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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

New Year's Resolutions

You’re maybe making a list? Checking it twice? Not a gift list, but a resolution list.

It is that time of year again; after the excesses of the holidays, our lack of routine and discipline, it feels like a good time to make big changes. To resolve to shift things we know are not in our best interests; to eat healthier, exercise regularly; soften the rough edges of our personalities; maybe act a little more kind and loving to our fellow beings.

But before any lists can be made, what must come first is “tarka.” Tarka is a yogic term that means review; a period of time to contemplate and take stock of things. Looking back over the past day or month; year or decade; to see where we’ve been, where we are, and where we’re headed.

It’s very much like planning a garden.

You start by looking at the previous year’s harvest. How did it grow? What crops fared well, and what didn’t? Where were the weeds rampant? Were there enough tomatoes, or too much cabbage? Did you think you planted spinach and got lettuce instead?

And what about the soil -- did you take the time to prepare the ground? Did you plant carrots in clay and strawberries in the shade? Were you flexible enough to adjust to unknown factors – like insects; lack of water; and (if you live in Floyd County) the occasional hail storm?

The only difference is in life, we are simultaneously reaping AND sowing. Every moment, every experience has been created through our words, thoughts and actions.

Knowing that, living that, can you reflect on what has come into your life this year, and what has faded away?

Examine the people you have attracted into your inner and outer circle this year. Are they positive and encouraging? Loving and giving? Inspiring and inspired? Are they leading you toward your highest and best self?

Are you living your authentic life? Following your path? Serving others but not diminishing yourself?

And what is it that you REALLY desire in this life, anyway?

If you thought you’d been planting peppers, but keep getting pumpkins, remember it’s not the pumpkin’s fault it’s not a pepper. You have to go all the way back to the original planting to see the origin of your error. And you may have to wait a full season to get another chance to plant those peppers, so you need to be ready.

Sometimes the length of time between action and consequence keeps us from connecting the dots and understanding what we created. Tarka helps with this.

Take some time to review 2009; look through your journal or calendar, and take notes. (What??? You don’t journal!? Ahhh, a great resolution for you!)

Remember you can never change anyone else; you can only change you and your reaction to the world around you.

Prepare the soil of your heart; open yourself to the pure potential that exists within.



Saturday, December 19, 2009

Sacred Images, Sacred Objects

Today is December 19, 2009, and here in Roanoke, Virginia, we were blessed with a beautiful snowstorm. Sixteen inches! Lots of snow, by our standards.

Do you see the photograph? It is from our yard. It is a picture of Saint Francis, Patron Saint of Animals; he resides in our garden. Usually, come wintertime, he resides in our garage, protected from the elements. This year, we forgot to put him away, out of the weather.

Doesn’t he have the most beautiful, peaceful face? Isn’t it interesting that the snow did not cover it?

This does not surprise me. There are many events on record where sacred objects have gone unharmed, even in the most dangerous of circumstances. It brings me back to my days working as the office manager of a restoration construction company. We specialized in fire and water damage.

One Christmas season, we restored a home that had suffered a very serious fire; I remember the project manager showing me photographs of the home. They had a nativity scene displayed on a card table against a wall; the fire and smoke visibly went around the nativity – seriously, you looked at this photograph and could see the smoke go up and around the whole table. It was wild to look at; everything around it destroyed, burned; ruined. The nativity was untouched.

It boggled my mind at the time.

Now, I understand.

Today, as I notice our precious, uncovered Saint Francis miraculously peering out of the snow -- inside, in the house, I have been busy -- preparing photographs of the Kriya lineage for at least a week. Locating, procuring and printing photographs and pictures of the saints and sages who support me in my practice, so I can display them inside my small meditation space.

These saints and sages, they commune with me daily; in my meditation, my life and in my work. They are conduits for the living Divine energy that flows through me when I teach.

For some reason, it really never occurred to me to place their photos in my meditation space, even though I display their photographs prominently on a shelf in the living room.

Recently Andrea Boyd and Jeffrey Cohen of Jivamukti Yoga Charleston (SC) came to Roanoke to instruct some workshops. Mary Brown, Uttara’s Jivamukti instructor – a true conduit of the Divine, and a very dedicated student of yoga -- took on the responsibility of preparing the altar for their workshop.

And oh, it was SO beautiful. See the photograph? Amazing!

Andrea and Jeffrey came and brought additional pictures of their teachers to adorn the altar. I lucked out (truly!) on a spot in the front row; and practiced for two hours before this sacred altar -- adorned with fresh flowers, Ganesha (overcomer of obstacles) and photographs of the Jivamukti lineage.

As I pushed my body and mind through practices I thought not capable, I looked into the eyes of Ruth Lauer-Manenti. As I expanded my consciousness, under the expert guidance of Andrea and Jeffrey, Sharon Gannon and David Life peered from small, ornate frames. There was magic in those practices, and in those photographs.

When I have sat at the lotus feet of my beloved Guruji, there have always been photographs of Kriyanandaji and Shellyji on the altar. But only at this workshop did I realize the true power of those images. That is when I decided it was important to integrate them into my meditation space.

I sat before them today in meditation; and the energy shift was palpable.

Christians are careful not to worship graven images; and I understand that concept. We as Americans place the image of the flag everywhere; but not always with respect and understanding.

I saw an American flag doormat in a catalog this Summer – THINK about that symbolism.

Thoug -- yes -- no one wants to worship the golden idol, the ceramic goddess -- UNDERSTAND that images, statues, photographs – they have “shakti” – a real energy; they have power.

During this beautiful period of waiting for the Christ-child; waiting for the Light to return; however you choose to honor the shifting of the season; remember that your photographs, your nativity scenes, your traditions and your totems; the ornaments on your tree; the photographs in your cards, the things that you elevate and honor; they have meaning; they have shakti; they have power.

Give them the respect they so lovingly deserve.



Wednesday, December 16, 2009

To Card or Not To Card

So, it’s mid-December; the crunch is on. I’ve got three young children and feel the need to make the holiday happen – there are expectations to be met, and traditions to be upheld; even as the cosmic ground shifts beneath us, as the world begins to change. (I’m sure you feel it).

Things are also busy at the Studio. The number of students this time of year is a little low, but there are gift packages to put together, the Winter Solstice celebration, gearing up for coming events.

I have come to the point in life where I realize (a little late, I might add) that I matter, too. My experience of the holiday counts. What do I want?

I want to bake LOTS of cookies – pecan tassies, Russian teacakes, sugar cookies, candy-cane cookies, mmmmmmm . . . . (always my soft spot). I want to decorate the tree – my way (loads of not matching ornaments, colorful lights; Martha Stewart would NOT approve). I want to spent time with friends, having tea, catching up. I want to purchase gifts that are meaningful and useful (and I want to do it quickly and efficiently; I do NOT want to spend time shopping).

I want to ponder the birth of Jesus; spend time exploring my relationship with him and the Blessed Mother; and continue to reconcile the wonder of His divine love to my life, as I live it, today.

This Thanksgiving, I made a plan. And a resolution. Need to simplify . . . so I decided not to send holiday cards this year.

They have always hung over my head, year after year. I was thinking, how great to have no pressure to produce a perfect photograph (okay, any REASONABLE photograph) of my three children. No pressure to locate the cards left over from last year (um, seriously; where are they? I’m a logical person; but why, oh why, aren’t they in my Christmas box?) No pressure to write our names over and over; no pressure to jot a note, or to write one of those little newsletter things.

Such a relief to let go of one more holiday requirement – er, um, I mean, tradition.

But now, cards from friends and family have begun to arrive in our mail.

And I’m so grateful to receive them! Beautiful photographs of my friends and their children. It is wonderful to see those babies growing and changing from year to year. And my friends, too! Not so young, but just as beautiful as ever. They are happy; they are well; they are living their lives, unfolding in their purpose. It is joyful to read even the the most brief of updates.

So now, at the last minute, I am re-thinking my plan. How can I repay these people for the happiness, the joy, the news that they have sent to me?

I think, perhaps -- maybe -- I’ll just send a couple cards – a select few.

So -- how do I choose???

Some cards come from my oldest and dearest friends; I never want to break that link. Some come from new friends. Those who know me as I am now are just as precious.

I glance at the calendar; there’s a little break in my schedule in February!

Perhaps, I’ll send Valentines.

I hope that you enjoy the blessings of the season.

If your heart feels hard, give even the smallest gift to someone in need. There is no greater blessing than to be able to give.



Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Breathwork Homework

I am taking a Restorative Breathwork training course in order to become certified as a Barratt Breathworks restorative practioner. Part of my homework for this month is building an awareness of my own breath. Taking time to lie in savasana (the corpse pose/final relaxation pose), and explore the rhythm, depth, location, movement, pace – everything! about my own natural breath.

This sounds pretty simple; it is not.
Not only that, but for me, locating time to lie quietly and breathe in a household of three children is difficult. Convincing them that what I am doing is actually homework is mission impossible. But the toughest part is trying to concentrate, stay present with the breath, and not allow my mind to go bonkers when they (inevitably) interrupt.

My daughter wanders in, seeing me lying on the floor, eyes closed.

“Mommy. Mommy. Mommy.
Mommy??! MOMMY!!!!!!”

I pop off the floor -- "WHAT!????!! -- I’m doing my homework!"

“Homework?” she replies, “I wish that was MY homework.”

I do a mental eye roll. This is not easy; my breathing homework is hard. Breathwork digs up emotions, breaks down barriers; breathwork is WORK. I lie back down, close my eyes, and try to resume my practice. Relax the body; quiet the mind; notice my breath.

My son wanders in, lies down next to me and curls up close, snuggling my arm. As I open my eyes, his head lifts and he smiles down at me. “I guess this is cuddle work,” he says, and then lays back down.

Ah, yes – cuddle work. I think I’ll pursue my Ph.D.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Attachment (actually, food)

Been thinking a lot about attachment lately.
Because I have a LOT of attachments. Many of them relate to food.

Now, I’m not talking about food as something that nourishes the body; gives it fuel; quells the growling. I’m talking about food as comfort, food as love – food as all the things it’s not really supposed to be.

An acupuncturist once told me once that I was a “super taster,” and I think it is true. When I was growing up, I could taste flavors no one else in my family could. That didn’t mean I was picky or limited. My mom says I ate absolutely everything as a baby, except Jello. (I am very proud of that, by the way – you might say, attached. And I still think Jello is disgusting.)

I eat certain things and they transport me; to a certain time, moment, memory. To an emotional connection of safety or security (or sometimes, loss and negativity – I stay away from those recipes).

There are certain foods from childhood that I eat because I associate them with comfort; mainly crunchy-salty with ooey-gooey. Think buttered popcorn, well-salted; French fries (preferably homemade) with Heinz ketchup (they make an organic Heinz ketchup now, you know?!). And almost anything involving wheat and melted cheese (sigh!).

And, truly -- I have not eaten meat in 20 years, but if my grandmother came to my house right now and made her pot roast, I’d eat, and eat, and eat.

Would it really be about the pot roast?

Um, no.

It was the love she poured into it, her desire for us to be nourished and feel cared for – she loved her family beyond measure, and it showed in everything she did, everything she said, and in the food she so lovingly prepared.

This brings me back to my attachments, and food. There are so many things I want to say about food; I’m a Taurean; I could write about it, think about it, meditate on it for lifetimes. Instead, today I’ll narrow my focus, and speak only to my attachment to how food is prepared.

There is this thing called prana – a Sanskrit term that translates as lifeforce or life energy. It permeates all of existence – it is in the air we breathe, the thoughts we think, the food we ingest. It animates the Universe; it is the breath of God within us. It is why we can hook a body up to a machine, but it is not alive – no prana. A lack of prana is why people can be living on this Earth, but not be truly alive. It is important, but invisible.

In our culture, no one tells us it exists.

But to us yogis, it is very, very important; we want to harness it, purify it – bring it into our being, balance it in our energy body, and lift it up, up, up – to the heaven within, as it were. When bringing prana in through food, it matters how the food is prepared, and who prepares the food – what their intention was, their vibration. As well as our attitude and emotions upon consuming the food. Feeling angry, feeling deprived? Feeling grateful, feeling cared for?

It matters.

This explains why you can inhale 2,000 calories from the drive-thru, and be ravenous two hours later – no prana, baby.

I am somewhat attached to the convenience of a microwave – not so much for cooking, but for re-heating. For zapping water for tea, re-heating a plate of leftovers, melting butter to popcorn-annointing perfection; you understand. But my ayurvedic practitioner friend, David, told me in September that when you microwave the food – it zaps the prana. Cooking it from within makes it devoid of life energy.

My friend Julia has been telling me microwaves,were no good for years. But this really put it over the top for me.

So, I told my children and husband about the damage the microwave causes to our food. Even threatened to remove the offending machine (mostly so I would not be tempted to use it). But my husband gently pleaded; “But, honey, I use it a lot, especially for breakfast.”

Well, he had me there; 10 years of nagging (kindly! lovingly!) my wonderful husband to eat something (anything!) for breakfast – I’m not gonna mess with that.

Two of the children took it all in stride; but my little Pisces?
She’s not going to let me off the hook.

Last week: “Is that prana-free macaroni and cheese” she inquires of her sister. Her sister shrugs, “Uh, yeah.”

Yesterday, I pull lunch out of the microwave. “Is that a no-prana enchilada?” she asks.” “Ah, yes -- but, I . . . but . . . but.” I stammer. “. . . . but . . . it’s 2:40 pm . . . and I haven’t had lunch . . . and I’m really, really hungry.”


She looks at me.
“Okay,” I say, “I’m being lazy.”
She nods, and comments, “Couldn’t you use the toaster oven?”
I stare blankly. She relents.
But the lesson is learned. I am saying one thing to her, yet doing another.

Today, I have a very bad sore throat. And I’m not saying that it is because I microwaved my enchilada.

But I am making some homemade clam-corn chowder. On the stove. With love and intention. And I promise NOT to microwave the leftovers tomorrow.


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