Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Look Beneath the Surface

Simplicity, patience, compassion.
These three are your greatest treasures.
Simple in actions and thoughts, you return to the source of being.
Patient with both friends and enemies,
you accord with the way things are.
Compassionate toward yourself,
you reconcile all beings in the world.” ~ Lao Tzu

A woman I randomly went to today to cut my hair was talking to me about the lottery. I guess it's up to $2 billion or something right now.

Anyway, as she was cutting my hair, she said if she won, she wouldn't even know what to do with the money. She said she would likely save some, give some to her family and donate the rest to charity. She then said her 39-year-old son passed away four years ago to a cancer that is so rare, only one other man in the world had the same form of cancer. She said she would donate money to cancer research and other related charities.

Her story touched me ... as I'm sure it would anyone. And I'm not sure if she was just the type to tell that to anyone ... but something tells me she wasn't.

It got me thinking about how we never truly "know" most of the people we come into contact with every single day. That led me to think about this time of year and how easy it can be to only see the surface of it all ... to miss out on the depth beneath the snow ...

It's a bittersweet time of year in some ways. I mean, you have all the wonderful Christmas food and drink specials every where ... you have the warmth of holiday movies and songs, family, decorations, a hint of that old excitement many of us have experienced as a child.

But there is a much deeper level to this season as well.  It's a time of mixed feelings for a lot of people I know ... especially those who have lost someone close to them, like this woman who cut my hair. Or perhaps someone who is single for the first time in a long time ... or has been single for some time and is ready for more, but isn't there quite yet.

I've talked about in the past the strange phenomenon of feeling more alone in a crowded room than by myself. I think perhaps, for people who are alone or have lost someone or perhaps are just going through some tough times, the holidays could feel like a crowded room.

I don't bring all this up as a downer. I love this time of year in a lot of ways, but also can commiserates with having felt the above way for many years, too. And I guess where I'm going with this is sort of simple.

As we begin or finish up our shopping lists ... as we endure the long lines, the money stresses, the equally impatient or disgruntled shoppers around us ... as we go about our day-to-day lives in society right now, look a little bit closer at those you encounter. Especially the ones who are complaining most or seem dismissive, judgmental or altogether despondent. And as you look closer, keep in mind you haven't a clue what their lives are like, whether they're just having a bad day or whether they've just gotten the worst news of their lives.

You just never know.

Most people in this world are so "unconscious," they almost can't help themselves. But that doesn't mean we can't choose, every day, to become more and more conscious, to remember who we are and what we're truly about ... what our lives are truly about. You'd be amazing the ripple effect it can have, even if your kindness or patience simply makes another person's day a tiny bit easier ... or perhaps even coaxes a smile.

I have had some rough days in the past. And I can't tell you how much it affected me when a random person or someone unexpected extended kindness to me, without wanting a single thing in return. They hadn't a clue what my life was like, whether I was just being grumpy or impatient or whether I was projecting much deeper issues.

So, as we begin our day tomorrow and those that follow ... perhaps we can make it a point to look a little deeper at every person and moment that befalls us.

Because the truth is ... we never truly know what's beneath the surface.


Saturday, November 24, 2012

How Much Can Our Love Tell Us?

We accept the love we think we deserve. ~ Perks of Being a Wallflower.

A couple weeks ago, I went with my friend Katie to see the above movie. At one point, the main character is telling his teacher about the girl he is in love with, who is with a person who doesn't treat her that well. He asks the teacher why she is with him. The teacher looks at him, pauses a moment and simply says, "We accept the love we think we deserve."

This particular line, which is repeated again later, hit me pretty hard. There have been a few times my friends have asked me why I've chosen the kinds of "love" I've chosen over the years. Sure, the meaning of love is different for everyone, but when I think back on the many different kinds I've experienced over the last decade or so, some, not very healthy, others, seemingly "healthy" but not satisfactory, etc., it's made me realize that if I want a barometer on how I feel about myself or view myself, all I need to do is look at how I love and how I'm loved.

This is often a touchy subject, just like my post about "settling." It's different for everyone. But I will put this out there for, at the very least, food for thought. What kind of love do you have? What kind of love do you give? And what kind of love do you accept?

Pondering this might give you insight about yourself you never realized. I used to see women, when I was a teenager, who were treated horribly by men they were with, yet they stayed. Or men, who were cheated on constantly by their girlfriends or taken advantage of, used, etc. I never got it then. I get it now. It's as though you become a victim of yourself.

And this isn't just about significant others. It's about the kinds of people, situation, circumstances, treatment we either surround ourselves with or allow in general. Think about that a moment.

The reason, at least in my personal experience, I fluctuated in the kinds of love I've experienced, both in friendships and relationships, is because at those points in time, on some level, that is the kind of love I thought I deserved. The same can be said for the person opposite of me. Lord knows I've got my own not very easy to handle tendencies, to put it nicely ;-)

But nevertheless, that line is worth pondering I believe. It could give you more insight about yourself than you expected.


Thursday, November 22, 2012

Are You Truly Thankful?

“We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.”
~ Thornton Wilder

What is it to be thankful? Really.

I mean, we all say we are thankful for the people, things, opportunities, successes, loves, etc. in our lives, but there's a difference between "playing the role" of being thankful — listing all the things in our lives in a very ego-driven way — and truly feeling the deep seated peace complete and genuine gratitude brings.

An exercise that might help you understand what I'm talking about is one I did the other night during Yoga class. My teacher asked us to sit quietly and feel our energy sources (shakras). Without getting into all of that, in simple terms, feel the energy in our bodies, our fingers, toes, the crown of our heads and the spot right between the eyes (as some might be familiar with, the "third eye") ... our intuition.

She then asked us to think of three things we are most thankful for, but to not just think of them in terms of words or images ... but to FEEL them inside. 

So, today, find a spot, even for two to five minutes, close your eyes, feel your breath moving in and out and the energy inside you ... then begin to expand on that feeling to highlight all the things you are truly grateful for. For me, it was my health, my family and my friends.

When I felt my health, I actually felt my body alive, breathing, existing, being. And I imagined filling myself up with a white light of love and gratefulness for my body, heart, soul.

When I switched gears to my family, I felt them inside, my parents, brother, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins. I felt them as energy, connections, love ... extensions of myself. And I sent out more gratitude. Same with my friends ... I thought about the old connections I had, the ones who will stay with me always, even if they're not physically present. I thought of the new connections in my life, what they bring, how they nourish it in different ways. And then offered that affection and thankfulness to the universe.

There was never an ego thought about what I'm lacking, what I wish was different, etc. It's a acknowledgment, a "knowing" that everything I truly need is with me right here and now. Is inside me.

The best way for me to describe what thankfulness means to me is ... it's a feeling, almost overwhelming, of love, peace and appreciation that almost hurts, it's so strong. I try now not to infiltrate it with negative self talk such as "I don't deserve any of this," "I'm too lucky," etc. and try to leave my mind out of it.

The result is humility itself, pure and untainted, without the mind involved whatsoever.

So, as I help my mom prepare our meal today, staying ever present and offering appreciation to every piece of food from the earth that will, in turn, nourish my body, which will, in turn, keep me healthy and alive to emanate a different kind of nourishment, I will continue to not only feel thankfulness ... but be gratitude itself.

Imagine what the world would be like if we all were, every single day of our lives.

Happy Thanksgiving my friends <3


Sunday, November 18, 2012

Fingerprints of the Mind, Heart

Nothing fixes a thing so intensely in the memory as the wish to forget it. ~ Michel de Montaigne
Perhaps it's this time of year. It tends to breathe nostalgia for me. But I've been trying to formulate the concept of triggered memories ... the fingerprints those have left on our minds and hearts.

I wrote awhile back about the power of scent. How a smell can instantly take you back to a period in your life or a particularly intense moment, perhaps a childhood experience. As part of this "present moment awareness" practice, one of the things you do is observe your mind in a non judgmental way. Not an easy task for me.

In the self monitoring process, I am also paying attention to how intensely my mind and heart will connect when a memory is triggered. It's both fascinating and scary how powerful that line of connection is at times. It brings new respect for the mind, but also brings more perspective to gaining control of it, tempering its stressful impacts.

Because I have had moments in the past where a song came on or a scent assailed me and I nearly buckled in place by the intensity of the memory it triggered. The upside is when the memory is something positive (in the present) and it spreads through you like a warm, tickling mist. But tonight, I'm referring to the downside, when I'm feeling perfectly fine and something hits and suddenly, my heart is overcome with a deep, throbbing ache that seems to trickle through my veins.

My immediate reaction is to pretend it doesn't hurt or try to distract myself. After all, I know a lot of people who have said to me they're totally over things or triggers ... whether their eyes tell me something different or they seem genuine, I can only speak for myself here.

I used to be obsessed with "reclaiming" things, songs that trigger a memory of someone, locations, movies, authors, even food. In trying to "get over" a person or relationship, I thought, "Well, if I could just reclaim this and that and that, I'll eventually be over it all."

And while I've been removed from a couple deep seated relationships, one in particular, for awhile now ... yeah, that just isn't the case.

I'm realizing more and more that if I try to force such things, my mind and heart hold onto them even longer.

Sometimes, I used to even convince myself the more I do things (like listen to a song instead of shutting it off, even singing along, smiling, or watching a movie that hits a tender nerve, etc.) the easier it'll get. And it does get easier. I do find I reclaim bits and pieces of those things ... but the truth is, there are some people, experiences, moments that have left their fingerprints, not only on my mind, but my heart as well. And those just never quite go away.

The ones in my mind, trigger an image. The ones in my heart, trigger a feeling that powers through me as though I'm reliving that moment all over again.

I used to believe that made me weak, pathetic to admit that no matter how many times I hear a song or see a movie, I will always think of him or that one time or that feeling. But now, when it happens, I detach a bit from my mind and observe where it went and why, trying not to judge it, as though watching it as a neutral third party. I see now how a lot of those things my mind associates with my "identity." I'm that girl or I used to be or feel that way. Sure, I was that girl or I did feel that way, but those are all surface things.

And the recognition of that is freeing in many ways.

Memories don't make up who I am inside, what my essence is anymore than my fears and anxieties do. But I'm finding they do add color if they're honored. I've been so determined to rub those fingerprints out for so long, I've never just enjoyed the view through them. I've never just let them be, let the emotions they ignite run through me without resistance.

But the last few times I have, I've noticed a definite difference. In watching my mind, it stops feeding me the images ... and in feeling the emotions, they run right through me and out. So as the holidays approach ... and as winter dawns, perhaps we could all benefit from just "being."

After all, fingerprints are traces. Traces are evidence of movement.

And movement ... is life.


Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Breath of Winter Blues

Better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. ~ A Chinese proverb

When I was a little girl, I remember getting excited when the first snowfall hit. Perhaps it was anticipation of winter break, snow angels, snowmen and sled riding. Maybe it was the tingling excitement of knowing Santa was coming.

There is something magical about winter when you're a kid. The longer nights don't get to you then. The crisp air doesn't bite quite so much. Life is uncomplicated somehow. It's about Elmer's glue, markers and cardboard cutouts of Christmas trees. It's about winter boots, hot soup, running noses and Christmas cartoons and movies. It's about holiday music, fires, hot chocolate and decorating.

As a child, you are a clean slate in some ways ... you don't have past heartbreaks that suddenly resurfaces with the trigger of a memory. You don't have monthly bills, holiday prepping workloads,  presents to buy. Don't get me wrong, as I've grow older, there are still many magical and wonderful experiences to be had throughout winter. I've had some of my most memorable moments during those months.

But I've also had some of my darkest.

The interesting thing is, through self evaluation over the years and especially in the more recent ones, I've looked back at those years when I was younger and recalled all the times I would hear my mom crying in her bedroom or the bathroom. To provide context, my mom came to this country when she was 25 and essentially left her entire family in Romania to be in America and marry my dad, who is also Romanian, but whose family had moved here before he was born.

So, during the holidays, the sadness would hit her the hardest. But it was more than that, this was something that happened every year in the wintertime. I never understood then what was going on. I just remember hearing her and feeling such confusion and sadness. I never knew what to do. I just knew she was heartsick.

As I grew older, hit puberty (I was a late bloomer, so it wasn't until I was 14 or so) ... I began feeling this melancholy seep inside the moment winter crept in. Depression and anxiety run in my family, but I didn't "know" that until I was an adult. Knowledge has become power to me. My mom told me recently she should have maybe talked to someone back then, the way I had as a teenager and have been more recently. A lot of the things she suffered, that I've followed suit with, were things she didn't really talk about or deal with.

Anxiety and depression fluctuate in me. And despite this amazing Indian summer we have just had, I do feel winter's breath at my neck. But because I've been working through those fluctuations, have gotten help and have reconnected with the parts of myself that helped me find balance when I was at one of my lowest of lows as a teenager, I feel different this year. Not invincible to these things in me, but more aware of them and not "in danger" of them, if that makes sense. Kind of like, when you're a kid and you're afraid of your basement, but you know you have to go down there eventually ... and then you turn on the lights, and everything that was once scary seems completely benign.

When I was in counseling as a teenager, I remember telling my counselor then (which was a time when I suffered more from social anxiety than depression) that when I started not feeling depressed anymore — when I started meditating, doing Yoga, going to intuition seminars and became profounding in touch with that part of myself — there was a part of me that actually "missed" my depression. It had become such a constant companion, it felt abnormal not to feel it.

Sounds crazy I'm sure ... but now that I've been reading more about the mind/ego's role in our false identities, I realize that's what was going on. My mind and its identity fed on that depression, on that anxiety, on my bad experiences as a teenager and the ensuing years.

Same thing happened a couple years ago, pretty much up until recently. I would rise and fall, depending on what was ailing me. And when I would feel down, it would feel like an old friend coming to visit. It still does sometimes. However, now, instead of resisting how I'm feeling, I'm learning how to let it run through me, like air ... and more importantly, how to find the light switch. 

My mom, she resisted what "was" at that time. Her melancholy, missing her mom and sisters. She mourned them constantly and let her sorrow consume her. And then there were the times she would cry for no reason. I knew those times well. I still do sometimes. But little did I know, that light switch has been in me all along. And my mind, while threatened in some ways, is no longer calling the shots ... at least not the way it once did.

How do I know this? By the sense of peace I feel the moment I'm "present."

It's one thing to be present in emotion, it's another to be tortured or consumed by it. I'm sure you'll find me here many times this winter, channeling.

Feeling emotions is living, channeling them through writing or song or sketching is creation through living.

But turning on the light switch — that is true being.


Saturday, November 10, 2012

Animals: The Unspoken Language, How Our Pets Are Our Guides

Lots of people talk to animals.... Not very many listen, though.... That's the problem. ~Benjamin Hoff

As I look at Lakota and Bella, it dawns on me, they've both been in my life now for nearly a decade. It births reflection immediately and it makes me realize these pets have been my unit, have been at my side throughout some of the toughest years of my life thus far.

My dad used to tell me about the Hindu belief that animals are sacred ... and those in our lives, those we have with us, they are guides as well.

The question is, how often do we listen? How often do we just view our pets as our "kids" or as our companions, but forget to look deeper, to look at them as equal beings on this earth with a lot to teach us if we paid attention.

Sometimes, if I'm extremely stressed out, the moment I look in Lakota's eyes, or see his big smile and tongue hanging out as we're walking, I completely deflate. It's a feeling of ... "oh yeah, that's right, this is what it's all about, not all of that stuff, this right here."

When I was in Italy last year, my cousin, Nikki, came over to my parents' house where Lakota and Bella were being taken care of, to check on them. She said she sat down on the couch and they were around her and she instantly thought, "These pets are definitely Cassandra's pets."

She said she couldn't quite explain it, but everything about them, their energy, their eyes, personalities, made her automatically think of me.

That stayed with me ever since and in the more recent weeks, I've been seeing more and more of what she's saying. I think being in this new house and the positive, warm, energy here is part of it. We're all a bit more at ease than we were before. But it's more than that. Perhaps it's this newer state of mind I'm in these days. But as Lakota shows signs of his age (cloudy eyes, gray snout, stiffer muscles), I am making a point to cherish being "in the moment" with him more now than ever before.

And Bella, who, from day one in the pound, has looked at me like she's ALWAYS been with me, never fails to bring a smile, make me feel loved, show me wisdom and a bit of spunk, too. These pets have evolved as I have. When I first got them, I was getting ready to leave for college. It was a scary embarking for me at the time and while I had my boyfriend in tow then, it was still something I'd never done before — be away from my family for long stretches of time.

But having Lakota and Bella with me was like having family there in a way. They were unsure, a little nuts (Lakota, moreso, haha) and quirky, but then again, so was I (still am ;-)

Then the rough years hit upon graduation and the "real world." Lakota distanced himself from me a bit during that time. It was like, he didn't recognized me for awhile there, he was almost afraid or on edge whenever I'd be crying or upset or depressed. It was like he never knew what to do or how to help. But as I've come out of all of that and especially right now, he's at my side constantly ... it's like he's constantly in connection with me, with my energy, words, movements. Same with Bella, though she's always been her own cat in a lot of ways.

Over this last decade, Lakota has taught me patience, unconditional love, wisdom, appreciation for the little things, the peace and sacredness of the present moment, respect for all living creatures and nature, the art of selflessness, loyalty and non-judgement.

Bella has taught me about connection, independence, contentment in simplicity (such as lying on the floor in the sun), adventurousness, love, affection and wisdom. Felines can sometimes tell an entire story with just their eyes.

Next time you're sitting across or next to your dog or cat, make a point to just look at them, not with your mind, but with something deeper. If you can catch their eye, just look into them. You will be amazed at what you might feel, what you might see or hear.

For these reasons and so many more,  I am thankful for my guides. And each day moving forward, I plan to continue cherishing every moment I have with them.


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Words, Passion, Poetry

I would hurl words into this darkness and wait for an echo, and if an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight, to create a sense of hunger for life that gnaws in us all.  ~ Richard Wright

What is it about words ... it's so hard to explain sometimes, which seems like an oxymoron somehow. But the love affair began when I was a kid in elementary school, learning to write. I loved the feeling of my lead pencil pressed against the wide ruled, grainy paper. I loved how letters looked on a page and eventually, how a bunch of symbols had the power to tell an entire story.

As I grew older, I realized I not only liked writing, I loved being a vessel for something bigger than myself, something that had the potential to touch someone else, move them, ignite thought, feeling, inspiration. I would sit in my bedroom at night and just write ... short stories, poetry, lyrics. When I was in class, usually in the back corner, and my mind would wander, I'd often be penciling in a passage, a quote or poem.

Some of my friends joke with me about how I always use "big words" ... or ones less commonly used. How sometimes it's hard to follow me. To be honest, I've felt "misunderstood" or like the strange, kinda out there girl for most of my life. But there's something beautiful about breathing life into dusty words, like surreptitious, undulate, emanate, sinuous, enrapture ... just typing them now makes me a dozen emotions at once, shivering through me.

But just like in life and love, it's a delicate balance and lithe dance between complexities and simplicities ... between the big words and the beautifully simple ones.

Little did I realize, these moments of inspiration as a child and teen were akin to brief moments of enlightenment, of being completely, 100 percent present. I'd be so captured by a moment or experience, a feeling, I would feel every single layer of it, taste every possible flavor, inhale all of its scents and then absolutely have to write it down — like a painter who mixes the perfect colors together and then hungers for a blank canvas.

And now, while on this current path — which is quite different than the one I was during the last few years — I'm realizing all of those past moments, experiences, the feelings I had as a child, teenager, adult, the feelings I have now, they're all coming together in some beautiful symphony. It's kind of like meeting different parts of yourself, of your soul over the years — as though reading one chapter at a time, allowing each character, each plot to develop, deepen — and eventually coming face to face with yourself in your entirety.

I'm still discovering more. I'm pretty sure I always will be. And truth be told, part of me still struggles with letting go of old patterns of thinking, identifying with my mind, feeling, obsessing, fixating, yearning, wanting, needing, negative self talking, etc.

In the past, writing served as a channel, as a way to connect, as a way to bare my heart and soul. It still serves those purposes, but, where I once fed off my depression, inner turmoil, heartbreak, angst or desires, I now feed off of inspiration, movement, change, growth and harmony. Friction still happens and I know I can always put ink to paper when it does, but as I'm changing and growing, so are these aspects of myself — these gifts.

It's kind of like, the romantic in me still lives and breathes, but she's a different kind of romantic now. She's no longer as scared of losing herself in someone else. She's trusting in what she feels now, her hopelessness, is no longer.

Eyes, exquisitely perilous windows 
How delicately you pull each thread, unraveling your prey 
Guarded, inviting, vulnerable sanctuaries
Possessing the key to folly locks barring truth

Skin, intricately woven, veiling armor
How softly you betray history, bury secrets, exude essence
Scarred, feathery, responsive sheathing
Procuring the power to bruises and healing

Mouth, potently voluble hearth
How fervently you kindle flames, tasting life, drinking tears
Salty, saccharine, silken estuary
Harboring the chamber to breathing the soul


Monday, November 5, 2012

Truth Lies Within

Put your ear down close to your soul and listen hard. ~ Anne Sexton

Something in me has been restless for awhile now. When I went on my two day Yoga retreat a few weeks ago, the Yoga instructor and I were talking a bit about how I ended up there and how I've been reconnecting with a lot of parts of myself I'd lost before, etc. She was saying how one thing will often lead to another and I just have to suspend my mind and follow my instincts ... and enjoy the journey.

On a whim last week, I decided to go online and look for local Yoga teacher training classes. Then I stumbled upon Bhumi Yoga Center, which is in Columbia Station. It's a trek, but then I noticed they happened to be having an 8-hour long workshop this past Sunday. I didn't even think twice to be honest. I knew I would be going.

Turns out, Bhumi, which means "Mother Earth" in Sandskrit, the director of the center (her real name is Harriet Russell) knew of my father's Yoga guru, Alice Christensen. When we went around the circle of everyone there, they all thought it was very cool my father was the one who introduced me to Yoga and meditation as a teenager. Though truth be told, I'd been exposed to it even as a child, when I would see my father in our den kneeling and breathing slowly. I didn't understand what he was doing then, but I remember feeling a sense of strange mystery inside, an intrigue that slowly built on itself as I grew older.

I gravitated to "nature" oriented religions as a teenager, like Paganism, Wicca, etc. that incorporated the elements and meditation. Once studied, they weren't very taboo seeming at all. It wasn't the religious aspects, per se, I was drawn to. It was the common denominator in all of them ... energy. Energy, nature, balance and respect.

As I let my ego, my issues, my bad or scarring experiences and negative "self talk" shape the following years, those elements faded to my peripheral. Eventually, they weren't even in sight anymore. But now they're front and center again. And what's more ... it's not taking effort to make things happen. They're just ... happening. It's both scary and elating.

Sunday, we did Yoga, meditation, Pranayama, learned how to perform Shiatsu massages, energywork, Polarity Therapy, Chakra Balancing, Stillpoint Cranial-Sacral Techniques and other practices for energy gain and healing. Reiki was also mentioned again, which only emphasized my interest to learn more about it.

Bhumi said a lot of things that hit, but one thing she said coincided with every other "message" I've been receiving lately:

"The mind is never in the present. Your mind will never tell you the truth." She then pointed to her chest and stomach. "Your body is in the present. Your body, what you feel inside, your soul will always tell you the truth. Outside teachers will give you tips and suggestions. But your best teacher will always be inside."

I'd mentioned this once before, but as a child, I used to feel this intensely overwhelming wave hit me, usually when I was lying in bed at night between night terrors. I recall trying to describe it to my dad in his workshop in the basement as a kid, that it felt like I had something big waiting for me, or inside me ... something calling to me, but I didn't know what. I'm still not entirely sure what yet ... but I think this is all part of it.

Suffice it to say, my inner guidance is currently pulling me to Yoga teacher training and certification. So, I'm going to "go with it" and kindly cage my mind in the process. If it's meant to happen, it will.

And if it does ... I'm curious to see what and who it leads to next.

So, next time you close your eyes, perhaps you should try to listen to that inner voice. Maybe you'll be surprised what it whispers.