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Yoga Class Focus: Gratitude Trumps Adversity November 27, 2014

SunRaysForestPathSometimes, gratitude does not come overnight. Sometimes days, weeks and months can pass before thankfulness finds its way into a broken heart. But from experience (and lots of it), I know there will be a silver lining to every story of challenge, hardship and adversity. If you’ve read my blog before, you are familiar with my efforts to use yoga, addiction recovery, therapy and related resources to heal from past trauma and cultivate a life of balance and wellness. I’m also devoted to sharing these experiences and tools with others. I’m not perfect; still, I do believe in every being’s potential to heal, grow and change.

And for that – the faith, the belief, the hope – I am grateful.

On this Thanksgiving Day, I am grateful for two specific things.

 

*  *  *

“Humility and gratitude go hand in hand.”
~ Swami Sivananda Radha

#1: I don’t know where my father is.

You may have read my past blogs about last year’s family fiasco. I’d moved from my hometown of DC to Dad’s retirement city of Nashville to support him as he ages. There were major issues with his house, his health and his finances. Although I was able to help successfully in many ways, my time there was challenging from every angle – work, health, home, community, family. The most difficult was watching my father fade with dementia. The most damaging was my sisters’ hostility toward me. I became financially, physically and emotionally depleted. After gaining counsel, I made the very difficult decision to return to DC, where – with the support of deep roots and caring communities – I could rebuild from scratch.

Over the past year, I have been ostracized by my sisters and by my father’s community. I understand where their blurred perspectives originate, and know that my side of the street is clean. I was the one who showed up for him devotedly and dependably since my mother died more than a decade ago. Because throughout our lives, Dad and I have shared an authentic love beyond description. This October, he told me he was having surgery for skin cancer on his head. Our last conversation was November 9th, the day before his procedure. And now, I can’t reach him, he’s not reaching out to me, my sisters and his friends are not contacting me, I have no idea how he is, and I can only guess where he is.

And…I AM GRATEFUL? How?

PathWithHeartThis is a case where I cannot (yet) see the positive in the situation itself. And so, to lighten my heavy heart, I choose to give thanks for related gifts:

  • I am not the only one who loves my father. Dad has his own higher power(s). I must have faith that he is being cared for. Plus, I have the chance to utilize my own toolbox of wellness resources in order to love him, forgive my sisters and cultivate compassion about the family dissonance. My prayers are for his whole health, and, for a joyous Thanksgiving, wherever he is.
  • My friends are my family. This year, I was invited to multiple Thanksgiving meals. There is an “Orphans Dinner,” a “Vegetarian Friendsgiving,” a “Gluten Free Thanksgiving” and assorted gatherings in communities I’ve been part of for years and years. My “family of choice” has also chosen me – we share similar roots, shared experiences and a yearning for healing and growth.
  • What a difference a year makes. Last winter in Nashville, I accepted a Second Harvest food donation for my family. It was one of the most humbling experiences of my life – but, that box of food went a long way when resources were short. This past week, I joined a group of volunteers at a DC nonprofit, giving turkeys and groceries to families in need. This experience widened my gratitude for where I stand today. Things are far from stable, but thanks to seven months of recent steady work, I have food in my fridge…thanks to returning to DC, I’ll share holiday meals with dear ones…and thanks to gleaning the best from a past of hardship, I am able to serve others in ways that I once needed.

*  *  *

“Once you know that suffering is for your benefit… You’ll gladly go through it.”
~ Swami Satchidananda

#2: I was recently fired from my restaurant job.

Exactly four weeks before, my boss sat me down for a glowing progress review. A month later, she scornfully scolded and terminated me. I’m a willing, honest and dedicated worker. When I make mistakes, I take responsibility and seek solutions for improvement. Over that last month, however, there was scrutiny. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. And then, bam…see ya.

And you know what? I AM GRATEFUL.

Oh, sure, I’m also feeling a mixture of injustice, anger, financial worry and general upset. With slight hints of self pity. I’m human. But in the end, this is clearly a case (as many friends have remarked in their own ways) where “god” or “the powers that be” are doing for me what I could not do for myself.

LifeIsBeautifulAbsolutely grateful:

  • It is a blessing to be free. I have been liberated from a place that handles professional affairs in a manner that I will not accept.
  • When one door closes, another one opens. Since being fired, I have received numerous offers to teach yoga in studios, at schools, for birthday celebrations, for nonprofits and more.
  • My confidence is boosted! I still must look for sustaining work (because teaching yoga does not pay the bills). And that last job – my first as a waitress/server – was at one of the most popular and busy restaurants in the city. So I am thankful for seven months of training and experience. Even while navigating interpersonal challenges with staff, I honed all of my past professional skills in customer service, marketing, event coordination, catering and more to become an awesome server. And I can take that anywhere. In the meantime, generous friends at a family-owned restaurant are giving me a few shifts, so I can keep up my chops.
  • That job was a gift. One of the managers knew that I’d had a tough year away and – knowing that I had little restaurant experience – gave me work, so I could come home to DC and start strong. Over those seven months, I was able to get on the road to financial recovery. And for these next five months, thanks to generous landlords, I have a roof over my head, and the potential to continue chipping away at bills and debt through new work.
  • I have some healing to do. I believe that I am a healthy woman. Truly. In body, mind and spirit. Thanks to that workplace experience, I am tackling yet another layer of sacred inner work. I had the opportunity to see how staff dynamics can trigger my PTSD – particularly now, after such a tough year with family dysfunction. Thanks to being healthy enough to take accountability for my part and see where I need to grow, I am venturing on a fresh direction toward wholeness.

*  *  *

“…she learned that surrender is quiet.” 
~ from “Snake Oil: The Art of Healing and Truth-Telling,”by Becca Stevens, founder of Thistle Farms, a nonprofit serving women recovering from addiction and sexual trauma.

I’m a fighter.

That’s exactly why the recent job termination meeting was such an ironic victory. I had good reason to defend myself. However, I was silent. As the list of “wrongs” was aired, I squirmed internally and took mental notes. At times, I couldn’t help but look surprised. Although frustrated, I pursed my lips. I kept my feet firmly on the ground, my hands resting on my legs, my mind clear and my mouth shut.

Surrender is quiet.

Funny – I’d read the above line from “Snake Oil” on the bus ride to the meeting with my boss. Chapter 3, “Seeds of Healing,” introduces us to a number of Thistle Farms program participants, who work producing healing balms, bath salts and oils for the nonprofit. “Val, like every employee of Thistle Farms, began every morning in the meditation circle before she began to work. She said during her time at Thistle Farms she learned that surrender is quiet. She says in order for her to heal and forgive, she has to surrender everything. Through the journey of surrender, she learned how much quieter it was than all the fighting in prison, with family, with the world.”

Interesting timing, eh? The evening after being fired, it hit me – I had been fighting a lot at that job. Fighting my own fear of failure and financial insecurity; fighting my own negative voices; fighting other’s accusations; fighting for consistency; fighting for staff accountability. After that much battle, it’s clear: the job simply wasn’t meant to be.

As for the family situation, I’m not as quiet. My grief tends to shout, and, I’m having a tough time quelling that voice. There’s still a bit of wrestling; but I know most of it is within my own soul.

Still, it can feel good to give up. To wave the white flag, and accept what’s here, now, real and true. That job is gone, and it’s time to move on. I can’t reach my father, so I must focus on other joys. For me, acceptance is the 1st step toward Samtosha – one of yoga’s five Niyama, or value-based observances, as described by the Eight Limbs in the Yoga Sutras. Samtosha means complete contentment with whatever exists. And such contentment has the potential to transmute into GRATITUDE for the silver linings or lessons. With consistent observance and practice of surrender, acceptance, contentment and gratitude comes the mindful serenity that yoga promises.

I have to ask myself:

Do I want to walk around in misery and resentment about my adversity; or, do I want to cultivate inner peace despite hardship and nurture forgiveness despite hurt – and therefore contribute to harmony around me and in the world?

*  *  *

Aside from mentioning it in the August Yoga Class Focus blog, I never officially wrote about the September and October theme of GROWTH. I reckon I was too busy growing, and encouraging the process in others. So here we are in November, jumping on the GRATITUDE bandwagon! It simply cannot be helped. C’mon, aside from being connected to Thanksgiving marketing, it’s the perfect tie-in to yoga philosophy. Not to mention, exploring GRATITUDE invites us to take stock, offering an inroad toward New Year’s Intentions.

Nearing the end of 2014, I might say that my last year included a doozy of bumps and bruises. Justifiably, I could focus on the family problems, the job loss, my ongoing PTSD issues and my related fears about the future. On the other hand, I could exercise the yogic tenant of Pratipaksha Bhavana, and replace those negatives with the positives listed above.

The act of being grateful gives me something warm to hold in my heart, even when the chill of adversity breaks it. Gratitude softens me enough to squarely face my wounds. It keeps my mind open to – eventually – giving thanks for what initially shut me down.

No matter where you are in the world, I wish you a day of THANKS-GIVING. Heck, with yoga’s guidance, we could enjoy an entire lifetime of gratitude. I’m certainly aiming for that.

*  *  *

Thank you for reading; and, thank you for practicing with me – even if/when you are miles away. OM Shanti.

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Gratitude, Samtosha and Pratipaksha Bhavana (From The UYD Archives) November 28, 2013

This post was originally part of my “Ahimsa Now” series regarding Peace Tools – everyday yogic actions that can create peace in our inner and outer worlds.  Today I post it as a NOTE TO SELF: reminding Holly to put these tools into action, particularly during this difficult time of transition, responsibility, instability and sadness. (Cliff Notes version: I moved from Washington, DC to Nashville, TN in September to support my aging father, and have hit some big bumps along many avenues since.)

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RockCreekFallenTreeCntr2(Jan13)Peace Tools: Pratipaksha Bhavana, Samtosha & Gratitude
(Originally posted June 2012, proving that Gratitude is not just for Thanksgiving, y’all!)

Thank god for great teachers.

I got my butt kicked yesterday morning in an Intermediate Vinyasa class.  Well, admittedly, I often get my butt, hips and thighs kicked in this teacher’s classes!  (But it’s a sweet, Ahimsa-like kick.)

Today, however, the real smacker was when the teacher told a story about wanting something she didn’t have.  She was feeling stressed by being without this particular thing (a typical modern household convenience item); and she believed her stress would be relieved if she had this thing.  Life, in general, would be better.  Then, someone close to her pointed out that if she had that thing, she would inevitably be challenged by its related stresses and difficulties.  And, this someone added, there are places where they don’t even have access to such a luxury, and where they make out just fine.

Thank god for great teachers – in the form of those certain someones who bring perspective.

Perspective can bubble up from many sources.  If I am willing to hear it, I can use perspective to practice “Pratipaksha Bhavana” (replacement of negative thoughts with positive ones) and “Samtosha” (contentment).  And, if I really want to live the concept “Ahimsa” (non-harming) and cultivate inner peace, I can carry my positive thought and contentment a step further to practice “Gratitude” (gratitude).

Because by allowing myself to stew in negativity and malcontent, I am harming myself.  When I harm myself, I am far from peace.  And when I am far from peace, I am closer to harming others.

*  *  *

Sunday morning, when my yoga teacher told her story in class, I immediately thought about my long period without full-time employment, the related fear and stress (which has come to quite a head lately), and, my frequently repeated statement of: “If only I had a job, everything would be better.”

Would it?  I can attest to the harmful wear-and-tear of being in the wrong work situation – whether it’s being underpaid, overworked, over-ego-fed, physically strained, sexually harassed, verbally abused or mis-matched in any way – and how that discomfort can negatively affect everything in my life.  So the last thing I want is to desperately jump into any ol’ job.

In addition, having the “right” job can also add stress to life.  Less free time.  More suits.  New relationships.  Office politics.  And so on.  “Everything would be better” is inaccurate after all.

Still, being without a full-time job over the long-term is a seriously challenging state.  I don’t simply “want what I don’t have” – on a fundamental, life-sustaining level, I actually don’t have what I need.  So how do I nurture inner peace when the justifiable anxiety of  “If only I had a job…” pops into my mind?  What is the antidote?

Pratipaksha Bhavana.

In his book “Raja Yoga,” Swami Vivekananda explains, “When thoughts obstructive to yoga arise, contrary thoughts should be employed.”  In simpler terms, when my inner peace is rattled, I can restore serenity by replacing negative beliefs with positive thoughts.  This is Pratipaksha Bhavana, which is mentioned Book Two of the Yoga Sutras.

This doesn’t mean replacing “If only I had a job…” with “If only I had a financially sustaining job that enhances my emotional, physical and spiritual well-being and complements my lifestyle…”  Because the fact is, even if I had this supposedly ideal thing, there is still no guarantee that “everything would be better.”

The only true, guaranteed, peace-inducing contrary to “If only I had a job…” is “I have a job.”RockCreekPileBranchCrossroads(Jan13)

Bingo!  I have a job!  In fact, I have many jobs – some with traditional paychecks; some with other types of “payment.”  I teach yoga part-time; I manage a yoga studio part-time; and each year I teach percussion and yoga full-time at a summer camp.  I was recently invited to guide Latin dancing lessons for a group of school kids because of my background in Hispanic culture.  I sometimes accompany great songwriters on tours and gigs.  And because of my music and yoga background, I am invited to play Kirtan.  I play volunteer roles in my community, and I play supportive roles in my family.  I could not ask for more wonderful jobs.  I get paid to pass on the beautiful teachings of yoga.  I get paid to contribute to a yoga business’s well-being.  I get paid to facilitate youth’s arts education.  I get paid to play music.  And I have the opportunity to be of service in many ways.  Through these “jobs,” I receive more than money.  I enjoy unlimited, much-needed, free yoga classes where I teach.  I feel the satisfaction of using my operational skills at the studio.  I get to hang around kids eight hours a day for the six weeks of summer camp.  I get to work alongside amazingly talented musicians.  My yoga and music communities are strong and the circles are widening.  I enjoy true friendships.  Overall, I receive immense “compensation” being involved with yoga, music and youth.

A life of this much purpose and passion certainly can sustain me through tough times…when I focus on the positive.

*  *  *

“If only…” in itself is a negative belief.   When I walk around thinking that everything would be better “if only this or that,” I am existing in illusion.  I am negating the worth of the present moment.  And I am living in complete malcontent.  What is the ultimate remedy for the “If only…” plague?

Samtosha.

Instead of thinking “If only…”, I aim to embrace whatever is directly in front of me as my path, my work, my opportunity.  Life is exactly as it should be, right now, with all its struggles and surprises and ups and downs.  Now is all I have.  So why not accept what currently exists and choose to be content?  And this is Samtosha – being at peace with whatever exists at this very moment.

Can I be content with my nearly jobless, penniless existence?  And if so, how do I get there?

For me, contentment requires a blend of footwork, surrender, acceptance and faith.  Footwork means I am proactive to my best ability.  Surrender means I acknowledge how much is beyond my control.  Acceptance means I embrace all outcomes.  And faith means I believe that I will be OK no matter what.  Inevitably, when I practice this combo, I feel content.

For example, in my work search, I must take appropriate action by applying for jobs that make sense for my long-term goals and sustainability.  After I make these efforts, I must remember that there are way too many factors that figure into these scenarios, and therefore completely let go of the results.  I must accept any news without getting stuck in pride, disappointment or resignation.  And when the news is bad, I must believe that there is something worth waiting for – and what helps most here is remembering exactly how big the “Big Picture” is.

“As a result of contentment, one gains supreme joy,” Swami Satchidananda says of Samtosha, in his exploration of the Yoga Sutras.  Who could ask for anything more?

*  *  *

Practicing Pratipaksha Bhavana and Samtosha, I can be positive and accepting instead of negative and wanting.  Usually.  But can I gain “supreme joy” and true serenity?

The truth is, most days I am still trying to shake off the nagging belief that I might never have what I need; that stability and security are impossible; that I am destined to die homeless, jobless and penniless in a gutter.  Those days, more than any others, it is imperative that I practice Pratipaksha Bhavana and Samtosha, and that I take the extra step of doing a Gratitude List.

Monday, 18 June, 2012 – I am grateful for…GreatFallsYomKippur20099(Brighter)

  • Part-time work that I absolutely love.
  • Talents, education and experience to lend to new jobs.
  • The “umph” to keep on keepin’-on despite challenges.
  • Free yoga where I teach.
  • Living in a city with many free activities.
  • Friends who treat me to baseball games so I can relax.
  • A caring circle of family, friends and community.
  • My mom’s and dad’s inspirational work ethic.
  • My dad’s unending encouragement, confidence and support.
  • My sister’s love, understanding, advice and periodic butt-kickings.
  • Beautiful spring/summer weather.
  • Living near Rock Creek Park for hiking.
  • A lifetime of tools and resources for trudging this road – and the willingness to use them.
  • So, so much more.

I am truly lucky to have so much.  I may not have everything I need, but I do have a lot.  And when I reinforce appreciation, the self-pity dissolves, the worry of paying the bills decreases, the fear of becoming homeless disappears, the anxiety of the unknown dissipates.

When I practice Gratitude, I can actually forget what the problem is…I can relax…I can smile!

*  *  *

It’s a lot of work to manage and reduce stress.  Why do I do any of this?

The concepts of Pratipaksha Bhavana, Samtosha and Gratitude do not change the fact that, month-after-month, I wonder whether I’ll be able to pay my rent.  That stressful reality definitely exists.  But as practices, they can change my state of mind during these challenging times.  Instead of dwelling in worry, fear and anxiety – when I am willing to hear perspective and embrace these practices – I can dwell in presence, hope and joy.  Instead of harboring self-harming thoughts, I can enjoy inner peace.  And I can share that peace with all around me.

Ahimsa Now!

OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.

 

Focus: Gratitude – Inter-Faith & Cultural Fusion November 25, 2010

Around Thanksgiving, some might grunt and gripe about family dynamics (me included) This year I want to offer huge gratitude to my parents. Because Mom and Dad motivated my passion for fusing spiritual and cultural influences.

Mom (rest her soul) was a blue-eyed Church of Christ farm girl born to Irish settlers near Nashville, TN. Her love for singing was rooted in songs from black culture. I have her 1948 “Negro Spirituals” song book and newspaper clippings from talent shows where she performed the jazz standard “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man.” She converted to Judaism before marrying my father. Dad came from a gypsy-like Russian-Jewish family and grew from adolescence to early adulthood in Phoenix, AZ, where he gravitated toward Mexican culture. To this day, he tries to remember his Spanish vocabulary, brightens up when he hears Mariachi music and takes himself out for enchiladas just to be around Hispanic families.

Both Mom and Dad brought their musical and religious influences into our home; and I grew up with an appreciation of pretty much every aspect of their eclectic tastes and backgrounds. As my cultural interests matured, I traveled right down the middle of Dad’s Spanish-tinged path and Mom’s Afro-centric inspirations to find myself impassioned for Puerto Rico. Spiritually, I’ve presently evolved into a somewhat pagan yogini who religiously observes the Jewish New Year!

So when I recently saw an advertisement for a “Bomba Kirtan” – an event blending yogic devotional chanting and Puerto Rican folkloric “party” music – I was beyond excited!

When I first heard about the event, I asked myself – is it “OK” to fuse a purely spiritual practice with a primarily social activity? The answer for me – particularly after last weekend’s amazing experience – is a hearty “yes!”

The “Bomba Kirtan” at Baltimore’s Utkatasana Yoga Studio was beyond my dreams. What a beautifully diverse community of yoga teachers, yogis and yoginis, dancers, musicians, artists, parents, children and all! After a meet-n-greet with tea and homemade cacao/fruit balls, we circled up and prepared to pray in the Bhakti Yoga tradition. After Pranayama and meditation – with mellow guitar and drum accompaniment – we transitioned to responsive Sanskrit chanting to various deities. We even included a Native American chant urging each other to “Be Here Now.” Clearly Ganesha heard us because the devotional energy was unobstructed, pure and high!

After a short break the drummers re-directed the room with rhythms rooted in the Afro-Puerto Rican Bomba tradition. People bravely jumped in on instruments, jumped into the middle of the dance floor, jumped into a culture that they were primarily unfamiliar with before those moments. Dancers and drummers played off each others’ movements and hits; chanters offered songs; and singers offered chants. In my tradition of Inter-Faith exploration, I even snuck in a chant to Oshun during a gorgeous 6/8 groove. The freedom! The smiles! When I left to drive home to DC, more drummers were arriving! I heard that the Bomberos carried through into the wee hours.

To me, the seemingly separate traditions of Kirtan and Bomba actually have much in common. The call-response of chanting and singing; the soulful call to sway, move, dance; the conversations between chanter and spirit, dancer and drummer, dancer and dancer, chanter and chanter; the movement toward ecstasy.

To blend Kirtan and Bomba in the sober and sacred space of a yoga studio was ideal for me. I felt 100% comfortable being my Self, and 100% authentic embodying all of my culturally eclectic “selves.” I can’t remember, ever, feeling so loved and loving, accepted and accepting, moved, inspired, true, awake.

Liberated.

So thanks, Mom and Dad, for bringing your spiritual and cultural curiosities, passions, traditions and backgrounds into our home. Also much, much gratitude to those that created and shared the magic of perhaps the world’s 1st (but certainly not last!) Bomba Kirtan: the owners of Baltimore’s Utkatasana Yoga Studio; the musicians gathered by Michael Harris; my fellow OM-Zoners Kendra and Justina; photographer Monica Sizemore (for these beautiful shots!); and so many more who are now connected by this unique bond.

OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.

To view Monica Sizemore’s complete album of Bomba Kirtan photos, visit http://www.4thchakraphotography.com/. To learn more about Baltimore’s Utkatasana studio, visit http://www.utkatasanayoga.com/live/. For more information about future Bomba Kirtan events, subscribe to my Yoga Update newsletter by e-mailing hmeyers65@yahoo.com or stay tuned to the Events page of this Urban Yoga Den blog.

 

Monthly Focus: November – Gratitude November 23, 2010

Today I feel really, really lucky.

The amount of joy that I get to experience throughout the days is beyond what I might have imagined years ago, when I was stuck in shadows and pain. I dare say, life IS a bowl of cherries – sweet fruit, crunchy pits and all! And because of this intention toward accepting life’s sweetness and crunchiness (a form of Santosha, contentment), my potential for moving through challenges and toward celebrations is greater than ever. I don’t have to be stuck anywhere anymore.

Today I have choices.

This past weekend I tripped and fell and hurt myself – and I see the event as a parallel for my figurative stumbles along life’s path. I get to choose my attitude about that occurrence. I get to choose my reactions and actions. I get to choose whether I will be angry or self-pitying or embarrassed…or, whether I will be concerned and aware and ask for help. I get to choose solutions from a toolbox that has evolved from previous stumbles. And gratefully, I have the opportunity to grow along the journey.

Pratipaksha Bhavana! I resolve to focus on the positive!

I look forward to a true Thanksgiving this year. In the spirit of November trends, I’ve chosen “Gratitude” for our November class focus. It’s been great exploring the theme so far, with uplifting Vinyasa, heart openers and a celebratory energy. We’ve dedicated practices to our appreciation for beings, things and situations.

We’ve even asked ourselves: Can we be grateful for the sweet fruit and the crunchy pits? How about those beings, things and situations that challenge us and make us uncomfortable? What if we saw all as opportunities for growth?

I can easily be thankful for the obvious – health, a roof over my head, teachers, work opportunities, community and so on. When unexpected or even unwanted people or situations affect me negatively, I try (try) to remember that everything is just as it’s meant to be in that moment. There is so much beyond my immediate perception that has caused that interaction; and the range and expansiveness of chain reactions from that interaction will be way beyond my comprehension and knowledge.

In other words, more will be revealed.

This is why I feel so lucky! Yoga teaches me that in a challenging pose, on the mat, I can use breath, intention, alignment cues and more to enhance courage, acceptance and ease. I don’t have to run away from the pose; I don’t have to resent my teacher; I don’t have to suffer. If I stay present with the discomfort, more will be revealed – in some cases, quite literally, I will eventually feel the physical benefits of that particular pose. In other cases, figuratively, the psychological benefits of surrendering to and finding gratitude for the challenge will become obvious.

I am not perfect at this! Coming out of a pose at times simply shows my humanness – and I can practice Santosha toward that beauty, as well. Gratitude for and contentment with my perfectly human imperfection.

Now I’m rambling. As last year, I will end this monthly focus post with a gratitude list. I invite you to join me in the tradition and appreciate the sweet fruit and crunchy pits that grace your bowl of cherries!

OM Shanti.

GRATITUDE LIST – MONDAY, 22 NOVEMBER, 2010
1. Teachers in all guises – ankle-biters, button pushers, mirrors, opposites, soul mates, wise ones, allies and on.
2. Talented, generous and attentive healers and doctors.
3. All spiritual programs, traditions and resources.
4. Opportunities for growth in all forms. Really. Hindsight is 20-20.
5. The CDs that friends loan to introduce me to new music.
6. Music, yoga, baseball, natural health and cuisine. Having passions.
7. Fusing cultures and traditions of devotion, love and spirit – i.e. Bomba Kirtan!
8. Those that lead the way. Elders in age and/or years of experience.
9. Opportunities to teach, mentor and learn from children.
10. My family – of origin and of communities.
11. Second, third, hundredth chances.
12. Infinite beauty and generous gifts of nature.
13. Life, love, higher power.
14. So, so much more – i.e. bedtime. Good night!

(Bowl of Cherries painting by Midwest artist Penelope – http://penelope.mosaicglobe.com/)

 

It’s Peanut Butter Jelly Time! November 25, 2009

There’s nothing like a dancing banana to remind me of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.

It's Pratipaksha Bhavana Time!

I promise this post will circle back to the banana.  But first, here’s something you might not know about me: I didn’t come to yoga because I wanted to be spiritual or get in shape.  I came to yoga back in the early 90s because of the immense emotional pain I was feeling.  I’ve hinted about hitting bottom and escaping darkness in past posts.  Suffice it to say, in 1965 I was born into a broken and hurting family, and my own drowning in and running from that reality only lead to more brokenness and hurt over the decades.

In 1993, a friend recommended Kundalini yoga and the journey toward wholeness and serenity began.  Still, it takes a lot of time to face, unravel and chip away at decades of dysfunction.  So here I am, in 2009 – trying to live a yogic lifestyle, devoted to transformation and healing and growth, not engaging in the destructive habits of my past…

…and completely angst-ed out about seeing family for Thanksgiving.

Our last family Thanksgiving was eight years ago, just before my mother died; since then, the emotional spin-out has become so ugly, we’ve all retreated to separate corners.  Typically, each of my siblings hold Thanksgiving festivities with their own families and friends.  And I head to Nashville to spend the holiday with my dad.

This year, a few other family members are heading to Dad’s.  Some seriously heavy stuff is going on in my father’s and their lives and I don’t know how to face it.  So I’ve let an inordinate amount of self-centered fear brew in my belly.  Am I strong enough to face their troubles?  Can I set healthy boundaries?  Will I be able to act loving and compassionate?  And what if I’m not and what if I can’t and what if, what if, what if???

As of last night, I was sick to my stomach with anxiety.  I felt sad for my family and scared of being in the middle of it.  Instead of holding these feelings inside, I shared with trusted friends, who reminded me of the spiritual tool kit I’ve been cultivating over the years.  They also tried to cheer me up.  I’d explored all the dark corners of the situation and had begun to dwell in them. It was time to move toward the light.

Clearly, it was PEANUT BUTTER JELLY TIME!

A friend sent me a link to the Buckwheat Boys’ PBJ video – pictured above – which saturated the Internet back in 2003.  I started thinking about the power of replacing anxiety with humor, darkness with light, negative with positive.

Duh – it’s PRATIPAKSHA BHAVANA TIME!

In Book Two of Patanjali’s Sutras, the ancient scriptures of yoga written thousands of years ago, aphorism 33 states: VITARKA BADHANE PRATIPAKSA BHAVANAM.  Combining the commentary of Swami Vivekananda and Swami Satchidananda, a liberal translation is: “When negative thoughts disturb the practice of the yamas and niyamas (the first two of yoga’s eight limbs), one can think of opposite thoughts.”

Just before this in Book Two, Sutras 29-32 introduce the eight limbs of yoga.  The first two limbs – the yamas and niyamas – outline ethical guidelines which precede all other yoga practices, including asana, pranayama, and so on.  Along with Sutra 1:33 (Book One’s four locks and keys discussed in previous posts on compassion), Sutra 2:33 is a powerfully effective and immediate tool for transforming destructive, negative, obstructive ideas into constructive, positive, motivating thoughts, thus grounding the mind in health and supporting an ethical life.

When my mind is stuck on the negative (“Oh, poor me, this trip is going to be so difficult – how will I deal with my family’s pain?”), I can explore the roots of and share those feelings.  Then, to avoid sinking into a morass of self-pity and uselessness, I must soon exercise the power of positive thinking so I can suit up, show up and be of service somehow.

Last night, after watching – and dancing and singing along to – the PBJ video, I wrote a list of what I can look forward to during my Thanksgiving trip, from attending yoga classes with my favorite local teachers Liz and Corrine, to praying for my family during Sabbath services at my dad’s congregation.  Can you believe, after all that worrisome hoo-haw, I came up with 20 things?  I actually love visiting my Dad in Nashville.  I’d simply forgotten.

If you feel angst-ed out about family Thanksgiving gatherings, or anything at all, take a look at the PBJ video and shift your mind.  I’m listening to it right now, and still cracking up!  Visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s8MDNFaGfT4 to get down with the dancing banana.  And remember, PBJ = PRATIPAKSHA BHAVANA, JAI!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.  OM Shanti.

(Thanks to David and Lisa for bringing humor into my brain.)

 

Attitude of Gratitude November 19, 2009

A couple of weeks ago I had dinner with a fellow Integral Yoga teacher here in DC.  The entire night, through every topic of conversation, she conveyed a consistent and pure attitude of gratitude.  Lucky coincidences, not-so-lucky mishaps and even the presence of a pet dog in her life were explained with inspiring purpose, acceptance and positivity.

On the train ride home, I was thinking about my own yearning to be thankful for all of life’s gifts, accepting of “growth opportunities” and positive through anything.  I recalled when my house burned down in May, 1999; I lost pretty much everything except the clothes on my back (and my drums, which were with me in the car).  Aside from organizing a clothing-drive for me, my good friend Rosa gave me a peculiar gift.  A journal called “Counting My Blessings, ” which instructed me to “remember five things to be grateful for every day.”

I was like, “Hello!?!?  My house burned down!  What could I be grateful for?”

“Sunday, 20 June, 1999: la música, spirit, inspiration, rain, pajamas, dad, hearts, souls.  Tuesday, 27 July, 1999: life, my life, to be alive, to live, to breathe, to love, to see, to feel, to touch, to smell, to smile, to think, to exist, to love music.”

Month-by-month, my appreciation for life’s simple gifts was awakening.  Where I’d felt shocked and emptied after the fire, the practice of gratitude was filling me with peace, healing the trauma.  To this day, I write a gratitude list each night at bedtime.  (Thank you, Rosa.)

I think of gratitude as the harmony that exists between giving and receiving.

Connecting to our bi-monthly focus of cultivating restfulness throughout a hectic holiday season (see “Firm and Pleasant” post), consider this – can we find peace and healing despite inevitable stress?  Can I unfailingly act like a yogi, keep my cool and feel grateful in the midst of dysfunctional family gatherings, crushed shopping malls and backed-up highways?

Indeed, with some effort I’ll do my best to find restfulness along the way.  A nightly gratitude list is one fail-safe tool.  It takes effort to give thanks; and it’s oh-so-easy to receive gifts.  If I take the time to count my blessings, I feel a shift.  Despite lack of harmony around or within me, things bug me less when I recognize how lucky I am.

I invite you to try writing a gratitude list each day between now and Thanksgiving.  Include at least five things that you appreciate, love, are thankful for – whether or not holiday stress, financial burden, family dysfunction, health issues or other challenges are getting you down.  Mine for today is below.

Wishing you the harmony of gratitude this Thanksgiving holiday.  OM Shanti.

GRATITUDE LIST – WEDNESDAY, 18 NOVEMBER, 2009

  1. Pranayama practices helping my seasonal asthma.
  2. A yoga-hike in Rock Creek Park.
  3. More productivity in my job search.
  4. Friends asking for help.
  5. Friends’ problems lightening up a bit.
  6. The opportunity to teach yoga to kids.
  7. And adults.
  8. All resources so generously shared for healing and growth.
  9. Being able to pass those on.
  10. Friends’ support and love.
  11. Not dwelling so much on murders.
  12. Finding peace in school kids’ laughter.
  13. So much, so much.
  14. Life, love, HP/nature.