Friday, June 9, 2017

Reflections on My Last Trip Around the Sun

Each night at dinner, my children and I share the day's highs, lows, and the things for which we are grateful.  It's something I started with them several years ago, and I've loved watching how it's organically evolved... sometimes into hilarious conversations, sometimes into much deeper ones, but always providing each of us with greater insight into one another.

On the eve of my 48th birthday, I find myself reflecting on the past year's highest highs, lowest lows, the many lessons learned, and my utter awe and complete appreciation of the universe's mysterious ways of presenting us with our life's curricula.

As a traveler on the path towards mindfulness, I'm keenly aware that part of my work is to respond to challenge, discomfort and struggle with wisdom and intuition, rather than with raw emotion.  Well now.  Thank you, universe, for providing me with plenty of practice in this year of knee buckling, back breaking moments.  Truly.  For each one of those moments, and the overarching picture,  reinforced lessons long ago learned on my mat and carried out into the world, where the real work of yoga takes place.  Moreover, those moments were juxtaposed with incredibly joyous, beautiful ones, and I'm reminded that it is through the darkness that we both see and seek the light, while cultivating a greater appreciation for it.

The events of this year also served as a reminder that to surrender is to recognize that things, beyond our control, do happen, and no matter how much we want to fight against them or maybe even deny them, we cannot change that fact.  However, we are able to ask ourselves what we can do to change our circumstances and shift our perspectives to allow these things to happen for us, rather than to us.  Ultimately, it isn't the events themselves that are so difficult to handle; it's the stories that we tell ourselves about them that can rock our worlds.

So, without further ado, I give you these reminders from my 48th trip around the sun...

1.  Trust.Your.Gut.  Always.  Every.Single.Time.  There is real research that indicates our intuitive intelligence is even more reliable than our analytic intellect.  Seriously?  People actually studied that?  I could have saved them a lot time and effort, because when did you ever say "Oh, I absolutely never should have trusted my intuition!!"?  #notonceever

2.  We are stronger than we give ourselves credit for... and often, we don't even know how strong we are until we are clawing our way out of a painful situation.  The human spirit is indeed, as C.C. Scott suggested, stronger than anything that can happen to it.

3.  There is suffering.  There is a way through suffering.  There is an end to suffering.  Rinse and repeat.

4.  One of the greatest mantras of all time is just two words:  Begin Again.

5.  In related news... you CAN, indeed, go back again.  For a long time, I was a believer that once you closed the door on something, anything, you should never go back through it.  I was wrong.  You can go back again, but you must go back on your own terms, in your own time, and only if you know you can not only walk through the door with an open mind, but also with an open heart, and maybe even twirling a little bit as you make your way through it.  The truth is that without the gut wrenching events of the past year, I would have remained tightly closed and could possibly have missed out on going back again to some of the things I love the most and from which I'd drifted away.

6.  Embrace your humanity.  We all make mistakes, are perfectly imperfect, and fabulously flawed.  I had my greatest moment of clarity when a trusted friend reached across a table, held my hands tightly, looked me in the eyes as I cried to her about what I perceived as a colossal failure on my part, and said, simply,  "you are human."  From that moment forward, speaking my truth and facing my reality was infinitely easier.

7.  It is said that a sense of belonging... the connections we make with others... being a part of a community... having close friends... are amongst the key elements of happiness.  I'm incredibly blessed to be a part of a circle of women who embody unconditional love, compassion, and support.  I'm not sure I'll ever find words that adequately express my gratitude for these beautiful souls, but I sure will spend a lifetime reminding them of how important they are to everyone whose hearts they touch.

8.  Christopher McCandless said that "happiness is only real when it's shared".  I've been able to share many amazing experiences this year with people who lift each other up, laugh often and love fiercely.

9.  The more comfortable you become with the discomfort of courageous conversations, the more liberated you feel.

10.  It is only through a tremendous amount of heat and pressure that a lump of coal becomes a diamond.  When we can approach life with a growth mindset, we, too,  can do exceptionally well under great stress,  and, as a result, increase our clarity, brilliance, sparkle and shine.

As my next trip around the sun begins, I find myself awestruck by where the twists and turns of life have taken me in the span of a year.  Although I had to travel through pain and fear to get there, in many ways the road has taken me back to to a place that, at once, feels familiar, safe, comfortable, new, edgy, exciting and exhilarating.  Mostly, though, it feels like home.

And so, my 48 year old self, I say to you... welcome home.



Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Seussical YTT Wrap Up & Review

I've long referred to my adventures in yoga teacher training immersions as "camp"… princess camp, ice princess camp, yoga bootcamp… you get the idea.  Having just completed a three week, 300-hour training in the motherland (Birmingham, Michigan), I noted that this camp concept has finally caught on with others, as evidenced by the fact that we had a talent show as one of our culminating activities!! There were some amazing displays of raw talent… singing, playing guitar,  naming all of the prepositions, reciting the states in alphabetical order, acro yoga, synchronized swimming on dry land, magic tricks, and, of course, the special ability to stick one's tongue in one's nose.  My talent is the ability to write in rhyme, and since so many kind souls have been asking about my experience up there, I give you the YTT Wrap Up & Review, Dr. Seuss style.

From near and from far we all gathered here
For a three week adventure we’ll always hold dear.

So in honor of each and every one of you, 
I’ve written some lines as a wrap up and review.

We certainly shared a full range of emotion,
And discussed many cool things like Bhakti devotion.

There was talk of the Gita and lots about karma
As we carefully considered our unique gift, our dharma.

Into each other’s beautiful eyes we did gaze
To listen empathically in more subtle ways.

On my birthday, all day, we sat silently in meditation...
At which point some yogis may have questioned their dedication.

The circle of suffering went on for days upon days,
Requiring countless tissues for our teary-eyed haze.

In the circle of death, we all conspired
Fortunately no one actually expired.

Which reminds me of our time spent in that sweat box
Finding new edges, and experiencing detox.

In related news, we completed the Quantum Wellness Cleanse
And as a result of one video some now see through a new lens.

We taught yoga to strangers all over the town,
And from very tall ladders, we all fell down!

We spent time at Barnum park learning assists and napping
And doing the craziest asanas, with lots of hand clapping.

We blindfolded ourselves and went out to lunch.
Birmingham citizens think we’re an odd bunch.

The pranayama and mandala exercise was a powerful one
Although Lauren’s experience with that sounded *quite* fun.

Leaking, juicy and nuggets were words frequently heard,
Quotes of the day ranged from the ridiculous to the absurd.

Many shenanigans happened at our condo on Hazel Street...
For 3 weeks of hotel living, we veterans vowed not to repeat.

Jira the Wonder Dog brought smiles all around
A YTT mascot... that’s breaking new "fertile ground"!

Jane reminded us all of the importance of self-care,
Jason’s hilarious dance parties were a breath of fresh air!

Jonny’s classes elicited buckets of sweat,
And that crawling in class? We won’t soon forget.

Yes, these awesome teachers inspired us in countless ways.
We’ll carry their lessons with us throughout our days.

We won’t miss the dungeon or the long hours,
prepping for feedbacks or going without showers,

But we’ve expanded our ever growing yoga tribe
And collectively lifted the universal love vibe.

As our epic yoga journey comes to an end, this I know
We’ll carry a piece of each other’s hearts wherever we go.



Saturday, March 7, 2015

Masks



We all wear masks.  Sometimes, we wear them for fun, to become someone or something else for a short time in celebration of a holiday, special occasion, or cultural tradition.  Donning a mask can also evoke real fear and intimidation in others and protect the identify of wearers in turbulent times and situations.  We wear them to ward off not only evil spirits but also bone chilling cold.  We wear them for protection from environmental hazards as well as fast flying balls, pucks, sticks and such.

What's more profound, though, is the invisible masks we often wear in order to hide our feelings, as a reaction to or protection from fear and pain, to escape rejection and/or try to please others.  We disguise ourselves so the world will like us, even when it's inauthentic and compromises our beliefs.


This social mask that we put on may feel as though it allows us to put forward our best foot, create a perfect image for the outside world… but what about the personal truth that lies behind that mask?  What about considering what we really believe of ourselves and of what we are capable?  There is power in knowing who we are at our core, and being that person no matter who is the audience.

Regardless of how frigthtening, we must dare to be ourselves.  Only in doing so, can we truly find our authenticity.  Eckhart Tolle wrote, "Only the truth of who you are, if realized, will set you free".  The freedom allows us to live out loud.

A cover of a beloved song, even when it's a good cover, is never the same as the original.  While it may have a different beat, style, and sound, it's still just an altered version of a great song.  In much the same way, when we try to take on a different persona, to cover up feelings or present someone other than who we are, no matter how glittery the mask, it is still just a cover of our own uniqueness.

Brene Brown wrote, "Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day.  It's about the choice to show up and be real.  The choice to be honest.  The choice to let our true selves be seen… true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance."

So accept yourself, uncover, remove the masks, because authenticity is far more attractive than any mask you might wear.  When you allow yourself to be authentic and vulnerable, you create space for others to do the same.  Let yourself be seen as you are, perfectly imperfect, uniquely you.  Walk forward in your truth.

                

          
                                     Masks Yin Yoga Playlist                               Masks Hot Vinyasa Playlist


  


Thursday, November 27, 2014

Gratitude is the Mother of Happiness




Several years ago, I had the good fortune to hear one of the most beautiful souls I know present a workshop on happiness.  Her words were powerful and resonated with me on multiple levels, it was as though I'd known the key ingredients for happiness and understood each one of them all along, yet I hadn't full connected the dots until the bigger picture unfolded through her words, stories, and, of course, a rockin' PPT presentation.  It profoundly changed my understanding of and approach to living a life of santosha (contentment).

On Thanksgiving day, while I know many people will be waxing poetic about things for which they are grateful, I prefer to share my views on happiness and, in my experience, what's allowed me to find peace, strength and joy, even in the toughest, most knee-buckling, gut-punching times, of which there have been many.

We've all been through painful experiences, sometimes we feel victimized by situations or people, and, sometimes we've been the cause of pain to others.  An inability to let go of these transgressions keeps us tied to a past that can never be changed.  As a result, forgiveness is an important piece of the happiness puzzle.  When we forgive someone else, it has very little to do with he or she who we are forgiving; rather, it is about us.  We forgive others in order to allow ourselves freedom from pain we've previously experienced. Further, we must find the wherewithal to forgive ourselves for the mistakes we've made.  We have all hurt others, and whether it was or was not intentional, what's done cannot be undone.  The best we can do is sincerely apologize, learn from our mistakes, and keep moving forward, stronger, better, wiser, as a result.

On the heels of forgiveness, comes acceptance.  Acceptance of our current reality… an ability to be and stay present, to appreciate what's right in front of us, because this very moment is the only one that's guaranteed.  Accepting those dear to us for exactly who they are, letting go of ideas and expectations about who they should be or could be, who we wish they would be.  We also must find self-acceptance.  While we certainly all have areas upon which we wish to personally improve over time, the ability to  accept who we are, where we are, as we are, how we are, right now, allows us to find greater contentment.

Love is high on the happiness scale.  Obviously, we love our family and friends, but the sort of love that keeps us happy extends far beyond that circle.  Our ability to love others is greatly diminished when we don't really love ourselves, and the reality is, many of us don't really love ourselves as we should.  We spend our whole lives learning to love imperfect people, because, well, people are imperfect.  We love the parents who give us the same advice on the same things over and over again, advice that we don't need or want and that may not even make sense… we love the siblings who make us crazy with their inability to return phone calls… we love our children even when they draw a family portrait on the wall with a Sharpie… we love the friends who are chronically late and forget to return what they borrow… we love our partners who forget things or who sometimes take us for granted.  And yet, we have difficulty fully loving ourselves… why?  Because we focus so much on our imperfections.  When we love ourselves, flaws and all, we honor our authentic selves, and, as a result, it's a whole lot easier to feel connection to others, to act compassionately, and to find fulfillment.

It is gratitude, though, that is considered to be the mother of happiness.  An ability to be truly grateful, not only for the big, obvious things, but also for the little things in life, goes a long way towards the creation of our own happiness.  Every experience we have is an opportunity to learn and grow.  Being thankful for the life lessons doled out to us, rather than being bitter about them or playing a victim as a result of them, gives us greater appreciation for this crazy, beautiful journey we're all on.

In her song, "Thank U", Alanis Morrisette wrote about being grateful for what she believed was a life changing trip to India.  Prior to that, she felt as though she was constantly looking outside of herself to find satisfaction and feel blissful.  While she clearly achieved great professional success, she was unable to find a sense of contentment or inner-peace.  Through self-examination, though, she found that everything she thought was important, simply wasn't.  Although it was scary, as it felt like everything in her world was dissolving, she made a decision to change her life.  As a result, she was overcome with a huge sense of compassion for herself, first and foremost, which naturally translated into her feeling love and compassion for everyone around her.  Further, she had a greater sense of gratitude than ever before, and, as such, she wrote a song to thank all of the things, both devastatingly messy and divinely brilliant, that allowed her to arrive in a state of self-love, compassion, contentment, gratitude.  It's no coincidence, of course, that she found her solace in a place where yoga is deeply rooted.



Many moons ago, my children and I started sharing "highs, lows and gratitude" at the dinner table each night.  It was not only my way of checking in with them, hearing first hand about their days, but also an opportunity to teach them that even on the worst days, there are things for which we can be grateful.  Over the years, I've noticed a shift… their highs are not nearly as high and their lows are not nearly as low… they seem to have found a natural and appropriate level of equanimity, balance.  If only they knew they were practicing the art of yoga right there at the dinner table!  Further, their gratitude lists have grown, not only in length, but in depth.  They express gratitude for multiple things each night, and while often those things are small in the grand scheme of things (the laughter of a friend, a purring cat, a guest at the table), they are a brilliant reminder that gratitude is personal and that if we just stop to appreciate what's right in front of us, it can, indeed, be abundant.

I am thankful that my life's curriculum has brought me to where I am today, and happy that I recognize the importance of forgiveness, acceptance, love and gratitude not only on this day of thanks giving, but also, and more importantly, every day of the year.



Gratitude Playlist













Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Great Equalizer

Much to my chagrin, I find that I spend way more time in doctors' offices & hospital waiting rooms than is imaginable to most people. Sometimes, we're there for one of my kids, sometimes, for me. These waiting rooms belong to doctors who specialize in things not talked about too much in polite bloggy chit chat... things like genetics, hematology, endocrinology, rheumatology, pulmonology, radiology, oncology, neurology and the like. I don't take books or magazines anymore. I am a people watcher, and this is some prime people watching territory and time for me. 

I distinctly remember walking into a specialist's office one day, years ago, and there was the cadre of usual suspects already there. It is often humbling and puts things into perspective in about one millisecond, usually before the door even closes behind me. No one is there for a good reason. No one is there to simply have a check up and be told to come back in a year. We all sit and wait our turns to be told the course of treatment, the next step, the what ifs and the where tos, what fors and the so whats. For some reason, though, on that particular day something occurred to me that never had before: the specialist's waiting room is the great equalizer. It doesn't matter how much money you have or don't have... whether you're a true southerner with the accent to prove it or a damn Yankee transplant, like me. It doesn't matter what you do for a living or what kind of car you own or the color of your skin, your religious affiliation or the country of your birth. In those moments, we are all the same. We are full of frustration, hope, worry, a profound sense of love for our children and the acknowledgement that we are not alone in this journey.

And the truth is, no matter what the journey, struggle, consideration or issue… we are only alone if we choose to be.  The communities to which we belong, whether by choice or chance, provide solace, strength, affirmation, validation.

We are not alone in this journey.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Dreams

"The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams."
~ Eleanor Roosevelt

Keith Urban was once asked what his Plan B was if his dream of becoming a professional musician had not come to fruition.  His response was, "if the dream is real, it is uncrushable".

We talk about our hopes and dreams, but how many of us actually believe that the dream we have is our only option?  Are we truly looking for ways to nurture our dreams and cultivate success?

Though this might be contrary to popular belief, often, we dream things that are, in fact, impossible… but it's only because either we fear failure to the point that we choke the life out of them, or because our dreams hinge upon the actions of other people.  We can not control others or how their views, opinions, actions, hopes, and personal dreams line up (or don't) with our own.  It is not their lot in life to make our dreams a reality.  This task rests solely in our hands and in our hearts.

When the dream is ours, when we set a course towards achieving it, when every action can carry us further towards the dream, it can, indeed, become uncrushable.  It is also my belief that in order for us to achieve our highest aspirations, we must let go of what is no longer serving us, thereby making room to grow and creating the space in which we can hurdle even the toughest of obstacles along the path.  And there will be obstacles… sometimes the most challenging ones dwell in the depths of our minds.

People thought I was crazy when, as a single mom of three, I let go of a full time job in order to try to bring to life a specific vision I had.  Of course it was risky, and a huge leap of faith, but I never once doubted my ability to find a way or make one.  I have let go of relationships that were not value added, and have, instead, surrounded myself with people who never questioned my ability to achieve what I set out to do, and with whom I am able to partner in order to create new shared goals.  As a result, I am creating the life I dreamed of… more time with my children, a close circle of beautiful friends, a job about which I am passionate and for which I worked my asana off, new opportunities at hand that take me closer to other dreams I hold dear, and I find myself on the cusp of a vacation about which I've dreamed since I was just 6 years old.

So hold tight to your dreams.  Write them down, revisit them, and if you lose sight of them, remember it's never too late to begin again.  You have the power to turn your dreams into reality.  Make them uncrushable.  No plan B.

"Dare to live the life you have dreamed for yourself.  Go forward and make your dreams come true."
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Dreams Playlist



Saturday, May 10, 2014

Mother's Day

So it's been awhile since I blogged… and it's not for lack of ideas (though I confess that I am recycling this post from my other blog)… I'm just busy with life's ups and downs which, quite frankly, are far more pronounced as a single mom of three trying to make my way through the world, than they were in my more carefree married days. 

Back then, I used to wonder how single moms did it. I always had a great deal of respect for them and couldn't quite wrap my head around how they managed. I relied on my spouse for a variety of things related to us, our future and to the kids, and simply couldn't imagine my life without him in it. 

Silly yogi.

What I believed then were the challenges, stresses, fears of single mothers did not even come close to the reality of that which exists. That is not to say that I feel regretful or unhappy; quite the contrary, actually. I know the decision was the right one for all involved, and even though I often wake with more questions than answers, finding the means and methods to forge ahead on my own has provided me with a greater sense of self and purpose than I might ever have had otherwise. I find myself more fiercely protective than ever not only of my children but of my heart, hopes, dreams, and it makes me commit even more to the mantra by which I have lived my life since I was 8 years old: I will find a way or make one.

And so I say Happy Mother's Day to all of the mommies out there. It's the hardest job we'll ever love. I'll add a special thought for single mothers: I hope you are lifted up and celebrated not only by your loved ones this weekend, but also by you. For you know, better than most, that you have lifted yourself up time and time again, but perhaps, in the process, forgot to celebrate the amazing woman that you are. You are.