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


"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.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Assigned Seating

On a recent flight, I switched seats with someone on the plane. It didn't really matter to me where I sat, and it was a kind gesture on the other person's part to offer... I hesitated, but ultimately accepted, and therefore ended up someplace where I wasn't really supposed to be.

I sat next to a man who, admittedly, I was mildly annoyed by for a variety of reasons. He was loud.  He was on the phone with his wife, speaking to her in a way that I found unacceptable. He was eating a dripping, greasy cheeseburger, the smell of which was offensive to me. He didn't shut down his computer and phone for so long that the flight attendant had to come and get ugly with him about it. He was one of those people that had a snide comment about everything. I popped my headphones in and stuffed my nose in my book to avoid any chit chatting in which, prior to that point, he had tried to engage me.  I settled in like this for almost the entire flight.

As the plane started to descend, though, I put away my music, and he asked me about the book I was reading. It was Viktor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning. He had never heard of it, so I explained the central ideas and themes. I'd read it before, it was part of the required reading for my yoga training, but I was rereading it. I'm not sure why, exactly, but I somehow felt the need to explain all of this to him, too. 

"I think my wife needs to read that," he said. Oh boy. My thoughts in that moment were:  so you are going to complain to me about your wife?! Dude. You have no idea where my head is right now. You will regret that choice 'cause I will give you the what fors right here in first class.

"Actually, what I really wish is that my son had read it. He committed suicide on Father's Day." Oh. Oy. Ouch. I opted, at this point, instead, to give myself the what fors. I expressed my condolences and told him I can't imagine the depth of this sort of pain for him, his wife, everyone who held this young man close. I quickly made the connection regarding his comment about his wife and brought up mother's love and mother's guilt and how I could imagine that his wife was feeling as though part of her life's purpose was gone and that the search for new purpose at once with the search for relief from depression and despair must be overwhelming.

"It was our second," he replied. I looked at him for a moment, not clearly understanding what he meant. "Our other son had leukemia and died after a bone marrow transplant." I was stunned, but somehow found the phrase "survivor guilt" in my arsenal and asked him if the other son had suffered from it. And sure enough, the "it should have been me" was at the root of his other son's problems.

"It should not have been him," I said, "because it wasn't his curriculum. Just as it wasn't yours or your wife's. It wasn't your lesson to learn, but having lived through it, you learned what you were supposed to." 

At that moment, the man in front of us, having heard just bits of our conversation, turned and asked me what kind of yoga I practice. The question, in the midst of the discussion of death and survivor guilt, seemed oddly yet perfectly timed. I shared. The man in front then informed me he was "a Bikram guy". We talked briefly about the peace that consistent practice brings and how a lack of practice is noticeable physically, mentally, emotionally.

"Tell me more about that," the man next to me said. And so I did. I encouraged him to try yoga and to seriously consider practicing yoga with his wife if she was open to it, even if it was to go to a studio and rest in child's pose for an hour. An escape. A focus. A place to just be... and just be together. 

Who knows if he did or did not... but at least I know that as he walked off the plane and thanked me profusely for talking to him about life and yoga and the combination thereof, perhaps he had a new option that he might not have otherwise thought of; one more strategy at hand, one more chance to rebuild his body, refocus his mind, and reconnect with that which is most important for us all, and that which does, indeed, die last: hope.

And so, it seems, that even though I wasn't in my assigned seat that day, I was, in fact, exactly where I was supposed to be.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Art of Doing Nothing

The Buddha asked a young monk to go to the river to fetch some water.   When the monk arrived at the river, he found it wildly turbulent, so much so, that he could not even approach the water's edge.  The violent swirling stirred up sediment from the bottom of the river, making the water muddy and undrinkable.  The young monk returned to the Buddha, feeling like a failure.  The Buddha told him to return to the river, sit on the bank, and do nothing,  The monk was confused, but did as he was told.  He sat for hours by the wild river, doing nothing.  Finally, he noticed the water beginning to calm and, eventually, clear.  He filled his buckets and returned, thanking the Buddha for teaching him the art of doing nothing.

I'm sitting by a roaring fire, purring cat curled across the top of my chair, sleeping dogs at my feet, with quiet children scattered throughout the house.  Despite the fact that both local and federal authorities have declared a state of emergency as we await a "catastrophic" ice storm to pummel Atlanta, I'm enveloped in a sense of peace and warmth.  Sure, there is laundry to put away, dishes to do, and classes to plan, but I am making a point of spending some time today doing nothing.

Lao Tzu said, "Doing nothing is better than being busy doing nothing."  Far too often we busy ourselves with lengthy to do lists, only to find that we were on the go all day long, occupying every moment of our time, but we were not able to put a big enough dent in the list and, therefore, don't feel particularly successful.  One day's tasks then roll into the next day… and then the next day's tasks roll forward… on and on.

So determined are we to fill our spare time that we see doing nothing as a waste of time; we seek to always do something… anything.  To do nothing, and to do it on purpose, feels as though we are unproductive.  However, the opposite is true.  The ability to find stillness is affirming and energizing, even if it's just for a few quiet moments at a time.  Ultimately, giving ourselves time to relax, reset, and reconnect makes us more productive.  The fact that I have been meaning to blog for the last week or so but wasn't able to actually the create time and space to sit down and write until today, when I purposefully spent some time doing "nothing", is not lost on me.

The concept of meditation can be intimidating, but the act of meditation doesn't have to be, and it's a natural way to tap into the art of doing nothing.  Of course, those who have a strong meditation practice might take issue with calling it "nothing"… for it is, indeed, something, and a transformative something at that!  However, the point is that even if we aren't meditating in the purist sense of the word, if we set aside just 5-10 minutes per day where we remove all distractions and find stillness of mind and body, focusing on nothing but our breath, we become more in tune with ourselves, better able to manage stress, and, ultimately, we are more productive.

When was the last time you spent a quiet moment doing nothing at all… no effort, no work, no distraction, just you, your breath and the natural beauty within and around you?  Indulge in the art of doing nothing and you will find, just like the young monk by the river, greater clarity and a stronger sense of accomplishment.

The Art of Doing Nothing Playlist