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Friday, December 31, 2010

Looking Back, Looking Ahead

Sorry so few blogs this month friends. In an interesting turn of events, the motherboard in my computer crashed after writing the blog about Mercury retrograde.

Really.

So, a little catch up time -- how was your Winter Solstice? Full lunar eclipse that day. Look back to the symbols, day before, day of and day after.

How were your holidays – and how did you do with the karma? Family and otherwise? I hope you were patient with yourself (and everyone else) and became aware of some long-term patterns.

Next up, a partial solar eclipse, along with some other interesting planetary action, on January 4, 2011. Another big day to observe with wisdom the symbols in your life and in the world around you.

And, right in the middle, the calendar New Year, January 1. Ahhhh, time for that annual tradition (which I hope is not drinking your weight in champagne). Resolutions.

Or, in yogic terms, maha tarka. Maha=great. Tarka=review.

Because though you don’t want to spend your life looking backward, you must see what has transpired in order to manifest the future with wisdom and insight. Take some time to peruse your 2010 journal, if you keep one, or your calendar before we begin. Light a candle. Take a couple deep, centering breaths. Have your paper and pen ready, because I have some questions for you.

1. How was your relationship with yourself this year? Are you pleased with your personality? Are you the person you have dreamed of being? Are you the person you think you are?

2. How is your relationship with money this year? How about with anything you value; your possessions? And what about that ultimate possession, your memory track?

3. How well did you communicate this year; with yourself, with others? How is your relationship with your siblings?

4. How was your relationship with your Mother this year? And how about your home life? Did you create a stable, comfortable, safe place to retreat to daily?

5. Did you have fun this year? Have you carved out a portion of your life for pleasure, joy, and creativity? Speaking of creations – how is your relationship with your children?

6. How’s your job? You know, whatever it is that you do that pays the bills. How about your service to others – or do you serve others at all?

7. Let’s talk about your relationship – with your partner, spouse, lover, or whatever moniker you assign to that special person. How’s it going? Not a list of their foibles and problems – you. How did you feed and grow the relationship?

8. Did you spend any time investigating the occult? (meaning that which is hidden); how are the deepest places within you shifting and transforming? How’s your sex life? (Yes, I said, sex life.) And, did anyone around you transition out of this place – did you resolve any issues you might have had with them?

9. How did your spiritual journey progress this year? Did you make time and space to grow and learn and challenge yourself to expand the parameters of your mind and spirit to encompass this beautiful planet, and the Universe you reside in? School and church fall in this category.

10. How’s your relationship with your Father and/or other authority figures in your life? And also with your greater work in this world? There’s the job that pays the bills, and then there’s that something that you alone bring to this world; are you sharing it? Nurturing it? Bringing it?

11. How is your relationship with your friends? With groups of people that you spend time with or are involved with?

12. Finally, the areas of your life that are hidden; were you able to tap into your deepest reserves of strength, or did you tend to wallow in those ways of being that lead to your own self-destruction?

These 12 areas of life correspond to the 12 houses in astrology. They tell you where in your life things are going along smoothly . . . as well as where they’re not flowing harmoniously. Hopefully by looking at your answers, this will give you a little insight as to the areas of your life where you need to work a little harder; be a little more self-aware; or, perhaps, change the way you live.
And then, create your resolutions.

Start at the root of the problem. You cannot just say “I want to improve my relationship.” You need to resolve to change your behavior in the relationship; perhaps resolve to take a breath and ask yourself if what you are about to say to that person is kind and true. Maybe the person in relationship with you doesn’t feel loved because you are offering love in the way that you would like to receive it, instead of looking at them and realizing what would make them feel more loved, more cared for.

If you decide to lose weight for the new year, don’t resolve “I will lose weight.” Resolve to walk more and sit less; resolve to eat healthier foods and drink more water; resolve to see your body as a temple and treat it accordingly. Those are the kinds of resolutions that get results.

I wish you a 2011 filled with love and peace. I wish for you the self-awareness to navigate the karma with wisdom. This year is not going to be an easy one; but we will all learn a lot, and grow in ways we cannot even imagine today.

Shanti,

Jill

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Mercury Retrograde

Alright, darlings; buckle your seatbelts; Mercury goes retrograde tomorrow (Friday, December 10).

Pooh-pooh me all you want; that’s my karmic payback for my pooh-poohing astrology for years and years. But I’m telling you; it’s going to be an interesting month.

Things have already been rocking a little bit – noticed some computer issues since about December 1? Funky issues with your car, or electronics? Problems with communication in general?

If not, then lucky you. You just keep doing whatever it is that you’re doing, and ignore me. This blog is for the rest of us.

Planning to buy a tv or some other technology item as a holiday gift this month? Um, don’t. Get them a gift certificate and they can go get it in January. It will have some kind of problem, break, or be totally out-of-date in no time. Seriously.

And while you’re at it, practice your relaxing, calm-yourself-down breath. Because Mars is being activated this month. Perhaps you’ve noticed people being a little grumpier? Yep, it’s not just because they weren’t in line early enough to get that $199.99 television at Wal-Mart. It’s the Mars (and the Pluto, but let’s not get too deep here). This will help give us all a little energetic push to get things accomplished, but don’t allow it to drag you into being less than the kind, generous person we all know you are.

Dates to watch this month include December 13-14, as well as the upcoming Winter Solstice on December 21. That day is also a full lunar eclipse, very big energy. Examine the symbols in your life and in the world at large a day before and after each of these days; don’t wait for December 31 to ponder where your life is heading.

And for heaven’s sake, have your happy plan in place. It’s COLD; it’s DARK; it’s the holidays. You need to do the things that keep you grounded and happy. Whether that’s eating only warm foods and getting to bed early (um, no, 11:00 pm is NOT early); scheduling a massage; saying NO to that holiday party that you really don’t enjoy, or finding a fantastic book and diving in. Whatever it is that keeps you sane, put it on your calendar and make it work.

Hanging out with fun people helps, too, so I hope you’ll join us for the Uttara Yoga Solstice Celebration at the Studio on Saturday, December 18. We’ll do a kirtan (call and response chanting, you can just listen if you like) and a brief ritual with prayer and meditation. Afterward we’ll have a veggie potluck starting around 6:30 pm. I hope you will join us for one or both.

Whether your tradition this time of year is to celebrate the return of the Sun OR the return of the Son, honor the cycles of life, honor the people around you; and, honor yourself.

Shanti,

Jill

Friday, November 19, 2010

Attachment (again)

If you’ve read some of my previous blogs you know that I’ve got a thing for Star Wars. Recently we were watching the third movie, and Yoda was being his brilliant, yogic self. He says to Anakin, “Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose.” I always point that line out to the children, and so my son, he offered to write it down for me to remember. Careful, small letters in red Sharpie on a bright slip of orange paper, with his unique seven-year-old writing (and spelling). It is taped to the cover of my laptop.

I tend to think that I have made at least a sliver of progress in the area of attachment. This week, I realized I am back to square one. Or about thirty feet behind it.

Our dear Sasha, sweet gray princess kitty, died. Or actually, I told the vet to give her medicine to make her die. We call it “putting to sleep” which is a total cop-out.

She had been getting thinner, not eating much. Still purring like a fuzzy freight train, and enjoying spending the nights (cold nights!) out exploring. That day, she was a little more hesitant in her movements; her breathing became very labored, so I took her to the vet. I was not prepared to be told she would go into cardiac arrest at any moment. That this was the end, or near it.

I asked, can I take her home to the children? One last cuddle? No, the vet said it was not wise – cardiac arrest could happen at any moment. For me to choose for the children to see her suffer; to choose to have her suffer that pain and confusion; and how long would it last??? It seemed the wrong thing to do to just wait and let it happen. He asked if I needed to call anyone. I said no. What is there to discuss? You consult the expert, and you make your decision. I knew my husband would tell me to do what I thought was right.

So I hope that I made the correct choice, but I suppose I will always feel the tug of conflict. Wouldn’t we all choose that last chance to walk outside, to look up to the sky, to be with our loved ones when that time of ending comes?

Maybe that is part of what draws us back here to incarnate again, and again, and again.

Later that evening, I complained of a headache. My son offered a kiss to the forehead, which helped a lot. “So,” he said, “Sasha’s gone. I mean, her body is still here on the Earth, but her spirit is not.” Ah, yes, sweet boy. Remind me of this great truth that is so easy to speak and sometimes so hard to understand.


Goodbye, dear Sasha-belle. Great yogi-cat-teacher who showed me how to live a life of work balanced with play; how to find the best, sunny soft spots to lounge; and to relax like you mean it. How to be unflinchingly yourself, and embrace your inner wandering-wild-outdoor-nature-loving-independent-but-living-with-others self. How to find fun in simple things, like tail chasing. Not to complain or whine (well, maybe if breakfast is late), and to love love love love without expectation or restriction.

In her final breaths, as I cried and cried and cried, and wished in my deepest darkest places that this would not happen, she taught me that I am still very much attached. To her, to my family, to my friends, to everything.

Much work left to do.

Shanti,

Jill

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Beginner's Yoga Pep Talk

Well, hello there. So, you’re thinking about taking a yoga class? You’ve heard it’s good for you. And out of all the things that you’ve heard of lately that are good for you (like fish oil, ewwww), yoga sounds somewhat appealing. You think, well, yes, it might help my body. I could be a little more flexible; maybe work toward a stronger core, build some upper body strength. Learn to relax my mind, handle stress a little better. Learn a little about proper breathing.

So you’ve probably visited the website once or twice . . . okay, 25 times, and you’ve looked at the schedule. What does “hatha” mean? And how “beginners” is Beginners Yoga? Are there men in classes at Uttara? And, um what do they wear?

What happens if I plant my mat down next to some spandex-clad rubberband wondergirl, and I can’t do what her 20-years-younger-than-me body can do, and then I just want to go home and sit on the couch?

Ahhhhhh. It takes some guts to show up for that first class, it’s true. And you also have to find (um, actually MAKE) the time to do it. That alone can be so difficult.

Some answers to the above questions: first, hatha (correctly pronounced “hah-ta”) means the “sun” and the “moon” – the “ha” and the “ta” – it is a style of yoga that is balancing, but also forceful. And beginner’s yoga can be for someone with absolutely no yoga experience on up to experienced yogis looking for a more relaxed class, or to perfect their practice.

Remember that any pose can be adapted to suit any body; just be patient, use the props your instructor offers you, remember that it is a PRACTICE, and go from there.

Yes, there are lots of men who practice at Uttara; some are beginners, some in between, and we have a dedicated few that have been coming consistently since we opened (and have progressed beautifully, and you know who you are!). And guys generally wear shorts and a t-shirt that is either snug, or can be tucked in (to avoid wardrobe malfunctions whilst going upside down.) Click on the Facebook link from our Home Page to see some photos from actual classes and maybe that will help you to see what people wear to class.

If you DO happen to end up next to Little Miss Spandex, keep in mind that she’s just doing what her body can do; be inspired if you glance her way. You are supposed to be paying attention to your own body and your own practice. Learn to stop judging yourself (and her, and everyone else in your life, for that matter).

It’s all part of the practice. Because, you see, what you learn on your mat – about your body, about your mind, you take out into the world. However it is you practice, is also usually how your live your life.

What else would I want every beginner to know about yoga and about Uttara?



First, that we are a welcoming place. The vibe is not competitive at all. Each student is encouraged to work at their own pace, and not push beyond their own limits.

The classes are TAUGHT, they are not just led. It is not just an instructor, up there on their mat, doing their practice while you try like crazy to keep up. You are instructed in the poses; you can ask questions; the teachers come around and make adjustments and assist you in the poses. And if you don’t want us to touch you, please just tell us and we’ll leave you alone! I remember being a beginner and not wanting anyone near me. I thought negative things about my body, and assumed everyone who looked at me thought the same awful things, somehow proximity made it worse.

One of the hallmarks of an advanced student is that they usually loved to be mashed on by the instructor, but it takes time to build that relationship (with yourself and the instructor) and to feel comfortable in your own skin. We understand this, just speak your truth.

Now, just because we want you to respect your own limits doesn’t mean we won’t push you. Not all yoga is easy-breezy mild stretching and breathing. My personal taste runs to butt-kicking, music-blasting yoga. I like to work you hard, get you warm, and then wrap it up with deep, longer-hold postures. And I mostly offer 1 hour classes because that’s what I can squeeze into my life when I practice. But that’s just my personal style. You have to try different classes, different styles of yoga, different instructors. A hatha class with one instructor might be quite different with another.

Just, whatever you do, don’t just keep thinking about it. Actually go to a class. If the classes at Uttara don’t fit your schedule, try another Studio; get a video; get a book. Schedule a private. Get together with a friend.

And, please -- stop thinking that you’ll do yoga later, when you have time, when things “calm down” -- because that is not going to happen; you won’t ever HAVE the time, you have to MAKE it. You’re not going to magically get stronger, more flexible, more serene, more focused -- unless you PRACTICE.

Quit making excuses, be truthful with yourself, and get past your fear.

You will be so glad when you do.

I’ll see YOU, in class.

Shanti,

Jill

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Bethany Hall

There probably would be no Uttara Yoga Studio if there wasn’t Bethany Hall.

True statement.

When I took my yoga teacher training I had no intention to teach adults or to do anything so bold as open a studio; my concept was to bring yoga to the schools and to children.

Keep this in mind if you sign up for a yoga teacher training and you think you have a "plan" -- your whole way of living and being in this world is going to change. Guaranteed.

In our training we were assigned Personal Reflection Questions; they were questions designed for self-exploration and understanding. It was optional to share them with our Program Advisor. I always shared mine, because she really "heard" me and always offered helpful comments and suggestions.

One of our assignments was to meditate on a group who might need our help. I did the meditation, and Bethany Hall popped into my mind. Which was a bit odd. I knew that there was this house next door to our church called Bethany Hall; and that only women lived there; and that they were in some kind of therapy or something related to addiction. That they occasionally helped out at the church with cleaning and other duties, and often kept our children in the nursery on holidays. The women were always kind and polite; just average people, like me. Looking back, I’m embarrassed to admit that after years of attending our church, I really had only the most remote idea of what was happening next door.

So, when I answered the question, I wrote that the women of Bethany Hall came into my meditation, and that once I was certified and a “real” yoga teacher, perhaps I might offer them a class.

My advisor, in her infinite wisdom, noted in the margins: "Why wait? If you wish to be taught, you must teach.”

Well, that sucked the wind right out of my sails; I mean, seriously, it was just a short meditation, right? What was I supposed to do, just call them up and say “Hey, um, I’m not really a yoga teacher yet, but I’d like to teach you yoga.” And what about mats? And what would they wear? And a place to do the class? And music? And . . . and . . . and . . . .

It was a time to either show up or shut up. So I called the main number. Was referred a nurse, who was open to alternative therapies. And, low and behold, she said “Sure – that would be great. We already have mats, someone volunteered a couple years back to teach yoga classes. When do you want to start?”

I contacted the church, who graciously allowed us to use their basement; ordered some blocks; collected my husband’s old neckties to use as straps, and we began.

I will never forget the start of that first class. I carefully arranged the small room that has windows, setting up a small altar; had my class all planned, mats laid out; we would do most poses at the wall, which is great for beginners.

For whatever reason, perhaps the size of the house, I expected a handful of women. As they began to file in, I began to count. I believe there were 14 women. Some were pregnant. They didn’t exactly looked thrilled to be there, and a small scream of panic rose up in me. What about my careful plan? No way I could teach that planned class to pregnant women. And we couldn't do the class at the wall! What about the beautifully arranged room?

We quickly relocated to the large, dark, windowless space in the other part of the church. All my planning, poof. That’s when my memory stops. I have no idea what I taught, how I taught it, or how it went. When grace flows through you, it's like that. All I know is that when I got them all settled down for savasana, the deepest feeling of peace and love and service fell over me like a blanket.

Week after week, we met in the church basement (we still do!), and week by week I realized how much I loved teaching them, and how much it made me grow. These women come from different backgrounds, different cultures, but something has brought us all together for healing. That great cosmic truth has been proven to me -- when you give, you receive even more in return.

That was where the seed was planted to open a studio; to create a beautiful, holy space; a place where people with children were welcomed; a place that provided mats and props and blankets; a place where you could come as you are and feel utterly and completely accepted.

I hope that Uttara is that place for you, as it is for me.

And now, it is time for me to return the favor to Bethany Hall. Their budget has been slashed by the Commonwealth of Virginia; giving is dropping off, and they are at a critical point. They are the only addiction program in this entire state that allows pregnant women and women with children to come into the program. It is unique, it is vital, and it has a proven record of helping women fight the curse of addiction and return to society as productive people, as loving mothers, as providers for their families.

It is coming up on the end of year, when many people plan their giving. I know money is tight for most people. It does not have to be a big check; little donations can make a big difference.

Can you help? Please mail checks to Bethany Hall, 1109 Franklin Road, Roanoke, VA 24016; all donations are tax deductible.

Can’t donate? Then pray; please.

Thank you.

Jill



http://bethanyhall.org/

Friday, October 8, 2010

Sound of Silence

My life is very noisy. What about you?

Even in the stillness of a recent evening on the porch, you can hear distant traffic; the rumble of a train or jet, the hum of heat pumps. Even natural sounds, like crickets and birds, rustling leaves, dropping acorns.

I’m a little more aware of silence lately, because the ipod player for my car broke. It is so interesting how you get in the habitual pattern of getting into the car, and immediately turning on some noise; music, radio chatter, an educational cd, whatever.

It has been interesting to become aware of the relative silence in the car, and how soothing it can be.

Oh, yes, there is noise. Sometimes the thump-thump-thump from the car behind me can literally be felt before it can be heard. The car itself makes noise, the traffic, there are lots of sounds. But yet, there is still a peaceful stillness that comes from not contributing to the cacophony.

Reminds me of this past Winter, going to a friend’s house for tea. It had recently snowed (a LOT), and the ground was well covered with the white stuff. We pulled up in front of her home to see a whole group of children sledding. Without even opening the car door, you could hear music blasting. Either a child or a parent had deemed it necessary to play music on the front porch of the home where they were sledding, and wow, it was loud.

And it was sad. I have such lovely memories of the sweet crunch of boots upon fresh snow. The deep hush that envelops the world when layers of icy flakes dampen down the harsh sounds of winter. The sound of snow pants swishing against each other. Children playing, laughing, the awareness of the sound of breath amplified by the visible exhalation.

I have such lovely memories of those sounds and experiences; these kids, I’m thinking that when it snows and they are adults, their memories will conjure up some Lady Gaga song.

I wonder, what does silence really sound like?

Even in meditation, with the senses turned inward, the outer world (hopefully!) falling away, sinking into the rhythm of your breath, there are sounds. My Guru calls it the “thundering silence.” I’ve gotten glimpses of it, but have yet to be able to rest for extended periods in that deepening stillness. It is a practice, I remind myself.

If this weekend you can carve out a few moments for yourself, try to spend them in silence.

Enjoy it while you can. The leaf blowers are coming.

Shanti,

Jill

Friday, September 24, 2010

On Kindness


I have been thinking a lot about kindness lately. Because it really seems that everyone is dividing into factions of dislike, distrust, and just plain dissin’.

As you move through life: how are you treating the people you don’t know?

It makes me think of earlier in the year, when I went to shop at an upscale department store; I had a gift card from Christmas. I picked out some really pretty pajamas, a gift for my mother-in-law, and a couple things for my daughters. It ended up being a pretty good pile of things. As I was being checked out, a line formed behind me. So I began taking the clothes off the hangers, folding them, and making sure the tags were facing up so the clerk could easily scan them. Another person came to help check people out, and everyone was taken care of. As we finished the transaction, the clerk leaned across the counter. “Thank you so much,” she whispered under her breath, “This is the first time since I began working here that anyone has ever helped me, and it means so much to me.” Wow. I was shocked.

This reminded me of my Guru telling us that to serve means to treat everyone like you would treat your guru, or your lover, or your own child.

So I am wondering if sometimes we are only kind to people we know, or when we feel that our kindness will return to us some benefit. Kind of like only donating to charity for the tax write off.

Intention is everything, and it is between you and the Mother-Father God to determine whether you do things out of a genuine kindness, or just to get your name in the paper. Gifts of money or time can accomplish great things, indeed, but I wonder if an accumulation of spiritual merit comes mostly from what you do when no one is looking.

Do you walk the way of kindness?

I have spent many years bumbling through life; worried only about myself and what was happening in MY life, to MY family, MY friends. Maybe it was the blinders of youth, or if I was comfortably oblivious; I know other times I willfully ignored those around me who struggled or were suffering.

Getting older has made me more aware of how important it is to walk through life as softly as you can; how important it is to choose to smile, instead of getting stuck in the dark places that my mind can create.

There is great joy in little kindnesses. Opening doors for strangers. Telling the hotel maid that she did a great job on your room. Letting someone pull out in front of your car. Taking a moment to admire someone’s adorable dog.

While you are practicing this art of kindness, there’s another aspect to it -- (here’s the kicker); you cannot judge those people who are not moving through the world mindfully. Particularly because, you’ve been one of them, at one point or another.

It simply takes a moment of thought -- When someone cuts you off on the highway, think that maybe they are hurrying to the hospital to see a loved one. When a forgetful someone makes a mistake, ponder that they may be mourning a loss, nursing a headache or heartache, or have recently buried a child.

We all rationalize our own behavior, cutting ourselves serious slack that we would never offer up to our fellow beings – particularly to people who make different choices, live different lifestyles, or have a different color skin or language

The old adage of “walk a mile in another’s moccasins” still rings true.

Go back through your day today, starting from the minute your eyes opened to now. Imagine for a moment that you will only receive back to you the kindness you gave away. How did you do?

Remember to act as if the quality of the rest of your life depends upon it. Because, it does.

Shanti,

Jill

Friday, September 17, 2010

Re-Marriage

This Summer I received a Facebook post from an acquaintance – “What would you change about your wedding day?” Her question was aimed toward the ceremony; the DAY; the party (she is an event planner).

It made me smile, because, really –

Um, who cares?

I have no intention to diminish the linking of souls that the ceremony and ritual of marriage creates; but seriously, the party? Does anyone past the third year of marriage spend even five minutes contemplating how they would do the party differently?

Well – okay, yes; I’ll admit. Sometimes I wonder why we spent so much money on the wedding; why I worried about the food and the drink and the band and the dresses and, and, and . . . .

Things like arriving in a limousine, instead of just showing up in our car. It is fascinating to observe yourself become engulfed by the whirlwind of expectation.

Martha Stewart exerted an inordinate amount of control over my life during that period.

I must admit, I didn’t have the awareness to realize this until much later.
So, what would I do different?

Well, I would have spent less on the wedding and more on our house and wedding trip; I would not have registered for china or silver or whatever wacky things that seemed so critical at that moment. (Sad, but true, we almost never use the china because it cannot go through the dishwasher, and I’m much too lazy to polish silver. Ahhh, reality.)

I would have spent more time meeting with our priest, even though our pre-wedding sessions with her were only “required” because I had been divorced. Those were beautiful, critical, enlightening moments. As I look back, I realize how important it was to have someone there to independently observe and bridge the communication gaps.

I would not have hurried so much to schedule a date, though I realize why I did; I was terrified he would change his mind; and I loved (and love) him so much; it was an empty place in my soul, and I needed his commitment in front of God and everyone to feel whole.

It is good now to realize that I feel whole within myself; but truly, that growth could not have occurred without his constant, consistent support and love.

He has taught me that washing dishes, and bringing someone a cup of morning coffee, and being patient; these things demonstrate love.

That it is not the dramatic gesture; not jewelry or fancy gifts; though they are appreciated; it is the everyday kindness, caring and support that build a life together.

You have your children, and you love and adore your children; but their job is to leave you; and so they shall. But when you create a love relationship, a partnership; a marriage; as your creations prepare to depart, you still (hopefully) have one another.

I read once that any good marriage is actually a series of re-marriages. That every couple years, you grow, you change; you separate in certain ways. And that to keep your relationship together, to keep the love; you have to renegotiate the terms.

You grow, you shift; and you come back together and say “well, here is who I am, and where I am; where are you?” You work out new ground rules, new ways of being and loving. You re-marry. Or else; you don’t.

We all know what happens when you don’t.

Sometimes the disintegration is slow, methodical; sometimes, you go along in blissful ignorance, and something blows you apart. Either way; you’re done. There’s nothing there; no ties that bind, that connect; that wish to receive each other.

Would you choose to wander back through time and change anything about your wedding day? Maybe change photographers, update your hairstyle, or serve different food?

What about your relationship, right now; is there anything you would change? Any outdated patterns or ways of thinking – not just in your partner, but yourself? Do you even know the new person who your spouse or partner has become through the years? Do you know yourself?

Might be time to “re-marry.”

Shanti,

Jill

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Karma


Oooooooo . . . . it’s a scary little word. Karma.

People throw it around; mention it at random. But yet, most people have no idea of the power of this law of the Earth plane.

Karma is more powerful than gravity. Take a moment to ponder that.

Why? Well, because karma is going to follow you from the Earth plane. Gravity; probably not.

Karma is not a specific religious concept; it is a Law of the Universe, but not a law of punishment. It goes like this: Whatsoever you do, think or say, comes back to you.

“Whatsoever you shall sow, you shall reap.”

Okay; pretty simple: whatever you do, think or say, comes back to you.

Go back through the last 24 hours of your life; everything you did; everything you thought; everything you said (to yourself or anyone [or anything]) else on the planet; you prepared to see all that coming back at you?

Mmmmmm.

Yeah. Sorry about that.

Because karma is real; it is a valid method of soul development, and it’s happening to you right now. Some karma jumps right up in your face and presents itself; other karma comes forward later in life; other karma has to wait for the right set of circumstances to teach you – which may be in another life.

I have a personal story; my young son stole something. I won’t go into details, this is the Internet; let’s just say, it was a serious matter.

I did what all good, evolved yogi-parents do: I absolutely, totally, freaked out. (Ooops.)

Well – okay, it wasn’t the best approach; but I was devastated. He is such a good child; such a joy to a mother’s heart; it felt crushing.

Suffice it to say, serious punishment was warranted, and serious punishment was meted out. I hope it made an impression.

Back to the concept of karma. Not long after these dramatic events at home, we attended a school event –a party of sorts, where you purchased tickets for certain games or activities. And my son – he was having a great time.

He played a game, and was given a certificate for a free ticket; which he promptly took to the money desk. He extended his certificate, and was given two tickets – they were joined together, it was almost like they went together – but he stopped and he said “No – I only won one ticket.” He ripped them apart, and returned the extra ticket to the parent in charge. Her eyes widened, and another parent took note. “No!” She smiled broadly. “You are such an honest boy! You take this extra ticket, you deserve it for being honest.” Another parent chimed in “Good job, Mamma, for raising him right!” My smile was less than enthusiastic in light of recent events. But it felt like a cathartic exchange.

It was an important lesson, for us both. But another was coming our way.

That same afternoon, we decided to head to the swimming pool; it was very, very hot; the pool had just opened; and, having reached the luxurious mothering stage of being able to lounge poolside and read a book, it sounded like a lovely way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

At the pool, my son began to play with a little fabric ball that our babysitter had left in the swim bag last year. It was nothing exciting; nothing expensive; he was having a marvelous time, all by himself; tossing the ball into the pool, and jumping in after it.

I watched him toss it in, and jump in after it, and with just a glance toward my book, he yelled “Mommy, my ball – it’s gone!” And, well – DARN! – he was right. I got up and walked around; there were not a lot of people there; I had seen him throw it right into the pool -- and that ball, it was NOWHERE. We checked the drains, walked around the pool – it was gone. I told him I was sure it would turn up, and went back to my book.

Shortly thereafter, I glanced up to see a preteen girl in the pool, shoulders shrugging, surrepticiously showing her friend – she had his little fabric ball. She glanced around to see if anyone was looking, and, catching my eye, it disappeared down into the water. About 20 minutes later, she began to toss it with a friend.

As I noticed the ball being tossed about, I called to my son – “Hey, there’s your ball, go ask them for it.” – because it is important for him to be able to stand his own ground in life. He approached them, asked for his ball back, and she said, “NO!” – That it was her ball, that she had “a bunch of them.” He looked at me, and I shrugged.

At the next adult swim, he emerged from the pool. He was not overtly upset, but you could tell it bothered him.

“How does it feel,” I queried, “to have someone take something from you?”
“Not good” he mumbled.
“Remember” I said, “remember how this feels. This is your lesson.”
“Yes,” he said.
And that was that.

This is a small event; but the lesson is important, and it is real.

We are all creating our own reality; we are all learning lessons in every moment, in every exchange; everything beautiful and everything horrible; the magnificent and the mundane; all that we experience here.

Can we be wise enough to see our own creations? Wise enough to see the karmic patterns . . . to act according to the law of this Earth plane, and shift our thoughts . . . our words . . . and our deeds? To decide to sow precisely what we shall harvest?

Start today . . .

Shanti,

Jill

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Symbols

There have been a number of very important astrological events in the past two years, but particularly this Summer; epic, life changing, Earth shifting cosmic things (at least for those of us who believe the planets and stars impact life here on Earth.

I’ve said it before; I’ll say it again; I was an astrology naysayer; thought it was complete bull . . . um . . .crap.

That’s the beauty of yoga, and any other tradition that is based on personal experience, instead of forced belief; I looked into it; investigated. Whoa. The real deal.

As a yogi, I look to these dates of astrological significance, and I look at my life; pondering the symbols, to gain insight into the cycle. For many of these cycles are long-term; example: Pluto in the sign of Capricorn is a 14-year cycle. So, if the symbols regarding the movement of Pluto into that sign weren’t so great for you, you need to start working to soften that energy, because the only other option is to hunker down and get used to the chaos for the next 12 years.

As I ask friends about the symbols that surround these events in their life, they look at me (or email me), and ask – symbols? What do you mean, symbols?

Therefore; time to blog on symbols.

I often say that I would prefer the Universe send me a parchment scroll; dropped down out of the sky; escorted by angels; and written in English. And it would say “Jill – You must . . . (fill in the blank); you must NOT . . . (fill in the blank). I love you no matter what; hence, you have a certain amount of free will; but (fill in the blank) will occur if you make the wrong choice. Love, always, GOD.”

Knowing the way my mind functions, I would even question that – thinking, “Well, yes, it is a parchment scroll, coming down from heaven; and yes, there were angels (were there trumpets? I don’t recall trumpets.)” And I would want ANOTHER symbol; you know, something big and concrete – like a burning bush (though not too close to the house, please) to make certain that it was for real.

*Sigh* -- it doesn’t work that way.

The Universe doesn’t speak English, or Japanese; it usually doesn’t even speak drama; the big, huge events don’t usually come until you’ve missed the point a couple/three times.

Bummer.

So while you’re worrying about keeping your whites white, getting your kids into the right college, or even making the mortgage this month – these symbols, they are all around you.

Kriyanandaji gives the example of the day you are to be married. If you get up late; your dress rips as you put it on; the car taking you to the wedding gets a flat tire; the preacher gets the stomach flu – hey! It’s not necessarily that you’re marrying the wrong guy – you just shouldn’t marry him that day.

Try explaining THAT to the caterer.

But seriously; everyday, all the time, the Universe, your angels, your guides – they’re trying to get through to you. There are interactions with people, with nature; there are events; and these can be taken at face value, yes -- but also explored for their symbolism.

Think about life as you would when you wake in the morning, and remember your dream. If you were dreaming that a dog is attacking you, it doesn’t necessarily mean you should develop a fear of dogs. You look at the symbol of the animal, and the symbol of you being attacked. It could mean many different things, but the meaning will be unique to you, depending on your memories related to dogs, and your feeling state with regards to being attacked.

Tricky stuff.

Today is another important day, astrology wise; it is the precise alignment of the Grand Cardinal Cross. Look at the headlines in the paper; look at the symbolic occurrences in your life over the past couple days, and in the week to come. Journal; reflect; develop awareness. Information is power; but self-awareness, well – that’s EVERYTHING.

Shanti,

Jill

Monday, July 26, 2010

Confidence

After teaching a class a few weeks back, a student approached me to chat. We made small talk, and then he mentioned a class he had taken with another instructor from the Studio. “Her class is really good,” he said, “She’s a great teacher.” “Please tell her that,” I said to him. She is amazing; truly coming into her own power; but all of us who are teachers have moments of doubt about their ability. He looked puzzled and surprised. “Okay,” he said.

Then he asked, “Hey -- what about you? You never seem to have any lack of self-confidence.” I responded as I always have to compliments, especially the back-hand variety. “Oh,” I laughed, “I’m just faking it.” He laughed. “Me, too” he said. And we went our separate ways.

I’ve been thinking about that exchange; and I’ve realized something.

I’m not faking it anymore.

Maybe that sounds like bravado; and let me tell you, it’s not that I am brimming with confidence every moment of every day for sure. I realized in that moment that most of my life I have been faking any confidence I exhibited.

It’s a given, in this society, that you have to exude self-assurance; be certain what you’re doing, and why you’re doing it – even if those concepts have yet to fall into line. So you develop a firm handshake; look people in the eye; and sometimes waste years bumbling down the wrong roads in life because you’re so busy pretending you know what you’re doing, you never stop to ask directions.

Reminds me of a family story we’ve giggled about for years; we were all in the car when my father turned the car out onto the road, going completely the opposite direction of where we were supposed to go. He was already in a grumpy mood, and no one wanted to be the one to tell him of his error. We continued, driving down the road, and my mother tactfully asked -- “Do you know where you are going?” “YES!” he bellowed. Two beat pause. “I’m going the WRONG DAMN WAY, that’s where I’m going!” Then, of course, we all cracked up.

You could pretty much describe my first marriage with this symbolism, but let’s not go there.

What is confidence, really? In my thinking, It relates to the ego. In many yogic or religious schools of thought, they talk of subduing the ego; diminishing the ego; eliminating the ego.

Not so in Kriya.

In Kriya yoga, they speak of building the ego – not to make yourself into a defiant, separate entity; not to inflate your opinion of yourself and your worth; and certainly not to compare yourself to others. You strengthen the ego so that you know who you are; what you are trying to accomplish. You know what you value; you know your own strengths and limitations.

You also know where you’re going, and what the real goals are.

Having an ego helps you to discern that faint line that differentiates between being of service to your fellow beings, and being the flat little doormat under their feet.

I’ve served my time as a doormat. And the thing is, it doesn’t help anyone to achieve anything other than the negative karma the other person creates from harming you, and the negative karma you create for yourself by ALLOWING others to diminish you.

Where does self-confidence come from?

For me, it has emerged from finally beginning to know (and accept) myself; by testing myself and pushing out of my comfort zone; understanding the outer limits of my mind; of my body; recognizing myself as spirit – unchanging, undying – untarnished.

It has come from taking responsibility for everything, EVERYTHING that comes into my life; the good, the bad; the sublime, the ridiculous.

It comes from TIME. You know, certain things just take TIME. If you want an apple pie, you need to plant the apple tree. But it takes years from planting the tree to making the pie.

So many people don’t bother planting the tree.

I am not always confident; I am sure that there will always be times when fear invades, confusion interferes; when I crawl back in time to being the person I was instead of the person I have become.

Though even the fearful me, the confused me, the lost me -- at the end of the day, can stand before a mirror, and look myself in the eye; smile; bow and say “Namaste” – which means the light of God in me sees the light of God in you; and I honor you.

Try it sometime; it is not as simple as it sounds. And it will tell you a lot about yourself.

Shanti,

Jill

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Summer 100

One of our family traditions is to create a Summer “to-do” list; 100 things we’d like to make sure we don’t forget to do over the Summer.

I started making a list years ago (1) because I’m a list-maker; I gotta write things down and (2) to appease my eldest daughter, who from the time she was very small would ask every morning if we were going to do EVERYTHING I had told her we’d do in the Summer.

Her memory is like a steel trap, and even as a preschooler, she would wake up the first morning after school was out and start questioning: “Are we going to the beach today? Are we going to Grammy and Pappy’s today? “Are we going for ice cream today?” “Are we going to the park today?” “You SAID this Summer we would . . . . .” On and on and on; ‘bout drove me nuts.

So we created a list, and it helps – it’s easy to let Summer get away from you, especially when you are trying to meet the expectations of five people in two and a half months.

At this stage, the list has evolved so that we sit down as a family, and each take a turn. Some things are family events; some just personal accomplishments. We usually have a few things that get left undone; and certainly lots of things that we do aren’t on the list; but we try our best to accomplish everything.

The list tells an interesting tale of our family; it has changed a lot through the years. This year’s list tells me several things: most prominently, that we’re mildly obsessed with food. It tells me that my children are missing all the things I used to cook or bake regularly before I opened the Studio (wee bit o’ guilt here). It tells me that we don’t go “out” much; and that’s okay with me.

I love that it was the children who came up with “Peace Day,” “No Electricity Day,” “Mommy Appreciation Day” (um, excuse me, that should be EVERYDAY), and “Guru Appreciation Day.”

Here’s our list for this Summer; what about you?

1. Go see Grandma. 2. Picnic at the park. 3. Manicures/Pedicures for the girls. 4. Make homemade pretzels. 5. Picnic at the Arboretum. 6. New kitchen party. 7. Play tennis as a family. 8. Official Cuddle Day. 9. Playdate with Jack. 10. Go to Maggie Moos for ice cream. 11. Go to Alabama for Luke’s graduation. 12. Go to the Children’s Museum in Charlottesville. 13. Bryant gets to shoot his new bb gun. 14. Sleepover with Emma. 15. Buy new shorts for Summer. 16. Stay in our PJs all day and eat pancakes. 17. Go to the Children’s Museum
in Lynchburg. 18. Go to Bubblecake. 19. Dunkin Donuts for breakfast. 20. Get Bryant a Star Wars dart gun. 21. Go to Yogaville. 22. Drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway. 23. Get Alexandra a new bicycle. 24. Make homemade ├ęclairs. 25. Go to Pop’s for lunch. 26. Catch lightening bugs. 27. Make cantaloupe sherbert. 28. Fly kites. 29. Make flan. 30. Make tiramisu. 31. Make blueberry buckle. 32. Go to a baseball game. 33. Parents/kids water gun battle. 34. Have Billie over. 35. Have Mark over. 36. Rent Avatar. 37. Go to Smith Mt. Lake. 38. Mommy/Daddy overnight. 39. Go camping. 40. Go out to dinner as a family. 41. Watermelon Appreciation Day. 42. Cook on the grill. 43. Watch the sunrise. 44. Pick strawberries. 45. Go to the pool. 46. Go to the Seven Springs Farm CSA picnic. 47. Go to Issacs for lunch. 48. Invite the Fitzgerald’s for dinner. 49. Pick blueberries. 50. Make homemade sno cones. 51. Get together with Isabella. 52. Meet Daddy for lunch at Breadcraft. 53. Go to the Indian Festival. 54. Learn new harmonium song. 55. Scrapbook shopping day. 56. No Electricity Day. 57. Playdate with Bryant’s friends. 58. Go to dinner at Luigis. 59. Purchase fig trees. 60. Back to School shopping. 61. Mommy and Isabelle get massages. 62. Sleep outside. 63. Go for a family walk. 64. Make homemade ice cream. 65. Go tubing. 66. Go to the New River. 67. Toast marshmallows. 68. Jane and Tom for dinner. 69. Have the Bazaks over for dinner. 70. Paint pottery at Glazed Bisque-It. 71. Get summer reading material. 72. National Be Outside Day. 73. Make homemade sushi. 74. Go to Harvest Moon in Floyd. 75. Studio party. 76. Isabelle’s Italian lessons. 77. Make lemon poppy seed muffins. 78. Play in the rain. 79. Deal with the hill. 80. Go to Viva La Cupcake. 81. Play at Fishburn Park. 82. Cook all Day Day. 83. Movie Day. 84. Play baseball. 85. Peace Day. 86. Make biscotti. 87. Make cinnamon rolls. 88. Eat gelato. 89. Make snowman sundaes. 90. Watch the sunset. 91. Organize the living room. 92. Have Sarah and Kali over. 93. Ride the Smart Bus to Blacksburg. 94. Play catch football. 95. Mommy Appreciation Day. 96. Find 2nd Studio location. 97. Alexandra cook dinner. 98. Make truffles. 99. Guru Appreciation Day. 100. Have Fun!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Le Tour

The Tour de France begins tomorrow; I love (no – actually, I adore!) Le Tour.

Why?

Well, first of all, it’s like watching a travelogue; the scenery is spectacular; ancient mountains, verdant valleys; old and interesting cities. It is so beautiful to see all the people, lining the sides of the roads in Europe, cheering (perhaps having a little picnic – a plate of tapas, a glass of local vino, and – oh, watching a world-class cycling event) – well, it makes me dream.

I also recognize that it is a very serious, intense, mind-boggling athletic event.. In the US, our sports heroes play a great football or baseball game; a (possibly) whopping two hours of sport.

Ha.

Le Tour? Goes about a month; this is not a “show up for a couple hours, party later” event. This is a pilgrimage; a life-changing shift; a tragedy, a comedy; a time to die, or a time to live; each and every day; for 24 days.

Like a magnet, it pulls me in.

It is so much like real life; you are biking hundreds of miles; no idea whether some idiot has thrown glass on the course; perhaps some child, cheering you on, accidently catches your handlebar with their souvineer mussette (Lance!); some riders are there to make a mark on an individual day; some are there to prove their climbing ability; yet others, their endurance.

Where do you fit in?

This is all so much like life.

Some people are here to make a bold, large statement; some others are just trying to make it through the day; some would prefer a random moment of celebrity; perhaps some are just doing their job; others strive on, have their eyes on the prize (whatever THAT is).

So, what is the prize for you?

That is the ultimate question; what is it that you seek? Are you aiming for enlightenment? Connection to God? Alignment with all that is?

Do you just want not harm anyone else – just tiptoe through this life? Or, perhaps, you just want to make a lot of money, have a really nice house, hot husband, and cool car? (Which is – really – OKAY!).

Seriously; be honest.

Because God knows; the Universe knows; and whatever it is that you seek – it’s coming your way.

And if you can’t get it now – you’ll have to come back, and get it later.
Is that what you really – REALLY – want?

When I watch the Tour de France, I rationalize all that tv time by doing push ups and sit ups; folding laundry. It sometimes feels like wasted time.

And yet -- so many of us – we have no goal; no ideal; no concept of where we are going; we arrived on this planet, begIn to move through the stages – but have no idea what it is that we seek. The wasted time – it’s not just 24 days – it’s 24 months, 24 years – 24 lifetimes.

Let me tell you – you came here; you are seeking.

Set aside some time this month; watch the tenacious bicycle riders; as they ascend and descend, view the magnificent planet we reside on; go inside, to your equally magnificent inner universe; and decide.

Why are you here? What is it that you seek?

Shanti,

Jill

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Small Steps (part 2)

Small Steps, part 2 (with a few more to come!) Another list of small changes that make a big difference:

4. Start a journal. You know, like a diary. It doesn’t have to be detailed; it doesn’t have to be every day. But it is important to express yourself; to get what you are thinking and feeling OUT of your body and mind. A journal helps you to see the patterns in your life; to see the recurring, cyclical nature of things. It helps you to figure out who you are; what you want; and where you’re going. To set goals, and measure growth. If you have time to watch tv; time to fiddle around on Facebook; you have time to journal. Start today.

5. Eat less meat. I’m not asking you to adopt a sprouts-and-rice diet here. Just to look at how high up the food chain you are eating at each meal. There is no dispute – the more meat you eat, the more resources are used. Look at your week of meals – breakfasts, lunches, dinners, snacks. Can you switch out even two meals a week to something without meat? Skip the chicken sandwich in the drive through and pack a hummus sandwich. Order pizza without the pepperoni or sausage. Two meals a week over an entire year – that would save a lot of cows (and a lot of cow poop), my friends.

6. Be pro-active about your health. What does that mean? It means working towards staying healthy, instead of waiting to get sick. It’s kinda like doing the dishes; you maybe don’t feel like doing them right away, but when you let them sit, everything gets all dried up and stuck; and it takes so much more time and effort to get them clean again. Same goes for your body.

Try going for a monthly massage – it’s not just a feel-good rubdown for the spa and tennis set – it moves lymph which aids your immune system; it helps to relieve stress (the cause of a great number of illnesses and diseases); helps to keep you aware of what is happening in your body – I could go on and on here. I go once a month – WAY less expensive than getting sick.

Getting regular acupuncture treatments works well for me, too – it’s like an energy tune-up every month. If I feel a cold, sinus infection or sore throat coming on, I make an appointment for acupuncture right away and head it off at the pass – one visit is usually less expensive than whatever prescription I would need if I let it get really bad – that doesn’t even include the cost of an regular doctor's office visit (or is it actually an office minute . . . .).

Talk to your doctor or naturopath about what supplements you should take. Maybe speak with a dietician or ayurvedic specialist to determine what foods are best for you and your body type. Everyone’s body is quite different; and you might need more protein, or less dairy – take the time and figure it out!

And, for heavens sake, get off your butt and move around every day. Take the steps; park far away from the store; do some yoga; crank up some music and dance; take up a sport; do push ups and sit ups while you watch tv. Unless you some day want to be CONFINED to that Lazy-Boy chair, get OUT of that Lazy-Boy chair.

Shanti,

Jill

Friday, June 25, 2010

Responsibility

There was recently an article in the paper about how emergency rooms are now seeing just as many patients with prescription drug overdoses as patients with illegal drug overdoses.

It’s a blurry little line, I guess.

It reminded me of an experience I had back after my youngest child was born. He was my third baby in five years; I was nursing him; and true, I had my hands full. But I felt extra tired; really lethargic; my hair was turning gray really fast; I was constipated all the time; and the idea of being intimate with my husband sounded like the most insane idea ever.

I was not myself; and I didn’t know why.

There are always symbols around us from the Universe, from our higher selves, that are trying to show us the way, and one day, as I stood at the pharmacy counter waiting for a prescription for one of my children, I noticed a little card. It said across the top “Do You Have Hypothyroidism?” It went on to list 10 symptoms of the autoimmune disease. I had 8 of the 10.

So I went home and called my doctor; made an appointment; and when I saw him, explained that I had seen this card; that my grandmother had been hypothyroid; and asked to be tested.

He looked at me kindly, and inquired about my symptoms; asked if I had gained any weight. I said yes – there seemed to be a good five pounds that I couldn’t beat off my body, even though I was doing yoga daily, and was strictly monitoring my diet. He said “Come back to me when you gain 30 or 40 pounds; you’re just a little depressed. You have three small children, you’re not getting enough sleep. You need a little something to take the edge off – I’ll prescribe you an antidepressant.”

If it had not been for my yoga practice; if I did not know my body intimately; know the state of my mind, I would have probably just taken the prescription. But I DID know my body, and I DID know my mind – I had suffered from depression as a teenager so I knew I was NOT depressed. Something was really wrong with me, and it wasn’t just a case of the blues.

I stood my ground (which at the time, was unusual for me); he agreed to test me; and called within days to say “Good diagnosis, doctor.” The normal range was 0-5. My level was 55.

I shudder to think what would have happened had I simply taken that prescription for an antidepressant; as the lack of thyroid hormone slowly set off a cascade of problems, and the antidepressant covered up some of my symptoms, like a bandaid covering a festering sore.

My thyroid still doesn’t work, though I have been able to get my hormone dosage lowered through acupuncture and going upside down every day.

But how many other people – women especially – have been placed on these medicines; these mind and body altering drugs -- when in fact, they are seriously ill?

Part of this coming cycle is to bring us back to being responsible for ourselves; to stop leaving it up to experts, to doctors, to politicians, to religious leaders – to others – it is up to YOU to take care of you; your health, your finances, your spiritual well-being; your community, your nation, your planet.

It is time to stop the cycle of looking at the people in charge and simply throwing up our hands and saying “geez – look what they’ve done!” as you shake your head and walk away.

It is time to step up. To take responsibility. To seize your power, your creativity, your wisdom; and do the work.

Shanti,

Jill

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

To My Children's Teachers


To My Children’s Teachers

Dear Teachers:

Hello everyone. You’ve had a week or more to finally relax for the first time since (literally) last year. School is out; time for a break. Except for those of you (most of you) who continue to work in the school system through the Summer, or take on additional jobs, extra work or tutoring to make a wage sufficient to raise a family.

My children were in grades 6, 4 and 1 this past year. All big kids now; especially the middle school child. And what a wake-up call for Mommy it was.

I recall a dear friend telling me that once they were out of preschool, it was all over; school just wasn’t fun any more. Surprise! -- she was right.

Most days, I have no idea what has happened to my children for eight hours of their life. I’m lucky to get the tiniest nugget of information. I can pump them (Who did you sit with at lunch? Did you have any substitutes? How did your test go? What was the best part of your day? What was the worst? ), though it usually yields just the facts, and not the big (or more important, little) picture.

Even if you’ve written a carefully prepared newsletter; a blow-by-blow description of the entire month; I usually get it about two weeks after you sent it home, if at all.

This year, all my children had really amazing teachers; it made my life so much easier.

It is not always the case.

So, I want you to know that I appreciated your hard work. That I noticed that the email reminder you sent us about school activities was prepared and sent over the weekend at 10:00 pm. That you are trying to teach some children who come to school unprepared, unfed, and unloved. That somehow you are to conquer all their personal dramas (and sometimes, their family’s dramas); and not only teach them to the best of your ability, but teach them a laundry list of specific things determined by some person in an office somewhere who possibly has never even met a child under the age of 16.

I want you to know that I think the SOLs are ridiculous; and that if your students don’t all pass, that we parents realize it is not all your doing; that it is not a reliable barometer for you as a teacher.

That I realize so many of these children have no pencils; no paper; no tissues; and that more often than not, you dig into your own pockets to provide these things.

I want you to know that I appreciate your creativity; your patience; that you try to include fun, interesting, hands-on learning activities – even though the system does not reward such activities, and could care less if you went to the trouble.

I especially appreciate when you try to broaden their horizons; instill a love of learning. The system would prefer they be automatons that automatically repeat to you pat, memorized answers. True learning does not necessarily occur in such a system, and I do wish for them to love to learn.

In preschool it was so easy to say a quick thank you – to send a little note; a bag of homemade muffins; some flowers from the yard. To catch a glimpse of the teacher’s face and see whether it had been a good day or a – “Good Lord! Please, please! Take this child AWAY!!!” day. Now, its more complicated; elementary volunteering is pretty easy, and gave me some eye-opening insights into what you had to work with. [Whoa.]

The middle school teachers – they probably couldn’t pick me out of a lineup.

So to all my children’s teachers – and to teachers everywhere – an encouraging hug; a moment of gratitude. These few days that you have time to catch your breath, and review the year – they might leave you feeling unappreciated; unhappy; unfulfilled.

Please; please don’t give up on those children; even when our society gives up on you.

Shanti,

Jill

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Small Steps (part 1)

Sometimes you want to make changes to your life; improve your diet, be more environmentally conscious; etc., etc.

But change can be hard; sometimes the status quo, even if we know it’s wrong, it just feels so right.

This is part one of a series of blogs on little changes you can make to help yourself and (we are all connected, you know) others. A little shift in habits; a little shift in attitude; can go a long, long way. Three small steps for this week; give one (or more) a try:

1. No more soda. Stop buying it, stop drinking it. It is an addictive, chemical concoction, stored in a plastic bottle; there is no upside here.

If you truly love soda, then begin to limit your consumption; cut it in half to start. After that, maybe switch to a more natural, glass bottle product like the Izze brand of juice drinks; or find some fabulous brewed root beer at your local food co-op. If you check around, you can even find Coca-Cola that is actually made with real sugar instead of chemicals.

Will switching be more expensive? Absolutely. Try to lower your consumption, and that will help to lower the cost. Even then, it is much less expensive than getting diabetes or any of the other diseases that can be attributed to some of the ingredients in soda.

And for heaven’s sake, please stop buying the diet version of anything; the chemicals in those sodas are BANNED in Europe; they are PROVEN cancer-causing agents. For more on this, check out the book Skinny Bitch. [But beware; the book is an absolute cuss-fest (the title is tame compared to the book)]. There is a ton of information in that book about how some very toxic chemicals are permitted into our food supply.

2. Get over having a perfect lawn. What is wrong with a few bare patches and dandelions sprouting up in your front yard? When you start seeking that level of control and perfection in anything, you are walking – no, running -- down the path to unhappiness. The chemicals in the “weed and feed” you pick up at your local home improvement store are seriously toxic; they harm wildlife and domesticated animals – you should not have your children walking barefoot on them.

Bees are dying off in huge numbers in this country right now, and it is no wonder; let some clover grow in your lawn for what bees are left. Remember, no bees, no food.

Another huge reason to let go of your chemical lawn; when it rains, all those chemicals pour into the ground, into your local drain system – into our rivers and the oceans – and your drinking water, too. Great article in this month’s Men’s Health magazine about it. One of the chemicals in your standard bag of weed and feed? A chemical that was used in Agent Orange. Enough said.

3. Bring your own bag; everywhere. Now, I know I’m going to post this and next week forget my bags at Kroger and have someone behind me in line going “Uh huh, there’s Little Miss Yoga getting her groceries in plastic bags.” I forget, too; or I go in with one bag and the intention to buy three things and leave with a cart filled with stuff. We’re not aiming for perfect; we’re going for improvement. Begin to cultivate the habit of reusable bags; I keep mine in the front seat of my car and try to take them with me – to the hardware store, to the clothing store – everywhere, not just to the grocery. The other option is when you are getting something little you can carry – just say “no bag please.” You know the day is coming when they will charge us for those bags – it is already that way in Europe. So train yourself now.

Little, everyday things. That is what creates a life. Create your life consciously.

Shanti,

Jill

Monday, June 7, 2010

Indulgence

Hey, anyone else leaning hard on their crutches?

You know – that stuff you do that gets you through the day, that you know isn’t the best for you, but you rationalize. Too much shopping; over-eating or junk food; alcohol; cigarettes; drugs, prescription or otherwise; zoning out in front of some kind of screen. You feeling it?

Me, too. One of the Niyamas in yoga is “tapas” meaning austerity; self-discipline; literally “heat” or fervency; the ability to withstand hunger, heat; pain and fear; and stick with your practice.

Lately for me “tapas” has been more like the Spanish translation –a plate of cheese and crackers and a couple glasses of wine. Geez.

I am feeling so desperately imperfect; so absolutely human. Like my “get-up-and-go” got up and . . . . crawled away.

One of my teachers says the following: cigarettes block anger; alcohol blocks fear; pot blocks sadness; and coffee blocks everything. Um, hey --- you seen the line outside Starbucks lately? OKAY.

What are we all blocking?

Well, seriously, refer back to several of my previous blogs; this is a difficult period of existence; even those of us that understand that we CHOSE to be her are saying . . . . . “um, WHAT?”

Was talking to a friend recently – an evolved friend, a tuned-in friend; a trust-you-with-my-children friend, and she said – “I don’t think I could do without my crutches right now – everyone I know is really leaning on their indulgences.”

I agree with that statement; and I don’t judge anyone, or their choices, or their pathways. There’s a quote that goes something like this: “Be kind to everyone; for we are all fighting an epic battle.” So true.

But, please – work hard not to indulge your masking, your numbing, your ignoring. At the same time, don’t be too hard on yourself. According to yogic thought, we chose to be here on this planet; at this time, for this moment in history – the curriculum in this school for the soul is about to ramp up. Stay flexible, open and adaptable; ready to let go of old ways of thinking and doing.

The energy this coming week will help us all to begin to move forward; note the dates of June 8, 12, 26 and July 11; lots of planetary energies are coming together.

For me, this week “tapas” moved back to its Sanskrit definition; and I was able to jumpstart my practices. Meditating daily, renewed my asana practice, eating better, etc. It felt easier to do the right things.

Hopefully, you too will cultivate “tapas.” The heat, the fervency to do the great work that must be done. We can be there for each other – to strengthen our resolve when we falter; to remember what we came here for; and to remind each other that we can have faith, or we can have fear; we cannot have both.

Blessings, shanti,

Jill

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Staples

I was shopping at my local Staples today for paper. At the register, my favorite cashier. A kind, gentle man who is from India. It seems like he is ALWAYS there; that he is ALWAYS smiling; and that he is ALWAYS patient. I have seen people be; well, let’s say I have seen people be less patient with him than he is with them. He speaks with a thick but melodious, clipped accent.

From the first time he helped me, we’ve discussed yoga. Brief exchanges about the Studio; about the logo and it’s similarities to Laxshmi (Goddess of wealth and prosperity). Usually our conversations are quickly ended by the arrival of the next customer.

“You still doing the yoga?” he intones, noticing my Uttara shirt. I’m still not sure he understands that I teach at the Studio. “Yes, always” I reply.

Today there is no line of people behind me; he becomes animated, using his hands as he speaks. “The yoga, it is very good! It helps with everything!” He pauses, searching for words. “You do it every day, and you have no tension. “ Again he stops, searching in his mind for the translation to continue. “The . . . . diabetes, heart disease – it helps with these” he says. “Men can do it too, it helps with the tension.”

“Yes,” I reply, “I try to tell my students.” He’s not listening as he continues. “It is wonderful, it, it – it helps with everything -- you tell them, tell them these things.”

Just yesterday, I decided to look for space for a second studio location. So, in this moment, it doesn’t feel like I’m talking to the guy at Staples. It feels like I’m talking to God.

“Yes,” I reply with a smile.

“I will tell them.”

Shanti,

Jill

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Alabama


Long time, no blog – so sorry loyal readers.

It is a difficult cycle; a lot of choices; for you, too, I am certain.

Just returned from Alabama; a few days inland, and a few days on the Gulf Coast. Let me tell you – when oil hits the shores of the Gulf Coast, it will be a crying, criminal shame. Those are some pristine white beaches. We were in Orange Beach, Alabama -- lots of natural grasses, birds, dolphins, fish; no big, invasive boardwalk. It’s not an East Coast beach, to the extent I even know what I’m talking about. But seriously; when the oil comes – harm will come to people, to businesses – to entire ways of living. The true tragedy is that LIFE will be suffocated, on every level.

We were on a family trip; most of my family had no interest in the actual beach. We were at a lovely, upscale resort; several pools, hot tubs, saunas – one of those floaty “lazy river” things – it was a take your cooler, spend the day type of place.

We had to take a special shuttle to even reach the beach area; serious, over-a-mile pilgrimage-if-you- walked; even with the little resort shuttle, it was a LONG walk down a wooden bridge, and even longer to the shore.

Our first day on the actual beach, we arrived mid-morning; at most a dozen other humans in sight; fine, white sandy beaches. A big drop off from the flat “hang-out” area of the beach into the “up to your knees” area of the water. There was like a shelf – and it was filled with seashells. Handfuls of shells, whole-perfect and beautiful shells; it felt so magical.

Our regular beach is Virginia Beach – a family beach, a commercial beach – truth be told there would be no beach except they dredge it up every few weeks and plunk more sand on the shore. It is lovely, clean, fun – but so different from this little area of the Gulf Coast.

We dropped our snacks and towels and walked into the beautiful blue-green ocean – calm current, a small little shelf loaded with shells. The occasional small school of fish; these interesting clam-like creatures that washed up on the shore and then uprighted themselves and disappeared into the sand.

My daughter brought me a small, pure black spiral shell. My very favorite – I love the spiral, a representation of the Universe. I pondered it’s perfection; the smallness; the very perfect pointed tip, unbroken by the strength of the water. But as I looked, a small, black something emerged – only slightly – clam looking, nothing with eyes, but yet alive.

I called her back and showed my daughter “Look – it’s beautiful, but it is still someone’s home.” There was no hesitation. “Oh, I will take it back” she said. And she quickly took it from my hands, and tossed it as far into the ocean as she could.

We, as a society, have not done right by the waters or by the inhabitants of this planet that cannot speak. But this child, she intuitively does the right thing. It gives me hope in the face of unspeakable destruction.

What can we do now? You and me – thousands of miles from this disaster, feeling helpless and hindered – no way to fix or change? What can WE do?

We can pray; we can meditate. We can send blessings to the Mother Earth and to the very floor of the oceans; we can ask the oil to recede; we can ask the wildlife to be blessed and spared. Never underestimate the power of your intention; never underestimate the power of your prayer.

You are powerful beyond your imagination; if enough of us think it true, and it shall be.

Shanti,

Jill

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Transition

mommy’s friend
kind generous
talking giving loving
a very kind person
smile give comfort
friend

This haiku was written by my daughter to my dear friend on Thursday, April 15, 2010.

Last week, she left her body; transitioned. In our simple language, she died.

It was a long process. She was suffering.

This life; it was not simple for her. My knowledge is limited; I knew her for such a brief time; but I know that it could have appeared to be a fairy tale from the outside, at least to a point. The reality is more complex; like most of us, the edges are rough.

From the outside looking in, the view is probably a bit more scenic than from the inside looking out.

I always remember the adage “never judge a person until you walk a mile in their moccasins.” Not sure I’d have made it a half a mile in her shoes, even if they were certainly more stylish than mine.

My friend had MS – multiple sclerosis. A confusing, cruel disease that targets middle age, type “A” women. The best, brightest; the ambitious go-getters.

Sometimes, it preys on the rest of us, too. Karma, using my world view. But that view doesn’t make the reality any easier.

I only got to know her after the disease had progressed; she was in a wheelchair, and there was little prospect of her leaving it behind. As we spent time together, the stories we exchanged helped to create a more complete picture of her life before MS. An artist, sculpter; runner; mother; amateur chef; skier; friend; seeker; gardener. A person not unlike myself.

The poem written above; it’s so beautiful. My daughter uses the word “kind” twice; very accurate. In the poem above, I changed her name to “Mommy’s Friend” – she was always private. Her soul glowed (and glows) with a kind generosity that knows no limits; a gentleness that is palpable.

She has taught me many things, even though I was supposed to be her teacher.

She is always more interested in talking about me and what is happening in my life than her own drama. She is full of questions about my children, my husband, the yoga studio. Even in intense pain; dealing with frightening symptoms; a body that doesn’t respond, and often rebels; weeks/months/years without a descent night’s sleep -- she smiled, she moved forward; embraced the day. She never completely surrendered to the fear.

I will remember certain moments. Amazing meals that she cooked for friends from her wheelchair. Always inviting my children to come along when I worked with her -- to swim in her pool, watch tv, play with her pets. How much she enjoyed talking about her son and daughter; the great joy she took in her magnificent garden.

Helping her out of her wheelchair to stand, for just a few seconds at the end of a session, she would gaze down at me and say “I forget how tall I really am.”

There was more to her presence than her height -- she has a regal bearing; a goddess vibe; with the true, genuine kindness and softness of a saint.

But I bet she’d argue that description.

She has encouraged me and given me much more strength than I was ever able to give to her.

I went to do some breathwork with her, to help her rest; she was on new meds, too tired to talk. The soft, sad hiss of the oxygen system groaned on. But for a brief, beautiful moment, she opened her eyes wide. Her voice is weak, soft, strained. But her eyes glowing and vibrant. “I’m sorry,” she said, “but I’m so tired.”

Yes, my dear one. Rest. Sleep. Dream.

Be free of the mechanical chair; free of unresponsive limbs; free of a world so lacking in understanding.

Your presence and strength, they are a benediction to me.

Those who are truly united, are never, ever far apart.

Shanti, shanti, shanti-h,

Jill

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Hair Raising


I’m not much of a girlie-girl. Never have been, even when I wanted to be.

Oh, I can dress up; did the pantyhose, high heel, makeup thing for years. But it doesn’t feel very natural these days. Pantyhose reminds me of sausage casing (eeeww!), high heels unground my femurs and make me feel awkward, and makeup just takes too long to put on AND get off.

I do make an effort; only because it makes me feel better in my own skin; get my hair colored by my talented friend Julia, who is a magician. Put on a little mineral makeup to smooth out the skin; draw on some eyebrows, since my thyroid gland decided to make them start falling out; and put on some lipstick, so you can discern my lips from the rest of my face.

A couple weeks ago it was suddenly quite warm here – temps in the 80’s! Heading to take a yoga class, I decided it might be a good idea to (a) wear short pants and (b) shave my legs for the first time since, oh, last October.

Was bending over in parsvottanasana, breathing deeply. Glancing at my shin, I realized that what I had done was given my leg a Mohawk. Nice inch-wide racing stripe of LONG hair still left all the way up my shin.

It was not much comfort to do the pose on the other side and realize I had a matched set.

Lovely.

So this tells you a little bit about me as I talk about the hair on my head. I’m attached to my hair; I’m not one of those people who would look even remotely attractive without it. Been coloring it forever; it’s one of the few things I do spend any time or money on. And, wow, the last couple years, it has started to really change.

I think that thyroid gland has a little to do with it, but so does heredity and age. Breathing hard on 43 here; gotta expect a few changes to the body.

A year or so ago, I started to grow these white hairs on my head. Seriously white; glowing white; don’t-take-no-color white. And they are thick, coarse hairs. Some are straight as a board, others like a corkscrew; others go straight and then veer off at an angle. I call them “white wiry witch hairs” (no offense to witches, please). I would pull them out.

Now, as anyone can tell you, that works for a while. But when you reach a certain critical mass of hair, it becomes a problem. When they would grow in, they would all be the same length; and these are gravity-defying hairs. Sticking straight out, or up, depending upon their location on my head. I looked like one of those stick figure people with the little lines waving out from their head.

Oiy.

So, I decided the only thing to do was suck it up, and let them grow out; hoping that perhaps length would weigh them down, tame them.

Ha -- not so; these are untameable hairs; defiant hairs. Rebel without a cause hairs.

Interestingly, I am growing to like these quirky hairs, and I think it may be because I am growing to become more like them.

I am a lot less tameable than I used to be; definitely a little more defiant; tend to speak my mind and worry a little less about what others think. I have a tendency to rebel against the rest of those compliant, little lying down hairs. Oh, you can knock me down; but I spring back up pretty quickly.

I am apt to go one way, and suddenly, go another; sometimes I walk a straight, strong path to my goals, and other times, it’s a lot more like a spiral. I don’t mind being the one who is forging ahead, finding my own way.

I am more aware that my essence is colorless, pure; at the very core, unchanging and unchangeable. You and I, we may not look the same, but our essence is exactly the same. Hair that is wet may look different than hair that is dry; a pony tail is different than a buzz cut; there are different colors, textures and styles -- but at the end of the day -- hair is hair is hair.

I’m making peace with my white wiry witch hair; after all, I have earned these uppity hairs. Bring on more white, more gray, why not? Maybe it will become the beautiful silver or white color of my parents; or perhaps gorgeous gray like my friend Joyce. When it reaches a certain stage of evolution, hopefully I won’t feel the need to pretend it’s still blonde.

My hair -- and maybe me, too -- can be exactly who we are.

Shanti,

Jill

Monday, April 26, 2010

Sing

I sing a song of sorrow
Of pain, of loss, of separation
A song of desperation
Soul slowly comes unchained
A song of moving forward
Of change and ground that’s shifting
Her spirit, soul is drifting
It is time to leave this place
I sing a song of lessons
Of teaching and of patience
Non-grasping and acceptance
Hard lessons not in vain
I sing a song of gratitude
Memories whisper in my mind
Her lessons hard, but also mine
Goodbye my friend, my teacher.

Monday, April 19, 2010

RECALCULATING


Recently my husband and I were able to slip away for an overnight to celebrate his birthday. A leisurely drive, dinner and whole night without the children (22 hours, to be precise – and, by the way, it was FABULOUS).

A great opportunity to break out his new GPS system for the car – one of those little things you plug in and it tells you how to get wherever you are going.

So, I plugged in the addresses, and off we went. Snow still covering the ground, beautiful mountain terrain; grown-up conversation without any interruptions. Aahhhh, lovely.

We’re about half way to our destination, and our stern little school-marm guide tells us to make a right, onto a highway. But my husband, who has been to this town before, says “No . . . . that’s not right, that’s not going to get us there the fastest way.”

Believe the husband (my best friend, father of my children, the most patient, loving man ever – and he’s driving) or our little faceless voice?

Husband. All the way.

So, instead of right, we go left. And she is NOT happy about it.

“RECALCULATING” . . . she says – (sternly, I might add).

And we continue our trek. And she keeps interjecting. “Turn right” . . . . “turn left” . . . . But these directions make no sense in light of our current path. My husband, he’s been here before – he knows where we are going. I’m just happy to be with him, along for the ride. We keep ignoring . . . she keeps uttering . . . “RECALCULATING.”

At about the fifth “RECALCULATING” it becomes a running joke – we burst into laughter every time she says it (which is, often). But it comes into my mind that this is a very precise metaphor for my life.

Graduate high school, go to business school, get the exact job I wanted. And it stinks. RECALCULATING.

Fall in love; move away; job of my dreams; but my love, he has no work. So we move. RECALCULATING.

Wake up one morning and realize, I love the idea of this man, but not the man. He is cruel; childish; our whole life is a sham. I am going to be 25 years old and divorced. RECALCULATING.

Roanoke. Who wants to live in Roanoke? Meet an amazing man; fall desperately, totally in love. Marry; have 3 children and decide that this is a wonderful place to raise a family, and a beautiful place to live. RECALCULATING.

Husband has a great job and can support us. I’m going to be a stay-at-home Mom. Raise the children, bake the best cookies; have a fabulous, clean, organized home. The perfect garden. And then literally, one day, I wake up and say – “seriously, this is it?” RECALCULATING.

Take a yoga teacher training. Going to teach yoga only to children – I’m not going to teach adults. Teach a volunteer class to a group of amazing women; and decide to not only teach adults, but open a yoga studio – (seriously?!). RECALCULATING.

And so it goes. This is my life. Making decisions, choices; and then changing the rules. Being flexible, open; going with the flow, but swimming like hell. it’s working for me right now.

My little voice, it’s not sweet and sexy, like my husband says his Bluetooth’s voice is in his car – but it’s not as stern as our little GPS lady. It’s a kinder, gentler voice; sometimes it is mine, and sometimes it is my teachers. It offers guidance, suggestions, directions.

But at the end of the day, it’s ALL on me.

RECALCULATING.

Shanti,

Jill
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