But that still didn’t feel right. Somehow, I was missing the whole point of this gift-giving thing.

I’ve been taught to look at things from all possible angles, or as many as I could figure out. And always start with the easiest – the flip side. So I turned the problem upside down.

Receiving. Ah. That’s it. We all know how to give, but do we know how to receive? Most of us don’t. Think about it: out of a false sense of modesty, we are constantly negating the compliments people give us.

“Oh, it was nothing. Don’t even mention it.”

“You’re crazy! I just threw it together. No big deal.”

And some of us even go so far as to not use the gift certificates to the spa. Or worse, we re-gift the Target gift card either out-right or we use it to buy someone else something. We think we are doing the “right” thing, but we are really upsetting the “delicate balance of the cosmos”.

Okay, Melissa, what the heck are you talking about? Do do do do Do do do do (Twilight Zone theme plays in background)

Check this out. When you refuse to gracefully and gratefully acknowledge the compliment or use the gift you are blocking the flow of energy in the universe. You are refusing to be a part of the process of sharing the happiness. Sharing is about giving and receiving. Its not a one-way street. Read me out, here. Let’s say your friend went above and beyond and helped out when you were sick. She made a couple of meals for your family and brought some homemade chicken soup for you. What a sense of relief she brought you. You slept like a baby because you knew your family was cared for when you couldn’t care for them and you could cry you were so grateful. So, out of this place of gratitude and joy you write her a heart-felt thank-you note and give her a gift certificate for a facial.

What happens when she says, “Oh, it was nothing. Anybody would have done it. You shouldn’t have spent your money on me. Use it for yourself"?

At the very least, you’ll “push” the gift on her a little harder and maybe feel slightly frustrated that you have to convince your friend to accept it. Or worse, you’re feelings get hurt, because it meant something to you; the effort they made to ease your suffering. It wasn’t nothing it you. And, yes, you would do it for her AND that’s exactly why you know it wouldn’t be nothing. It would be a lot of effort and take time away from your own family and so on.

That sense of frustration or having to force the compliment on her is the love and joy and gratitude you are filled with hitting a wall when you let it flow outward. Blam! It hurts. We are meant to both give AND receive. It’s the way things work. And when someone doesn't graciously accept a gift, it creates imbalance and sucks the joy out of giving. Do you realize when we refuse the gift we are being selfish? A compliment or a thank you is a gift, too. When we negate the compliment, we are insulting the giver whether we mean to or not.

Yes, we are. Don’t bother denying it. When someone says, “Thank you so much for all your help with the Toys for Tots drive,” and we respond, “Oh, it was nothing. Don’t mention it" we are negating the gift and insulting the giver. Don’t feel too bad, though, because we are all taught that this is the proper way to receive a compliment, but it is not. Even if it wasn’t a big deal to you, it was a big deal to the giver. Maybe it wasn’t time-consuming for you or much of an effort, and yes, maybe you were happy to do it, but you need to accept the compliment with grace.

We owe it to the giver. Remember, we honor the giver by accepting the gift. And let me add, by accepting the gift with grace and gratitude, we share the happiness.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

We get to Choose!

We get to choose how we feel everyday about everything that happens. However, that decision is made so fast and so automatically that its made before we realize it. That truck cuts us off in traffic, our adrenalin spikes and we’re angry! How dare he cut me off like that? He could have caused an accident! We find ourselves irritated, angry, upset, confused, sad, or hurt. Sometimes those knee-jerk emotional reactions are nice like when we smell chocolate chip cookies baking in the oven and a warm sensation of contentment and pleasure washes over us. Our positive connotations with food are what tempt us over and over again to eat more than we need, by the way. Food gets all tangled up with comfort and, well, that’s why we call them “comfort foods”.

But how is that a choice? It just happens, right? We can’t help the way it makes us feel. The truth is we are choosing every moment of every day how to react and how to feel. The problem is we chose a long time ago, probably when we were children, before we could rationalize, before we could defend ourselves properly. We were so vulnerable as children. We came into the world trusting and open and defenseless. And somebody or some situation taught us to get angry when someone interfered with us. Or maybe we lived in an unsafe environment and had to constantly be on alert and our fear reaction was born. Yogic philosophy and modern developmental psychology teaches us that our ego develops sometime during the first 2 years of life and that’s when we realize we are a separate being and therefore its possible for “others” to get in our way or hurt us.

And because of the frustration and fear, we build our defenses over time and sometimes we have experiences that create in us knee-jerk defensive reactions that can stay with us all our lives. These “reactions” can become scripts that we play out over and over again with the right stimulus. In yoga we call these “samskaras”, and they are like well-walked trails. Sometimes they are so old and so deep, its like walking in a canyon with high walls on either side of us. We’ve forgotten that there is any other way to be, and from our vantage point, there is nothing else.

But there is something else and as overwhelming as it may seem to overcome these old groves in our brains, there is one very effective way. First, we have to abandon hope.


Yes, let go of whatever hope you have been holding onto. Just let it go. Let it float up into the sky, or drop with a sploosh into the amorphic abyss. Good. It wasn’t helping anyways, was it? If it was, you would be making progress already. Its usually something like, “If only. . .” or “When this happens, then I can be happy.” Am I right? Well, I can’t see into your heart right now, but I do know that we all hold out hope that things could be different. The fact is, it is what it is. Our lives are what they are. Let’s embrace our subjective reality as it is.

Whew! What a relief! You mean, I can't ever go back and make things different?! No. We can't. And thank goodness, too. Because that would just be way too much work and worry.

Now, we can get down to the real work. We can change ourselves. Notice I said we can change ourselves. We will not change anybody else. We can not change the world. (Good grief!!!!! How pessimistic does that sound?) The only thing we can change is ourselves. And as Dr. Phil likes to say, that’s the bad news. What’s the good news, Dr. Phil? We can change ourselves, and that’s the crux of the matter. Its not what anyone else is doing or what’s happening out in the world, it’s the way we perceive it that makes us unhappy. Your mother cannot make you unhappy. Your boyfriend cannot make you unhappy. Your past cannot make you unhappy. How you perceive those people and your past can make you unhappy.

So, back to those knee-jerk emotional reactions and scripts. Now that we’ve embraced our reality and acknowledged the power we have to change ourselves, we can start re-programming ourselves. But we have to do it one step at a time (Oh, I’m big on that cliché).

Here’s a simple way to start acknowledging your samskaras: Every time you feel offended or have a strong emotional reaction to anything, say to yourself “That’s my ego talking” or “there’s one of those samskara things Melissa talked about.” Just make yourself aware that its happening. Don’t judge it or yourself. Just be a witness to it. Then let the emotion burn itself out. The chemical process in your body takes roughly 90 seconds to flush an emotion. If it goes on longer than that, you are holding onto it and pushing your own buttons over and over.

Use your breath to let it go: Practice inhaling gently through the nose, then exhaling with a woosh out the mouth a couple times, then let your breath come softly and gently. Bring your awareness back to the present moment, the sounds, the smells, the colors, the breeze or lack of one. Are you hot? Cold? Holding your shoulders too tight? Clenching you jaw? Let it go. Let it go.

Practice that for a few days and then I’ll get back to you in on the next step in the next blog post.

Heyam duhkham anagatam
“Future suffering is to be avoided”

Monday, November 14, 2011

Be the change.

Instead of trying to change the world, which we won’t be able to do, let's try changing ourselves. If we see someone else ruining things for the rest of us, let's look to our own sins. We are none of us without sin. That’s what we have to be honest about.

The only way to change anything is to change ourselves first. Purge the greed out of ourselves before we rant about corporate greed. Cleanse our own souls before we judge another's. There’s no right in self-righteousness, only lynch mob mentality that has to burn itself out, and in its wake so many are irrevocably wounded, even destroyed. We are only projecting our own guilt onto others.

"Be the change you want to see in the world" Mahatma Ghandi urged us. This is truly the most profound statement I’ve ever heard. Look to our own well-being. Heal ourselves. Only then can we look at others with a truly objective eye. Only then can we see the truth.

We have to find the truth in ourselves.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

I cry

I cry for the children.
I cry for their pain.
I cry for their innocence
And joy
And lightness of being
That has been stolen from them.
I cry for their parents and families,
Who are reeling with the unfathomable,
The unbearable pain of not being able to protect their own child at all times.
I cry for the players and the students,
Whose carefree college days have been forever stained.
I cry for the evil, twisted bastard
Who seems to have escaped the media’s onslaught.
I cry for Joe who has not.
I cry for the wrongs that have been done.
I cry for the pain I feel.
I cry for the alumni who are crying like me.

I can only claim my own pain,
so I claim it.
I am holding on to it for dear life.
I will grieve with my anger,
my tears,
my sadness,
my outrage.
No matter how much you yell at me,
deride me,
argue with me,
comfort me,
I claim my pain.

We are Penn State.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Buy Local: Another kind of American Revolution!

I got a message on facebook the other day about ditching the Chinese-produced gifts for a more “American” Christmas. And, okay, I couldn't resist forwarding it on, but I was uncomfortable with the “us against them” mentality. That's just not my style. You know, the whole "we are all connected" yogini thing doesn't mesh well with antagonism.

In its original form, the message denigrated Chinese products and factories, insinuating that what’s economically wrong with America is China’s fault. It also implied that Christmas had been hijacked by Chinese, mass-produced products. May I suggest that it is not anyone’s fault but our own? We make our own decisions about what we buy. Yes, Made in China is synonymous with inexpensive, or dare I say, cheap, but, who says we have to buy as much crap as our $20 can buy? Aren't we sick of tripping over all the stuff we don't have enough drawers to contain? Why not invest in a gift that is of local quality and non-cluttery?

And while we’re doing that, we can quietly start an American Revolution and economic recovery with our dollars. So, here's my spin on making our holidays a locally supportive affair.

“As the holidays approach, the giant Asian factories are kicking into high gear to provide Americans with monstrous piles of cheaply produced goods”, says our intrepid, anonymous facebooker. Frankly, I throw away so much of this stuff throughout the year that the thought of all those prettily wrapped plastic crippity-crap toys coming into my house makes me nauseous. I’ve been pondering the alternatives. I’ve contemplated the idea of donating money so a goat can be given to a family in Zimbabwe, but I believe in staying local, so, where does that leave me? I already buy most of my birthday presents from local businesses, so keeping my dollars local for the holidays is the logical leap. And, think about this, I will not only be buying a unique gift for someone, but also helping to keep someone employed and maybe even helping to create new jobs.

As our facebooker put it, “Who says a gift needs to fit in a shirt box?” Let’s think outside the box, and focus on services, rather than objects for a moment. Keep it local and here’s a quick list of gift certificate ideas to get your neurons firing:

Haircut, mani/pedi, car detailing, dining out, gym membership, personal training, massage, spa services, golf, bowling, oil change, local maid service, computer services/tune-up, lawn care/mowing, local nursery plants, drive-way sealing, and yoga classes

I am emphasizing LOCAL because supporting small businesses, owned and operated by local residents, supports your community, keeps it alive and economically stable. But, remember franchises are locally owned; just look into the business before you buy.

So, you just have to have something wrapped under the tree Christmas morning? No problem. You can still buy local and kick the economy into overdrive. Go to your town’s downtown district to buy something local. Maybe a nice gift basket from the local wine and cheese shop? Get even more local, make it local wine and cheese. Support your local artists - painters, musicians and craftsmen and buy their pottery, jewelry, textiles, paintings, and all manner of arts and crafts. Most churches have Christmas bazaars showcasing local craftsmen and artists. You’d be surprised at the wonderful things you can find there. Hey, and don't forget your local farmers: eggs, milk, cheese, and various other farm-raised goods. Maybe some local beef for the freezer?

Keep your holiday celebrations local, too. Our facebooker suggests, “Plan your holiday outings at local, owner operated restaurants and leave your server a nice tip. And, how about going out to see a play or ballet at your hometown theatre? Musicians need love, too, so make a point of going out to see the local bands.” Love this. In other words, whatever you can do to use a local service or buy a local product helps spread the revolution.

But, shhhhh, let’s not make Christmas too overtly political. Let’s keep it about spreading the love and the money, and let the revolution quietly take over.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.

We all suffer. Despite our conviction that we alone are in pain, that no one else suffers the way we do, everyone suffers. Each of us has our own unique burden to bare at any one time, but don't think you are the only one.

When I was struggling with post-partum depression, I would go to my friends fitness studio and take the aerobics and yoga classes. I would look around the room at the other women and think, "I wish I was normal like them." Over the years, I've gotten to know quite a few of those women, and it turns out, they too thought they were abnormal or that they were alone in their anxiety, depression, worries, stress, you name it.

When my father-in-law passed away, my husband and I spent the next few months in a living nightmare as the extent of my mother-in-law's dementia and Parkinson's disease became undeniable. We had no idea how bad it was, and I believe her husband's passing sent her into a downward spiral. As her delusions took over, we received midnight calls from the police, the neighbors, social workers and family.

We desparately tried to get her help, only to be frustrated at every turn. She fought us and denied she needed help, then would turn around and accuse us of abandoning her. The police told us we couldn't compel her to get help and the social workers told us we needed to get her help. Family members called us asking why we weren't doing anything to help her and a neighbor actually called me to tell us how we were failing her and that we had a moral and ethical responsibility to get her the help she needed.

So, my husband quit his job to take care of her and for three months he would leave on Monday to commute to Northern Virginia and stay with her until Friday. On his way home, which could be anywhere from a two-hour commute to 6 hours, depending on the traffic, my mother-in-law would call me saying she couldn't get ahold of my husband on his cell phone and she had an emergency and needed him to come back immediately.

I was a single mother during the week and my husband was emotionally and physically exhausted when he was with us. Eventually, he ended up in the hospital himself. At my wits end, I came home from the hospital with my two children under the age of 5 and collapsed on the bed. The phone rang and I dragged myself across the bed to answer it. It was my mother-in-law asking for my husband.

She started yelling at my when I said he wasn't available, accusing me of keeping him from her and that he was her son first and that I had no right. Exhausted and completely shocked by the foul language she used (my mother-in-law NEVER cursed) I got angry. I had done everything possible to get this woman help and how dare she attack me. I told her she'd put her son in the hospital from all the stress she'd caused us and she broke down crying. We both cried for a few moments, then she asked quietly, "What can I do to help?" I told her to call her nephew and pack her bags and go to the assisted living facility. And to my utter amazement, she did.

I would love to say that all was well after that, but of course, it wasn't. But it gave me hope and I started sharing our story with those I thought would be kind, or with those I thought were going through a similar situation. I asked for advice and cried when I needed. The burden didn't seem so heavy when I shared it with someone. Just talking about it helped.

We are not alone. We all suffer.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

5% Heel, 95% Head

When we were thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, we used to say “Its 5% heel, 95% head.” We discovered after the first 6 weeks that we could hike all day if we figured out how to manage the terrain, our bodies, water and food. So why were some days so much harder than others? It was our heads, our attitude, our thoughts, our focus.

If I was chipper, the day was like a walk in the park. If I was glum or negative, it felt like wading through jell-o, uphill. I had rainy days that drove me into the nearest town for a hot shower and respite. I had sunny days that spurred me on to the next mountain top. But, I also had sunny days when it seemed impossible to go on and rainy days with hiker pals that I wished would never end. (you’re not imagining it; you’ve heard that in a song – just couldn’t resist).

I could get mad at the mountain, or the weather, and I did, but really? The clouds weren't acting maliciously. The rocks weren't trying to trip me up. That mountain didn't rise up just to intimidate me, and the lack of water wasn't intentional. All the emotions I experienced were about me. Just me. The terrain, the environment just was.

Life is like that. Its all in our heads, even when we think its what someone else is doing that’s driving us crazy. Just like the mountains and clouds, people simply are. Even if someone is intentionally trying to rile us, its never really about us. Remember, what we do is all about us? So, what options do we have left? Change our perception. Change our mind.

A very dear friend once told me about a candid camera episode where a sign was placed by a register at a convenience store that read “No Change Given”. Several people bought things and when the cashier didn’t give them any change, they got upset, yelling and carrying on. Then one guy didn’t. He paid for a newspaper and a drink with a twenty dollar bill and should have gotten most of it back in change. When the cashier slammed the drawer shut without counting out the change, the gentleman asked politely about it and the cashier pointed to the sign, “No Change Given.” After a pause, the guy smiled and said, “Have a nice day.”

Later on, the show’s host interviewed him outside the store, asking why he didn’t get upset about the event like all the others. His response?

“I don’t let anyone rent space in my brain.”

Saturday, October 29, 2011

One single flame burning softly in the night

I am one candle flame burning softly, brightly in the darkness. Bringing one flicker of light to you, especially for those I don’t understand. Especially for us. We deserve the love we crave. We deserve to be happy.

But no one owes it to us. We are all free to give or not to give, as we see fit. If I disagree with you, I choose to honor you in the process. I will not demonize and condemn – or at least I will try not to do those things. I choose to see the real you. I choose to hold you in my mind with compassion. This is what I bring to you every time I think on you, see you, embrace you.

This is what I choose to bring to us. I am one small flickering flame. I do not seek to devour you in my heat, only to share our warmth. I do not seek to change your mind, only to touch our heart.

If you add your light, we are more complete.

Chidananda roopah shivoham shivoham


Friday, October 28, 2011

Take care of YOURSELF!

Personal responsibility has been my theme this week. It keeps coming up in conversations, in Facebook posts and, dare I say, at three o’clock in the afternoon when I want to buy that sugary latte and muffin. Sigh. By the way, some days I DO eat the muffin. AND drink the latte.

But it’s more simple than just eating right, exercising, working hard, and saving our money. It’s more simple than honoring our obligations and responsibilities. It’s more simple than being aware of what’s going on in our families, communities, schools and government. It’s about taking care of ourselves. Like I said in my last post, we can’t save the world if we can’t solve our own problems. So self-care is the first step. Everyday and always.

But what about our families and friends? They need us, right? We can't be selfish and spend hours exercising and reading news articles and self-help books when we have children to bathe and houses to clean and work to do and friends going through rough times to help out, can we?

If we want to take care of our children, then we must take care of ourselves. If we want to help out our friends and neighbors, then we must help out ourselves. If we don’t, then we can’t take care of anyone else. If you don't sleep, for instance, your brain will begin to shut down anyways. Look it up. I'm not making this up. We could do ourselves or others some serious harm. We may think we can just keep on truckin' no matter what, but we will be off the mark and won’t be able to give it our best. And that’s what we need to bring to every moment of our lives – our best.

So what is our best? I can’t tell you that. That’s something each of us needs to figure out for ourselves. I might try to tell you that it’s finding balance, digging out the dark and negative in ourselves, and purging ourselves of want. But I don’t know if that’s right for you or what you need to hear right now. Maybe for some of us, it’s just getting out of the bed. For other’s, its taking a moment to stop complaining and figure out why we are bothered by others so much.

Okay, so we are each in a different place in our lives and need to take care of ourselves in a different way at any given time. So, what’s the first step? It starts with compassion and ends with a smile.

I was listening to a friend yesterday talk about a colleague who needed to be in control; so much so that she would give out assignments, then take over the tasks she had delegated. But it wasn’t the controlling colleague story that absorbed my attention; it was the compassionate and humorous way my friend related the story. Never once did she denigrate the woman. My friend related her frustrations over the situation with a twinkle in her eye and never turned it into a personal attack. She spoke from a place of compassion and light-heartedness. Actually, she lives her life from that place, and its one of the reasons I love and admire her so much. But I digress.

Or do I? How is it my friend can be this way with a woman who would challenge any one of us to maintain our good manners? I know that my friend is this way towards others because she has learned to be that way towards herself. She sees her own mistakes and foibles through the same compassionate eyes and doesn't take herself too seriously. She keeps her eye on the prize and has a good laugh over it.

Someone once said that transformation is not what happens in the future; it’s what we are doing right now.


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

“Everyone seems to have a clear idea of how other people should lead their lives, but none about his or her own.” from The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho

I’ve been thinking a lot about self-transformation, the Occupy movement and the American health care crisis. What I am hearing from the video clips, the news, the talking heads (that’s what I call the political pundits on TV) and the people I interact with every day is that there is someone to blame for (fill in the blank). We can’t self transform because we didn’t get enough love as children, and we can’t get a job because corporations are greedy and we can’t get affordable health care because the universities charge too much for tuition, the doctors charge too much for services and the insurance companies muck things up with their policies and procedures and PPOs and HMOs. I know that’s over-simplifying matters but it is the gist of it.

What I am learning in my day to day life is that I have no one to blame for my troubles but myself. If I didn’t get enough love as a child, then I need to work through the ramifications and give myself what I need –validation, love, and even a hug. If I can’t get a job, then I need to re-evaluate my job search process and skills. Is there something I can do to make myself more marketable; is there a career coach I could hire or have I simply set my sights too high? My first job after graduating from college was as a shift manager for a pizza joint, not exactly the perfect job for a secondary education major. But, I needed to pay the rent and put gas in my car so I could keep looking for the right job.

Ah, and the health care crisis. This one is very near and dear to my heart, as a wellness coach and yoga teacher. The thing is, I am ultimately responsible for my health. Again, I am not trying to over-simplify, because there are conditions and diseases that have little to no relation to our lifestyle. You don’t get multiple sclerosis from eating trans-fats or smoking. But, there are a lot of health conditions that could be dealt with through lifestyle choice. Obesity and Type II Diabetes is usually the result of a lack of proper exercise and too much or the wrong kinds of food. I could go on, but I won’t be obnoxious. I just want to put down the wagging finger of blame and start self-examining. Won’t you join me? It's not easy, not at all. Its a long, hard trail to hike, but we won't be alone. We can encourage each other. Maybe put all that enthusiasm and energy into transforming ourselves instead of blaming each other.

I cannot change the world until I change myself. Remember the line about the mote in your neighbor’s eye and the beam in yours? Work on yourself first, and the rest will follow. The health care and economic crisis wouldn’t be such a crisis if we all weren’t in such dire shape. And we're not going to solve the world's problems if we can't even solve our own.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Summer is for Exploration

Summer is almost upon us, and I feel like an old-fashioned watch winding up. Once school's out, I tend to be all over the place: at work, with the kids, on vacation, frantically searching for a babysitter for date night, and chasing down the next fun-in-the-sun activity. I lose focus because opportunity is everywhere! There's Girls' Night Out invitations and family beach house rentals, camping trips, lake house excursions and, oh, yeah, still trying to keep up with clients and house work. So, to create some balance this year, I am "forcing" myself to unwind by the pool or on the back deck with a book or my netbook.

I'm making it research time. With a glass of iced tea sweating on the deck floor, I'm pouring over books and websites. If I've been thinking about expanding my resume, I might be looking at continuing education classes or new opportunities. I might be looking at new equipment, researching good books, magazines, or journals. Currently, I've been researching yurts. I've always wanted a little private studio space on my property and yurts fascinate me. First off, they're round and I love round. Something about a round space is calming and brings people together on many levels.

For three months, I plan to read, write down and experiment with ideas, and talk to everyone and anyone who will listen to me about it. I plan to visit towns I've never been to before and explore the streets and shops. I'll sketch and let the fuel feed my creative fire. I'll create scenarios, fill shopping baskets with new yoga clothes, books and workshops, and play with ideas in my back yard. Currently, I have staked out a 20', 24' and 30' circle in my back woods with wooden stakes and strings. I walk around the space and throw yoga mats on the ground in various layouts. I'm reading a book on wellness coaching, clean eating, and a silly romance novel that takes place in Promise, Texas.

What I won't do is act on any of my ideas. The shopping baskets will get saved for later; nothing purchased. The yurt is just some string at the moment. My notebook is filling up with possibilities, but there are no action items. Why? Because I have a tendency to jump down the rabbit hole as soon as I see an idea forming and then free fall. Now, that's not a bad thing to do, actually. A little blind leap now and again does wonders for those niggling doubts. BUT, I started this post talking about creating some balance for my frenetic energy. So, my solution is to give the research the focus it deserves during the summer. Come fall, I'll start making decisions and to do lists.

Right now, I'll satisfy my restless mind by keeping it engaged with research. And when my inevitable anxiety bubbles up about not acting on it, I'll practice soothing myself with the knowledge that something will happen soon, just not right now. I can play with all the possibilities, then let them alone for the time being. Wow. That's freeing.

Nothing has to happen, except thoroughly exploring the next possibility. And I can relax.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

I'm on a mission. I want everyone I know and everyone they know, and everyone they know. . .you get the point. . . to start doing just 5 minutes of yoga every day. Don't have time? That's what people tell me all the time, and I just don't buy it. But, I do appreciate that most of us think that we don't have the time. So I came up with a brilliant idea: create a yoga practice that we can do before we even get out of bed! Yes! You don't even have to get out of bed.

So, print this out and lay it on the night stand tonight. When you wake up tomorrow morning, voila! Yoga in bed! Hey, why wait? You practice this routine before you go to sleep tonight. Just do it in reverse so you end in savasana and just drift off to sleep.

Have fun!

5 Minute Yoga

Savasana – Corpse Pose

Start lying on your back in Savasana. Connect with your breath. Become aware of your breathing without trying to change it or control it. Placing one hand on your abdomen and one hand on your chest, begin slowly inhaling through the nose, filling the belly first, then the ribs, and finally the chest. Exhale slowly through the nose letting the chest relax, then the ribs, and finally drawing the navel center gently towards the spine.
Repeat 3 – 5 times.

Bridge Pose

Bend the knees, placing the feet flat on the floor, arms resting alongside the body. Keeping the shoulders and arms relaxed, slowly lift the hips as you inhale through the nose. Pause, then slowly lower the spine one vertebrae at a time as you exhale through the nose.
Repeat 3 – 5 times

Reclined Flying Butterfly

With knees bent and feet flat on the floor, slowly lower knees out to the side while inhaling. Then, slowly lift knees back to center while exhaling. Move as slowly as possible. Your inner thighs should be trembling. If not, go slower until you feel a slight tremble in the adductors
Repeat 3 – 5 times

Supine Spinal Twist

With knees bent, feet flat on the floor and arms extended at right angles from the body, slowly lower the knees to the left, gazing past the right fingers. Inhaling slowly through the nose, then exhaling slowly through nose, letting go of any tension in the face, neck, shoulders, back and legs. Soften the belly. Take 3 – 5 slow, deep breaths, relaxing with each exhale. With strong abdominals, slowly lift knees to center.
Repeat other side.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

One step at a time

"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."
~Lao-tzu, Chinese philosopher

If you want to make a change in your life, start with a small thing. Let's say you want to get healthier. Start by replacing one can of soda with one glass of water. That's it. Now, do it again tomorrow.

When we want to make a change, sometimes we try to make it happen overnight. How many times have you said, "Okay! Enough. Now tomorrow I'm changing the way I eat, and I'm starting an exercise program." And so you throw out all the junk food, stock up on veggies and join the gym. You're all gung-ho for about 24 hours, maybe even a few days. And if you had a lot of momentum, even a few weeks. Then your knees start to hurt and you take a couple days off from the gym. And at your cousin's birthday get-together, you take a break from your "diet". And then your resolutions slowly (or quickly) unravel. And there you are, back to your old ways. So you wonder, how did this happen to me, again?

The fact is you can't break old habits overnight. Frankly, you can't "break" old habits, period. You have to replace those old habits one by one with new ones. Nature abhors a vacuum and if you try to drop your junk food ways without filling them in with healthier eating habits, you are going to fall back into your old patterns. Like your favorite pair of comfy, old sweat pants, they are the ones you reach for when you're tired or stressed.

You have to take it one thing at a time. And I mean ONE thing at a time. I like to start with water, because most people simply do not drink enough water or drink too much soda, juice or coffee. Replacing one soda, juice or coffee with one glass of water is an easy thing to do. Then try another tomorrow, until you are no longer drinking soda all day and at the same time, have started the habit of drinking water. Once you feel comfortable with that habit, try changing another one, like getting more sleep.

Do you usually stay up until midnight on the computer? Try going to bed 30 minutes earlier tonight. Then add another 10, 20 or 30 minutes tomorrow night. Before you know it, you'll be getting a full night's rest. Keep in mind that there will be days when you don't feel like sticking to your new habit. Its inevitable, so plan ahead. Give yourself some incentive, like if you go to bed 20 minutes earlier tonight, you can reward yourself with that new book you wanted to read, or a few luxurious minutes sitting on the porch sipping your morning coffee.

I believe in only biting off as much as I can chew. And making any kind of lasting change in your life is a slow munch. You can't do it all at once. They say it takes 28 days of practicing a new habit before it becomes a lasting habit.

Little by little, folks; little by little.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Time to do Nothing

Its a new year and I'm not one to make New Year's resolutions. I guess its a good time to look back and decide what we want to change or what we want the next leg of our journey to be about. But, and its a big but, I think I'm constantly doing that. My husband will attest to that. I think too much about what's next, what needs improvement, am I working towards my goals? Are my goals still my goals? Do I still want or need the things I thought I wanted or needed?

And so forth. . .

I think the beginning of the year is the perfect time to take a break. Take a deep breath, let what is. . .be.

January and February are my months in place. Now's the time to contemplate the frost on the glass, the ice on the sidewalk, the dust on the bookshelves. And do nothing about it. Don't stress over what needs to happen next or what didn't happen. The big holiday season is behind us (whew!) and the next couple months offer solitude and quiet -as much of it as I can possibly stand. Too much of it last year when the almost 5 feet of snow kept me housebound for 2 weeks. My Nissan Quest was just not up to the task of negotiating Reva Road. That problem will be solved this year. Oops! thinking about what needs to happen next. This living in the moment takes practice.

I highly recommend staring at the wall. Better yet, contemplate your belly button. And for heaven's sake, please, make no plans or promises. Do not reflect on the past year or figure out how to improve the upcoming year. Let it go. Just for a few days, if nothing else.

Folks, its time to do nothing.