Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Life Choices

Ever so often—more often than I’d like to admit—I’m reminded that “I’m not all that.” I’ve been on this spiritual journey as long as I can remember. There’ve been slips and stagnations—sometimes taking a decade or longer. But when I see the totality of how I viewed and participated in this thing we call Life ten, twenty, or thirty years ago, it becomes immediately obvious that I’ve grown spiritually and am a kinder and more understanding person.

Life no longer happens to me.

I am responsible for all events in my life.

There are lessons in each and ever one of them.

Even when it’s challenging to find gratitude, I find it.

Everything is okay.

I see my ego, most of the time, instead of being lost in it. Sometimes old habitual patterned responses based on fear, anger, or righteousness come storming out. And like a storm, the best thing to do is ride it out. However, these storms are getting shorter and less frequent. Sounds like a "good" thing to me. Yet there are time I feel temporarily out-of-control with a rant that just pours out of my mouth. This is quite humbling. Even as I've progressed along a spiritual path, vulnerable spots remain. Some of my "buttons" continue to trigger an automatic reaction.

A few months back at a training, students were asking the teacher numerous questions. There were questions that I had "already figured out and didn't want to waste my precious time with them." After all the opportunity to study with that particular teacher was a rare and valuable event. As my patience grew thin--masked with a calm exterior--I thought about how much "further along I was than these other people." During a break I shared this with Mike; telling him of my effort to be more tolerant of these less evolved (for lack of a better word) people. In his gentle manner Mike said, "Maybe you're not as far along as you thought." The simple fact that the classroom situation bothered me at all was very telling and humbling.

Yesterday I found my mouth exuding a mini-speech defending the idea that we all have a choice. Deep down I wanted acknowledgement for my own efforts to lead a fuller, happier, and more meaningful life. Anger reared its righteous head when someone said, "Life is just harder for other people." My list of struggles and obstacles swirled in my head. Like two burly men one-upping each other with scars from the fights they'd been in.

Typically I see Life as offering lessons and challenges to help us to grow as human beings. While ranting yesterday, I found my mind using words like struggles and obstacles. This is a habit from over ten years ago and rarely comes up anymore. But I was so sick of people making excuses for their Lives and complaining about how miserable they are. Then to point at me and say it's just easier, still brings out this immense ego that I thought was in better check. Awareness flew out the door and ego took over. One day later, I reflect on this conversation and realize that "I'm not all that." Humbled and knowing there is still so very much to learn.

Usually I would place these ideas in my private journal with pen and paper at my bedside, but something urged me to publicly blog these feelings instead. I'm not certain why, but would like to share with you that:

We all have lessons and challenges in Life; you are not alone.
You can complain about how tough yours are continue living that way.
Or you can take the lesson, say 'thank you', and move on.
It's a choice.

Your view of Life is a choice only you can make.
If you view Life as "out-to-get" you, you'll attract more obstacles and perhaps get stuck.
If you see Life as a friend, you'll attract lessons and flow through them faster.

You create your own Life.
When you say, "My Life is harder than yours," you are living in the past and allowing yourself to stay stuck and attract more suffering.
When you say, "My Life is what I make it," you release the past and start making choices today because you know these choices in thought, word, and deed determine your tomorrow.

How much do you want to suffer?
You can see Life as a struggle and fight it tooth and nail. As Tolle says, when you can't take the suffering anymore, you will change.
You can show gratitude now, live with conscious awareness, be completely honest about your own attachment, and take responsibility for everything that happens in your life--yes, everything.

Having a spiritual practice is essential for true happiness.
This practice can range from a daily silent walk in nature while admiring the beauty around you to studying and practicing the ideas from modern day spiritual leaders, such as Byron Katie.
Spirituality and religion are NOT the same thing.
Spirituality is a practice, not something you just read about.

My intention is that one day I'll be able to hear the complaints from anyone, regardless of their circumstances and how they might compare to mine, with an open and loving heart. That I can gently remind them Life is a Choice and then let it go.

Today I still feel steam rise when someone making a lot more money than I do whines to me about their financial situation--honestly I want to smack them upside the head!! Or when someone mourns over their tough childhood that was "better" than mine, I think "get over it already." So, I guess here's another lesson. One of those wonderful opportunities to grow spiritually. I might always want to smack 'em, but I'll willing to make a different choice.

"I'm not all that," I guess. But I'm willing to wake up every day and strive to live a richer, more understanding, and compassionate life. This will mean stop comparing my life to others when determining how much compassion I'm willing to give. Thanks for indulging me in this blog entry, as I honestly had no idea where it was going and now I feel as if the real lesson has just been uncovered.

Many Thanks,


Today is the first day of the rest of your life!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Healing -- What's in Your Healing Toolbox?

Thousands of years ago Glen, the caveman, was frustrated while attempting to open a coconut. In his anger he threw a heavy rock at it. To his utter amazement, the fruit cracked open! Soon Glen was the most popular caveman in the tribe. He discovered--through trial and error--that attaching the rock to the end of a sturdy stick made a useful tool. Eventually the tribe called this tool "hammer" and everyone had one. It was all the rage.

Over the next couple thousand years the hammer was adapted for another use--to pry items apart. This required a split curved wedge on one side of the hammer. The people were very satisfied and convinced that they would never need another tool. Until one day, Sam from the next village came to visit with the "pliers." Very impressed, the town's people included that pliers to their tools.

Eventually there were many types of pliers all specialized for various purposes and other tools were created.

Today one could spend a small fortune on carpentry tools. The toolbox has definitely grown.

Healing is a lot like our imaginary story of the hammer. We may discover a wonderful healing modality; for thousands that modality is yoga. This "tool" serves us well and may even prove useful for various issues. However to think that one healing modality is the most appropriate in all cases, is as silly as thinking the hammer is the only tool you need.

I've spent almost a decade questing for the Holy Grail of healing. Along this path many wonderful techniques have proven useful, but the best lessons of all are:
There is no Holy Grail of healing.
One size does not fit all.

Different techniques may or may not be useful to all of us and one time or another. It's key for each of us to be open minded and to be willing to try new ways--especially when previous systems aren't working any more. Here are some methods that you may find useful:

* Spending time in nature
* Yoga postures
* Energy medicine
* Pranayama
* Meditation / Prayer
* Affirmations
* Awareness
* Aromatherapy
* Steam baths
* Bubble baths
* Extras sleep
* Supplements
* Journaling / Reflecting
* Dancing
* Laughing / Being less serious
* Byron Katie's "the work"
* Diet / Food consciousness / Spices
* Acupuncture
* Visualization
* Transcendental Meditation
* "Learning from the heart: Lessons on living, loving, and listening" by Daniel Gottlieb
* "The Four Agreements"
* Slow food / Cooking
So, what's in your healing toolbox?


Today is the first day of the rest of your life!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Pranayama - Breath

"Technically pranayama doesn't mean working with the breath," as a Swami Rama devotee, Nina, reminded me. Pranayama is a Sanskrit term meaning "to extend life force." Depending on how you break up the letters, it could mean "to control life force." I don't think we can completely control life force or Prana; however we can guide it or influence it.

Frequently this yogic technique is simply viewed as breath-work because the easiest means to work with life force is via the breath. As a basis for exploring the breath, it's important to have a foundational understanding of the four stages of breathing. They are as follows:

Inhale - When you emphasize the incoming breath in the chest and then some in the belly it has an energizing and expansive quality. If you mainly breath into the belly, it is calming and can even become depressive over time. On the other hand, only breathing into the chest can bring on anxious feelings and quicken the heart rate. Experiment with these different ways to inhale and find a balance of bringing it from the chest to the belly while stressing the chest and invigorating your body and mind.

Retention - Holding the breath after an inhale has a similar effect to the inhale itself. Use this technique with some caution; if there are any signs of lightheadedness or dizziness, then shorten the pauses or omit altogether. You may notice that when we are shocked, fearful, or horrified the body's tendency is to gasp air in and then hold it. This is NOT the feeling we're going for in pranayama. Instead look for a feeling of gentle expanse, giving the body time to absorb all the oxygen of that breath and for a soft stillness to be experienced.

Exhale - The most natural exhale is a passive one; the abdominals are relaxed and the diaphragm releases upward. This is the most tranquil method of breathing out. It fills the body and mind with surrender, calm, and acceptance. During an asana (posture) practice and for some pranayama techniques the abdominals engage while exhaling. When the abdominals progressively draw in and slightly up, the out breath becomes active and there is a grounding and stabilizing feeling.

Suspension - Pausing after the exhale and not hurrying on to the next in breath, accentuates the effects of the out breath. When this technique is used the body must rely solely on its inner resources. This is one of the reasons to practice hatha yoga; through the postures, focus, and breath-work, the prana storage within the body grows enabling longer suspension of breath and providing greater health and vitality. If your body experiences asthma conditions, it is advised to avoid long suspensions and focus more on the out breath. This is a pretty safe part of the breath; because if you really need to inhale, the body will do just that. According to Gary Kraftsow this phase of the breath cycle "can bring up repressed emotions [and memories].... That is why [he] likes to call this technique the 'open secret of pranayama.'" (Pg 114 Yoga for Transformation) A peaceful suspension of breath is one of the best ways to know the stillness that is always part of you, even when life seems chaotic.

Best of luck exploring!


Today is the first day of the rest of your life!

Monday, January 5, 2009

A Happy New Year - Cultivating Gratitude

What better way to start the new year than by being grateful for the past year?

Here's my list of 100 things in 2008 that I'm grateful for:

1. Learning to be okay with the mystery.

2. Beginning to understand the power of visualization.

3. Reading books on prayer by Dr. Larry Dossey.

4. Taking the Oprah and Tolle online class about the New Earth.

5. Meeting three wonderful like-minded women.

6. Continuing to get together with these women almost every week to share ideas and what's happening in our lives.

7. Spending New Years with song, dance, friends, and wonderful laughter.

8. Healing in body, mind, and soul.

9. PBS and their fabulous spiritual specials.

10. The Soul Series by Oprah.

11. BJ turning 16 and really developing into an outstanding young man.

12. Jake turning 14 and bringing amazement (via card tricks) and laughter everywhere he goes.

13. My mom coming to visit for the best 5 days we've ever had together.

14. My mom telling me she was proud of me.

15. Becoming a bit wiser; understanding life a bit better. And being okay with what I don't understand.

16. Having a working computer.

17. Receiving the kindest and most sincere thank you notes from dozens of students.

18. Each and every student that crosses my path.

19. Each and every teacher that crosses my path.

20. Friends--old and new.

21. An updated vitamin regime.

22. Outpost natural foods and the organic locally grown food.

23. Penzeys and their awesome aromas.

24. Milk and Honey--locally owned, great staff, healthy products, and great source for info.

25. Hanging out at the Brookfield Farmer's market almost every Saturday this summer.

26. Pippin's long adorable yawns!

27. My partner Mike's devotion, support, understanding and love.

28. Stocks going on sale.

29. Gas prices dropping to $1.69--which I paid on Dec 30, 2008!

30. Knowing how to read.

31. Half Price Books and all the wonderful deals there.

32. Family vacation to Oregon.

33. Delicious restaurants--new and old.

34. Growing yoga business.

35. Living life with more integrity.

36. Being able to inspire others by sharing what I've come to know.

37. Baths in the middle of the day.

38. Impeccable immune system!

39. (Re-)discovering Viniyoga.

40. Having the courage and flexibility to try new paths.

41. Hanging out till Midnight with BJ, Jake, and Mike at Barnes and Noble for BJ to get a new book.

42. Mochas at Cup of Java.

43. Creating a plan for re-doing the living room.

44. Enhancing the right side of my brain.

45. Learning about plasticity of the brain--thank you science!

46. Getting my first Calphalon pans.

47. Being more present.

48. Books on CD.

49. Hearing Ram Dass on youtube.

50. Speaking from my heart and being accepted for it.

51. Slowing becoming less judging and at least realizing (usually) when I am judging.

52. Growing in awareness.

53. Seeing my part in "bad" things and not playing the victim; rather seeing every experience as a lesson--some tough and some easy.

54. Dar Williams and her insights.

55. Dr. Wayne Dyer sharing his wisdom with the world.

56. Eckhart Tolle and his unique explanation of "living in the now."

57. Libraries allowing us all to explore countless topics for free!

58. The internet and researching on it.

59. Creating a useful yoga newsletter that tends to get rave reviews.

60. Opening my heart to religions that I used to veer away from.

61. Walking outdoors.

62. Having an elliptical and actually using it a couple times a week when the weather is rough.

63. Finding a better "exercise" method for my body.

64. Powell books where I found half a dozen books on breathing all with different views.

65. Obama winning.

66. Caring about an election.

67. Some films from Spiritual Cinema; a thoughtful gift from my older sister.

68. Laughter!

69. Having the ability to train with great yogis--Gary Kraftsow and Aadil Palhivala.

70. Being loved and supported by so very many.

71. Having a working hot water heater and dry basement.

72. Opening up continuous group classes in the Home Studio.

73. Starting a meditation class.

74. Meeting new private and group students.

75. Seeing my father and his wife for the first time in about 6 years.

76. Getting along with my father!

77. Taking long walks along Lake Michigan.

78. Enjoying coffee outside at Altera by the Lake.

79. Realizing that feeling the sun on my skin is more valuable to me than overcast, yet warmer, days.

80. Discovering Agave, thanks to Trader's Joe, for sweetening while maintaining balance in the blood sugar.

81. Marcus Buckingham's suggestion of focusing on my strengths.

82. Also using his phrase, "How can I contribute today?" (Which feels better to me than "How can I serve?")

83. Learning the "AH" meditation technique from Dr. Dyer--very powerful.

84. Cooking with the whole family while sipping on red wine and enjoying Edith on the stereo.

85. BJ and Jake helping out so much with the snow!

86. Playing family games, like Cranium, by the fireplace.

87. Jammie days.

88. Letting Pippin run free in the park and watch his entire being flow with happiness.

89. The sound of birds on a winter's day.

90. Sitting on the deck and hearing the wind rustle the leaves in the nearby Maple.

91. Creating a new "Zen" space in our backyard with a swinging bench and flower pots.

92. Meeting Mike for lunch.

93. Netflix and the ease of movie watching at a reasonable fee.

94. Quality movies, like The Simple Life of Noah Dearborn.

95. Every moment that I feel aligned.

96. Every inspiration that feels like a small miracle.

97. Having such a close and open relationship with my children and partner.

98. Being alive another year.

99. All of my senses working.

100. With more frequency I see the Universe working with me, and this is the most beautiful of all--to experience connection with something bigger and feel its truth in my bones.

If I had one intention for 2009, it would be to experience this connection more often until one day it is simply a way of life.

Love Much,


Today is the first day of the rest of your life!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

The Christians and the Pagans

Holly Haeberg introduced me to this song many years ago. Dar's words immediately touched my soul. Hopefully you too will find some meaning in these words. (For the audio, please click here.)

ARTIST: Dar Williams
TITLE: The Christians and the Pagans

Amber called her uncle, said "We're up here for the holiday
Jane and I were having Solstice, now we need a place to stay"
And her Christ-loving uncle watched his wife hang Mary on a tree
He watched his son hang candy canes all made with red dye number three
He told his niece, "It's Christmas eve, I know our life is not your style"
She said, "Christmas is like Solstice, and we miss you and it's been awhile"

So the Christians and the Pagans sat together at the table
Finding faith and common ground the best that they were able
And just before the meal was served, hands were held and prayers were said
Sending hope for peace on earth to all their gods and goddesses

The food was great, the tree plugged in, the meal had gone without a hitch
Till Timmy turned to Amber and said, "Is it true that you're a witch?"
His mom jumped up and said, "The pies are burning," and she hit the kitchen
And it was Jane who spoke, she said, "It's true, your cousin's not a Christian"
"But we love trees, we love the snow, the friends we have, the world we share
And you find magic from your God, and we find magic everywhere"

So the Christians and the Pagans sat together at the table
Finding faith and common ground the best that they were able
And where does magic come from, I think magic's in the learning
Cause now when Christians sit with Pagans only pumpkin pies are burning

When Amber tried to do the dishes, her aunt said, "Really, no, don't bother"
Amber's uncle saw how Amber looked like Tim and like her father
He thought about his brother, how they hadn't spoken in a year
He thought he'd call him up and say, "It's Christmas and your daughter's here"
He thought of fathers, sons and brothers, saw his own son tug his sleeve saying
"Can I be a Pagan?" Dad said, "We'll discuss it when they leave"

So the Christians and the Pagans sat together at the table
Finding faith and common ground the best that they were able
Lighting trees in darkness, learning new ways from the old, and
Making sense of history and drawing warmth out of the cold

Love Much,


Today is the first day of the rest of your life!