The Urban Yoga Den

…where it's all yoga.

In Like A Lion March 6, 2013

The weather forecast for DC today was wrong, all wrong.

They touted blizzard-like conditions, and we received Thunder Slush.  That’s right – a messy mix of rain, snow, wind and thunder.  Still, it is roaring out there.  And so March begins.

*  *  *

LionSnowCrownCropColor(Jan12)I’ve been paying attention to a different kind of forecast lately.  And according to one spiritual writer’s monthly outlook, the primary theme for March is “movement.”  In like a lion, indeed.

Aside from the holy days that come at the end of the month, March brings intense seasonal transition.  Tomorrow I begin a two-week “Spring Ritual” that will wrap up with the March 20th Equinox.  Between now and then, I will do an Ayurvedic Spring Cleanse, observe my monthly New Moon fast, celebrate the Maha Shivaratri, attend my teacher’s Shiva-honoring class and enjoy a one-week Stay-Cation.  My hope is to make deliberate effort in order to shake off this challenging winter and ease into a lighter spring.

Whoa.  My heart rate just jumped through the roof when I typed the words “deliberate effort.”  Because life takes sooooo muuuuuch wooooork (she says, with the back of her hand to her forehead, head thrown back and eyes rolled upward toward the heavens in pure dramatic flair).

No wonder I often feel tired.  Even my mind is fatigued.  I would love to experience a day…or even an hour…when I am not so focused on doing everything just right (she says with gritted teeth).  Maybe a brief respite when I stop worrying about controlling my insides and managing the entirety of external life.  A few free moments when I pause my deliberate planting of inner peace and prevention of outer chaos.

I spend so much time protecting myself and others from life’s inevitable ups and downs.  I live in nearly constant fear that if I don’t do everything right in a relationship (whether family, work, friend or community), someone will harm me (abandon me, judge me, shame me, physically hurt me).  It’s an awful amount of pressure.

The thing is: I know from experience that in order to avoid emotional whirlwinds, I must follow specific practices and routines.

Or must I?

The routines – YES.  The elaborate plans for avoidance, protection and prevention – NO.

Even this Spring Ritual is turning out to be yet another plan to forecast my life.  Hah – I can count on Shiva to set me straight here.  I surrender!

Shiva: please liberate me of my clutch on life so I may fall back on your guidance with 100% trust and ease!  As I embark on the next two weeks, my prayer is to be present with the process of this “plan,” to deeply feel and see and taste and smell and hear this experience.  I request that my healthy routines become simply that – the things I enjoy doing in order to feel good and incidentally add to the good around me.  At the same time, may I have a hands-off attitude when things don’t feel good.  May I understand that you are making the plans.  May I throw my arms up in pure surrender to you, Shiva.  During and after these two weeks, may I grow to simply breathe, sense and be.

*  *  *

What if I let life happen to me?

The other day, as I was walking over to the studio to teach, I had a number of beautiful moments of pure presence, where I was nowhere but right there, in that very place.  And I realized: sometimes I think way too much about how to live my life, and I miss living it altogether.

I become so excited about the phases of the moon, the year of the snake, the symbolism of lions, the weather, holy day celebrations – and my intricate and important plans surrounding all of this.  And then there are moments when, all of the sudden, the sunlight hits my face through the winter window and I just stall in the comfort of that warmth…  Or when I hear the doves singing from the roof or a woodpecker hammering away at the tree or spring birds chirping in the bushes and I stop everything to listen to them.

So I can enjoy a somewhat balanced amount of planning and being.  (Somewhat.)

As I type, “Thunder Slush” is enveloping the Nation’s Capitol.  Inside my cozy home, it’s all about classical music, hot chocolate and writing.  I think today’s forecast was perfect.

“Happiness is a Butterfly which, when pursued is just beyond your grasp… but if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.” ~ Nathaniel Hawthorne

Thanks for reading.  OM Shanti.

Advertisements
 

The Happy Heart Project: 100 Days! December 8, 2011

“Whoever is happy will make others happy too.  He who has courage and faith will never perish in misery.”  – Anne Frank

My whole body is vibrating.

Just now, I lit my 100th stick of “Happy Heart” incense and repeated the words I’ve said each morning since August 28th – “My intention today is to grow toward joy.”  Today the intention felt larger, more expansive than a practiced Sankalpa or resolution.  Today, that statement felt like a responsibility.
Instead of re-hashing my entire journey from August forward, I invite you to check out my “The Happy Heart Project: 100 Days Toward Joy” and other blogs I wrote along the way.  It’s been quite a trip, and at times a stumble.  Over time, The Project became more than a simple morning ritual.  It motivated more effort than I’ve ever made in my decades of spiritual practice.

I don’t do any of this for myself.  By “any of this” I mean the 100-day rituals, the blogging, the yoga, the recovery work, the healing practices.  Well, OK, yes.  First I do it for myself – so I can transform, strengthen.  But only so I can share experiences with, pass-on resources to, show up for and be of service to others.

*  *  *

“It is plain that a life which includes deep resentment leads only to futility and unhappiness.  For when harboring such feelings we shut ourselves off from the sunlight of the Spirit.”  – Anonymous

Resentment is ongoing anger or bitterness due to insult or injury.  The etymological root of the word simplifies the meaning even more: a repeated feeling.  Any feeling.  So a resentment could be full of anger or fear, pride or longing.  The fact is, if we are re-feeling something related to a past experience, clearly, we are unable to live in the present.  Our past pains or even successes haunt us.  We are shut off.

I consider myself a happy person.  Someone who leans toward the light.  Generally, I am able to accept life’s ups and downs while maintaining a hopeful and positive attitude.

This summer, after a mugging in June I had a series of PTSD responses that magnified negative stories, limited beliefs and destructive patterns cultivated from what seemed like a lifetime of unresolved trauma.  I was harboring major resentments – against past aggressors, against myself, against the world.  By August, I’d become hopeless.  It was a dark, dark time.

*  *  *

“It is through practicing and living through a series of agreeable and disagreeable situations that we attain full awakening.”  – Suzuki Roshi, author and Zen Master

Over the past 100 days, one of my foundational beliefs was constantly validated: Moving toward joy does not mean escaping pain, avoiding discomfort nor skirting around darkness.  It means greeting that pain, discomfort and darkness with an informed reality instead of habitual despair.  It means digging deep to reach that informed reality, to trudge toward the answers, to sit in the messiness, to look straight at the fears and patterns.  It means surrendering to help and change instead of resigning to the same old despair, depression and rage.

In life there is ease, there is tranquility and there is light…and at times, there is not.  In that very acceptance, I can cultivate happiness.  I can experience joy.  And with strong, committed and consistent effort, the habitual despair can be completely undone.

As Roshi says, it takes “practicing” and “living.”

Burning a stick of incense each morning was a tiny and symbolic gesture.  Although the repeated intention that accompanied that act truly set the wheel in motion, reinforcing a Sankalpa involves much more than words.

Over the past 100 days, there were layers and layers of practices and life.  There was the changing of seasons; there was an Ayurvedic diet for Pitta Pacification; there were increased actions in my recovery program and the huge exhale when reaching nine years clean and sober; there was daily 5:30am Sadhana of prayer, Pranayama and meditation; there were willing visits to medical professionals who specialize in PTSD and related conditions; there was the swallowing of unusual vitamins and supplements; there were specific songs that I listened to and sang until sobbing from liberation; there was soulful abandon during concerts by spiritual songwriters and chanters; there were awkward moments with trusted friends, reunions with old pals and exciting connections with new soul mates; there was immersion in the Occupy movement’s writings and videos in order to challenge my own fears of conflict and solidly reinforce my purpose of peace; there were the Jewish High Holy Days, with their sorrow, atonement, forgiveness and love; there were transformational workshops, retreats and classes with Seane Corn, Max Strom, Amy Barnes, Corrine Champigny and many others; there was the glowing Hindu holiday of Diwali, with its stories of the triumph of light over darkness.

What a trip.  And it was 100% worth it.  Because now, not only have I ceased fighting everything and everyone, I have also come to profoundly accept, appreciate and stop apologizing for my humanness.

“May we live like the lotus, at home in the muddy water.”  – Rachel Meyer, yoga teacher

*  *  *

“May all the sky be pervaded by great bliss.

“If suffering, I bear the suffering of all beings.

“May the ocean of samsara’s suffering dry up.”

My soundtrack for this 100th moment is the traditional Buddhist Offering Chant, quoted above, and sung tenderly by Lama Gyurme in the video below.  As I write, the Happy Heart sends its wafts of rose, rosewood, geranium, cubeb, oakmoss, lavender and patchouli smoke throughout my space.

To me – no matter how much I live and practice through all conditions – it would seem miraculous to reach a bliss like Nirvana or Samadhi or Enlightenment, where I would completely transcend my own suffering, cease carrying and contributing to the suffering of all, and ultimately, experience the end of Samsara – the earthly cycle of birth, decay, death.

What I can grasp, however, is Buddhist nun Pema Chodron’s simple take on attaining a “higher” state: “Enlightenment is a very grand word for fundamental happiness.  Your life becomes a path of awakening or a path of becoming enlightened.”

*  *  *

“What is important is not to have a goal but to see if our daily existence has a meaning in itself.”  – J. Krishnamurti, philosopher and author

Note that my daily statement was, “My intention today is to grow toward joy,”  not, “I want to be happy forever.”  The Project reinforced that life is truly One Day At A Time.  Gradual.  Forgiving and honest.  If today I don’t feel joy, I can try again tomorrow.

There is no goal, only intention, reinforced frequently, through a process of openness, willingness, action and growth.

*  *  *

“The spiritual life is not a theory.  We have to live it.”  – Anonymous

Simply said.  The Happy Heart Project does not end here, at the 100-day mark.

Great gratitude to the numerous teachers who appeared along the way, in so many shapes and forms.  Yoga students, yoga teachers, friends, family, strangers, co-workers, ankle-biters, outright attackers.  Road trips, songs, trees, Asana, injuries, deities.

All mirrors, all messengers.

*  *  *

May all beings find the courage and faith to grow through misery and toward joy.  Thank you for sharing the journey.  OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.

*  *  *

*  *  *

THE HAPPY HEART PROJECT.  Under the new moon of Sunday, August 28, 2011 I launched “The Happy Heart Project: 100 Days Toward Joy” – an effort to document my daily journey away from an annoyingly encroaching emotional darkness and toward the hopeful light of happiness.  For 100 days from 8/28 through 12/5, I woke up, burned a stick of Happy Heart incense and set an intention to grow toward joy.  Nearly each day I posted a “Happy Heart Project” status (and sometimes an accompanying song for that day’s mood) on Urban Yoga Den on Facebook, then saw what happened during the day.  Even though the 100 DAYS are over, it’s not too late to choose one simple heartfelt ritual for your morning, intend to practice it daily, “Like” Urban Yoga Den on Facebook, and let us know how you’re doing from time to time!

 

The Happy Heart Project: 100 Days Toward Joy August 26, 2011

“The Happy Heart Project: 100 Days Toward Joy” launches this Sun., 8/28.  Curious?  See below, then “Like” Urban Yoga Den on Facebook or subscribe to UrbanYogaDen.wordpress.com to stay informed, join in, and/or, share your efforts!

Under the new moon of Sunday, August 28, 2011 I will launch “The Happy Heart Project: 100 Days Toward Joy,” an effort to document my daily journey away from an annoyingly encroaching emotional darkness and toward the hopeful light of happiness.

The “Project” idea arose when Whole Foods Market discontinued my favorite morning ritual incense – Happy Heart by Maroma’s SPA line – leading me to buy their last 10 boxes.  “Hmmmm…100 days of Happy Heart, ” I thought.  And the project was born.

For 100 days from 8/28 through 12/5, I will wake up, burn a stick of Happy Heart incense and set an intention to grow toward joy.  I will see what happens during the day, and journal about it each night.  When I finish a 10-stick box of my precious incense, I’ll post an UrbanYogaDen.wordpress.com blog that covers my journey over those last 10 days.  The blog will also be posted on Urban Yoga Den on Facebook.

If you’ve read my blog lately, you know that I’ve been in the process of healing from a number of physical and emotional challenges (illnesses, health scares, betrayals, violations) – some have occurred over the past year, and some are connected to older events that have been triggered by recent trauma.  (Please check out “Be A Yogi” and other recent entries for background.)  During this 100 day Project, I’ll share the practices and tools from yoga and other resources that consistently guide me toward the inner peace that allows joy.

I know there are no guaranteed outcomes for this 100-day project – only intentions and footwork, one day at a time.

I’m excited to say that one yoga teacher friend unexpectedly exclaimed, “I’m with you!” and will be sharing the journey!  So, we invite you to join us – choose one simple heartfelt ritual for your morning, intend to practice it daily, and let us know how you’re doing from time to time!

Wishing you peace, joy, love and light.  OM Shanti.

 

Focus Wrap Up: Abundance January 1, 2011

You say you want a resolution?

What if,
instead of making New Year’s resolutions,
we simply decided
to make space
for whatever comes along?

*  *  *

What’s the 1st thing that comes to mind when I say “Abundance?”

A lot. Having. Fullness.

And?

Less is more. Giving. Spaciousness.

Huh?

Yup.

*  *  *

Great respect and admiration to all the yogis who explored the other side of Abundance in our Class Focus over December. I will wrap up reflection by re-posting a section of the 1st post on Abundance earlier in the month (below).

Happy New Year, y’all.  May your resolutions be thrown out the window! OM Shanti.

*  *  *

The following quote from writer and yoga teacher Max Strom popped up on Facebook recently; and it reminded me to make space for an abundance of anything. If I cultivate space (vs. holding back or holding in or holding tight), I can see that even the unexpected or “unwanted” can bring contentment. I must remember – if happiness does not manifest immediately, more will be revealed.

“We hold back from life so much. We literally refuse happiness because we demand to have it in a certain way – and this precludes our getting it.” ~ Max Strom