Learning about Life


Robertson Nature Reserve

The Yoga Teacher Training program ended the last weekend of July with a silent retreat less than an hour away from home.  The following Monday I thought I would carry on as usual and work on my thesis, but sitting in front of my computer I still felt the need to officially recognize my experience.  I wrote a letter with the e-mail subject “To My Friends and Family.”  At first I thought I would send this e-mail to my closest circle, but that circle kept expanding and expanding to my extended family until even past co-workers were on the list.  My sense of self has expanded this same way in these past few months and is symbolic of this decision to share with as many as I could.

About to click the “send” button, I asked myself what my purpose was in sharing my vulnerabilities and this deep part of myself that I would not usually share otherwise.  It wasn’t to “show off” or “boast” about my experience.  To say that I was “better” than “you” because I have found peace and realizations.  It was simply to share.  The letter would also function to bring awareness to others in my life, whether we have talked with each other lightly about the weather or deeply about the workings of the universe, that it’s okay to show our vulnerabilities.

I believe one of my purposes in this world is to show my own vulnerabilities to others, something I have always naturally done, helping others see that we all have similar fears and desires.  Sharing these fears and desires perhaps is one way to transcend them.  Now I am sharing these vulnerabilities with you…

Dear Family and Friends,

This past weekend I took part in a silent retreat at the Capuchin Retreat Center which backs up to Stoney Creek.  Through the silence I connected deeply to the world around me.  I also connected to the essence within me and I wanted to relate this connection to the essence within you.

At about 8:30 p.m. on Friday night, my yoga and spiritual teacher chimed the bell that brought the thirty-five souls in the room into silence.  From that moment until about 10:30 a.m. on Sunday morning, we dwelled in our silence on the ten acres of gardens,trees, benches, hammock, and walking paths at the retreat center.  We walked silently, we bowed our eyes to avoid eye contact with each other, we ate consciously and silently, with nowhere to be or go but in the place we were at that moment.

In this place, time was lost.  But there was a schedule to follow.  So there was reference to my watch to be sure I was in the shade of the trees when we practiced Tibetan Heart Yoga where we sent our love to a person in our lives as we meditated and practiced.  I paid attention to the hours so I could arrive to the dining room with enough time to slowly eat my meals, bite by bite, breath by breath in silence.  I made sure to lie down in the room with the rest of us in the late evenings, quietly on our mats supported by pillows and covered with blankets, as we listed to our teacher play Tibetan bowls and gong for at least thirty minutes.  Some of us would be lulled to sleep.  Others would surrender quietly to the vibrations as we lay still but awake.

In the times between our meals and yoga and meditation practices, each of us made decisions on the moments we would create alone.  There was no schedule in these periods of time.  And this is especially when time was lost.  With the earth supporting me from below and shade of a tree protecting me from above, I drew, read, and listened to the sounds that nature delivered. The fountain in the pond drew me in closer through the days and I visited it often.  The sounds of bees buzzing were larger than ever, and they drew me to the plants as I watched them float from flower to flower, gathering what they needed at that moment, what the plant was ready to give, and then moving on.  The walking path that centers the grounds took me through the path that Jesus took in his last human experience of pain and suffering.  On these wood canvases with images of white paint were sounds of pain, but also of love and joy.

It was on these walks that I felt a presence within me.  The devotion, compassion, and solitude of our Great Aunties, Sisters Diana and Margaret, flowed within me.  There I imagined their lives and in my heart I bowed to their chosen journeys and their departed souls.  As I came to the painting of Jesus, bearing his cross, and his mother Mary, I felt Milan’s presence within me. I cried for his soul’s departure. And I thanked him for saving my life, the way that perhaps Jesus saved his mother Mary.  I cried for mother and son.  And I thanked our angels, our saviors, this Salvador within all of us.

There were times, hours after silence began when the chatter in my mind finally faded away, that I wasn’t sure if I was alive.  I thought perhaps my body was dead.  I wasn’t sure if all of this was really happening.  I wasn’t sure if the silence was manmade or heaven-made.  I wasn’t sure if this group of people chose to be silent or if our true nature was silence.

As human silence and nature’s sounds supported me, certain thoughts washed away as more meaningful thoughts floated in.  And when silence broke on Sunday morning with the chimes of the bell, the silence within me remained.  Perhaps the stillness wasn’t as strong because at some point I was forced to move my vocal chords.  But the idea that the silence could remain, even as I drove home, even as I embraced my family again, even as I carried on with the routines of daily life after my return, teaches me that this force, whatever it is, is within me as I believe it is within you.  All I hope to do for the remainder of my life, amidst the challenges and unexpected surprises, is to embrace it.

Thank you for being in my life, in whatever way you are.

In love and peace,

Sandy

self made. en:childrens, noises. gl:nenos, ruí...

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Complaining doesn’t usually serve us, but today I’m going to complain.  And then maybe I’ll do something about it.

Noise.  Noise.  Noise.  There is so much noise everywhere I go.  At home, even while the house is still, the refrigerator is buzzing, the de-humidifier in the basement is rattling, the cars from the nearby road are swishing.  And then I go to the coffee shop to work because the library and the bookstore don’t open until 10 a.m.  The dessert cooler is vibrating all inanimate objects around me.  People are chattering.  Music is sounding overhead, music that is not conducive to concentration.  Then I take myself to the library.  No one is in the quiet study room so there is no human clattering but the sounds of my bare feet softly cushioned on carpet.  Outside the wall sized window is a courtyard fountain enveloped by the well-kept landscaping, a calm scene with unheard passerbys.  But then I hear the air conditioning running, and then the furnace to offset the mechanical problems of the air conditioner that shoots outrageously frigid air.  My computer won’t stop humming.  The scrolling button on my mouse clickety-clickety-clickety as I move down the page.

I’m not complaining that I am blessed with the sense of hearing.  I’m complaining that the overstimulation is becoming unbearable.  I am noticing all the different sounds around me that are intrusive.  Would I ever complain about birds chirping?  No, unless they echoed the parrot that lived in a nearby apartment when I briefly lived in Puerto Vallarta, screaming “agua fresca! agua fresca! helado! helado! hiiiielo! hiiielo!”  I no longer crave any kind of food but I do crave quiet.  In the last weekend of July, I will soak myself in the stillness of the silent retreat where yoga and meditation become the center of the universe.

Life Lesson #10:  Find more silence.  This racket is not something to adapt to.  NOISE POLLUTION.  Noise Pollution.  noise pollution.  go away.  don’t come back another day.

Pick One

My teacher explained to us that when we are trying to make a decision between two choices, we must realize that there is always another option.  It’s taken me thirty-one years to realize something so simple and when he put it into words it hit me:  I am teaching my three-year-old son that he usually only has two choices.  “Do you want to shut the TV off or do you want me to do it?”  And that’s how I usually get him to shut the TV off, for example.  He wants to do it and he does it with the threat that I would be the one to “press the button,” but I know he didn’t want the fun to end.  He must decide between one of the choices that I give him, and if he picks a third choice I didn’t offer which doesn’t accomplish my goal, I was taught that this is the moment where I am supposed to get frustrated.

I am passing onto him an understanding of limited choices, choices that originate from authority figures.  This is a technique to get little ones to comply, as in the TV example.  It works often and I have used it in desperate measures, like getting him to stop throwing a tantrum that he doesn’t want to hold my hand while we’re crossing the street, and not so desperate ones, like deterring Spiderman cartoons meant for 7-year-olds.  This is also a sales technique as my teacher pointed out, one that I’m sure I’ve used.  His example:  “Would you like to meet at 1 p.m. tomorrow or 5:30 this evening?”  Only two choices – pick one.  And when it happens, ring the bell, we just made a sale!

I didn’t come from a free-spirited home where we were encouraged to be wildly imaginative.  We learned, like most people, rules.  When we abided by the rules we got positive reinforcement.  That’s why I washed the dishes and pushed a massive vacuum twice the size of me at four-years-old.  Not because I wanted to clean.  It was the reward after cleaning; the pat on the back, the “thank you” for helping, the labeling of me as a “helper” and the “clean one” in the family.  After recently reading “The Four Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz, I felt this enormous sense of confusion:  How am I going to raise a human being to not follow these rigid rules, or accept the “agreements” that I’ve followed all these years?  How am I going to teach him that he doesn’t need anyone’s acceptance but his own and there are always creative solutions to problems,  when here I am relying on giving limited choices and leaning on positive reinforcement to get the behavior want as a mother.  How selfish of me to feel the need to control his behavior to my liking so I can accomplish daily chores and get some “me time” in during his nap.  But then again, how else will I teach him to eat healthy or socialize him to go to school if I weren’t controlling his behavior?   It’s a dilemma I haven’t solved.  But next on my reading list is the topic of mindful parenting.  I’m sure to find answers there.

Life Lesson #8:  If there is a world of choices, there are other alternatives to raising an obedient and rigid child.  When my son takes choice number three that I didn’t offer to begin with, I should celebrate his creative problem solving (I think) and realize he’s giving me the opportunity to rethink the limitations I place on myself and those around me.

Life Lesson #9:  One Choice, Two Choices, Three Choiceseses.  If I choose to see my child as my teacher, possibilities become infinite.

Now and then, when “stuff” starts taking over our home, I have to ask myself:  “Does everything here have a home of its own?”  When the answer is no, I make new homes for the stuff that stays.  The rest of it has to go.  This is not to say I should impress you, because I don’t do this often enough.

A couple of months after I took to gluten-free and vegan baking, I noticed that all the different flours, starches, and natural sweeteners I had bought were homeless, which was obvious after they started overtaking another piece of my home.  They would be thrown into a paper grocery bag after each baking session.  There they’d hide, making clutter in the next room right into my meditation space.   Baking became the activity that I romanticized but when it came to it, I’d be swearing up a storm in the act, trying to scoop into and out of flour and starch bags that were original packages to each product.

Enough was enough.  I invested in Snapware.  Not the best but not the worst.  I bought the box of 38 pieces and went to town, building homes for all my pretty flours and starches.   I gave my light brown sugar a castle that holds twenty-four cups.  Yes, I buy the big bag and use it well.  I bought aluminum scoops which work magnificently; spoons just don’t cut it anymore.  I found new homes for things I couldn’t put into containers, like my Agave sweetener and Spectrum shortening.  To baptize their new homes in my kitchen after I was done building them, I baked.  A scoop into the flour, and sweetly into the measuring cup.  A teaspoon gliding in and out of the xanthan gum and voila, into the mixing bowl.  If I knew baking could be so easy, I would’ve built new homes a long time ago.

Lesson 6:  Everything has a place once I make it. 

Lesson 7:  Once I make the place, rejoice when I get invited in.

Snapware = Bringer of Peace and Harmony

I am in a unique situation that is forcing me to see things differently.  The situation is an opportunity.  In this opportunity, learning to be a yoga teacher, I am learning about the idea of emptiness, the idea that grounds Buddhism and yoga philosophy.  Once I finally allowed this idea of emptiness to be planted in my mind, I realized that with each moment of life that I was misinterpreting, I had the responsibility to reinterpret the moment for what it was, empty of its own nature.  This is a difficult yet life-giving task.

A brief explanation of emptiness:  Emptiness is the notion that nothing has its own nature – our perceptions are nothing but perceptions.  Our minds work in ways to make us believe that everything has its own true essence, so that the computer I’m typing on is, well, a computer.  The end.  When we apply the idea of emptiness, reality changes.  Without my twisted mind getting in the way to call see this thing as a computer in and of itself, this is a thing made up of a bunch of little squares with shapes on them, connected to a rectangle connected to a rectangle and all these other little microrectangles that function as a computer.  One day this rectangle of a rectangle will not function anymore.  And while it may function as a mechanism of productivity for me, it may function as a toy for my son.  It may function as a warm (and hard) bed for a kitty cat.  So, I see this computer as a computer because of my own perceptions of it.  The way I see things comes from ME, not from the things I am saying. 

It’s expected, in the beginning of “getting” emptiness, that one goes back and forth, forgetting that things come from us and not to us and then coming back to emptiness.  Even in the atmosphere where I can express all of the yoga teachings to the fullest at teacher training school, I am noticing that I am reverting to my old conceptions. 

For example, in my attempts to constantly censor myself, I’ve noticed that when people seek to know about my life, I tend to act superficially until I know that (1) I am not burdening them in whatever way with knowledge about me (2) They are genuine in their concern (3) I have nothing to prove.  Though I know my yoga teacher is genuine in his concern, I feel that I burden him if I share or explain my pain and then suddenly I have something to prove:  that I am strong.  And then I become overanalytical, judging everything I say, judging everything my teacher says to me, wondering if I offended my teacher or a peer, UNTIL I remember emptiness. 

STOP!  STOP!  STOP!  Stop apologizing, stop wondering how others are perceiving me, stop doing all this nonsense, I have to say to my self.  See the situation for what it is.  When I am in pain, sometimes I am not genuine with others.  Sometimes I don’t speak meaningfully and truthfully.  Sometimes I engage in meaningless chatter because I am afraid to say that I’m in pain.  Sometimes I want to feel like I’m not in pain so I put on a smile and try to make others feel comfortable and good about themselves, and I agree with them when I really don’t or don’t even have an opinion about what they’re saying. 

Life Lesson 4:  Everything comes from me.       

Life Lesson 5:  I can change everything.

The courtyard leading to the entrance to the B...

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A few months ago I transitioned to a gluten-free diet.  That’s when Whole Foods entered the picture, moving me up from a part-time shopper to a seriously full-time, once, twice or thrice a week shopper who brings her own bags to save the planet.  Whole Foods had the organic produce I was always too stingy to buy.  But my priorities changed.  It became important that I invest in the one body I have and feed it nutritious stuff free of man-made sh-tuf.  My friends laugh at me for it, but they’ll get it soon enough. 

Life Lesson 1: I laughed at my sister who said organic eggs TASTE better.  But she was right, and I am a convert. 

But, Whole Foods, I haven’t visited you lately, have I?  While I was busy getting nourished with the yummy goodness you offer, you stole my wallet!  You see, I started writing down the cost of my purchases and comparing to the local nutrition store just a 7 minute walk from my very own home.  The health food store won on many, though not all, of the products.  And even when Whole Foods offers the lower price, the gas I would waste alone to get there would make up for the difference.  Plus, in addition to the cheaper alternative, walking to the local store would be the healthier alternative that gets the body moving, the more social alternative greeting passerbys, the environmentally responsible alternative that leaves less carbon footprints, the support local business alternative that pays rent in the downtown area keeping it lively, and also offers the feeling of a slow down, take one step at a time and enjoy your life kinda lifestyle.  I like it.    

Life Lesson 2:  Realizing my priorities helps me make decisions.  Making decisions I believe in can lead to unintended delights. 

Life Lesson 3:  Tend your own garden first.

Happy Friday 😉 

Following an example

Image by ktylerconk via Flickr

When you care for someone you want for them what you think is best.   So it becomes tempting to tell someone they should try to pick up healthier activities or food options.  For example, when I first started seeing the many benefits of practicing yoga years I go, I tried to introduce yoga to others I cared about.  It caught on for those who are open to new things, but not so much for the more reluctant and even defensive.  I didn’t realize there was a much more powerful way to go about it other than being direct.  NOT SAYING ANYTHING would work in a way I couldn’t imagine, while avoiding hurt feelings and defensive reactions.   JUST LEAD BY EXAMPLE.  Ultimately, when we choose to change or try something new for ourselves, a real transformation can result.

To “lead by example” is a common saying in our language, but it’s preciseness is not credited to the degree it should be.  But I never understood the power of the example until the last couple of months when a firestorm of change swept over my entire local network of family and friends. 

In late 2010, someone close to me told me she was going to cut down her gluten intake.  At the same time, my husband and I were considering doing a detox sometime in early 2011.   We were both having digestive issues and thought a good old-fashioned healthy raw diet would help us out.

A week before the detox, my close friend’s example made me realize that perhaps I should lay off the gluten and see what happened.  That week I felt much better than usual.  After the detox, I ate something that made me feel horribly sick, and after putting some pieces together, I realized I probably have candida albicans overgrowth in my system.  I remain on this candida detox diet today.

During this time, a friend of mine decided she needed to lose weight and started a program with a hospital in late January.  Her husband was supporting her by doing it himself.  Her coworkers observed her progress and commitment and within two weeks, two of her coworkers were ready to start the program themselves.  Her mother, father, and uncle also decided to begin eating healthier.  Our friend’s mother asked her in detail about what she eats, because she wanted to start eating healthier as well.  One by one, people around her began to FOLLOW HER EXAMPLE.    

Others close to me who have been dealing with major digestive distress saw me change my eating patterns as I remain on a candida detox.  Curious, one of these individuals bought a book on detox and is going to begin in the coming week.  She called me with questions.  I WANTED to suggest to her that she try a detox, but I was afraid that verbalizing it would make her pull away.  So she learned by MY example.

It’s all very magical.  Your wishes for others come true in their own time.  When I started practicing yoga in 1997 my mother thought I was crazy and even selfish for not eating breakfast with the family before my practice.  Since then, with a little encouragement from my sister she has tried yoga herself and is extremely encouraging of me to become a certified instructor.  And this chain of practicing yoga is longer than I realize.  Imagine how many lives will be changed because of one person learning from another’s example and not their suggestion. 

 How all of these events happen in conjunction is powerful and uplifting.  It’s pure magic.

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