Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and righting,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase each other
doesn’t make any sense.
I am a woman of rituals. My daily life is punctuated by ordinary moments consecrated in sacred and simple ways. In contrast to routines, which are performed habitually and usually with a specific outcome in mind, rituals provide a space for something bigger to enter us and meet us in the moment--wherever we may find ourselves.
This year I have begun each morning with a little ritual where I greet the new day by stepping outside as the sun is rising and I take a few deep breaths to offer my thanks to Gaia, our beautiful Earth Mother, for all that she provides. I light incense and place it next to a special rock in my front flower beds. Some days I pray; other days I stretch or sit quietly for a minute or two. This spot has become a favorite corner for my kids and I to place objects such as flowers, shells and feathers. It is our collective outdoor altar where we can be reminded to "Believe" that anything is possible. I have chosen to believe in miracles. I know it may sound silly to some. Honestly, at a certain stage in my life, I snubbed the idea because it seemed new-agey and intellectually immature. Just as evolving is a genuinely humbling process, it's also wonderfully surprising to see the ways in which we can view something in an entirely new light as our perspective shifts. That is precisely what A Course in Miracles calls a miracle: a shift in thinking from fear to love. In this way, miracles aren't just metaphysical occurrences defined by inexplicable events. Miracles can and should be a part of the lexicon of ordinary, everyday life as well.
Our brains look for patterns and we create meaning based on what we see and repeat daily over the course of our lives. Just as each day follows the pattern of morning, afternoon and evening or a story has a beginning, middle and end, our minds need a certain framework to function optimally. Our routines serve us by providing a certain context for our lives to unfold with some predictability and certainty. Without the appropriate and necessary structure to our days, we can easily feel anxious and overwhelmed. However, if we become too consumed by the familiar patterns, we easily close off to the possibility of miracles.
I define the miraculous as the opening of our mind-heart to "the field" Rumi writes of as the place of infinite possibilities. Modern science calls this the "quantum field." Consider for a moment as you look around you, all that you see and "know" as a result. Bookcase, tree, water bottle, lamp. I know this is my house, my books, backyard, neighborhood, etc. In some ways, this itself is a miracle. Just being alive to see, touch, taste and experience this world is a mind-blowing phenomenon! Now take a moment to contemplate all that you cannot yet see or the "unknown." Imagine this field of infinite potential as part of your experience in the present moment. I think Rumi offers us a secret key in his poem that invites us to cross the threshold between known and unknown, beyond duality, and to lie down in the grass-- shift our perspective--in order to let the field meet us right now. In this way, every moment becomes the doorway into the infinite field.
Rituals simultaneously contain their own logic or mental pattern and order as well as magic or a supernatural force and mystery. They serve as vital threshold places between habit and holy, familiar and foreign, conscious and unconscious. It is the fertile field in which we can plant the seeds of any dream or longing that our heart yearns to experience. We need to practice returning to this remembrance often so that we train ourselves to awaken again and again to possibility. One of my teachers, Chameli Ardagh, speaks of this remembrance as a powerful sadhana or spiritual practice. She says: "Keep reminding yourself, this is what I can see right now, but my perspective is limited. Your brain will keep looking for the familiar and try to limit your possibilities. Let your mind be open like a flower. Practice to stay in wonder." Our ritual practices can support us in developing this kind of fluidity of awareness.
What rituals or remembrances keep you poised on the threshold of wonder? How do you practice entering "the field" and shifting your perspective to include a wider scope of reality? Finally, what would feel like a miracle for you right now? Write it down. And then write it again in the present tense, as if it is happening now. Keep returning to the heart of possibility. Discover the ways to believe again when your mind circles back to its familiar pathways of limitation and doubt.
Stay open, devote yourself to the discipline of seeing possibility everywhere, and take a few moments each day to let your soul rest in the infinite field. . .
I'll meet you there.
April 1, 2018. #244
For the last eight months or so this is how every one of my journal entries has begun: with the date and a number. I started counting my days last summer when my "new" life began. At that point I had no idea how I would make it as a single mom with two kids--working and maintaining the only home that we have known. It felt like a huge free-fall into the unknown. While a significant chapter was ending I decided one day, definitively, that it would be the first day of the rest of my life. Day #1. This is how my counting started and in my journal that day I began to create my new reality by re-claiming the space around me as my own: add a floor lamp to the corner of the bedroom, clean out the closet under the stairs, move the white bookcase from the office to the living room, buy new sheets. . . . It was a simple list that served as a map for my next steps. Everyday since then I have added to this list and have challenged myself to expand my vision of what is possible.
Starting over in this way has given me a palpable sense of creative control over what will happen next in my life. The ability to consciously choose what I really want both physically and emotionally. The linear structure of counting my days keeps me moving forward and offers a realistic perspective on what I can manage to accomplish or experience within the scope of a single day. Accumulating these days over the course of a week and a month has been an amazing experiment in recognizing how real change happens: organically, gradually and systematically with diligent attention to the generative action that needs to be taken and the toxic strongholds that need to be surrendered.
Over the course of this last year I feel like I have crossed an ocean: surfing the waves of grief, diving into the depths of despair and then breaking the surface to breathe in moments of the most exquisite joy and to behold an entirely new horizon. I have felt my future as the blueprint of my own soul beckoning me to keep counting--to come back to today when I get distracted, fearful or confused. Keep hold of the thread and step into each day with courage and trust. I am growing in intimacy with the understanding that true fulfillment is an art that unfolds as we are willing to live in ways that summon our inherent creative potential--to be wholly ourselves. When we challenge our limited perspectives in any moment and lean more heavily into the edge of what is unknown to us as a frontier of freedom, we train ourselves to become pioneers moving ahead with a greater purpose for our lives. We sacrifice the well worn trails of conditioned habit for new pathways of discovery.
Day #244: Easter. Time to rise. Today I rise above my current situation for a moment and see the bigger picture. I can see that I am on the edge of a breakthrough--don't stop now. Doubt and fear will always be present but I get to choose my focus-this is part of my power now. Will I be the victim or victorious? I can focus on the old story that believes nothing will ever change and I'll always be stuck here. Or I can focus on the fact that anything is possible now that everything has changed. What single thought will serve my highest self now?
I concluded my first journal entry last year asking myself how I most wanted to spend the first day of the rest of my life. I decided that I would live it like it was my last: full of joy, deeply grateful and completely at peace knowing that I have lived and loved with my whole self. Today I am on the edge of another unknown threshold and I give myself completely to this miraculous journey. There are no mistakes and everything serves a greater purpose. The past is over and I am free to experience a future far beyond my wildest dreams. Today I begin again.
I am open to whatever is coming next. . .
The late, great Irish poet and theologian John O' Donohue describes a blessing as "a circle of light dawn around a person to protect, heal and strengthen." This is such a lovely image that offers comfort as well as a clue to how we can transform our pain into hope. We don't have to be ordained in a traditional role or receive religious training in order to administer a blessing. What if exactly who and how and where you are in this moment was the perfect opportunity to bestow a blessing?
Have you ever been in the presence of another and felt this quality of warmth and light? Did you feel how you were receiving a blessing through their particular quality of attention or the way they spoke to you or rested a hand on your shoulder or even hugged you in just the right way? It is truly a wonderful and miraculous experience that we can easily take for granted or miss entirely because we have closed ourselves off from this authentic form of connection. Perhaps you have been the one to bless another through your loving listening, spontaneous affection, or quiet prayer. . .
Every day we will meet some form of suffering--in ourselves or another human being. The question of how we meet this suffering and what we can do about it becomes a vital inquiry that we are called to respond to in ways that are helpful, hopeful and healing. Instead of thinking that we need to have answers or solutions to every difficulty, maybe we could simply practice the art of blessing. It could be a silent blessing or a smile blessing or a touch blessing or a written blessing or a fresh flower blessing. The avenues of expression are endless. How we offer the blessing isn't as important as our intention to bless.
I believe that the ability to bless is a true form of power and alchemy that we each possess if we choose to utilize this resource within our being.
I recently ended a yoga class by asking everyone to place their hands over their heart and offer themselves a blessing. I guided each person to imagine this circle of light around themselves and to ask for the blessing that they most longed to receive: for the health of their body, peace of mind, freedom from a particular worry or fear, or any concern that was most troubling. It's only when we are able to receive the blessing for ourselves that we can naturally offer it to others.
Consider this latent super power that you possess: to bless and be a blessing. Contemplate how you can be a blessing in your various roles and relationships. Do you have a heart that is available to receive the blessings that are being offered to you? Create a simple ritual each morning before you leave the house to take a moment to bless yourself and really feel that you have been gifted with a special blessing. Then ask to be a blessing for another. Silently bless each person you see. Remain open to the opportunities to offer protection, strength or healing to someone else in any way that feels genuine.
Notice the blessing bearers in your life. Appreciate, love and cherish them. Do not take lightly those that gift this kind of grace, as O'Donohue says:
It is such a privilege to have people who continue each day to bless us with their love and prayer. These inner friends of the heart confer on us inestimable gifts. In these times of greed and externality, there is such unusual beauty in having friends who practice profound faithfulness to us, praying for us each day without our ever knowing or remembering it. There are often lonesome frontiers we could never endure or cross without the inner sheltering of these friends. It is hard to live a true life that endeavors to be faithful to its own calling and not become haunted by the ghosts of negativity, therefore, it is not a luxury to have such friends; it is necessary.
May the immeasurable beauty and belonging of blessing meet each of us in the particular way we most need. May we remain faithful to the calling to respond in kind. May we be continuously grateful.
Bless you. Bless you. Bless you.
"You might ask yourself: 'Can I imagine what it would be like, in this moment, to have a heart that is ready for anything?'
If our hearts are ready for anything, we are free to be ourselves. There's room for the wildness of our animal selves, for passion and play. There's room for our human selves, for intimacy and understanding, and for creativity and productivity. There's room for spirit and for the light of awareness to suffuse our moments. The Tibetans describe this confidence to be who we are as 'the lion's roar.'" ~Tara Brach
I feel like I've traveled a long distance to reach this year. I want to arrive on its doorstep empty and let it fill me with all of its perfectly curated experiences. I know better than to try and plan my life out in detail. Instead, I will prepare myself for anything while I sketch the contours of feeling that I want to explore more deeply in my everyday life. I'll take my time, move at a sustainable pace and sit quietly with each day until I am sure of my direction; clear about the assignment. I'm going to simplify everything until it feels like just enough.
Three promises: I promise to be my best self, for myself, first. I promise to be gentle. I promise to keep my heart open and undefended. I believe the sacred guardians of this year already know the secret prayers of my heart and the tireless longing that beckons me forward everyday. Many things will be asked of me and I will step up. When I feel tempted to complain I'll count my gratitudes out loud. I'll use doubt as sign to wait for a clear "yes." I will always be looking for the signs.
I know that I am one of those who have been given the rare and precious opportunity to truly begin again. Second chances are rationed blessings and I'm not sure why I got one, but thank you. Already, you feel so bright and beautiful to me; new yet familiar. Help me to accept more when it is in my highest interest and to refuse it when it will diminish my soul. May I listen closely for my lion's roar and let it be the mantra that transforms my life. Thank you in advance for what you will deal and reveal.
I'm all in.
Some years are tidier, well-groomed and more user friendly than others. This past year has not been one of them for me. 2017 has been a year of dismantling--of my life falling apart. It's been a year marked most distinctly by "the ugly cry." Those who know me well can attest to this fact. This year has been one of the messiest years of my life.
While it hasn't been easy to embrace the mess, I am learning how to give it a space in my life. A similar thing happened when I began to learn to paint a couple of years ago. I found that if I really wanted to let myself have fun and enjoy the process fully, then I had to create an environment suitable to spills, drips and unfinished works of art that could be left lying around until I could circle back to them. So I created a small studio space in my home and dedicated it as my corner of creative chaos. This way my mess could be contained and didn't infringe on the rest of the household. While our emotional lives can't be quite so compartmentalized, there is wisdom in discovering how to contain our personal messes so that they don't hijack the joy from the rest of our lives.
I have a dear friend that tragically lost her husband in a car accident several years ago, leaving her a widow at 35 with two small children. I remember a conversation I had with her about how she was managing her grief and I was deeply moved by what she shared. She said that she was overcome by pain and sadness in the first few months and then one day she decided that she would allow herself a certain amount of time each day to cry, get angry and feel hopeless. After that allotted time each day, she would do what she could to care for herself and her family focusing on life rather than loss. Experimenting with this practice in my own life, I can attest to its power. When I give the mess some space and attend to it regularly, it doesn't seem as overwhelming or catastrophic.
Most of us haven't learned how to be with the unruly feelings of anger, sadness, despair, and loneliness directly, letting them move through our being without getting caught up the stories of meaning that we attach to them. The stories keep us at a safe distance from what our nervous system registers as a dangerous or uncontrollable threat. But the truth is that emotions are just different forms of energy needing a pathway for expression. The good news is that it takes far less time to fully process an emotion than you might think.
Here is an interesting fact that comes from brain research: It takes less than 90 seconds for an emotion to get triggered, surge through the blood stream then get flushed out. There is an automatic and chemical response in the body that lasts no longer than a minute and a half, yet by resisting and fighting our emotions, we choose to hang onto them indefinitely allowing them to coagulate in the body/mind matrix.
I know that each of our lives is proportionally blessed and a mess. Instead of trying to clean up the mess once and for all or pretend it doesn't exist, why not make a place for it in your life? I began this year declaring that it would be about personal mastery and then got the "messy" assignment! Indeed, I have been initiated into a new level of growth and the journey of following my soul's call continues. Just because this year is coming to a calendar close doesn’t mean I have to try to wrap it in a bow to impose a sense of orderly endings. However, I can focus on the fact that in the mess I am discovering some amazing opportunities to live with a much greater sense of freedom and joy.
Thank you 2017 for the mess, the mastery and the magic. . . .
Shakti Shake: a practice for transforming difficult emotions
In the Yogic tradition, Shakti is the creative life force that weaves through all of creation and moves the entire cosmos. This energetic principle expresses in an infinite number of ways and within each living thing. From this perspective, we can practice developing a sacred relationship with this creative impulse and discover how it wants to move through us on any given day. Utilizing the powerful yogic trifecta of breath, movement and sound to release the emotions creates a safe space for the messes of our minds and hearts to spill consciously. Try this practice next time you're triggered by a strong emotional reaction: Find a place where you can be alone and undisturbed. Stand with your feet a little wider than your hips and allow your knees to be soft. Tune into your body and notice where you feel the sensation of the emotion. Breathe a few deep breaths and begin to gently shake your body. There is no right or wrong way to do this. Follow your intuitive impulse to shake softly or with more vigor. You can use music to support your process. Explore different tempos and invite any sounds to be expressed. Keep going as long as you need to until the charge of the emotion dissipates. Then rest in stillness for a few minutes to feel the effects of the practice.
"Holy hour" in my life exists in the pre-dawn silence before the kids are awake and the daily demands for my time and attention begin to make themselves known. I cherish this first hour of my day to perform my favorite morning rituals: I bring my coffee into bed and still groggy I write my morning pages. I also read something that inspires me and pray--setting my intention for the day. This has been my practice for as long as I can remember. It grounds me in the midst of life's vicissitudes, it connects me to something bigger and re-aligns me with my own soul. In a word, it reminds that I can come home to myself again and again.
The busier my life becomes, the more imperative it is for me to find ways to return to my internal home place and salvage a portion of solitude so that I can rest, dream, create, and restore myself. In Women Who Run With the Wolves, Dr. Estés writes of home in this way:
"Every creature on earth returns home. It is ironic that we have made wildlife refuges for ibis, pelican, egret, wolf, crane, deer, mouse, moose and bear, but not for ourselves in the places where we live day after day. We understand that the loss of habitat is the most disastrous event that can occur to a free creature. . . .We know that for creatures to live on, they must at least from time to time have a home place, a place where they feel both protected and free. . . .for the soul-self psyche, vacation is not the same as refuge. "Time out" or "time off" is not the same as returning to home. Calmness is not the same as solitude."
Returning to our soul home, then, does not require an abundance of wealth, time, or ideal conditions. It only asks that we give ourselves to the things that bring us true joy and remind us that we are alive. There are no formulas or techniques for returning home yet there are countless ways to do so. In addition to my morning ritual, here are some other ways that I return home:
I know that if I go a little too long without nourishing my soul in these ways, I start to feel as though I am running on automatic and lose my edge of gratitude and wonder. When my life becomes more mechanical than magical, I know that I am in need of return to my home place. These practices anchor me to what I most value and remind me that life is much more than an endless to-do list or tireless self-improvement project. Although these things may sound small, I see them as radical acts of self love and when I make them a priority, the rest of my life reflects this caliber of care.
With the holidays approaching, this time of year can be increasingly hectic and stress inducing. Where does your soul feel most at home? How will you return to your home place regularly? What are the small, radical acts of self-care that you will perform to protect your sacred solitude? This month make your soul a priority by focusing on at least one thing a day that will sustain a connection to yourself in this way. Cut through the excess. Resist the temptation to be overwhelmed. Limit the distractions. Lighten the expectations. The medicine that we naturally offer others is the exact antidote we most need for our healing. Show up in order to give to yourself the most precious gift that you give to others: your own radiating presence.
Welcome yourself home.
. . .dadme la muerte que me falta. . .
. . . give me the death I need. . .
I recently had a dream where I was on a fast moving roller coaster that was twisting, turning and speeding through pitch darkness. Somehow I could make it speed up or slow down by my will. I decided to make it go faster until I was screaming a thrilled scream with my eyes closed. I remember thinking to myself--I might as well try to relax and enjoy this wild ride in the dark because it's happening whether I like it or not!
This dream plainly symbolizes what the last year of my life has felt like: being on a wild ride through the landscape of the dark night of the soul. Rather than the scream of thrill in my dream, it has been more like an excruciating, slow, painful moan as I witness the dismantling of the familiar structures that have held my life in place for more than a decade. This decent into the dark has called me to step fully into the difficult lessons of death and to dive into the well of grief that accompanies such loss. The dissolving of my marriage and the process of divorce has catapulted me into this underworld landscape where I have been put in the center of the most uncomfortable paradox I've ever experienced: learning how to let significant parts of myself die while still attending to what lives: namely, my children, our new family dynamic and the emerging life that lives for me.
At some point in our lives each of us is summoned by death of one kind or another, whether it is the death of relationships, roles, identities, illusions, hopes or dreams. As an apprentice to death, my life continues to be the subject of great learning and discovery. Every day I feel alternately broken and reconstructed; deeply vulnerable and wholly strengthened by Grace. While I am still very much living in the midst of this current chapter of my life and do not yet have the benefit of time and perspective to appreciate the full story, I feel called to offer what I can, from where I stand today.
Since I view my life as both a spiritual experience and a personal adventure, I have chosen to perceive this crisis as a journey that is calling me to face, meet and move through the Great Unknown, to strengthen my relationship to the mystery and as an invitation to become a more authentic woman and whole human being. I am learning how to be fiercely present to what is happening in the moment while so much of what was once familiar falls away. . . to trust the process and let it be messy, painful and confusing for a while. Like my dream illustrates: I am not sure where I am going but I recognize that I have a certain amount of choice about how I move through the darkness. It has helped tremendously to take the "global" perspective regularly and view my life from a wider, spiritual lens. As painful as it has been, I have also had moments that can only be described as miraculous--divinely orchestrated and impeccably timed blessings.
There is great death-cycle wisdom that I have gleaned as well. This time of "separation" has given me the opportunity to sort the "poppies from the dirt" or to discern what is generative and life giving from what lacks any vital energy both inwardly and outwardly. I am still very much in this process of sorting: material stuff, thoughts, feelings, dreams, etc. and carefully deciding what to retain and what to release as I move forward. Interestingly, I've even had to reframe my relationship to my creativity, which is such an important part of my life and work. I haven't felt creative or productive for some time and this was causing me anguish until I realized that I could let myself off the hook for not being innovative because it isn't where I am supposed to be! Destruction or death is as much a part of the cycle of creativity--it is, in itself, a kind of preparation for something entirely new. Once I realized this, I decided to let it have its way with me. Because it will anyway! Surrender has become a greater ally in this process. I have learned to befriend its gifts and am seeing that great mercy and compassion live in the act surrender. Oh and yes: surrender is most certainly an active process and not a passive response to what is happening. It will always ask more of us than we are comfortable giving.
The wild roller coaster ride of my dream is the emotional intensity of highs and lows that I have experienced mostly without warning or time to arrange for suitable conditions for a breakdown. Rage, fear, despair, sorrow, anxiety, loneliness have all swept through my being, sometimes one by one and often as a community of commotion setting up camp for days. At these times, I try to become what Rumi calls the "guesthouse" and to be hospitable and welcoming to all who arrive. As I have learned to befriend whatever shows up, I have come to know the truth that no feeling is final and just as swiftly as they arrive, our feelings, once validated, usually move on just as quickly. This practice has asked me to stretch far beyond my closeness with the light and shiny parts of myself and brings me into direct intimacy with the lost, frightened, poor, unloveable, broken-hearted pieces. I lean into the shadow inquiry: can I learn to love them all without rejecting, judging, fixing, analyzing, or spiritualizing them away? Am I willing to sit with whatever shows up and simply offer my presence within a safe, holding environment? I've come to appreciate the fact that I need to regularly consume my spiritual wheaties through prayer and practice in order to develop the nervous system strength necessary to contain these difficult emotions. My practices have been a lifeboat during this time. I am also appreciating the limits of autonomy and recognize when I simply need to ask for help and allow myself to be held by another.
Finally, I am learning to know when and how to surface. When it's time to come up for air and to walk in the daylight, topside world for a while. Rest and enjoy some of the simple pleasures of life. Spend time in nature, sleep late, be with loved ones, and dance! Not every moment needs to be spent "in process" or engaged in the deep inner work to be worthwhile or "healing." Nourishing the body with good food, watching a funny movie, playing with my children and giving myself permission to lighten up have helped me begin to find a new rhythm with my life. Exploring this kind of balance helps keep me sane and able to function in my daily life. I have no idea what tomorrow will bring but I know that I have everything required to face what comes and find my way through it. I know that I am surrounded by more love than I have ever felt. I am beginning to see the light again. In many ways I am a stranger to who I was yesterday and all the days before that, while still not yet certain of who I am becoming.
I am liminal, still forming and falling apart. And it feels like exactly where I need to be.
"Banat, Banat, Ban Jai!" ("Making, Making, some day made!") ~Paramahansa Yogananda
I recently posted the above picture of myself on my Facebook page after a particularly trying day of homework with my children. Tiredness from getting back into the routine after a relaxing summer, mixed with new teachers and next level expectations had us all on our knees by the time Friday came after the first full week of school. Those that know me can attest to the fact that it takes a lot for me lose my calm. However, 5 minutes of homework with my kids, all of my yogic training is lost and I am reduced to my most debased conditioned reactions. Although my post was half in jest, I was both surprised and relieved by its response. My experience is like that of every other family with school aged kids as we are all doing our best to traverse the demanding and challenging landscape of a householder.
The Hindu tradition recognizes four different stages of life that we must experience in order to live a complete life. They are known as the "ashramas" and consist of the following:
1. Brahmacharya or student stage (usually until the age of 25, but personal and cultural influences can impact the length of any stage). The particular focus at this time is the cultivation of our dharma or "duty" in this life.
2. Grihastha or householder stage (traditionally begins at marriage) and the purpose of this stage is known as artha or the creation of wealth, i.e. making a living to support our families and pursue our unique contributions.
3. Vanaprastha or the hermit stage is ushered in around the time we become grandparents. The main pursuit of this stage is kama or pleasure. It is the time where we can enjoy the fruits of our labor.
4. Sannyasa is the final stage and is classified as the time of the wandering ascetic, the one no longer attached to the bonds of this world and living completely devoted to God. At this stage, moksha or liberation is the final goal.
Ideally when we pursue our lives in alignment with the first two stages, the others naturally unfold. The problem occurs when, as we often see promoted in our culture, one seeks to pursue wealth or pleasure without first establishing a connection to their particular dharma or purpose for being alive. We spend our lives chasing money, power, or some other outer form of fulfillment thinking and hoping that it will lead us to the holy grail--liberation! All the while, we are suffering from a foundational disconnection to our soul's true purpose in this life.
As a householder, I am acutely aware of the creative tension that arises daily as I seek to be a mother for my growing children, make a living to support our needs, and live a spiritual life at the same time. While the roles and responsibilities of men haven't changed as drastically in the last 100 years (or more!), women's roles have shifted exponentially as evidenced when we compare our lives to that of our mothers, grandmothers or great-grandmothers. At this stage of life, modern women have marriages to maintain, careers to build, children to tend, homes to hold, and, perhaps, aging parents to sustain as well. So where do we even begin? How do we care for our own souls in the mix? How do we find the time and energy to make our spiritual life a priority?
The last 11 years of my own life have been a giant experiment in living into these koan-like questions that have served as a sacred riddle for my journey as a woman, mother, householder and spiritual seeker.
Here are a few nuggets that I can offer as nourishment for this stage of life:
*Cultivate a practice that will help strengthen, sustain and nurture you. In the yogic tradition, this is the function of Sadhana or spiritual practice. Two elements are key to this process: create a space dedicated to your practice and design a simple ritual that you can do everyday. Having a physical space will help anchor your intention and whatever ritual you choose will, like any habit, begin to forge a pathway in your brain. Place a candle or sacred object or photo in your space. You can practice yoga, journaling, read, or meditate. Let your ritual reflect your deeper heart's intention.
*Connect to the cycles of the moon to develop a conscious relationship to the rhythm of your own creative life as a woman. Just as our menstrual cycles are related to the waxing and waning of the moon, we must honor both times of renewal and release embedded within our lives. If this concept is new for you, begin by simply noticing the moon during its various stages in the night sky to start to connect to lunar wisdom. Notice how you are feeling when the moon is in its full illumination as opposed to its crescent or dark phase. Once you have established a connection, you can utilize the energy of the New and Full Moon in your creative or spiritual life. For example, think about what new, "seed" intentions you would like to plant for a cycle beginning at the New Moon that you will nurture for an entire month. Full Moons are a good time to focus on what is ready to be released or healed within you in order to make room for what you are seeking to create. You can google specific dates for New and Full Moons each month and make a note in your calendar.
*Develop relationships with other women that uplift, empower and inspire you. This can be tricky for some of us because as women we naturally want to be in relationship and give to others. However, very often, we find ourselves involved in interpersonal dynamics that are superficial, draining or one-sided. As a result, we are left feeling less emotionally fulfilled and even more hungry for real connection. Choose your company wisely and be willing to be honest with yourself about which relationships feel mutually satisfying and those that are depleting your life force. Seek to collaborate and connect with women that are open to learning how to support and be supported by other women.
*Make your dharma a priority by taking time regularly to pursue what calls to your soul. Dharma or purpose can easily be misunderstood as our "job" or how we make our living. While some are fortunate enough to make a living by pursuing their dharma, others are gaining their livelihood in different ways that allow them to sustain their lives even though it may not feel like the deeper calling. That's okay! We all need to make money, however, we also must give some time to discover our greater function for being alive. In my own life, I decided to return to school and earn my Master's Degree when when my daughter was old enough to begin Pre-K. Going back to school during the householder stage was anything but easy but the dedication of three precious hours a day/five days a week, devoted to the study of something that was deeply enriching for me, proved to be priceless. It was my way of staking claim to the pursuit of my purpose beyond being a wife and mother. Dharma calls us into action--we must do something on its behalf. What have you always loved to do? What would you do even if you weren't paid? What if, at long last, you had the time—would you do, study, or create? Trust me: if you are waiting for the time, it won't come! Start small, but by all means--START--do one thing that will align you with your soul.
My beloved teacher and spiritual mother, Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes, offers these “general wolf rules for life” for women like you and I seeking how best to live in harmony with our wild nature. She specifically prescribes number 10 as a starting point remedio (remedy) if you are currently struggling:
Here's to you, woman-warrior-householder, in the trenches everyday. I see you. I love you. I am you.
If you are a woman seeking support in cultivating a sacred practice of your own or are wondering how to make your unique soul a priority in your daily life, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about my private coaching and healing services.
"The aim is to balance the terror of being alive with the wonder of being alive." Carlos Casteneda
I’m a planner. I haven’t always been so dedicated to careful forethought about my life though. I think it’s one of the skills that motherhood has forced me to develop. In general, when I plan ahead, things seem to go a lot smoother. We get out the door in time for school, the meals are mapped out for the week, my class ideas are formulated and I even carve out daily pauses for my own self-care. I love it when my attention to good planning and preparation yield the results that I am envisioning. However, as we all know, life doesn’t always deliver on our expectations. Shit happens. All the time.
So how can we best prepare for those times when, despite our best laid plans, the universe has something else in mind?
Trying to change what we cannot control and force our desired outcome only creates greater tension, stress and resistance. It is at those times that we need to learn to quickly and efficiently adopt a fluid and open response to whatever circumstances arise.
We have to practice shifting to neutral.
Instead of rushing into problem solving mode, the very first thing I do is ask myself this question: What is this perfect for? The power of inquiry is that it opens us to a state of receptivity which allows us to shift from dilemma thinking (there is only one "right" choice) to creative solutions (there are several possible "right" choices I can make). This particular inquiry will catalyze the movement from overwhelm to openness and position us to consider the potential opportunity in an unplanned or unwanted experience. It orients us in the direction of neutrality and prepares us for the next step.
Next, we have to call on the power of our neutral mind which we develop, specifically, through meditation practice. The Kundalini yoga tradition recognizes three different functions of the mind: the negative mind, the positive mind and the neutral mind.
The negative mind is protective; it is what tells you where danger is and helps you avoid the things that might harm you. The negative mind in itself is not all "bad", especially when we are in real danger. However, when its grip takes over the entire subconscious mind things can spiral downward into a pit of despair.
The positive mind is supportive and encouraging. It tells you what is good for you and guides you in that direction. This isn’t all good—too much positive mind can actually get us into situations that might not be in our best interest and could potentially become harmful. Our positivity can act as a veil to the reality of a situation.
The neutral mind is objective and integrative of both negative and positive minds. It is the centered place between the polarities that gathers all the information and allows us to make the best decisions. It is our link to our intuition and will tell us what is right for us and what we should do.
The “bhavana" or feeling tone of the neutral mind is stability, steadfastness, elevated consciousness, and objectivity. It is not swept up by emotion or clouded over by excessive thoughts. The neutral mind is what draws us from duality to divinity and establishes a connection to our soul. True stability can only come from our connection to the infinite. Therefore, we must develop access to this state through the cultivation of our meditative mind.
The effects of cultivating a strong, stable center in the mind allow us to establish appropriate boundaries. Also, we turn inward to look for completion. We become magnetic; attracting what we need to feel whole, satisfied, content and contained. As we learn to nurture ourselves in this way, we can give up the exhausting search outside of ourselves for love, peace, validation and acceptance.
Any mediation will help you cultivate neutral mind. Here is a simple Kundalini mantra you can use to help you shift into your neutral mind any time. I even use it while driving or moving through my day. You can begin by connecting to the mantra and mudra in this way :
Sit comfortably with your spine upright, heart lifted and chin drawing slightly in and down so the back of your neck is long. Place your palms facing up in your lap with your right hand resting on top of your left; thumbs touching. Take a few breaths to settle yourself into your body and bring your awareness to your spinal column. Simply returning our awareness to the central channel of energy in the body, our axis, will support neutrality in the mind. Next, begin to chant the mantra Wahe Guru (Wha-hay goo-roo) which means “Infinite identity from darkness to light.” Continue chanting for at least 3 minutes and work your way up to 7, 11, or 17 minutes. Practice looking at your life through this neutral lens and allow it to help guide you to your right next action.
You will find that even after one minute of focused practice, you will begin to attune to the higher mind. Meditation is "mind training" and requires commitment and consistency for best results. If inspired, I would encourage you to do this meditation practice every day this month. Decide how many minutes you will practice and do it!
When we are able to perceive our lives from the level of the infinite consciousness, regardless of the situations that come our way, we are blessed with the capacity to recognize that life doesn’t happen to us, it happens for us. Rather than victims, we become victorious participants in the unfolding of our lives each day even if things don't work out exactly as we planned.
*A note on the image above: Sri Yantra is considered to be the "mother" of all yantras (sacred geometric designs) in the Hindu tradition. It is a symbolic tool for awakening the pineal gland and bringing balance to right and left hemispheres of the brain. Sri Yantra means "holy instrument" and contains all form of sacred geometry and represents the union of the Divine Masculine and Feminine. You can use this powerful symbol to meditate by focusing your eyes on the bindu or dot in the center. It's effects are deeply healing and often used for amplifying our manifestation capacities.
That's the pride of a teacher: that he has the privilege to serve another student, because somebody served him. ~Yogi Bhajan
I never consciously set out to be a yoga teacher, instead the door opened for me to step into the teacher’s seat when one of my instructors was moving and asked if I would take over her class. I had begun my personal practice many years prior to teaching because I was seeking alternative ways to heal my depression beyond prescription medication. I wanted to get to the root of my illness and deep down I knew that yoga offered a vital piece for my healing. I loved the way the postures challenged me physically and opened me to cultivating a more loving and hospitable relationship with my mind. Slowly, over time, I began to feel happy for no apparent reason. I was changing from the inside—out. This is one of the unique aspects of yoga that separates it from other forms of learning and personal growth: it is an embodied practice. It’s effects are much farther reaching than our physicality or our intellect. Yoga is a technology for transformation and it is designed to awaken us to our true nature as limitless, infinite beings having a human experience for just a short time. And, just ask anyone who practices: it works!
I have been teaching yoga for more than ten years now. My favorite thing in the world is sharing my passion for this sacred practice with others and witnessing their transformations before my eyes. It is amazing to see all types of healing occurring from a committed practice--I've seen countless physical issues such as chronic pain being alleviated or altogether eliminated, weight loss and complete injury recovery, as well as the most commonly treated mental illnesses like anxiety and depression being significantly improved and effectively managed.
The transition from being a student to a teacher felt, in some ways, very natural for me: I was basically doing my practice alongside others and guiding them through my words. I was figuring it out as I went—watching how their bodies responded to the postures and reading the energy of the room—relying on my intuition to offer adjustments or suggestions that would be of benefit. However, I knew that if I wanted to continue to teach I really needed to avail myself of more specific techniques to keep the students safe and inspired to grow in their practice. This is where my yoga teacher training was invaluable. I was given much more of the technical information with regards to anatomy and alignment; sequencing and adjusting. The personal mentorship and support of the other trainees helped me gain confidence in my ability and begin to discover my unique voice as a teacher. Yoga teacher training not only made me an 'official' and employable Yoga Alliance registered teacher, it made me more effective in my role as a guide for others and continues to open me to access new levels of my own potential.
Over the course of the last decade I have seen a paradigm shift taking place from health care to self care. Many people are no longer content to view pathology from the single focused perspective of disease as final prognosis but rather as a pathway to greater health and wellness. Like me, many are using their diagnoses as a platform to explore a multidimensional approach to healing and wholeness. We are expanding our understanding around what it means to care well for ourselves and learning a new language for how to access the intuitive wisdom that lives within us for our greatest benefit.
It is a privilege and an honor to be able to teach in this capacity as the need is growing in our modern world for practical tools to recalibrate our taxed nervous systems, maintain equilibrium for our overactive minds and awaken us to the depth of our own soul soaked truth. I am very excited to be taking my own teaching to a new level this year by facilitating the next One Integrative Yoga Teacher Training at One Yoga and Fitness beginning this September. I believe that choosing to step into a teacher training of this kind is to receive a call that you may or may not yet fully understand. Not everyone that feels compelled to do a teacher training intends to teach. Many individuals embark on the quest for their own interests. Whether you are looking for a new career, a part time pleasure or simply to make a personal pilgrimage, you will most assuredly experience the following by saying “yes” to this call:
Due to the steadily increasing research around the benefits of complimentary practices like yoga, mindfulness and meditation, the wellness industry is becoming one of the most robust industries in America. It is a wonderful time to decide to be a part of the solution for the myriad health related issues that cause many to suffer. If you are curious and feel the call to learn more about this training or have specific questions, feel free to contact me at email@example.com or call One Yoga and Fitness at 407.900.8039. I would love to have you join me!
What My Clients Are Saying:
"I know that “life changing” is a bit over used but it best describes how I feel about what Jenny Clarke offers with "The Courage to Create" course. She uses the metaphor of the labyrinth. A twisted turning path with hidden chambers that takes you to the center and then back out again with new insights. I took the private version of this program. The weekly lessons took me to the core of who I am. Along the way looking into some long closed chambers where we cleared out a few ghosts and discovered some buried gems. At the end of the course I emerged forever changed with a new understanding and appreciation of who I am. You can not get lost in a labyrinth as long as you keep moving forward. The journey begins when you take the first step. I highly recommend that you take the first step and sign up for the Courage to Create!" ~L.H.
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