Spirituality


I thought that I would abandon this blog and that it had served its purpose.  But something in me is crying out, crying out loudly, that I have allowed circumstances to run my life and take away from me what is precious: me and my thoughts and all the creative fruits that they could bear.

As the saying goes:  I thought wrong.

And with the DESPERATE need to create and reconnect with my self, I have returned to the home I built years ago, to think a little more.  It’s time to refashion circumstances so they serve my own purpose.  And I wouldn’t mind a little company! 11-12-14 003

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

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.

Imagine how much we can accomplish in just fifteen minutes a day...

Years ago I read Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day: A Guide to Starting, Revising, and Finishing Your Doctoral Thesis by Joan Bolker, Ed.D.  I was beginning a Master’s Thesis in 2003 while working full-time.  I struggled for years to bring my thesis to the forefront of my life, but life’s happenings usually beat me.  As my life perspective has changed and continues to change, and as I come to finally seeing my thesis as a final product, I’ve come to the realization on my own how “fifteen minutes a day” really works.

Making time to write is like making time for my new morning meditation ritual.  For weeks and even months I thought about wanting to meditate regularly.  Each day I would put it off until later until the day got away and I would never realize that moment of reflection.  Once I realized that the only feasible time to meditate was when I was the only one stirring in the house, I began waking up earlier.  I consciously carved a time out in my day to meditate.  And each time I meditate, I reinforce how powerful the act is, making me more and more committed to seeing through the next morning’s meditation.  Meditating in the wee early morning while the house is still silent has replaced my caffeine intake.  I have cut coffee and black tea completely and drink green tea as a treat.  I now look to meditation to get my brain going in the morning so that I am alert to the subtleties in the data I’m studying.  I feel prepared to deal with the challenges of the day and to recognize each moment, and challenge, as precious.  There is a level of commitment to this act, and even reliance on it. 

Writing “fifteen minutes a day” has taken on a similar role.  There are days where I literally only get fifteen minutes to write.  After getting ready in the morning, the short meditation of 8-12 minutes, making my tea and writing in my production journal, I may be working for only 15 minutes when my son has unexpectedly started his day before 7:30 a.m.  The teaser sample makes me want more.  I can’t wait, I look forward to, I rely on being able to write again.  But when I’m not writing, I don’t need to think about how I’m not getting anything done (though I do have those moments, they are not pervasive), because I trust that all the other moments of joy will only help me the next day when I write again. 

It is the simple act of carving out 15 minutes of my time daily to something I love that makes the 15 minutes so potent.  Making the time, the act itself, is how 15 minutes really works.  It’s like growing a plant.  When you give yourself to those things you love, they grow.  And the relationship is circular.  When I give time to my writing, I am giving time to myself, and we grow together.  If my goal is growth, how could I stop protecting this ritual that gives me fifteen minutes to two hours a day if I’m so lucky?  The real progress that is happening, even when one writing session is only filled with thinking, is too powerful to ignore.  Yet with the other elements that make up my life, this level of committment can be fragile.  And this is another way that “fifteen minutes a day” works.  “Fifteen minutes a day,” that’s all it takes to show your love, and it will grow all on its own.

I’d like to know: What makes you committed to your passion?  What are your daily rituals that help you stay connected to the different elements in your life? 

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.

I often catch certain people looking at me.  Their eyes are fixed.  They are watching everything I do.  They are watching every frown and every smile.  I’ve caught my Grandmother Shamamta doing it.  And she finally said to me the other day in her Inshalla voice, wishes for me to have another boy.  One of my uncles has done it as well.  He seems to be wondering how I can smile and laugh as much as I do.  My close friend had tried to tell me once how she was so deeply affected from my loss, and months later, after I had stopped talking about it, she told me that her anxiety level was so high that her doctor gave her anti-anxiety medication and a referral to a therapist.  She was reminded of death and her fear escalated.

And then I remember the people that try NOT to look at me for too long, because they are too afraid to be reminded of something that we can never escape.  And I think to myself, what would happen if these people tried a Buddhist meditation that I have yet to try, where you meditate on your own death.  Where, no matter how hard you try, you are unable to prevent this inevitable death.  What would happen to us if we all did that?  Wouldn’t it help us stop fighting with each other?  Stop bickering?  Stop blabbing about things that simply don’t matter.  Wouldn’t it keep us from spending money on ridiculous things and maybe spend it on others who need food, medicine, or shelter? 

For my friend, I wouldn’t try to do away with the reminder.  I would embrace it and the anxiety will diminish.  I am thankful that I am able to even though I’m just learning how to do that.  And for those that try to forget it, I will always be a reminder for them that death exists.  That’s okay by me.  When they see me smile,  I hope they think, what enables her to smile?  What does she know that I don’t?  And maybe they’ll ask.  And if not, maybe they’ll wonder.  That is usually the beginning of something wonderful.

DISSOLVER OF SUGAR by Rumi, taken from The Essential Rumi

Dissolver of sugar, dissolve me,

If this is the time.

Do it gently with a touch of a hand, or a look.

Every morning I wait at dawn.  That’s when

It’s happened before.  Or do it suddenly

Like an execution.  How else

Can I get ready for death?

You breathe without a body like a spark.

You grieve, and I begin to feel lighter.

You keep me away with your arm,

But the keeping away is pulling me in.

Pale sunlight,

Pale the wall.

Love moves away.

The light changes.

I need more grace

Than I thought.

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