Next Generation

I often ask myself what my children will say about the world that my generation gave them in their maturity. My son is five years old and my daughter almost three and they have a crystal clean view of this world and they asks a lot of questions. Because there are a lot of questions. My generation of people were born in the seventies and are in our creative and entreprenual prime. We have the experience of time, technology and schooling. We can be a society plagued by greed and entitlement without a thought of compassion or we could be warriors for the ideal society. All we really need to do is remind ourselves that we have a physical body, an emotional mind, insight, humanity and our breath. The rest will follow.

I believe innate goodness is our birthright. Consider that we are born with natural intelligence, natural warmth and natural openness. The intelligence to know how to solve a problem even before we can walk, the capacity to love and be loved and the ability to be open to the wonder of life. If we have these qualities and can draw upon them, we can find ease and steadiness into our life and be of help to others and our world. And isn’t this a better place to be in our maturity? How will we chose to be when we face the end of our lives? What will they say, the ones who come after us?  What problems will we solve? What problems will we create? What glorious destructions will they witness? The sun will be shining. The moon will glow. But in a different time and space.

I was struck a couple months ago teaching a group of young girls yoga. They were between the ages of 7-9 years old and they began to talk about God. Without any prompting from me whatsoever. One mentioned her father was Buddhist and her mother a Christian and pointed to two of her many bracelets with pictures of saints. One girl chimed in that her necklace was from Israel and she was Jewish, another chimed in that she was also Jewish. The other girls were quiet and I felt I needed to address God. I told them that some people believe in God, God as a person, God as a being and some chose not to believe in God at all. But that in yoga we can bring whatever our beliefs are into our bodies by learning to meditate and quiet our mind. One of the young Jewish girls said that we can bring “peace into our mind”, a simple yet powerful observation. No matter what we believe, there is the connection to ourselves.

At the end of our talk, the young girl with the Buddhist and Christian parents said, “But nobody really knows” and I was struck because I felt the same way standing in the wooden pews of my Episcopalian youth. Divinity is something I can think about now, some thirty years later, with my own interpretations and life experience. Yet that same thought, that same voice appeared in my girlish head when I looked up at the adults standing around me reciting The Book of Common Prayer, and said, “Wait, nobody really knows.” Gratitude and faith are all that is really accessible; reverence toward myself and others is all that I can practice.

Be it a faith, science or art, practicing gratitude and awareness in our lives displays the beautiful workings of humankind’s innate goodness. This is the path to finding abundance. I have been reminding myself to consider what having abundance means in the present moment. If I look at my desires and think about what I want and what it would cost and how that is an amount that I am not willing to spend presently, then I am making peace with the fact that I want something and will wait to have it, or may never have it, but what I have now is okay. I look with gratitude and consider my possibilities.

Depending on different stages of life, the desires of material change. What was once important to us at ten years of age is now the hope of our friend’s child or our own. My son loves to build with Legos and as his imagination grows, so does his desire for more and more of those tiny blocks. He also learns to create with what he has, with his own natural intelligence, his passion and his openminded perceptions. I have my own building blocks, some for space and privacy, some in the form of an escape from the routine of my suburban life, some are just for nourishing foods. And this is where I find it most helpful to look presently and with gratitude at my own abundance and create with what I have, my insight, my love and my openmindedness. This is where I am most human and a warrior of the spirit. From this place, I raise two people in honor of their own innate goodness.

Our beliefs, our words, our constant contacts, they can come from this place of idealism. This place of goodness, of humanness, that is smart enough to solve every problem, to truly love ourselves and thereby others, and to be open to all beauty within a grain of sand on a stretch of ocean. It is all available. It does not come without work, but we are given  choices everyday and the directions to go towards those choices from a place of love and not fear is what may just give us a truly abundant future.

 

 

The Laundry

    I want to do the laundry. I want clean clothes and towels and linens. To actually do these things is another story. In the intertwinings of our days, our connection to moments and people influence our emotional minds, swaying our insights and possibly depriving us of connections in our body and our breath. We remind ourselves to relax, to renew, to radiate, but how do we actually do these things? And if by chance you feel accomplished, you still have to do the laundry.

     I seek truth and contentedness. I plan to grow into my later years with connection to my body through a specific and perscriptive yoga practice. I plan to continue to train my mind beyond where I even knew it could reach. And whatever else comes my way, I will be my own guide. However, in the path to the self, there are the connections to the people in our lives. There are two small children at my knees and I am washing their dishes and cleaning their clothes. There is my partner whose laundry I fold and put away. There is always more work to be done.

    Have you ever asked yourself how you could be unhappy when you are so fortunate? Have you ever identified your problem as a first world dilemma? I have clean water to wash my clothes. My only hardship in dealing with my laundry is the basement asbestos and what detergent will not harm my skin or the Earth. In the action of doing- the laundry, the work, the sitting in stillness, in whatever situation you like, be it grand or simple, try to focus your gratitude on your present abundance. Count the blessings that you already have and live in the love of gratitude. Write it down, say it aloud, bow in a yoga pose, breathe it in and find something to release. It is tangible work this working with seemingly spiritual matter. These tangible actions make us healthier and happier. Scientists do studies and it always proves true.

    I was once told by a therapist that it seemed like I was asking her to draw me a map of my life. That was over a decade ago, but what I took away from that was the question of why was I asking her? We are our own responsibility and being consistant in action and thought, with developed discipline and a life force of positivity does make a difference in a life. I have made many discoveries on my yoga mat and more importantly, many more having come off of it. Yoga is above all, a practice and the more you do it, the more you consider your whole body, your whole mind and you don’t just accept a thought just because you think it. You begin to recognize everything. As a teacher, I am never surprised when a practitioner comes up to me aware of new and subtle pains in their body. If I know that their practice is safe, I realize that they are coming into awareness of their body on a greater level.

    Awareness does not always feel good, but working with awareness until it comes to a more productive place, that is when we are doing real work. “Generally speaking, we regard discomfort in any form as bad news”, Pema Chodron tells us in When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times, but a struggle or suffering can end up being the “clear moments that teach where it is that we are holding back”. Being grounded and being groundless are both good things. It is innate to feel grounded and rooted to something, but not so innate to feel groundless. It defies a bit of the natural instinct. Consider that you are very happy in life and then someone close to you gets sick and passes away. Your feet are not grounded. You are suffering. You feel loss. You may feel consumed. If you have a peace practice and you are able to sit and accept that your suffering is okay, you find a warrior-ship in your psyche because you went towards the places that scare you. You still feel a sense of loss, but you can live with it. And you learn to love from this free place. When you make a conscious choice to be groundless, these losses are still there, but your actions towards them are different.

    Bring your concept of abundance to the present and do not hesitate. Because the laundry will pile up and there will be more work tomorrow. Look inside and find those places of betrayal and sorrow and sit with them. “Go to your bosom: Knock there, and ask your heart what it doth know.”, said Shakespeare. And don’t be afraid to use a little elbow grease to get out those stains. Namaste.

 

I am what I am

    In the great words of Popeye, ” I am what I am.”. This is such a refreshing statement. I feel it should be inside a fortune cookie as a virtuous reminder. By the way, my favorite fortune, which is on my refrigerator, is ‘fate loves the fearless’. With that being said, what I like so much about Popeye’s voice in my head is that it reminds me to be present and not searching or wishing or healing, but to just be.

    Recently, I have been reminded by people in my life about September 11, 2001. A babysitter who recently visited the memorial in progress, a stand-up comedian resurrecting some humor about that time, a friend asking about my life in New York City. I lived in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, a bit northeast of the Twin Towers. I watched those towers burn from my roof and it was an awing spectacle. As the dust settled, quite literally, there was a city, so vibrant and energetic with a huge hole and of course, a sorrow. “Sorrow is tranquility remembered in emotion”, wrote Dorothy Parker in the Second World War era, but in 2001, for the people of the Big Apple, the pain was palpable.

    A beautiful yoga teacher named Jodie Rufty opened a yoga studio south of Union Square called Amrita Yoga. After 9/11, I practiced there regularly in hopes that the studio would get off the ground in the strong pool of yoga that had emerged. It was at Amrita where I first understood the concept of a kula, or a community or assemblage people who practice yoga. I remember listening to a small group of women talk about this painful time, one of us having lost a lover, and then I bowed on my mat. I lengthened and extended, I opened and I closed. Ultimately, the kula was small and the studio closed, but I will always remember those moments of surrendering to the pain that lived inside my body and mind and the feeling of support from those around me doing the exact same thing. I have heard many people say to me that yoga saved their life. I don’t even remember when yoga saved mine. It just became integral to who I am.

    It as at Amrita, where I was lead away from poison and toward the nectar. Out of darkness and toward the light. The concept of having all of our actions and emotions come from a place of fear or a place of love really began to surface during this time. And it is all really about love for me. It is such a waste to live with fear being your motivation. So lonely and the opposite of fun, the opposite of ease. This is suffering. I honor those places I have been, the darkest moments and places devoid of truth because they are an important reminder that living your life through love takes intention and attention. It is easy to let fear creep in when your awareness sits idle.

    At the end of my seven years in New York, after developing a strong practice, I decided that I could instruct others. There is so much to learn and perhaps this is why I have chosen yoga as my career path. I can only hope that any essence of what came before me will be passed on in some regard of a peace practice. Through asana or meditation, through physical, mental and even spiritual awareness, that is my hope. Where it goes from there is a natural passage of energy.

    At the end of every class I teach or instruction session that I lead, I conclude with “May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you be safe. May you live with ease.” These thoughts are highlighted in loving-kindness mediations, of which I also have a great affinity, but I speak out these hopes on a regular basis because they are instinctual to me. Yoga has allowed me to connect with my innate needs and wants and through this physical and mental process, I find ease and peace.

    I mentioned that after 9/11 I bowed on my mat. I began doing this when I started to practice yoga by taking a child’s pose; however, sometime around when my practice became an intrinsic part of me, bowing became something more than just recognition of another or a resting posture, but recognition of myself. Jack Kornfield writes that, “to bow to the fact of our life’s sorrows and betrayals is to accept them and from this deep gesture, we discover that all life is workable. As we learn to bow, we discover that the heart holds more freedom and compassion than we could imagine.” In this place, you find where you are, who you are and what you are. Namaste.

Life of Ease

    Don’t get me wrong. I know life isn’t easy. I am not supposing that it is. In fact, if we look at those who have and have a lot, I suppose they would still say that life is in fact, not easy. However, there are people who we can look to who are able to live a life of ease. Difficult things happen to them; they find ease. Tragedies surround them, still at ease. They can be poor, middle class or wealthy but they are rich with ease.

     Goodness is a part of a life of ease. I believe that we are all born with innate goodness and even in difficult times, have access to that goodness. We have the ability to remind ourselves and those around us that compassion, gratitude, health, healing and most of all love are the center of our goodness. Calmness and feeling content are a practice. We practice yoga to become aware of the body which lives in tandem with the mind and emotions and then we are able to sit. Just sit and be still. We can bring anything to us. We ground and enlighten at the same time.

     Finding softness is another avenue to finding a life of ease. Here is a thought: our heart itself is soft. We build around it an egglike shell which holds our connections, our loves, our angers, our ego and when something shifts and a crack begins, we find that we don’t have to be hard because we know our heart is at its core soft. By heart, I mean the seat of our mental abilities and emotions. When a shift or a sorrow occurs, we attend to the repairs and grow a different shell, so we may heal and feel strong once again. We could even build it back without ego. 

     Different scholars and philosophers will focus on a threefold type of attention- physical, mental and emotional and cite these as the paths towards clarity and contentment. Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, who is credited with the term, “sitting practice of meditation” shaped meditation from just philosophy and religion to a practice and exploration of consciousness. He taught that when you are too heavy on intellect, you ignore your emotional life. If emotions run the show in an exaggerated manner, you lose insight. When you “bring together emotion and insight… insight becomes more emotional and emotion becomes more insightful”. That insight helps us remember the innate softness of our emotional body and how that can be expressed even in the physical body.

     Being brave enough to live in the present moment is part of a life of ease. Awareness and attention is an art. There is practice, there is stepping back, there is stepping forward and going towards things that scare you. Awareness leads to truthfulness and from that place, you redefine your definition of abundance and start addressing it in the present. “Truth is always here. It is already the case”, Richard Miller, Ph.D., reminds us. We all have heartfelt prayers or wishes. Welcome them into your conscious mind. In realty, there is only the timeless now. The present tense. 

     So, can our own goodness, our softness towards emotional insight and simply remembering to live in the present moment actually create a life of ease? Are there other more important factors, like financial comfortability, accessing a network of progressive thinkers, the right location to take a seat? Could it really be that simple? To breathe, to become aware, to sit with our thoughts without judging them? Could we really just heal ourselves by attending to our gratitude, our health and our compassion? I think it is worth a try. I am choosing a forum to share my writing and it feels foreign to me. But in that strangeness, I feel tolerance and compassion, to spread whatever thread of truth and tradition that I have happened upon. Namaste.