The World We See

I remember clearly part of the first conversation I had with my (now) husband, over a decade ago.  He said that humanity was more peaceful, and more supported now than it had been in previous history.  This assertion blew my mind.  I had bought into the notion of “the good old days,” which we seem to fall into, even in the absence of evidence to the affirmative.  My husband pointed out that the world historically had been more savage, and life more difficult with less ammenities.  Therefore, he concluded, humanity was actually better off now than we ever had been and things were getting better all the time.  (I might add that I call my husband a “pathalogical optimist!”).

I had to really stretch to wrap my mind around this idea of human progress.  After all, there were still wars, still racism, still poverty, still uncurable illnesses.  To accept that his opinion could be valid meant I had to change the way I thought about things — change my perspective.  I can still remember the feeling in my head when I tried to do that.  It felt as if my brain had to change to accommodate this alternatiave perspective.

Tonight I was talking about some of the teachings around 2012.  Rather than a portent of doom or gloom, it is seen by some as an opportunity for humanity to make some wonderful choices and to take an evolutionary leap.  As such, humanity is evolving toward a higher state of consciousness.  As I look around I see what seem to me to be signs of this progress.  Yoga is everwhere; you can buy “chakra” aromatherapy items in the supermarket; I can talk about ‘energy’ and nobody thinks I’m crazy; my conservative Catholic mom is telling me about the Law of Attraction; we have a Black president with a powerful wife; crowds gathered in support of Obama’s anticipated victory in Chicago last November and people were nice to each other; the Internet has connected us to friends, relatives and strangers all over the planet.

There have been so many changes recently – structures breaking down, and hopefully new and more positive structures will take their place (as the 2012 pundits have anticipated).  I meet so many people are working toward becoming better versions of themselves: more peaceful, more aware, less reactive. I know these people exist – I see them everyday.  They are my friends, my clients, my students, my co-workers.  They are courageous and commited human beings doing the deep soul-searching work to overcome their own limitations and limiting beliefs, and supporting others to do the same.

Sure, we can always find the dark clouds that obscure our silver lining view of the positive progression.  But if the clouds and the silver lining both exist, isn’t it just a matter of figuring out what you want to focus on?  I’ve found that recognizing the positives gives me the energy to go to work on the challenges that we still need to overcome.  In no way am I ignoring that these negatives exist, but when that’s all you see on the news, it’s hard to accept or know that there is something else.  But there is.

I believe that we are going to save our planet (and therefore ourselves).  I believe that we have the capacity as a human race to do what we need to do so that the future is brighter for our children and for generations to come.  I believe that we have so much more potential than we currently allow ourselves to experience.  And I continue to believe that despite the news which tells us otherwise, we are living in a magical time.

Releasing the Struggle

So here we are again at the start of another year (yay!). I’ve decided to set some goals for this year and to finally make a vision board to help me visualize those goals. But just so I don’t get overwhelmed, I’ve also decided to take it all one day at a time.

Dunno about you, but this whole Life thing can seem a little (or a lot) overwhelming sometimes. This year I turn 40, and I guess it has taken me this long to figure out that I can’t do everything at once, or do it all perfectly. It has also taken this long to really accept how much of my stress is just mental struggle. Really. The idea that something is going to be hard creates so much more heaviness and resistance than just letting go of the mental baggage and doing it!

Winter Feast for the Soul
Winter Feast for the Soul

For example, January 15 begins the Winter Feast for the Soul, described as “a 40-day worldwide spiritual practice period for people of all faiths everywhere.” (See more info below) Thousands of people all over the world joining together with the intention to grow our spirits and increase the peace in the world. When I first heard about it I thought: “This is so cool!” And my next thought was “40 minutes! Where can I find 40 more minutes every day!?” Mental anguish. Resistance. The antithesis of Peace! But I guess this Yoga thing must be working because my next thought was: “For heaven’s sake, just do it! You probably spend that much time on Facebook and email!” So, to my Facebook friends, after Jan 15 you’ll have to call me!

As a friend pointed out (on Facebook :-), we can approach this 40-day commitment (and all our commitments) with perfectionism and stress, or we can resolve to do the best we can. Maybe I won’t make 40 minutes every day. Maybe I’ll miss a day. But if I’m practicing peace that means being peaceful with myself by not beating myself up (the yogic practice of ahimsa – non harming). So much of peace has to do with letting go of our mental baggage, the samskaras that block our ability to view things as they really are. Through the practice of santosha (contentment) we let go of the stories we create and accept what is. It is a lifetime of practice – one day at a time.

This year, I hope to approach my resolutions with that same sense of peacefulness. I hope to recognize when I’m bringing mental stress into my goals and creating a struggle where it doesn’t need to be. I plan to let go of the mental baggage, and just do what needs to be done. If I fall, I’ll just get up and start again without giving up on the whole process or beating up on myself.

May your 2009 be filled with many, many wonderful moments. May even the sorrows and the disappointments be openings for Grace.


Photo by Jacqui Damasco

How fun it is to watch the workings of the Universe!

I posted my last entry in the wee hours of the morning. That same evening I went to teach a class and received a gift from one of the class participants – a beautiful little plaque with a dove holding an olive branch and the word PEACE. Then I came home that night to find the following link in my email: .

Winter Feast for the Soul is a 40-day commitment to 40 minutes of daily practice. Anything that works for you – yoga, tai chi, meditation, prayer. You can do it on your own or you can do it with a group. I’m hoping if people are interested we can get a group together in Chicago to support each other.

I’m also curious about how folks are weathering the holidays. I’ve already heard people say how stressed they are. For some people it’s the day itself and being around all those family members who you allow to diminish your peace. For others it’s the lead up and all that has to get done.

The older I get is the more I recognize these moments as opportunities to practice. I can notice my heart closing and encourage my body and mind to soften. I can recognize myself blaming the other person for my state and recognize that I am solely in control of my reactions to anything, or anyone… I can notice myself rushing to judge and stop long enough to wonder – is that which I despise in another also present in me? And I can take a moment to appreciate the beauty of the lights; the thrill of people thinking about what gift would make their loved ones happy, or how to help those less able to give; the joy my kids from decorating the tree and my 3 year old’s delight in seeing Santa. Even the joy I get from seeing the snow when I’m inside and grateful for a warm place to be.

Sometimes this is fascinating stuff – other times, not so much. I’ve been known to be a Christmas Grinch when judgment and cynicism get the better of me (usually the week before Christmas when my shopping is nowhere near complete). At any rate I’m glad to have this lifetime to work on it all and my breath and body to give me clues. Mostly I’m grateful for my yoga practice, for my teachers – in body and Spirit – who have shared their knowledge and their hearts with me. Thank you! This Life lived consciously can be such an amazing experience.

So please, post comments and let me know how you’re weathering this holiday season. Maybe your methods or insights could be helpful to someone else…

Be well! Be warm!!

Peace begins with me

bfly_tithonia1I’ve been thinking a lot about this notion of peace and what it would take for there to be a more peaceful world. Ghandi said we should “be the peace” we want to see in the world. Osho (the “Spiritually Incorrect Mystic”) said that only when all people were “pools of silence” would there be peace in the world.

So what does this mean to “be the peace” or even to be a “pool of silence?” When I meditate I have an idea of what this is – not from a mind space, but from some place deeper. When I meditate consistently I can feel this “pool of silence” as an enduring awareness that permeates every moment.  My emotions even out and I can handle the craziness of life a little better, with a lot less drama. Doesn’t mean I’m perfectly peaceful –  just more peaceful than my otherwise “normal” state.

So this all has me thinking – what would happen if we each became a little more peaceful? Just a little more.  Because really, when we talk about peace, as Ghandi and Osho said, we are essentially talking about people become peaceful, right? So the only way that’s going to happen is if we each become peaceful – each one of us. We can spend a lot of time working on promoting peace outside of ourselves, but if we continue our own lives of stress and dis-ease, aren’t we still contributing to the deficit?

We talk a lot about stress relief and stress reduction and addressing the stress in our lives. Are we really trying to be less stressed? Or do we really just want to be more at peace? When we say “less stress” the focus is on stress. When we say “more peace” the focus is on peace. I choose “more peace.”

For certain I know that I’m not going to become a pool of silence overnight – you only need to be in my house at bedtime to know what I’m up against – but I can choose to be a little more peaceful starting today. I can do my meditation practice and my yoga practice today.  I can be less reactive and less judgemental tomorrow.  Before I loose my temper I can choose to remember that the person being difficult on the phone has the same spark of life and the same right to be here as I do.  When I become annoyed at the faults in others I can choose to forgive and to recognize that I may actually have those same faults.  And I can be gentler with myself.

I once had the good fortune to be about ten feet away from the Dalai Lama. Before he even entered the room we felt that he was there. The memory of that feeling still chokes me up.   I wish I could explain it in words, but nothing would quite capture it.  It was as if suddenly I knew that all would be well – I couldn’t feel negativity toward myself or anyone else. Like a deep sigh of satisfaction in the arms of someone who loves you.

I’ve also had the good fortune of being in the presence of everyday people whose presence is calming. In some way they have also managed to become that pool of silence. Their presence might not have as dramatic an effect as the Dalai Lama, but just by being in a room with them I feel myself becoming more peaceful.  They don’t have to do or say anything to have that effect, it is just part of who they are, and it creates a ripple effect.  If we all could cultivate that quality of peaceful presence – what an amazing world this would be. We would help each other to be more peaceful, more calm, more content, more joyful. I don’t think it would be that hard really, just one small choice to be a little more peaceful – today.

Would you join me? Would you make the commitment today and each day to do one small thing toward “being the peace” you’d like to see in the world?

On the brink of opportunity

I’ve been feeling recently as if the whole world is in turmoil. Maybe I’m just becoming more aware? Maybe I’m projecting my own sense of disquietude? Or maybe as they say, time really is moving faster, and everything is changing.  My Yahoo home page doesn’t help. Each day when I log on to check my email I see news of military action of countries against each other, yet another bank failing, worldwide financial crisis, our troops being killed, all the political fisticuffs of the election, natural disasters on multiple continents, murder and mayhem…

Some say humanity is on the brink of a shift. There are even two books called “The Shift” (which I haven’t read yet but now that I’m done with coursework for my Masters degree, I’m hoping to have time to read). There’s also a book called The Shack which is supposed to be really interesting in its perspective – that’s my next “must read.”  My point is that I know I’m not the only one feeling this uncertainty. It almost feels as if the ground is moving under me sometimes – as if reality itself is changing (and no, I don’t do drugs! LOL!).  But what is reality changing into?

A few months ago I was reading a lot about the 2012 predictions and about the time leading up to 2012.  There are predictions of doom and also predictions of hope and change – predictions of a shift in human consciousness.  I look around and realize how much has changed, just in the last decade in terms of the dialog & interests of people. Years ago a person had to be careful talking about ‘energy’ that people would think you were weird.  Now you can find chakra products at WalMart!  Yoga and meditation are mentioned (or used for advertising) in even the most mainstream publications.  Things are changing.  Mellen Thomas Benedict talks about an evolution of consciousness.  At the same time, some people are talking about 2012 as the end of the world, and others express disappointment at the slow pace of progress in the evolution of human consciousness.

Is this shift just a matter of wishful thinking or are we as a species being presented with an opportunity?  If we are accelerating toward something – and if in fact our thoughts create our reality, isn’t it up to us to decide what that ‘something’ is?  It seems imperative that we chose to believe that we are accelerating towards a brighter future.  I find myself often sliding into fear as I wonder about what is going to happen.  The messages are all around to back up that fear: The terrorists are going to get us! The Earth is going to be destroyed! Your money is going to disappear! Those people will ruin our democracy! I have to remind myself to take charge of my perception and chose to operate from a place of empowerment & awareness rather than from a place of fear.  I have to remind myself to see progress in change rather than a steady march toward destruction.

When you work with children it is recommended that you offer rewards instead of punishments. So instead of saying “If you misbehave again you’re going in time out!” you say “If you’d like to be able to play some more then chose to do the right thing”  What’s the difference?  Fear versus empowerment.  It’s a subtle difference, but can be quite powerful.  As an example of this, our rhetoric about the environment can be: “If we don’t change our destructive behavior, the earth will be destroyed.”  That statement just makes me feel hopeless.  An alternate perspective is:  “If we want to preserve and heal the Earth, we will be better stewards of it.”  That statement feels like a call to action with the possibility of success.  It’s a small difference, but there may be power in those subtleties.

I continue to believe that small changes in each of us can create a huge change in the overall consciousness.  Each of us is, after all, only really able to change ourselves.  I also believe that a big shift in our thinking can happen in an instant.  For example, when 9-11 happened, we woke up one day and everything was different – it was a negative difference, for sure, but it only took a few hours.  Isn’t it possible that the same shift could happen for the better?  What if we each chose, instead of looking at our civilization as propelling itself into the depths of consumerism and despair, to look at all the positive changes happening now and focus on maximizing those? What if we chose to focus on the fact that there is more environmental consciousness now than there was 10 years ago instead of heralding the Earth’s destruction as inevitable?  What if we chose to recognize and celebrate that yoga and meditation are becoming part of mainstream awareness rather than decrying “the commercialization of spirituality”?  What if we rejoice that our nation is finally able to conceive of (and perhaps elect) an African American in its highest office and that our youth are energized to participate in the electoral process, rather than lamenting the vitriol that has been stirred up by this presidential campaign?

If we look at the positive shifts that our societies are making we might feel more hopeful and carry that hope into the way we view the world.  I’m not suggesting that we bury our heads in the sand and ignore the issues that obviously require attention and action.  I’m just suggestion a shift in where we hold our perspective.  We are not avoiding destruction, we are embracing an enlightened consciousness. Our focus is not on death, but on life.

Seeing the Light

I taught a Family Yoga class this morning and we did a meditation to imagine the Light of your heart getting brighter and brighter and sending Light to the children of the world who are not so happy right now. The kids were so thrilled with their Light. “I saw it!” “It was so bright!” How awesome to be so in touch with your own brilliance!

I’m not much of a Bible scholar, but didn’t Jesus say somewhere that to enter the Kingdom you had to be like a child? They’re already there! I’m still glowing just thinking about it!

Free of Bias

I’ve been talking to people about my views on the election campaigning based on (my understanding of) yoga principles. In an article I wrote recently on my website, I talked about how negative and angry I was feeling when watching the election coverage and thinking about all the issues that are pertinent right now. I expressed that I’m trying to be less judgmental of others who have a different impression than me. After all, without differing opinions, we don’t have a democracy, right?

The challenge of non-judgment, though, is how to resolve the perception that the other’s point of view, or actions, or behavior, are just plain wrong. As in evil wrong, or unjust wrong, or harmful wrong. How do you not get angry at someone who has caused pain and suffering to other people by their indifference or greed? I don’t know for sure. What I do know is that anger is not a constructive emotion for me. My thinking gets cloudy, my heart gets hard and I become pretty irrational. I actually can feel the skin on my neck crawl. So in fact I hurt myself by becoming angry, rather than contributing anything useful to the world.

So, if not anger, maybe we should respond with indignation. Indignation – righteous indignation, right? To me that means: I know better than that other gal because I’m better than her. Me right, you wrong. Constructive? Not really. Does this contribute anything useful to the world? Not really.

The only useful response I’ve come up with so far is action. Recognizing that something doesn’t seem to be working and doing something to contribute to making it better. Staying angry or indignant in the meanwhile doesn’t really help me. Focusing on the outcome that I would like to see on the other hand? Priceless.