Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Family, Crying and Unconditional Love

Saturday afternoon, we arrived in Fagaras, a city near my mom's village, Vistea de Jos. My cousin, Rosmina, who has been my generous host this trip, grew up in Fagaras with her sister, Anca.

My aunt Dorina greeted us with so much enthusiasm and eagerness to please, I can't fully capture it here. But I'll try.

When you walk into a Romanian household, especially here, you're hugged and kissed on both cheeks and you're automatically taken to a seated area with a table ;-) And then you're fed. But you're not just offered what we would consider normal hors d'oeuvres. You're given a few courses. You're given wine too, maybe some Romanian liqueur. And of course, some coffee.

You're asked numerous times if you're doing OK, if you've had enough, if you're tired, cold, need anything at all, if you've eaten enough, want more, and so on.

It can be overwhelming, but in a wonderful way. At least to me. Because it's not that way in the U.S., at least not in general. My mom is this way and I always used to yell at her to quit being so stressed out with guests and so pushy with food. But I get it now. It's custom. It's just the way it is here. At least with my family :-)

But here's the part that got to me ... and got to me hard.

When I walked into my family members' homes (I visited quite a few), I was greeted by such immense warmth, love and ... I can't even quite place it, maybe an admiration, as though being looked over, looked through, studied and embraced all at once. I haven't been here to see some of these family members in 18 years. I've grown quite a bit from 11-year-old, tom-boy, running after the animals Cassandra.

I visited my mom's brother-in-law, Demetriu. He'd had a stroke not long ago and was not able to talk much or move much. I walked into the room, he saw me and he started to cry. Maybe it's because he saw my mother's face in me. Maybe it's because he remembered me at 11 years old, riding his horse. Maybe he just was sad he couldn't greet me properly. But it went straight through me.

We couldn't stay long. And it occurred to me I might never see him again. So I grabbed his hand, I squeezed it hard, said goodbye ... exhaled and we left.

We then visited my mom's sister, Tori, in Victoria. She was considered the "Black Sheep" in the family, the one who was a bit rebellious, was always funny and always made everyone laugh, especially my mom and I. She hugged me long and hard and cracked jokes. She, of course, gave me food. She called me her baby, told me she loved me. And then we were back on the road to Fagaras.

On Sunday, we left for Vistea.

I walked into my mom's church, which was so much more breathtaking than I remembered at 11. The rich colors in the murals cascading down the walls, the intricately painted ceiling and candle-lit crimson carpets were glorious.

Suddenly, I became the talk of the people. And I felt immediately self conscious. Understand, these villages are small and everyone literally knows everyone, so seeing a new person walk in is immediately noticed.

Slowly, people came over to our group, asking who I was. A few women, old friends of my mother, came up to me, touching my face and gazing into my eyes, motioning to my aunt and cousins how much I resembled my mom ... "Cornelia."

They squeezed my hand, kissed my cheeks, touched my hair and told me I was beautiful. I blushed and said "Multumesc" (thank you) over and over and over again, not knowing what else to really say. We stopped by the cemetery behind the church to see my mom's parents' graves ... as well as her sister's grave and her cousin's grave, both who passed before their time.

Then we visited my mom's eldest sister, Chevuca. She's been sick with diabetes and a hip replacement. She saw me ... and she started crying. She hugged and kissed me and called me her love. She couldn't say much, but I reminded her of when I was last there and I was sick in bed. My parents were gone at that time (visiting another city). My aunt came into my room with rubbing alcohol and a hot washcloth and she rubbed my arms, legs, neck and face ... just the way my mom did when I was a kid. And it made the flu body aches disappear. And it made me feel like home.

She teared up.

We then called my mom (it was her birthday Sunday). And the first thing my aunt said was "Mi-e dor de tine" ... I miss you.

She hugged me close before I left. I said we (my parents, brother, sister-in-law and myself) would hopefully be coming back in two years. She said she hopes to still be here.

We didn't let her finish. We said she better be here. I let that wish fill my heart, especially for my mom's sake, and then I let it go.

We said our goodbyes a bit later, after I walked the family farm, drawing in the sweet scent of thousands of grapevines above me, begging to be picked, yearning to be ground up and bottled for wine.

I recalled chasing the animals, I recalled my grandma working in the fields behind the barn and I reacquainted myself with Rego, my uncle's horse I fell off of when I was younger. He was much sweeter this go around :-) He let me pet him for quite some time.

We visited a few more family members and curious neighbors. They all looked at me, saw my mother's eyes, cheekbones, nose and smiled.

I talked to my cousin about it later. She told me, it says a lot about my mom, the way people responded to seeing me, to seeing her in me.

I'm pretty sure when I share this with my mom, she will cry.

Between learning more about the history of this country, my family and culture as well as reconnecting with my cousins and aunts and uncles, I feel I couldn't want for more in this moment.

I see so much of myself in my cousins and so much of my mother in my aunts, it amazes me. I don't want to leave them ... not after just feeling I've gotten to really know them.

I suppose I now know what this feels like. What being torn between one life and another feels like.

I also now have a sense of completion in some way. Not as though I don't have more to learn and discover, but a sense that this other part of my life, of myself — a part that has been primarily in the dark over the years —is suddenly lit.

And I don't know what else to do with myself ... but smile.


Monday, October 7, 2013

Peering Inside Castles, Digging into Roots

So, Peles Castle ... amazing. It's architecture, woodwork, design and furnishings had influences from all over the world, including France, Spain, Asia, England, Germany and Russia.

The weapons display and armor were breathtaking and overwhelming to say the least. I snapped a few photos as I was able to (we had to pay extra to take pictures so I snuck some ;-), but really, they won't do it justice.

I was enamored of every single room inside that place. It took over 40 years to complete and just the woodwork alone must have taken a brunt of that time to produce. I am truly humbled by the fact I was able to see this place, to take this trip really ... all of it.

And Queen Elizabeth ... she really intrigued me. She was a writer :-) so maybe that's why. She wrote 43 books, she knew over 7 languages and also played the piano and organ (I think she played a few other instruments as well). She was beautiful inside and out.

I think Romania has a knack for producing artists. The famous composer George Enescu also has a home in Sinaia (where Peles is). We passed it. He has a few homes in the country. But his compositions are quite beautiful and his violin play is amazing.

Then we went to Bran Castle. It was quite different from Peles, but in a very cool way. It was a gothic style castle, originally built in the 12th Century. It is also known as the castle that influenced Brom Stoker's "Dracula," along with Vlad Tepes (the Impaler).

Unfortunately, during the communist period, a lot of the original furnishings were taken from the castle — which was built as a fortress (aka. not meant to be glamorous) — so most of what was in there were furnishings of that time period meant to mimic what was once there.

Queen Marie, who lived here, was also talented and intelligent, an artist. In her will, she had her heart preserved and it eventually was kept at Bran Castle, however, after the communist period, it was removed and is now at the National Museum of Romanian History (which I will see on Wednesday). It remains a controversial topic.

While different from Peles, Bran  had a definite air of royalty surrounding it, but a darker one, perhaps a bit colder. It seemed sadder inside somehow, the energy there.

It wasn't warm and plush like Peles. It felt royal in a different way, a fiercer, stronger way, whereas Peles felt more majestic, like a fairytale really. I could only imagine being a princess in that castle, wearing a lavish dress, swishing across those posh, red rugs and silk spun carpets from Spain.

Sigh ...

I could go on and on, but lets just say, if you ever visit Romania, these are two places to definitely stop. The abyss of history is far too deep for me to dive into in one blog post.

We went to Brasov, one of the four major cities in Romania and quite beautiful. I will try to have more on that next post as well as more on my mom's village, Vistea de Jos and Fagaras, where my aunt Dorina lives as well as the Monastery of Simbata de Sus.

Unlike my other travels to Europe in the past, this one is different in so many ways. I think perhaps the biggest reason is I'm seeing the way my mom grew up, the way my family, both my mom's and on my dad's side, grew up. My family is so warm and welcoming, so generous and eager to please and love and care ... it fills me with emotions I find hard to express.

My roots, my heritage and the traditions my mom instilled in me throughout my life have become so much more animated, so much stronger during this trip. I want to embrace so many more things, things I didn't realize were in me. And the language, the way it's coming back to me, how much more I understand than I gave myself credit for.

When I was a kid, I would often be "embarrassed" about my Romanian dancing, some of the traditions, etc. I was a kid and wanted to "fit in" with all the other kids. But in the recent years, I've grown to truly appreciate my heritage, my family, our history and my culture.

I am proud and yet humbled to be here, to be able to soak up this history and my family. I see a lot more of myself and my mom, my dad's family and our characteristics in my family members and cousins here than I could have imagined. I absolutely love it.

And I love sharing it with you all. I wish I could place what's in my heart right now in this blog, in you all.

But I suppose photos and words will have to do ...



Thursday, October 3, 2013

Majestic Castles, Nature and Awakening

Peles Castle. I will be touring it tomorrow, so I won't have much to say on it right now, only that it was the summer residence of Romania's first royal couple, King Charles I and Queen Elizabeth and was built between 1873 and 1914.

Perhaps it's the romantic in me, but whenever I see castles, I am completely mesmerized. To resident Romanians, this is something "normal," something they've grown up with. But maybe because I grew up in America where we've never had a royal family, a king and queen or castles built, I am absolutely fascinated by these structures, the intricacy of them, the art, the beauty in every detail that had to have gone into their design and construction.

Tack on the fact I grew up with fairytales that always incorporated princes and princesses ... magical castles, and I am at the mercy of these regal, stoic structures.

Today, we drove through several Romanian villages, including a few areas where gypsies mainly live. The life is very simple. I was like a child in a candy store, seeing sheep herders in the fields and cattle being wrangled from the pastures and herded back to their respective homes.

And snow-frosted mountains in the distance with a plethora of colorful, turning trees at their base.

While I loved Bucharest, it's history and liveliness, I am very much more drawn to Romania's countryside.

To see people working in the fields, hauling logs on horse-drawn wagons, to see simple, yet charming and colorful homes, I felt a weight lift off of me. Maybe for a moment I fantasized about living in that kind of atmosphere, I imagined what it was like for my mom, growing up in her village on her parents' farm ... and I smiled.

It was the deep, satisfied kind of smile that only happens in those moments when we truly let go and feel everything ... those moments when you are totally in the present moment, completely at peace with the world — with your world.

The people here, the culture, is very warm and welcoming. My family goes above and beyond to just ensure I am feeling OK, I am rested, I am fed, I am enjoying myself. It's really humbling in many ways. It emphasizes the good things in life, the things that truly matter: Living, loving, family, connection, a sense of home.

And nature, nature is home to me. Maybe that's why I feel such a magnetic pull to the countryside, to these historic buildings and cobblestone paths buried amidst rugged mountains and tranquil creeks.

Or maybe the romantic in me is reemerging in response to these elements. It's a part of me I've kept at bay for awhile now, but between my Yogic journey this past year and now this trip, it's as though I feel I'm reawakening from a long, deep sleep. Or, as my teachers would say, it's like relearning something I've always known.

Life doesn't stand still for us. And whether it's traveling or doing something we love to do, perhaps embarking on a new journey in our personal lives or career paths, it's all there at our fingertips, we just don't always see it right away.

And this trip, it's not only been an adventure for me thus far, it's been a breath of oxygen upon embers I don't always take care to nourish.

And I only hope to keep tending to them ... the way I hope we all tend to our passions.

After all, the magic is there — we only have to see it.


Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Romania: Like Coming Home

“Happiness is not a brilliant climax to years of grim struggle and anxiety. It is a long succession of little decisions simply to be happy in the moment.” ~ J. Donal Walter, a Romanian author, lecturer and composer

Home ... it's a noun, but it's also a "feeling." A place, a family, a person can feel like home.

In my case right now, I feel both at home and in a new, strange place. I am in Romania. It's been ... about 18 years since I last visited my heritage homeland. Being American, but of 100 percent Romanian descent, I've always felt a little out of place wherever I was. I mean, I was kind of an outcast in school, not so much because of my heritage, but just because I always felt different. My mom had a lot of Romanian traditions surrounding my brother and I growing up, including Romanian dancing (which I still do). And the language, while I don't speak it well, has been embedded in my eardrums my whole life. In fact, when my mom sings her Romanian songs, poems, carols, I feel like a child again inside.

So stepping foot in this country and hearing the familiar language feels awesome in some ways. And, this might sound strange to some people, but it feels really cool being completely surrounded by a populace that looks similar to me :-) The prominent noses, sharp cheekbones and jawlines, the dark hair and eyes. Besides the church my parents brought my brother and I up in (it's like a mini Romanian community), I haven't been surrounded by my native culture for a long time. So to look in every direction and be surrounded by similar features feels really awesome.

It also feels like I'm seeing life through my mother's eyes in a way ... like I'm getting in touch with her in a way I never really have.

I was 11 when I was last here and of course, then, I viewed this world through a very imaginative child's eyes. I loved the nature and the farm animals in the village. I loved the creek in my mom's village, the dirt roads, the horse and buggies, and was amazed at the (then) third-world like conditions compared to 90s America with our washer and dryers, microwaves, electric stoves, dish washers and cable TV.

Things have changed in the last 18 years and most parts of Europe in general have progressed to offer much of the same things we have, but I'm still excited to visit Vistea de Jos (my mom's village), which is now all paved ... and remember the ways of simpler living.

Driving through Bucharest, the capital of Romania, my cousin told me how Ceausescu tore down so many old, beautiful historic buildings during his communist ruling and built blocks of plain, stacked apt and business buildings that all looked identical and had small, nondescript rooms. The city has since been trying to revamp these buildings, painting them different colors, tearing some of them down, etc., but it was a real eye opener to me regarding what life must have been like back then, when my mom was here, and it makes me appreciate my own freedoms as well as the architecture and history that still exists here.

The shopping mall here is all about the latest fashions, which is definitely very "Euro-like" as I say ;-) and the women all dress well and love their scarves, perfume and jewelry. Growing up with these themes with my mom, her family members who visited and our Romanian friends, it feels very much like home. I can't wait to visit Brashov (in the mountains) and Bran and Peles castles.

And I look forward to sharing more with you as my journey through Romania continues ....


Sunday, September 8, 2013

It's the Root of Everything ...

“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.” 
― Thích Nhất Hạnh

It's been awhile ... frankly, every time I've sat down to write, something has held me back. Writer's block? Perhaps, but I don't think so. I have ideas, things to reflect on or lay out on the table as food for thought ... but for some reason, I felt the need to channel in other ways of late — through poetry, sketching, guitar playing, meditating.

As I near my last month of Yoga teacher training, I've been contemplating all I've learned along the way this year. So, so much ... more than I could possibly write in this post. But a few things that come to mind are "slow down," "let go," "be present," "love, love ... and love some more," "listen," and perhaps most important ... "breathe."

Slow down. What does that really mean? Well, think about it. Every morning you wake up and you have your routine, maybe you're an early riser so you can take time in the morning to chill out before heading to work. Maybe you're like me, a, ahem, late riser, to say the least ;-) who ends up rushing around as a result. But in general, we as a society are constantly on the go, on the run, from this to that, back to this again. We are constantly so focused on point A and then point B, we aren't even noticing all the "life" going on between the two. But in reality, that IS our life, one precious moment at a time. But our minds are so constantly focused on the future moment ... or busy daydreaming or fixating on the past moment, the present moment becomes a blur. You ever wonder why people say life passes by in a blink, how one day you wake up 80? It's because we don't slow down and stay present ... it's because we put ourselves ON the fast track. So, step by step, get off that track ... enjoy the details of every moment as they happen, focus on what's happening right here and now ... the rest will follow, it always does.

Let go. I've talked about this in depth, so I don't want to repeat myself, but I've learned to let go of the things I cannot control ... to drop all the fluff, all the extra baggage. Why do we carry so much on our minds and hearts ALL the time, every day? Most, if not all of it, we have no control over whatsoever. As my friend Katie's dad says, worrying is a useless emotion. Sure, we all do it from time to time, but think about all the energy, our life force, we spend on worrying about things we have no power over. Instead, that energy can go into productive, positive, loving things. So, let's do ourselves a favor and let go ... fall in and relax. Life is not meant to be linear.

Being present ... well, that I've covered plenty. And loving ... well we all know the world can use much more of it. But when I say love, I mean, truly love. Loving with all of our hearts ... and when we're scared, loving even more. That's something I've learned the hard way. Oh, how many walls I put up, and why? Do they ever REALLY protect me from pain? No. But they hinder me from love and life. So yeah, it's been tough breaking them down over the months, but what I've discovered beneath them is pretty damn beautiful ... and so much more worth loving than a wall.

Listen. This one I may end up writing more in depth on later. But let me ask you this, the next conversation you have with someone, observe your responses ... observe theirs. Do you notice if you cut them off a lot? Do you notice if they do? Do you actually "listen" to what they're saying or are you more focused on lining up your response, on "your turn." Is it a rat race between the two of you on who gets the next word in? Do you even pause at all to take in what is being said, to breathe? Do you turn it around to be about you?

This was a big eye opener for me and how I communicate and how I can communicate better. It wasn't easy to accept either, but all patterns can be changed once we become aware of them. You may find it equally eye opening for you next time you monitor yourself.

And lastly, breathe. I've discovered the true magic of the breath. Just focusing on this simple, natural action our bodies produce can change lives. It truly can.

It's the root of everything.

Life, energy, action, communication, expression, meditation, relaxation, adrenaline, all of it ... it starts with breath. Just listening to your own breath can bring you back to center. Deep breathing also sends signals to the brain to relax. If we could just listen to our breath more often, in everything we do, imagine how much more relaxed people would be in general.

One thing I've noticed a lot more in my recent months is how angry people are. There are a lot of angry, hostile, agitated, irritated, alarmist, everything's an emergency, road raging, short tempered people out there. Don't get me wrong, I've been a member of that club myself and still have my "reactive" moments versus "responsive" moments. But in general, I'm catching myself more and more when I feel that fire lighting, either by someone's words or someone cutting me off in traffic or work stress, etc. Instead of reacting, I'm breathing. And then suddenly, I realize, none of these things most of us get so upset about truly matter. I mean, some of them don't even matter literally seconds after they occur. So why are so many people so angry all the time?

Well, I can't answer that question without writing a novel, which I already am nearing in this post ... but I will reiterate my earlier statement — if only we could find breath more often.

Perhaps we would all slow down a bit, let go a bit more easily ... perhaps we would all be more present, more loving ... maybe we would actually be better listeners if we paused to breathe a moment before responding — maybe we would FINALLY, truly find our breath.

Imagine our world then.



Sunday, July 7, 2013

Look in the Mirror. What Story Are You Telling Yourself Today?

“You are one thing only. You are a divine being. An all-powerful creator. You are a deity in jeans and a t-shirt, and within you dwells the infinite wisdom of the ages and the sacred creative force of all that is, will be and ever was.” ― Anthon St. Maarten

I was listening to a podcast last night while lying in bed in the dark and feeling a cool summer night's breeze graze past my skin.

The woman I was listening to was talking about tools we can use every day to access our inner knowing, our inner teacher, wisdom so to speak.

She mentioned four things: receiving, reflection, mirroring and changing our stories.

In brief, receiving was about the dialogue and way we treat ourselves on a daily basis. I know I've talked about this in past blog posts, but basically, it's the idea that if we talked to others or others talked to us the way we tend to talk to or treat ourselves, we would likely be friendless and alone.

It's about learning to receive from others and the world around us, starting with something as simple as saying, "Thank you," after someone pays you a compliment versus deflecting it or denouncing it. I have trouble with just doing this sometimes. I deny myself receiving, yet the world, the universe is constantly trying to give me things, to continue that natural cycle of giving and receiving.

Reflection and mirroring are also things I've touched on. Reflection is tough, because it's about us having to take a deeper look into ourselves when we notice something in those around us we don't like. It's the idea the "law of attraction" is at play in our lives every single day, therefore, surrounding us with the people, energies and experiences that reflect what we, ourselves are giving off. Even if it's something we only give off to one person (perhaps someone we have deep seated issues with, etc.), it's still an energy we're manifesting and it'll show back up in our lives in something or someone else, reflected right back at us.

It something to think about, especially when someone gets under your skin or something upsets you. It's not about judging ourselves or our experiences, it's about bringing gentle awareness to something. Once you become aware, it begins to change.

Mirroring is also seeing the GOOD things that we give off in those around us. If you are with someone or experience something that makes you feel good inside, someone you admire or enjoy the company of, you can also acknowledge that atmosphere or person is mirroring a part of yourself, something your're giving off that is attracting them into your life. It's also something we need to do more of :-)

Lastly, the stories we tell ourselves. This one really hit for me. She talked about how we are, all of us, walking books of stories our minds weave around every experience we have. Stories of the past, of the future, stories of scars, of laughs, of tears, of love, heartbreak, stress, burdens. Stories of elation and hope, fear and pain. As we continue to tell them, we will continue to attract those same "kinds" of stories into our lives. But if we can go back to the time and place, situation, reaction, etc. when we first began to weave a particular story, we can change the wording around it and therefore change what we attract in our lives now.

In simpler terms, just as in counseling it sometimes takes going back into the past to get to the root of a present impeding behavior or reaction, sometimes it takes examining the dialogue in our minds and where it began in order to change what it says now.

For me, I've always had a dialogue that I don't deserve good things. That I'm somehow scarred for life, that everything I touch I burn. I've had this dialogue for years and years, this isn't something that manifested recently. I have gone back and found times when it started, especially pertaining to men and relationships. But I haven't quite identified the very start of it yet. All I do know is, it has continued being enforced in my recent years by the people and experiences I've had.

Because that story attracted experiences that emphasized it rather than squelched it. And it's up to me to change that pattern. If I continue weaving stories in my mind that I only deserve the bare minimum in life ... sure enough, that's all I'll get. Those are the people I'll attract, the ones who give me their minimum.

When the truth is, I cannot wait to give my maximum. I cannot wait to break that gate open again. And that's what I would want in return.

Perhaps you can think of similar stories you've been telling yourself for years. All you need to do is identify the parts of your life that feel "off" to you, not necessarily good or bad (those are mind labels), but just "off" ... not natural to you, maybe draining energies in your life, etc., and then go from there. Follow the breadcrumb trail and you'll eventually remember when you started the dialogue in your mind that led to those energies, people or situations in your life.

And then ... take ink to paper.

And change them.


Sunday, June 16, 2013

What Yin-Yang Really Means ...

“If we never experience the chill of a dark winter, it is very unlikely that we will ever cherish the warmth of a bright summer’s day. Nothing stimulates our appetite for the simple joys of life more than the starvation caused by sadness or desperation. In order to complete our amazing life journey successfully, it is vital that we turn each and every dark tear into a pearl of wisdom, and find the blessing in every curse.” ~ Anthon St. Maarten

The Yin-Yang.

It's always been a favorite symbol of mine. In fact, back when I was a sad, angsty Denny's hostess at 15 years old, a regular customer came to know me so well, he gave me a yin-yang keychain one day ... just randomly.

I still have it to this day.

Until Yoga teacher training, I never really thought about it much more than it symbolizing balance — which it does.

As the years passed through me, from 15 to 29, it has come to mean a lot more. In Yoga, we talked about how the yin and yang energies coexist in all of us. Most people think they are opposing energies, positive and negative, light and dark, fire and water, male and female, life and death.

But they're actually complementary energies. And that's the part I didn't really understand until recently. See for me, and most people, I don't enjoy feeling pain, sadness, heartbreak, anger. I used to avoid those feelings, especially pain, at all costs.

In the end, however, they always found me and seemed to assail me, consume me all the more, as though having multiplied during the time I ran from them or built up walls against them. What I've learned now is those emotions are part of the grand balance of life. If we deny them, how will we ever remember what their opposites are, how will we recognize what joy, love, kindness and giving feels like?

I know, for me personally, the feeling of yin (the shady side) gives me a deeper appreciation for the yang (the sunny side) of life.

However, in the past, I used to live in the yin of life. When depression hit, that's all I felt and I got so used to it, feeling any yang emotions felt foreign and uncomfortable. Life experience and where my path is now has changed a lot of that.

So the idea of making room for pain still causes tightness in my chest, like a fight or flight instinct at the flicker of a threat. It's like a visitor that just irks you. Opening the door to it is like pulling teeth.

But I think when you look at that visitor in a new light, in a kinder light, it doesn't look so menacing after all. You realize it's a part of joy and love and compassion. That there is an ebb and flow to all of it.

I've felt heaviness in my heart the last few weeks ... for many reasons, some more prominent than others. This weekend it decided to knock on my door, it wanted to enter. And I let it this time ... I was terrified to be honest. The last time I let myself "feel" the things beckoning at my door, I felt crippled by them.

But the reality is, at that time, my mind ruled everything. It reined over me, like it does most of us. It played those same old records. But I've since created new record grooves. And even though those old records tried to play over and over this weekend, and while they did anchor me to the floor a few times, my needle eventually found the new grooves ... and as I looked at the pain I felt as a source of information as well as a complementary emotion to joy, it didn't scare me quite so badly anymore.

Perhaps we could all do this more often when we feel fear, anger, pain or sadness gripping at us ... wanting to climb into our beds at night. Maybe we can start to imagine them as just the other half of all those other emotions we enjoy and love so much. That they're part of one another, just like the yin-yang symbol.

Maybe we won't be so afraid of them anymore ... maybe instead, we will be the grand observer, the ever seeing, ever knowing walls of our homes as they walk through and walk out, over and over again.

Perhaps then, those sometimes powerful "shady side" emotions won't dictate our actions or rule our decisions anymore. Perhaps they won't consume us so much.

As I quietly ponder these things while touching my keychain ...

I dare to hope.


Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Learn to Swat the 'I Told You So' Bug

"Most people do not listen with the intend to understand; they listen with the intent to reply." ~ Stephen R. Covey

It's that moment when you see someone doing something you "know" they shouldn't do. You're almost peering into a crystal ball, everything to come seems so clear to you ... yet why can't they see it?

Then, inevitably, those very things you saw happened ... and that part of you — it's actually really an ego part of you when you truly think about it —is biting at the champ to say "I told you this would happen," "I told you I was right."

Well, as I continue this ever changing journey I'm on, I've come to the realization that despite perhaps "knowing" or "feeling" intuitively what was coming for some of those closest to me (or for myself for that matter), to take credit for the knowing is not quite truthful ... and does more for the ego than it does for the spirit.

Some of my friends or their friends, my family, even those acquaintances I only hear from here and there have talked about things they're going through to me. In the past, I'd offer up whatever advice came to mind, whether from my own experience, advice that was passed down to me or just from a place deep inside.

While I still dip into that well when I feel it is a good time to, I've begun a practice of listening more so than acting or telling. I've allowed the quiet to enter the conversations more in my life ... and here's why:

"Listening is an attitude of the heart, a genuine desire to be with another, which both attracts and heals."~ Sura Hart

Having been through my fair share of rough patches in life, I can honestly say I've had plenty of intuitive moments that, had I wanted them to, would have guided me through it all and likely helped me avoid some of the more traumatic and painful experiences. And my friends, family, they all expressed the same notions. And I couldn't blame them.

But at the end of the day, the things I went through over the last several years and even further back than that, they have not only served as teachers — albeit rough ones at times — they have also been experienced through my eyes, ears, body, heart, soul ... and mine only.

And for that reason, those experiences are unique to me. Any of my friends could go through the same situation, but will gain, lose, learn, self destruct, rebuild and grow differently from them as I did. So as hard, sometimes almost heart wrenchingly difficult, as it's been to watch others walk a similar line as I have, where I used to want to run and save them ... I know now I cannot. Just as no one else could save me.

We save ourselves — if we want to. And all we can do for our friends is be there, be as constant a presence of love, light, compassion, understanding and patience as we can be. It's hard, yes ... especially when I have trouble not sponging up others' hurt or pain or anger.

There is this meditation practice called Tonglen, which is Tibetan for "giving and taking." In short, you visualize taking in someone's pain with your inhalation and exhaling love and healing to them and all others in that same boat.

I've been trying to do something similar ... in my own way. I try to breathe through those moments I have when I feel someone hurting and either my heart is wanting to help with an urge to babble whatever advice I can muster or my ego is wanting to feel "powerful" for giving that perfect piece of advice.

Instead, I imagine myself full of healing, calming, loving light ... and emanating it with every breath I exhale or word of comfort I offer, even when I DO give some advice. Because it's OK to gently offer words from the heart — speaking your truth, as my guru says.

But I also remind myself that everyone is on their own path and will view every stone, every flower, every bump differently as I would. They'll get something specific to them and their own path out of it. And I have to respect that. Just as those who love me truest respected that about me and my own path and hurdles. And that's the part I'm honoring these days.

So next time you have that moment ... when those words are right there, on the tip of your tongue. Calmly silence them, see the person across from you as another fellow soul on their own path ... and maybe give her or him a loving hug instead.


Saturday, May 11, 2013

When the World Knocks, What Do You Do?

Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible be found in us. ~ Pema Chodron

While in my favorite local used book store recently, I came across this book titled "When Things Fall Apart," by Pema Chodron, an American Buddhist nun.

As I began reading it, her voice reminded me of Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love). I've quoted her many times. The same day I thought that, I glanced at Gilbert's recent FB post on her fanpage inquiring what everyone's favorite "spiritual memoirs" have been in their life — books that have really resonated with them and helped them on their path. At the top of her list, "When Things Fall Apart," by Pema Chodron.

If I could recommend a book right now, this would be it. She takes in depth concepts, beliefs, truths and lays them out in such a readable, reverberating way.

She talks a lot about letting go, about being good to ourselves and to others, about groundlessness, egolessness, surrendering to "what is," staying present and creating space for things, being in harmony with reality and embracing all emotions, seeing them as complimentary rather than positive or negative.

I really loved the quote I opened up with because it got me thinking about life and death, not in the traditional way, per se, but in the everyday, every moment way.

Think about it — the impermanence of life is everywhere. It's in the in breath, the out breath, the passing away of one moment while giving birth to the next ... the minute hand on a clock, the four seasons, the sun rising and setting.

Yet for some reason, our minds don't like impermanence. We strive to control everything, we don't like being honest with ourselves, we don't like loosening our grip on anything. And speaking as someone who has been terrified of death since I can remember, the idea of it is unimaginable.

From moment to moment, our minds think about the things we wish were different, the things we don't like, the things we want to change, the desires we aren't meeting, the voids we can't seem to fill. So we run away, we eat our voids, we wallow or we distract, we seek out temporary gratification, we constantly try to fill any "space" in our lives rather than embrace the space ... allow the quiet in.

Get comfortable with lonely or with fear, welcome it, let it sit with you as you take in each moment of life; realize it's not your enemy, it's your teacher.

In fact, all moments, emotions, experiences, obstacles or hurdles in life are our greatest teachers. If you notice something continues to surround you in life or continues to "get in your way," whether you like it or not, that often means whatever it is you're supposed to be learning, you haven't. If you feel like nothing you do is changing the things you want to change, perhaps you're not looking deep enough, perhaps you're not being honest enough with yourself.

Let go ... let yourself experience that moment to moment annihilation. Embrace that impermanence.

I was always such a romantic as a little girl and well into my early adulthood. Life experience and the path I'm on now has altered that part of me. It's not that I've lost that romance ... on the contrary; the things I'm romantic about in life have merely shifted and deepened. It's not until you embrace impermanence that you truly appreciate every single passing moment of your life, that you find the romance in what was once a "mundane" action. You realize each moment dies upon the next and you no longer take for granted yourself or those close to you.

In the moments I am "out of my head" and in my heart and soul, I feel groundless, flooded with life, terrified, elated, full of love, fearful of hurt, passionate, compassionate ... instead of closing off, I'm learning to open my arms to it all. Without pain, we couldn't enjoy pleasure, without loss, we don't know the significance of what we have.

Without impermanence and change, we couldn't possibly know the importance of the present moment, of the here and now.

As Pema says, "Fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth."

So next time you feel anxious or scared, view that feeling as a teacher rather than an enemy, figure out what it's telling you about yourself. Be honest with yourself.

Because once your intimate with fear or loneliness, with impermanence, change, discomfort, you'll find all your dramas, conflicts, struggles fall away ... and the world around you, the life knocking at your door will finally get through.

And the real you, the indestructible you ... will be there to greet it.


Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Empowerment, Love and Amrit

Life is perpetual therapeutic irritation. Learn to make it therapeutic and not problematic. ~ Amrit Desai

The urge to take pen to paper hit tonight as a few things came to mind I'd been letting marinate for a few weeks.

I had the honor and privilege to sit right up front during a lecture my Yoga teacher's guru gave two weeks ago. Amrit Desai, who studied with the masters in India, where he was born, and is considered one of the pioneers of "authentic" Yoga teachings in the west, came to my instructor's studio from Florida, where he now resides.

In his 80s, it is quite possible he may never come this way again. But there he was, in Columbia Station with all of us for an evening, bringing an amazingly serene essence and a breadth of wisdom with him.

I could go on and on about the things he spoke of, but I wrote down some of his quotes from that night that cover much of the high points in his discussion:

~ As inner conflicts reduce, the external conflicts reflect that.
~ We are hardly ever present in what we do.
~ Start giving what you are asking for (or as Gandhi famously says, be the change you wish to see in the world).
~ We are always looking for fulfillment outside. The ego is always trying to find fulfillment by looking for the right partner. Everything you are looking for comes from within.
~ The ego mind uses Prana (our life energy) to find outside solutions … excessively using energy for who you are NOT.
~ Don't buy into your reactive perception of anybody. You and I are not separate, we are all one.
~ When you remove the inner conflict, you see the outer conflict is false.
~ You have the power to change your life. No one else can do it to you. If you judge someone, you are lost. If you say you're a failure, that's what you'll create. You create your own problems.
~ When you are in love with that higher power in you, you are happy always.
~ Life is perpetual therapeutic irritation. Learn to make it therapeutic and not problematic.

Another thing Amrit said that hit me in particular is that I have all the power I need within myself. I don't have to be a victim or victimize myself. I don't have to bring my past scars into the present moment and allow my past patterns to repeat themselves or to influence my present moment reactions and responses to things.

Another point to ponder ... any external conflicts we have with others or a situation, etc. is a reflection of an internal conflict. I used to say "he made me react this way" or "she made me feel crazy" ... but no one has the power to make us do, react or say something that isn't already IN us. Yes, people "affect" us ... but to realize we truly do hold the reins to how we react or respond is powerful if embraced.

Observe, don't react, Amrit said. If we are able to observe ourselves and our lives from a non judgmental, almost third-party perspective, we will find it easier and easier to be at peace and ease ... to truly enjoy life and not react to things or instinctively fight or flee in situations that don't warrant it.

The past is the past and I can't go back and change circumstances or how I responded or didn't respond. But I can harness that power within me from this day forward. Amrit helped me feel empowered ... and more in control of my life and happiness than I truly realized.

Which means any of you reading can be empowered, too. We all try to seek fulfillment externally, in our partners or in other forms (i.e. alcohol, drugs, food, entertainment, sex) ... but that pursuit is the product of our ego. And it is a losing battle. It might bring temporary gratification, but it'll always be temporary, never continuous. Because the ego thrives on the "wanting more." 

But if we fall in love with ourselves ... if we truly accept ourselves and love ourselves, we will find true and continuous joy. I believe it. I also believe it doesn't come easily and it is an ongoing process. But it is one I'm finding more and more merit in as the days breathe past me. 

I hope you do, too.


Thursday, April 11, 2013

Do You Abuse Apologies? The Beauty and Power of 'I'm Sorry'

It takes a great deal of character strength to apologize quickly out of one's heart rather than out of pity. A person must possess himself and have a deep sense of security in fundamental principles and values in order to genuinely apologize. ~ Stephen Covey

I had a recent encounter with someone I'd hurt in the past. As we got to talking, the past naturally came up. In that moment, I felt a strong desire from deep within to apologize for things I did, unintentionally as they were, that might have caused this person pain. It was accepted and there was a relief that flooded through me the moment it exited my lips. It seemed both of us were lighter as a result.

I've never enjoyed saying sorry when I was younger ... and really, in general. I mean, who does really? It's an admission of wrongdoing or at the very least, it's an admission of doing or saying something that has hurt another, intentional or unintentional. It's a feeling of vulnerability, of weakness, yet it could be an expression of love and caring as well.

But I've noticed that there is a difference between abusing apologies — i.e. saying sorry just to appease another or as "a foundation to a future offense" — and saying sorry with a genuine, truly benevolent intention. 

For me, I went from a woman who stubbornly, rarely ever said it to someone who said it all the time, unnecessarily oftentimes, to men in particular.  And those aren't very genuine either. For me, that behavior, which was already rooted in me from my youth years, further developed after I took a backseat to a person who was a much stronger, commanding personality than my previous relationship and at the very opposite end of the spectrum. I would find myself apologizing for speaking my mind or emotions, feelings about things, my anger or hurt, my pain or confusion. 

And when that person would apologize to me, it was often either a way to rein me back in or it was disingenuous. I noticed this pattern continue with other people I've encountered as well and I know I've done my fair share of disingenuous apologizing. 

The point being, there is beauty and power in an apology, but it has to come from within ... you have to BE the apology. It has to show in your actions. My counselor once put it perfectly: Look at a person's actions, not their words.

I came across this article that really hit home for me: A Message to Women From a Man: You Are Not 'Crazy'

And the truth is, emotional manipulation and I go way back, to my teen years really ... and the things I believed or "fell for," as a relatively naive girl, which carried on to my adulthood. 

Talking to my best friend, we got on the subject of past hurts, loves, heartbreaks. And maybe it was because of how I felt after this recent apology of mine, but I realized how much I desired that from those who have hurt me. How, even now — having forgiven them their hurts as much as I've been able to — how much lighter I would feel inside on some level if someone said, 'Cassandra, you were never crazy for feeling how you felt, it was completely understandable, reasonable and I'm sorry for any hurt I caused you.' 

The way that I have in the past, not with all of them, but with most.  In some ways, it'd feel like releasing a breath I've been holding forever.

Now, while I can't expect such things, I CAN take those feelings and apply them to my own behavior in the future. Perhaps such behavior will be mirrored back some day. 

Because the truth is, apologies only get people so far. And just like the term "love" is overused in my opinion, so are apologies. But when a person is different inside than they once were, has become self aware enough to truly see themselves from another's perspective, that is often the key to a genuine request for forgiveness, to a "real" apology.

As I've said before, sometimes you don't realize the weights you carry around until you let them go ... and sometimes just finding forgiveness in your heart or asking it of another is all the release valve you needed.

Try it. Your heart will thank you.



Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Neverending Snow, Depression and Creating Space

'These trees are magnificent, but even more magnificent is the sublime and moving space between them, as though with their growth, it too, increased.” ~ Gaston Bachelard

I find it fitting to talk about depression tonight.

The snow outside my window just keeps on falling, casting fluttering shadows beneath the lamp post. The idea of spring, of summer, of warmth ... seems a figment of my imagination at times like this. It becomes hard trying not to "resist what is" and curl up under blankets, crying, wishing the cold away.

The "silver lining" is when warmth does arrive, as it inevitably will, I will appreciate it much more. That is one positive those of us who live in four-season climates can embrace. We truly cherish those sunny days.

That same mentality is something I'm now taking and breathing into other areas of my life. If I desire something I don't currently have, I acknowledge that feeling, trying not to judge it, and then let it pass through, like a temporary visitor. I remind myself that when I do come across those desires, I always end up appreciating them that much more. But, just like spring and summer, I embrace them and cherish them knowing they are forever changing and temporary, only to revisit me again some day.

It's a cycle. All of it. Yet most of us get so stuck sometimes. We fall into a rut. For me, that is always what depression feels like ... a rut I fall into, try to fight off or escape from and eventually curl up with. These ruts, I believe, are what happens to us when we resist that natural cycle. And for me, at least with depression, it often led to dark emotions, thoughts, low energy, negative self talk, pain, turmoil and ... sleep. When I was a teenager, sleep was my escape when I was depressed.

In the recent years, I would just let depression overpower me, drown me. And I would be a crying mess, sort of hollow, not present at all in life, absent even during moments in crowded rooms or with family and friends.

Thankfully, those are distant memories in some ways now. I've been tested this year, especially this winter season. Especially on these cold, dark, lonely nights ... when I feel a chill bury itself within my bones. When I hear the bare tree branches creak and moan against the biting wind.

However, something I read awhile back and came across again in my Yoga Journal has finally "clicked." In the past, whenever I felt something I didn't want to, like fear, depression, pain, sadness, I would either repress it and pretend it wasn't there, distract myself or let it completely overtake me.

But I read about space lately, the beauty of space, of making space for things. And I've tried it out these last few nights with interesting results. When I begin to feel this sadness or depression sink in, rather than search for an escape, I've been whispering the word "yes" in my mind and imagining myself creating a space inside me for this emotion. Not letting it overcome me and, yet, not shoving it away or judging it. Just saying the word "yes" and visualizing an opening inside me making way and giving space to what I'm feeling.

It instantly lessens the intensity of the emotion. And it feels a lot less uncomfortable, threatening or negative. It's almost like making room for a guest you don't necessary want there, but you also don't want to be mean to. So you don't resist the visit and then suddenly, they're gone and someone new visits, like a breath of fresh air.

So, the next time you feel something you don't want to, try to stave off your knee jerk, instinctive reaction, your usual pattern. Instead, let yourself create space for it, feel it. You'll notice, just like with the seasons, just like with emotions and life in general, if it has no resistance, it will only be a temporary visitor and will make way for a new one in due time.

And when that new visitor arrives, bringing the sun, you will truly appreciate them that much more.

You'll find you are an open door ... completely unbridled.


Friday, March 22, 2013

Be a Warrior — Tame Your Inner Dialogue

We talk to ourselves incessantly about our world. In fact we maintain our world with our internal talk. And whenever we finish talking to ourselves about ourselves and our world, the world is always as it should be. We renew it, we rekindle it with life, we uphold it with our internal talk. Not only that, but we also choose our paths as we talk to ourselves. Thus we repeat the same choices over and over until the day we die, because we keep on repeating the same internal talk over and over until the day we die. A warrior is aware of this and strives to stop his internal talk.
~ Carlos Castaneda

For some reason, I'm compelled to expand on my prior post.

Mainly about the idea of how we treat ourselves on a daily basis and how that treatment relates to how we treat others and the kinds of relationships we have in our lives.

Being a person who has struggled with negative self talk for many, many years, it's only recently I've realized just how powerful that kind of dialogue can be. It kind of ties into a lot of the other posts I've had.

So, I challenge you to wake up tomorrow, just one day, give it one day and take a thought inventory. By this I mean, simply listen to yourself, listen to your mind's constant chatter, which most of us don't pay much attention to, despite those thought trains that are running many of our lives.

Examples, do you wake up and see the life inside you when you look in the mirror? The steady rise and fall of your chest as you take in breath? The feeling of your heart beating, the ultimate symbol of self love — first nourishing itself before nourishing the rest of the body?

Or do you see your flaws, perhaps some gray hairs or age lines, your scars, the extra weight you've been trying to get off, the aches and pains. Then you get ready for the day, maybe you don't like what you're wearing and how it looks on you, maybe you're already thinking about all the things you have to get done, how much is on your list, how unhappy your are with certain things in your life, how you wish things were different, etc.

All that dialogue happens before you're even out the door. Then throw in interactions with other humans, your job, maybe your significant other. Pay attention to how you talk to yourself all day, do you constantly think about how fruitless your efforts seem to be? Your insecurities? Do you think about how lonely you are or how unhappy you are with the person you're with? Maybe how you feel underappreciated by people, like you just can't do enough or be enough. Then you start comparing yourself to other people or wonder "what do they have that I don't?"

How often do we TRULY think positive thoughts throughout our daily dialogue? How often are we actually NICE to ourselves? And how imbalanced are those numbers when compared to the negative thoughts?

As Antoine Rivarol says, “Speech is external thought, and thought internal speech.”

The converse side is the power of dialogue can be just as strong on the other end of the spectrum, when transformed, when changed into uplifting thoughts, into "light at the end of the tunnel" thoughts, into forgiving thoughts.

I've been exposing at times about some of the things I've been through or situations I've been in or allowed to happen to me, dating back to my teen years. How I've had very diverse relationships or friendships over the years, changing my faux identity to fit each one ... and how I've had some very similar ones as well, patterns, etc.

Well, the truth is, it all comes back to how I treat myself. Do I respect my body just as it is right now in this moment? Or am I constantly wanting it to change? Do I respect my heart and my soul or am I constantly masking things, putting up pretenses, beating myself down, manipulating myself, etc.?

And how can I expect others not to do the same to me?

Think of yourself, think of all the things you're unhappy about and then pause for a moment and ask yourself what and when was the last nice thing you thought or said about yourself?

I've been in the process of changing that dialogue for some time now. My counselor really got me going on that path, but then everything else that's come along has been aiding me.

I implore those who read to do the same. You'll likely be surprised how out of whack your inner language is. And it might just explain how you treat others and allow yourself to be treated.

I'd love some feedback.


Monday, March 11, 2013

What Is the Most Important Relationship in Life?

“The most powerful relationship you will ever have is the relationship with yourself.”
  ~ Steve Maraboli

Tying into the whole practice of self awareness, I've been paying attention to my actions, my "self talk" and my dreams a lot more in the last year and a half or so.

I've talked about this more in depth in past posts, particularly about nightmares and dreams and how they are chock full of information about ourselves if we let them be. And about how the love and treatment we allow in our lives mirrors the way we feel about ourselves and what we deserve.

And about how our own actions or judgements on others can tell us a lot about the things we perhaps don't always see in ourselves.

The truth of it is, the things, people, situations and experiences in your life right now can tell you just what kind of relationship you have with yourself. Because in the end, that's the only "permanent" relationship you do have and I think we all might surprise ourselves if we truly examine on a daily basis how we treat ourselves, what kind of relationship we have with ourselves. And yet how we tend to expect others to treat us differently.

Here's the most recent evolution of my own relationship with myself.

As I'd mentioned before, I used to have these dreams where men or sometimes a specific male I knew, would be chasing me, searching for me or trying to attack me and I'd be running and hiding, terrified.

It was around this time I'd walked away from some unhealthy things in my life, one thing in particular, and began dealing with emotions, hurtful experiences I'd been repressing while at the same time trying to let go of emotions and feelings I thought were good ... at least at one time ... and "real."

Between dealing with PTSD and depression, it was a wobbly journey where I stumbled into more unhealthy behavior and patterns and decided it was finally time to get some solid guidance.

I'll never forget the day I walked into my counselor's office, splotches all over my neck from anxiety and sat down on the couch. I nervously fidgeted with the pillow on my lap as I tried to tell her about my dreams and about the feelings I was still struggling with, about letting go of memories, good and bad and about what to do in my present life.

She watched me a few moments and then told me to put the pillow aside, to plant my feet on the ground, but lean back and get comfortable. She told me to close my eyes and she walked me through a 10-minute meditation.

I came out of it calm, peaceful, breathing easy. I came out of it feeling whole, if only just for a few minutes, feeling loved, truly loved inside — feeling life. This hollowed out part of me, the void I'd been trying so desperately to fill was almost brimming.

I remember opening my eyes and looking at her and watching her own eyes change as she looked into mine. Then I remember her saying, "This woman right here. This woman is who we are going to get back to."

That was the beginning ... that was the beginning of a strange, scary, elating, terrifying, inspiring roller coaster ride.

Since then, my dreams have evolved. I began to start facing anyone who was chasing me. Which means I was starting to face myself, my fears, whatever that person represented in me. I would start to talk to him ... So really, talking to this part of myself. The main repetitive message involved forgiveness and it involved believing I was loved and truly cared about.

And the most recent one, it involved me reconnecting with that person, so, reconnecting with that part of myself again. And this time, I was slightly scared, slightly sad because I'd missed this part of myself, this aspect of me so much and I was slightly excited.

As I'd mentioned in my former post, the meditation practices I've been doing have started to access my subconscious in ways that feel a bit overwhelming, but also healing. And between those feelings that have surfaced and this dream, I realize just how much I've put on lock down since feeling heartbreak.

It's funny ... I sometimes convinced myself that I was "ready" and "open" in the last two years ... but the truth is, I never was. And even before then, I was always terrified of life, of being hurt. And then after I'd opened up finally and dove in, the tumultuous fall that ensued must have been devastating or painful enough for my mind to completely lock down that part of me altogether.

And while I'd catch glimpses of that vulnerable, open, trusting part of me, the freer spirit, it was always temporary. I'd always shut it down ... I still do on my more challenged days.

However, as I've continued this journey and made the breakthroughs I did in the recent months, I've learned that vulnerability is the key to life itself. It's the doorway ... the threshold.

And I know that all the above will work itself out as it's meant to. Because I'm trying to no longer resist life and what's in front of me or try to make it more than it is or less than it is. And all the progress I've made in the last few months is a result of that.

I feel that inside with a certainty even my most doubting thoughts can't penetrate. Am I both scared and excited of what's to come? I'd be lying to myself if I said I wasn't.

But do I trust it?

Yes. I trust it with every heartbeat inside me. This is my relationship with myself today.

What is yours?


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Why Do We Take So Much For Granted?

“When something does not insist on being noticed, when we aren't grabbed by the collar or struck on the skull by a presence or an event, we take for granted the very things that most deserve our gratitude” ~ Cynthia Ozick

As someone who has taken others for granted as well as felt taken for granted, this particular topic hits home for me in a lot of ways and has been on my mind of late.

Let me circle out for a minute because I think it's partially a result of some of the meditating techniques I've been learning about and experiencing during my training. One of them, Yoga Nidra, has to do with getting deep into the subconscious, the part of us not run by the ego, and is meant to basically help the body heal itself, physically, emotionally, etc. It's a way of tapping into that pure energy, that intelligence that's already there, in our beings, that is not muddied by the mind.

The last few times we did it in class, I felt ... well, I felt some unexpected things. Emotions, pretty much across the spectrum. But in the past, that would have overwhelmed me. This time, it just felt like ... kind of like a release valve was opened inside me. It felt like my subconscious was working out things I didn't realize were still going on and this kind of meditation was unsheathing some emotional baggage I hadn't felt in some time, perhaps repressed for awhile now.

It also made me realize the things I still hold inside, locked away tight. And it got me thinking about some of the negative feelings I used to carry around all the time, every day ... the negatives ways I used to talk to myself, still do sometimes even now, though less and less every single day.

I remember, not that long ago, maybe as recent as a year ago or two, lying in bed after something happened that upset me, whether a fight with someone or just a rough day, and having trouble even listing 5 positive things out loud about myself that I truly believed.

I would look in the mirror, especially a few years back when I was all kinds of unhealthy, and think, "Wow, I thought I was worth so much more than all this. I'm being taken for granted, taken advantage of. I now know what this feels like."

But I'd always take it a step further and spiral into "I don't deserve anything good, I don't deserve to be happy or loved in a healthy way or treated like a main priority," etc. Well, that voice is pretty much obsolete these days. And I can list a lot more that 5 positive things about myself :-) ... but the part about being taken for granted ... that has kind of stayed with me.

Why do we do this so often? We don't really think about it, but we do it almost every day. How often do you take the time in the morning to feel a moment of gratefulness for being alive another morning, or seeing your cat or dog's beautiful eyes another day, perhaps your significant other ... how often do we routinely get up, go about our lives and rarely ever "take in" the things in our lives that could disappear with a blink of an eye.

For me, I used to take my ex (high school and college years) for granted many times without realizing it. And then, in the more recent years, I experienced the other side of that. Same with other friendships and relationships in my life. Even my family, parents, brother, etc.

All of the recent teachings and practices I'm experiencing talk about present moment awareness and compassion and gratefulness. I've been thinking about some of the ways I'd taken others for granted in the past, the ways I'd talk to someone and expect them to just deal with it or the times when I was talked to abusively and the other person just figured I'd take it and still be there the next day.

How often do we snap at people we care about? Or ignore people on a daily basis we actually truly care about when we stop and "take them in." There is a quote somewhere about how the things we point out in others are things we only strengthen in ourselves. So I've been definitely paying attention to the things I begin to point out in others lately and instead, stop myself and focus on how and when I do those very same things myself.

Taking things or people for granted is just one example I decided to point out. But there are so many others.

The truth of it is, nothing is permanent. And, if we get outside our heads enough, we will more easily appreciate and cherish those in our lives, including ourselves.

You don't have to be on the other side of the fence to know what something feels like. All you have to do is reach your mind out and imagine being on the receiving end of the energy, emotion or action you are expressing in that moment and you'll know everything you need to know.

We have all heard people say, "You never know what you have until it's gone."

Well, let's change that.

Let's know what we have while its still here ...


Sunday, March 3, 2013

What Does "Letting Go" Really Mean?

“I realize there's something incredibly honest about trees in winter, how they're experts at letting things go.” ~ Jeffrey McDaniel

Letting go.

So many meanings behind those words. Some people view them as giving up or losing something. Others view it is letting loose or dropping something.

But they've been uttered to me, around me, near me several times the last few weeks, even months. And as someone who does believe in the quiet, whispering language all around us, the kind many of us never listen to, I'm choosing to pay attention.

During my last yoga training weekend in February, one thing my teacher said a few times was "let go."

She said it more than once and in different contexts, but the meaning in the end was the same ... let go, release, trust.

We did several physical poses that week coinciding with those words. Some of them we had to partner up for, but the underlying theme, at least to me, was this trust in the letting go process, putting your trust in others to hold you up or gently let you down, etc.

It got me thinking about how much tension we consistently hold in our minds and bodies almost every minute of the day. We don't even think about it because we are so used to it, our minds are so used to spinning those wheels.

One example I can pull from class is this exercise where you stand behind someone and ask them to shrug there shoulders and hold it. Then you hold their upper arms and ask them to release. When you let go of their arms, if they had truly "let go" and released their tension, their arms would immediately drop.

Almost everyone's did not.

Another quick example for me personally. There's a balance pose called "Crane" where you crouch down, lean forward slightly so your elbows are bent and are supposed to balance your knees on your triceps so that your entire body is balled up, your feet off the ground and everything balanced on your hands. I never understood why I couldn't do this one after so many years of mastering other balance poses.

One day, we talked in class about mental blocks we instinctively put up and don't realize it. Which is why yoga block props come in handy for some poses. A light bulb went off. So the next time I tried this pose, I put a pillow on the floor in front of me just in case I fell forward. And suddenly ... off the floor I went, easily!

I never actually touched the pillow, but knowing it was there removed the mental block I had anchoring my toes to the ground, causing my arms to always waver and shake.

It's like we are constantly bracing for something ... in protection, fight or flight mode, or perhaps just holding onto every care or worry, every fear and emotion in our physical beings. Imagine being those muscles, that brain, constantly taut with exhaustive energy, sapping the good and replacing it with ailments, emotional strive, physical disease. No wonder we have so many illnesses, both mental and physical, in our species.

But when we DID let go in class, when we did trust in the letting go, the peace and feeling of life that ensued was awe inspiring.

Now shift gears a moment and think of other things we hold onto, besides tension ... possessions, people, the past, the future, relationships, friendships, anger, pain, resentment. Why is it so hard for us to "let go?"

Because letting go is surrender. And surrender is terrifying to the ego, to the mind. Because those people, things, relationships, are all the mind identifies with. But what if letting go can be thought of as letting go of a mask, of a false self, a disguise ... letting go of what isn't real to embrace what IS real?

What if surrender was not thought of as giving up ... but rather, giving in?

This isn't to say the people and relationships in our lives aren't "real," but the false sense of identity or permanency we have with them is a farce. The people,  possessions, relationships, degrees, careers, titles in our lives ... those things are never really ours to begin with when you truly think about it.

Imagine if we viewed everything outside of us as temporary ... because the truth is, everything outside of our energy, souls, spirits, IS temporary, even our own bodies.

But it's so hard to let go of things we find meaning in. I know this more than most can imagine. However, what I've come to realize is, the meaning and realness I find in those people or relationships, that friendship or experience is energy ... and energy is continuous, long after the tangible person or experience is gone.

Yet, ironically enough, and perhaps by design, this makes me appreciate and cherish the sources of that energy so much more while they are here with me.

So, in letting go, we merely shed the falsities and let in what is true and real. And eventually we are able to stand without a pillow beneath us and give into gravity.

Eventually we are able to surrender to life.

After all ... as C. JoyBell C. says, “Last night I lost the world, and gained the universe.”


Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Finding the Balance Button

We may outrun
By violent swiftness
And lose by over-running.
~ William Shakespeare

So, I haven't really gotten into the details of my first month in training, but I will talk about two things I've been focusing on that I think a lot of people could benefit from as well.

Part of our "homework" after last class was to pick one of five Yamas and one of five Niyamas to focus on. Yama means "Right Attitude" and Niyama means "Right Observances."

The attitude I was drawn to for this month was "Brahmacharya" — Moderation, Channeling Emotions

• No overindulgence of mind, intellect, speech, body. Moderation on all levels, physical desires, food, all aspects of daily life including the environment. Practice not repression, but control of sensual cravings.

And the Observance I chose was "Tapas" — Austerity

• The willingness to do what is necessary to reach a goal with discipline. Practice cultivating determination to pursue daily practices, enthusiasm for the spiritual path. Joyfulness with outer discipline will lead to inner discipline.

So far, it's been a bit of an ebb and flow. I've had days where I've felt quite balanced and disciplined and others, where I've felt like I overindulged or did too much of one thing and not enough of another, etc.

I felt they both kind of went hand in hand and I've tried, especially with "Tapas," to get things done I've been putting off and focusing on the good vibrations I feel afterward. Same with the times I feel balanced emotionally, mentally and physically.

Perhaps those reading might want to try these goals as well, but molded to fit your own lives.

It's not easy ... But I've been making an effort to do 10 to 15 minutes of Yoga in the morning, to take stretching breaks throughout my work day and observe when I'm getting too engrossed in any one task or bringing tension to my body.

I've been trying to eat better, though I've had my days ... and I've been trying, especially right now — in the dead of this season, when depression tends to swallows me up — to channel my emotions, desires, frustrations, ego wants, etc. into more creative, distracting or relaxing ways. Whether it's reading, sketching, getting out and seeing a movie (even on my own), writing, pushing myself to walk L even in the cold, going out with different people, hosting small gatherings at my home, etc.

Yoga, in the physical sense, is all about tension and release. It's all about cycles.

Each person's life entails its own combination of tension and release moments. All throughout the day. Even something as simple and natural as your breath demonstrates this. The pulling in of air, the expanding and tightening of the lungs, the gentle release and subtle relief that ensues.

The important thing is to find more release moments throughout our day. To stop wasting so much of our life force, our energy, on fixated thoughts, stresses, work, tension, drama. Most of which doesn't really matter in the grand scheme of life. So, the first step is awareness, just be aware of yourself.

Then, make small adjustments. You're driving and you feel your body is tense, notably relax it. You notice you're straining in front of your computer screen, release your neck, back, take a deep breath and refocus. You're walking to the car and it's freezing out and you're tense and shivering, try to relax your muscles and refocus your attention elsewhere, on your breath, maybe take in the sky or the trees.

Perhaps you're listening to someone and feel your patience wearing thin or you're noticing that you're focusing on all negatives going on with your day rather than the numerous positives, like the simple fact you're alive, breathing and in motion. Maybe with that person, readjust your attention to focus on the things you actually like or love about them. Same with your "bad" days. Find the release moments in your day. Find them and envelope them.

These are just a few random things that came to mind, but I assure you, the more you pay attention, the more you realize just what needs adjustment in your life, what you are lacking, what you need more of or less of for your own well being. Let your own body and intuition tell you all you need to know.

And then, it's just a matter of discipline and moderation :-)


Sunday, February 3, 2013

Do You Resist What Is?

There's this common theme I've been noticing, learning about and expressing for some time now, even if it's hard for me to always practice myself.

I think Tolle says it best here:

“To offer no resistance to life is to be in a state of grace, ease and lightness. This state is then no longer dependent upon things being in a certain way, good or bad. It seems almost paradoxical, yet when your inner dependency on form is gone, the general conditions of your life, the outer forms, tend to improve greatly. Things, people or conditions that you thought you needed for your happiness now come to you with no struggle or effort on your part, and you are free to enjoy and appreciate them — while they last. All those things, of course, will still pass away, cycles will come and go, but with dependency gone there is no fear of loss anymore. Life flows with ease.”

I still struggle with this one sometimes. Because my attachment to people, relationships, situations is still strong sometimes. But I'm noticing that the more I "let go" and not resist what my life is right at this moment, the more positive things, things I've yearned for are crossing my path.

Think about your life for a minute, the things in it that you "aren't happy with." Now, what makes that judgement? Your brain? Or is it something you "feel" inside. I think sometimes we "think" things are worse than they are or we're supposed to be doing this by now or doing that by now, etc. But are those thoughts REALLY ours? Or are they manifestations of societal norms, outside influences, etc.

I guess my point is, there is a difference between what you're thinking and what you're actually feeling, instinctively, intuitively. When you learn to decipher between them, then you'll have an easier time figuring out what you really need to change for you to feel more in sync with your true self and the universe.

And you'll notice that once you get in sync, good things start to happen and opportunities begin to arise all around you.

That being said, the other part of this is relationships/friendships. I used to think if I was friends with someone, like really good friends at one point in my life or another, we would be friends forever. But that's just not what happens in life. There are people, the soul mate kind, who no matter what happens, you're always connected over the years. And then there are the people who come and go, help us along or teach us a lesson and then move on.

I speak generally here, because this is something that I've come across now in my own life more times than I can count on both my hands, whether its been someone wanting more out of my friendship than I'm giving or wanting the direction of the relationship to go a way that it isn't going. And I've been on the other side of this as well.

It often leads to resentment or projection, anger, passive aggressiveness, manipulation, etc. All "out of sync" things.

Which begs the question, why do we sometimes get so caught up in the label we want our relationship or friendship with someone else to be or the direction we want things to go in that we fail to appreciate what that person or situation is offering us just as we both are in this moment?

Why do we focus more on what isn't happening than what IS happening in our lives? Because our egos are trained to constantly hunger for more, to want more, to be dissatisfied with what's in the here and now. Because that would mean the ego is useless, which would lead to its utter demise.

This can be applied to our jobs or perhaps other unsatisfying situations in our current lives, money problems, legal issues, family drama, etc.

There is nothing wrong with changing things that don't feel "right" in our lives anymore. But I think it's important to examine where those feelings are truly coming from, deciding if they're coming from the heart and soul or coming from the mind and outside influences. The answer to those questions will help in deciding where we step next. Another tool to use is that whole "upstream, downstream" analysis I gave a few blogs ago. If you take a step in one direction and you continue to feel "hungry" or unsatisfied or depressed, anxious, etc. then LISTEN to that feedback and adjust your steps accordingly.

Resistance is a mark of the ego—our false self—not our true being. Our authentic self flows with life, instead of resisting it. ~ David Robert Ord

Remember ... you are your best teacher.



Thursday, January 24, 2013

Why Do We React the Ways We Do?

Fear is anxiety, stress, frustration, anger, pain, depression, irritation, all the negative emotions and feelings you experience.

Everything else ... everything else is love.

Those were the words my teacher said this past weekend that hit me hardest. Think about it. All the negative things we feel, when you go right to the core of every one of them, some kind of fear is at the root. Fear of loss, fear of being alone, fear of rejection, fear of not being loved or lovable, fear of people who are confident, fear of people who are somehow "better than you," fear of inadequacy, insecurities, pain, etc.

Why do we snap at people, why when someone compliments someone else we might feel inadequate in comparison to, do we feel the instant need to cut into them, to criticize? All of those things aren't really "us." They are egotistical derivatives of fear. 

So that quintessential question of "What is love?" Well, according to my teacher, it's everything else. It's peace, it's warmth, it's ease, it's gentleness, kindness, compassion, sympathy, generosity, selflessness, altruism ... all of those things encompass love. And when we love ourselves, we don't have room for inadequacy, insecurity, the need to push others down so we can "stay up." Because if you notice, after you do push someone down, whatever "good" feeling you feel, it's never there long and it's often replaced with more self hate or depression.

I can't speak for everyone else, but I think our society in general has twisted and contorted the idea of love to fit each person's mold. And while I do believe everyone experiences it in a different way and experiences different "kinds" of love, I really do see it differently now and look back on some of the distorted views I once had myself.

Yes, I believe you can love someone and still have selfish or angry or jealous moments. But the more you're aware of those emotions as they arise, the more you learn to quickly decipher between what is genuine love and when you're reacting to fear, projecting fear and feeding that pain-fueled egoistic part of you rather than nourishing your heart and spirit ... and truly loving another.

And as soon as you bring awareness to those thoughts/emotions ... they tend to go poof,  like smoke. Imagine them creatures that don't want to be seen ... and once you see them, they lose all their power and disappear. 

Next time you snap at someone or you feel irritation or anger or you want to cut into someone, or a situation, insult someone, criticize, judge, etc. Just be aware of what's going on in you, even while it's happening ... you'll notice how quickly you lose steam. The ego won't like it, that's for sure. But you'll feel a shift more and more in you.

It isn't about judging yourself or scolding yourself, it's about weeding out our "fake," fear induced selves and embracing our "true," loving selves. You can't change these things by changing how you act to others. It has to start with how you treat yourself. That's at the root of everything else.

And once you find love there. You'll discover it everywhere.