The Urban Yoga Den

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Abundance: Season of Light December 20, 2011

Filed under: Holidays,Inter-Faith,Spirituality,Yoga — Holly Meyers @ 6:04 pm
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A friend recently mentioned Jesus as “the reason for the season;” but these days, I see December in a whole new light.

Yes, Christmas is obviously the most widely observed, celebrated and marketed holiday of the month. But as a yogini who thrives on the concept of unity, I choose to set my sights on the cross-cultural, inter-faith, in-common presence of light.

Naturally Winter’s days have become shorter and shorter, the sun lower and lower, the clouds denser and denser, the indoor hours longer and longer.

Yet despite this thickening darkness, December continues a ritualistic season of light that began in late Autumn with Diwali – India’s festival of glowing lamps and the celebration of good’s triumph over evil. I’m guessing there are infinite Winter holy day rituals that involve some sort of spark. In these weeks leading up to Christmas, some have been observing Advent by lighting a candle daily. This week, the eight days of Chanukah begin, observing yet another victory of light over dark. And, Solstice arrives, representing the shortest, darkest day of the year…while also signaling the lengthening of days and leaning toward Spring.

So within this season of darkness, we are surrounded by light or the promise thereof.

Although I was raised Jewish, my mom and I held an annual tradition of driving around our city each Christmas eve, enjoying the holiday decorations. Even my dad, who now lives in the Bible Belt, acts like a thrilled little kid when he sees the amazing displays in his neighborhood.  Personally, I’ve grown to love the super-wild, twinkling, flashing, moving lights – I am always inspired by their spirit.

In my own home, I light more lamps during the day, I burn more candles at night and I try to keep it fairly warm and cozy so my inner light also glows. Plus, who can ignore the cheery brightness of people excited by the holiday season? Even though the stress of shopping and running and partying can make our inner light burn out at times!

So perhaps the reason that this season became so popular is indeed the observance of Christmas. Still, without diminishing the unique importance of each Winter holiday, I like to dwell on this abundantly light-filled, unifying aspect of the season and its many holy days. And so I wish you…

Happy Holidays, everyone! OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.

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Focus: Abundance – Love & Light December 31, 2010

I have long believed that people are beautiful beings, inside and out. Our humanness, our perfect imperfection, our state of constant growth gives me faith in the beauty of life as a whole.

Tonight a street drunk and I watched a meteor fireball together. I was walking to yoga class when a huge white comet-looking thing with a long firey tail burst across the sky then disappeared. “Wow.” We stopped dead in our tracks. “Ha lo visto?” I asked in my unpracticed Spanish. Yes, he saw it. He told me that it would keep going. We stood together for a few moments, faces lifted toward the sky. Then we went on our respective ways. Before we got too far, he yelled to me and gave two thumbs up. I waved goodbye to my new brother.

The gift of light and a moment of love between the two strangers who witnessed it. Seriously. Love.

This is how I experience humanity – when I’m not stuck in fear, distrust, anger and disgust, I look around and I love everyone. I love the street drunk, I love the pushy drivers, I love the grumpy shoppers, I love the crying babies, I love the lashing out friends. I love them in addition to the smiling, cheerful and sober people. So thankfully, it’s been a very loving couple of weeks.

Finally. The return of love and light.

I didn’t plan for the weeks to unfold like this. I didn’t will any of this beauty to happen. I simply wrote a decidedly revealing blog about pain and healing and bouncing back (see “Focus: Abundance – Growth”) a few weeks ago, and soon after, the fog started to lift.

Too simple to be true?

For me, the fact is, when I look squarely at and then honestly share my “stuff,” it’s no longer in the shadows. Writing out my “stuff” sheds light on it. I take action, I spark the flame. I turn my face toward the light. I stretch my arms out to it.

And the light reaches back to me in all kinds of ways…

*  *  *

It all started on Friday the 17th. I practiced a slow and prayerful Vinyasa with my 7am class. We were flowing to Alexi Murdoch’s “Orange Sky,” a spiritual ballad about the power of fellowship on the long road of life. I paused to look outside – and the sunrise sky was a radiant orange! Of course, I was brought to tears.

And from there forward, I have been shifting away from past troubles and toward inner happiness. Hallelujah!

It doesn’t hurt that our December Class Focus has been Abundance, and in my own practice, I have been savoring the sweetness of a favorite Asana among the challenging. Dwelling on that instead of loathing the other poses. Knowing that somewhere along the set, that sweetness is coming. I can bank on it.

Just like life. I’ve been dwelling on light.  And love is coming. I can feel it.

*  *  *

The day after that beautiful orange sunrise, I curled up at a cafe for hot drinks with a friend, and mused about living in the solution of a spiritual life. We were both weighing out certain situations in our paths. I encouraged her to trust her instinct, to research rather than run away from seemingly risky situations. To live. And to discern.

And breath by breath, I am taking my own advice, diving in a little bit while exercising healthy caution.

That evening, I popped around the corner to DC Supersonic Kirtan’s monthly chant fest. Kirtan is like a can opener for my heart. No caution here! With everyone around me singing their lungs out to the gods, there is no room, no need for caution. I leave every Kirtan blissed-out with love. Fearless. It’s like rebirth.

Fueled by Bhakti bliss, the next day was deeply connective, relaxed and joyous. I felt I had more to offer the day, the world, my life. My tiny studio apartment (aka The Urban Yoga Den) became a wonderfully crowded house of chilled-out, indulgent women, celebrating a few rare hours of down-time together at my annual (pre-) Solstice gathering. I love to just stay in the background and soak in how these wonderful women relate, interact, connect.

People are precious! And spending carefree quality time with like-spirited pals is priceless.

Later that night a friend and I discussed the world of dating. He mentioned the sensitivity of navigating what we like and don’t like about our mates – or what they may or may not like about us. I looked him straight in the eye and said, “I like everything about you.” He was stunned. “Perhaps even the things you don’t like about yourself.” He paused to absorb the news. “No one has ever said that to me,” he revealed.

We are all works in progress. Growing, stumbling, flying, crawling.  For me, it’s easy to love someone for all that they are. The way I would like to be loved.

The way I would like to love myself.

*  *  *

Moving along the holiday week, the good vibrations kept flowing. I started a temp job. Typically I spend my days alone, at my home office, working on my own projects. Deeply fulfilling, yet also primarily self-serving. There’s nothing like suiting up and showing up for a group of workers and supporting their goals. I am certain this interaction and service to something beyond my personal intentions has also encouraged my softening heart.

To end the week, I attended Caroline Weaver’s “Warm the Heart” workshop on the morning of Christmas Eve. I love Caroline because she’s not afraid to bring god into a yoga class. (Hello, god!) Or god as some personal concept of higher power or a virtue that’s worth our full commitment. The uplifting, devotional energy of her class was so enveloping, I don’t remember much about it, except getting to a point in Warrior 1 where Caroline reminded us, “Remember, you are dedicating all of this to your highest virtue.” I felt this breathtaking swell of gratitude in my heart.

“Thank You Thank You Thank You Thank You” I whispered repeatedly like a Mantra.

I strive to remember to dedicate ALL of this – not just my yoga moves, but my entire life – to something beyond me. When I remember that life is about playing a small role of service in the big picture of the universe, the great mystery, the infinite abyss, nature, Jesus, compassion, generosity – whatever name you pick for your god idea or highest virtue – I feel an abundance beyond “having.” I feel the abundance from giving.

*  *  *

Earlier in the week, during Winter Solstice, I’d visited family in Nashville and experienced a totally spontaneous opportunity for pure service, for giving without expectation of receiving. Karma Yoga. I awoke on Solstice morning, after what is known as the darkest night of the year – maximized this December by the the full-moon lunar eclipse. I thought, “THIS is like New Year to me. I truly feel different.”

I continued to lay in bed, in and out of post-alarm clock dozing. My brain started to play that age-old “should” game – I should get up, should do Pranayama/Asana, should pray, should make tea – and then it locked in on one thing. The broken bird house and bottle of Elmer’s Glue sitting on the desk across the room. My dad’s fix-it project. But he’s never been a fix-it guy. Since childhood, I have always been the fix-it girl. If you’ve read my story in other blogs, you know that at times I had to be.

I admit that sometimes my “fix-it” nature is not productive in adult life and relationship worlds. But in this instance, looking at my dad’s broken bird house, “fix-it girl” was the appropriate role to play. My 1st preferences (Hatha Yoga and prayer) were all about my routines for well-being – which I do believe are essential to being able to show up for others. On this morning, however, lazying around in bed after a full night’s rest – I am fine, my well-being is intact. But Dad’s bird house – something that brings him great joy – is not. It’s broken. And I can fix it (and with strong staples, not Elmer’s Glue).

My dad was so excited. He filled up the bird house with seed, went out the back door, and shouted, “Hey guys, we’re back!”

Karma Yoga occurs when love sets the priority. When priority outweighs preference. When big picture beats self-centered routine.

*  *  *

There are many more little stories of heart opening, light shining, exhaling, melting moments from the past weeks. I’ve been basking in the small yet profound pockets of joy.

For instance, while driving to the airport early in the morning, listening to Paul Duncan’s “The Lake, Pt. 2” I watched streams of sunlight (aka “Jesus rays”) burst through the clouds. I thought, “Hmmm, last Friday the sunrise burned radiant orange, and now it’s bright and golden.” And at that moment, I felt a jolt of realization that the days, the universe, my world is getting progressively brighter! The lunar eclipse proves that it’s always darkest before the dawn. It dawned on me – there is personal significance to this year-end season, more than just “The Holidays” and gift shopping and programmed cheer. BRIGHTNESS RETURNS. And at that moment, driving and crying joyfully, it felt like the 1st time I’d ever recognized that significance.

Also, while on my Nashville trip, I felt my 11-month-old grand-nephew burrow his little body into my heart center in the most loving embrace ever. (Ever.) I reunited with my ex-brother-in-law (who has always been like a true brother to me, and my only brother) and got a big bear hug. I witnessed the passion for life returning to my big sister after a very heavy number of years.

And remember that friend who I like everything about? A few days later, during a different tone of conversation, he said he cares about me. “Yeah? How and why do you care about me,” I angrily snapped back. He then proceeded to list the ways and reasons that he cares for me. I was floored as I silently absorbed his penetrating truths. He told me he loves me. And we continued to dwell in that love all evening. I haven’t felt that loved in a long time.

To no fault of the people who love me – just my own obstacles.

On Christmas morning, snow swirled softly outside my window and the swirly songs of Sea & Cake warmed the air inside. My 1st 100% free day in what felt like forever – I flowed with the solitude here in my cozy little home…writing, lounging, being. (Milking that isolation as long as I can. Hehe.) Then I got my butt out the door to accept invitations from the loving and caring people in my life.

*  *  *

In my December classes, I have been encouraging students to concentrate on the space between poses. To take time to grow into each shape.  To be present with the transition, the process, the breath. To make room for discovering abundance where it was unexpected or unplanned. I guess my own instruction has been rubbing off on me. Bit by bit, I have been opening up where I was once firmly sealed shut. Leaving space for orange skies and Jesus rays. Allowing the darkness of an eclipse to reveal joyous Solstice light. Making room for love.

To be honest, it doesn’t always feel safe. But I’m opening up anyway.

For a few of my classes, to complement our Abundance theme and reinforce that we are all surrounded by a supportive community, I taught an Asana set that built to a group pose. We held hands in a big circle for a collaborative Warrior 3 (not my most stable balancing pose). As we leaned into the circle, I felt the entire group unite with a strong energy of responsibility toward each other. We floated into and held the pose for a few long breaths.

Now that’s love. The dedication to serving your neighboring yogi. Or maybe just your neighbor. Or maybe just the random stranger with whom you watched a fireball streak across the dark sky.

* * *

Thanks to friends, family, students, strangers for the beauty of life. Your humanness fortifies me. Happy holidays, merry new day, abundant being.

OM Shanti. h*

P.S. No kidding – after drafting this blog, I checked e-mail and found the following holiday wish from yoga teacher and writer Max Strom:

“Dear Friends, I hope that on this day you experience a rise of the sun within you, the return of the light within your life, the embrace of your family who surrounds you, and the knowing that you can begin again anew. I write this as I witness the sunrise out my window and hear the winds of change blowing the trees outside.”

(Photo credit: “This exceptionally bright fireball meteor trail was photographed with a fish-eye camera at a Czech Republic station of the European Fireball Network on January 21, 1999.” [GSFC, 1999])

 

A Jewish Yogini at Midnight Mass December 29, 2009

24 December, 2009, 1pm

I have Christmas fever!  The spiritual kind, not the shopping kind.  I mean, this is big.  What a beautiful ritual to acknowledge the birth of Jesus – or as Isaiah says, “the wonderful, the counselor, the prince of peace.”  An all around GOOD guy.

To me, Jesus represents the ultimate human – flawed, open-minded, willing, seeking, serving and striving for goodness.

I just listened to classical WETA’s (public classical radio in DC) live broadcast of the King’s College Chapel Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols for Christmas Eve 2009.  Here is the program (http://www.kings.cam.ac.uk/files/services/nine-lessons-2009.pdf).  The music was very traditional this year.  I was checking out the 2008 program, which included songs by Bertolt Brecht and William Blake.  Pretty modern.  Maybe someone complained, so they went old school this year.

Here is a little background on the tradition (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nine_Lessons_and_Carols).  “The format was based on an Order drawn up by Edward White Benson, later Archbishop of Canterbury but at that time Bishop of Truro, in Cornwall, for use on Christmas Eve, 1880.  Tradition says that he organized a 10pm service on Christmas Eve in a temporary wooden shed serving as his cathedral and that a key purpose of the service was to keep men out of pubs on Christmas Eve.”

Clever guy, that Benson.  Way to keep those drunks off the streets!

So the King’s College Festival was very moving.  Listening to it live, I couldn’t help imagining the English audience in their Christmas Eve spirit, observing the twilight service in a beautiful chapel with loved ones.  Mmmmmmm.

I love ritual.  In Judaism our High Holy Days happen in the fall – my favorite season due to its cycle of shedding and planting.  The combo of the HHDs, related atonement/reconciliation and autumn awakens me into spiritual action.  Sitting in synagogue with a crowd of repenting Jews is energetically intense!  Add to that, my anniversary of recovery from addiction falls in the Autumn; and my sobriety program includes periodic moral inventories and amends.

Beautiful that my birth religion and current spiritual practices overlap.

Aside from the HHDs, I think Winter Solstice is my 2nd favorite “holy-day.”  Marking winter’s shortest day and longest night – and launching the lengthening of days – Solstice feels like a sparkling promise in the midst of darkening weather.  A tonic for winter’s hibernation tendencies.  A natural yin-yang balance of darkness and light.

How amazing to have spent 2009’s glorious pre-Solstice day in our blizzard, sharing lively, bright energy with my friend Matt and bringing warmth to the cocoon of falling snow and intensity of grey skies.  Again, the balance.

My 3rd favorite holy-day is the festival of Diwali, which also occurs in late Autumn (see “Diwali Intentions” post from October).  Apparently, in India’s history, there were many historical accounts of the triumph of good over evil during this season.  Therefore, most Indian religions (Hindu, Sikh, etc) observe Diwali as a festival of lights.  In preparation, the house is cleaned, oil lamps are lit and sweets are eaten!  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diwali)

Anyway, back to Christmas.

In his 1944 Christmas “speech,” 12-step recovery program pioneer Bill Wilson said, “How privileged we are to understand so well the divine paradox that strength rises from weakness; that humiliation goes before resurrection; that pain is not only the price but the very touchstone of spiritual rebirth.”

This eve I’m heading to a 6:30 yoga class at Past Tense, where I teach.  My mom and I used to have a Christmas Eve tradition of driving around the neighborhoods to look at holiday decorations.  So after class, I’m going to wander Mt. Pleasant and see how the neighbors did this year.  We’ll see if Mom chimes in with her opinions from above.

After that, we’ll see.  I have an idea but I’m not certain…

*  *  *

24 December, 2009, 8:30pm

Mmmm, Chinese food.  I almost forgot about the Jewish tradition of eating Chinese food and watching a movie on Christmas eve.  After flow instructor Emma’s relaxing and Silent Night-esque yoga class (and a cruise through the ‘hood to look at twinkly lights with yoga pal Tippi, who generously donated her hot pink gloves to a hand-less snowman), I stopped by Mayflower Chinese Restaurant.  These noodles are yummy!

Instead of watching a movie, I’m listening to WAMU’s (NPR in DC) old-fashioned radio show, The Big Broadcast, which is airing a very odd story about Joe DiMaggio and a Christmas angel cruising around 1940s NYC saving people from doom and gloom.  Huh?

It’s 9:30.  I’m still trying to decide on something for later…

*  *  *

24 December, 2009, 10:30pm

Some of my friends are really suffering emotionally and psychologically these days.  I feel really, REALLY grateful to be willing to seek and use tools to address suffering.  I must.  They say, “Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional.”  (Just who are “they,” anyway?)  If I drop into suffering, there’s always the danger of sinking into that gripping darkness that I frequently battle on this life path.  But that’s just my path.  Whether or not my friends are willing to seek and use tools, I need to JUST PRAY for them.  They are in pain.  So I’m shifting my attitude from worry to compassion (Pratipaksha Bhavana, Jai!) immediately.

In fact, I think I’ll dedicate my entire Midnight Mass experience to all who suffer.

Yup, you heard right!  I’m going to Midnight Mass.  Alright, I have to get out the door and down to St. Matthew’s Cathedral.  Merry Christmas, y’all.

*  *  *

25 December, 2009, 11am

Attending Midnight Mass reinforced my love for all fellowships where a group gathers in faith.  All of my life, I have been drawn to the collective conscience of people moving toward one heart-felt purpose.  I have experienced the similarities between separate rituals from different origins, proving our oneness.

Sure, at Midnight Mass, some people are not gathered to connect to a higher power.  Some are there for status, social life, obligation and so on.  (And some are around the corner at a nightclub, drinking their faces off – I know because I had to wade through them after floating blissfully out of the Cathedral at 1:40am.  We need to send the ghost of Archbishop Benson to gather up those drunks next year!)

At the same time, in Midnight Mass, regardless of motive, everyone’s humanness shines through, from the giddy Buddha-like smiles to the rebellious “I don’t want to be here” frowns.  Midnight Mass is the perfect blend of heaven and earth, body and soul, mind and spirit, self and ego.

To me, the differences between religions, faiths and practices is not important.  I embrace and celebrate the common threads among spiritual groups – whether Cuban and Native American ritual, African and Celtic rhythms, Jewish and Christian history, yogic and Buddhist ethics, and on and on and on.

But that’s a whole other conversation on interfaith connections.

Instead, suffice it to say that this Christmas, a Catholic Mass reminded me that we are one.

OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.