Being Awake

When was that last time something moved you? How long has it been since life stopped you dead in your tracks, jolted your mind into the present, silencing the past and the future to focus on right now?

If you had to think about it, it’s been too long, because this is a truly amazing time to be alive.

As you read this the next Great American Novel is waiting be discovered, and poets around the world are capturing the essence of feeling in a way you never knew it could be written. A self-indulgent painted self-portrait graces the wall of your local museum begging you to ponder another human being’s significance, while a painting down the hall expresses the color red in a way that makes your heart want to burst out of your chest. A cinema can pull you into the screen and convince you the world is ending, aliens walk among us, and immerse us in true life stories stranger than fiction, deepening our compassion for one and another.

A cell phone can scroll its page up or down based on your eye movements alone. A car can tell you when you are falling asleep. We live in a world where the internet can instantaneously settle a debate between friends, and warn entire communities of an impending flood before it’s too late. Tonight you could make an authentic exotic meal in your kitchen, expanding your palette in ways your grandmother had never heard of. You can introduce your children to her through a computer screen from thousands of miles away, so her love and her beautiful spirit can fill up the room, and the hearts contained within it.

The planet is becoming smaller, and we continue to explore every square inch of its mystery and wonder. There are waterfalls as tall as skyscrapers and exotic flowers that have yet to be named. A sunset can inspire your entire body to inhale and exhale, and flood your being in peace. There are forests so quiet a calm mind can hear the trees breathe, and our lungs open to the sound. We see happy people who have nothing and yet are beyond rich in joy and love, and they inspire us to love again, too. Mother Nature can devastate us, reminding us that nothing is permanent, how much we need each other and that everyone is beautiful.

You can call your mother, because someday you will not be able to and the stories she carries are the stories you are meant to revel your children with. You can let the nostalgia grow with every page you turn from those old photo albums you keep tucked away, and maybe even see something new in the faded moments they fossilized. You can listen to your children, they way they laugh and love unconditionally, and be grateful to catch those moments of amazement in how effortlessly they see the world without our filters. Remember how a ladybug could command every bit of your attention, and how you connected? And when that ladybug flew, flew, flew away home, you felt a piece of your being leave with it, watching until the spec in the sky was no more. The ladybug is truly free, and so are you.

When was the last time you felt completely alive? There is beauty in everything, and it is never too late to wake up.

Namaste

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A Poem by a Native American Healer

It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.

It doesn’t interest me to know how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dreams, for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon. I want to know if you have touched the center of your own sorrow, if you have been opened by life’s betrayals, or if you have become shriveled and closed from fear of further pain.

I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine, or your own. I want to know if you can dance with the wilderness and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes without cautioning us to be careful, realistic, or to remember the limitations of the human being.

It doesn’t interest me if the story you are telling is true. I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself and if you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul.

I want to know if you can be faithful and therefore trustworthy.

I want to know if you can see beauty, even when it’s not a pretty day, and if you can sort your live from God’s presence.

I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine and still stand on the edge of a lake and shout to the silver of the full moon, “Yes!”

It doesn’t interest me to know where you live or how much money you have. I want to know if you can get up after the night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone, and do what needs to be done for the children.

It doesn’t interest me who you are, or how you came to be here. I want to know if you will stand in the center of fire with me and not shrink back.

It doesn’t interest me where or with whom you have studied. I want to know what sustains you from the inside when all else falls away.

I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moment.

The Sea

When I stand in the ocean, I feel like a tiny speck in this vast planet. A body of water so large it is impossible for me to comprehend the distance to the other side.

I am so small. And so are my problems.

My feet sink into the sand under the shoreline, covering my toenails, and then my toes entirely. If I stand there long enough will it sweep me away? Maybe, but I cannot stand still that long. The water comes up to my ankles and I lean back to stabilize myself. As I pull my foot out of the surf, I study the indent in the sand. The ripple my feet have left has already begun to wash away.

My mark is already starting to disappear, not long after I’d left it.

I begin to think of the Buddhists who make elaborate paintings of colored sand, that take hundreds of hours to create, only to blow it into the wind when done, as if it never existed at all. This is a lesson in impermanence, a reminder that nothing lasts forever.

My footprints have almost disappeared now.

There have been thousands of shipwrecks just over the horizon according to local legend here. I think about the treasures that roll up to shore, and the lost souls attached to its story. The ocean keeps its secrets from me for another day, and I take notice of its smaller gifts.

The seashell I spotted is almost entirely intact.

There is a small crack in the softened marble like surface, but the spiral remains obvious. This was a creature’s entire world once, now it exists purely for my observation. I begin to think about how my entire world is like this seashell to another body and I can feel my possessions become irrelevant.

I breathe into the lessons the ocean has created in this moment.

As soon as this moment is created it fades, and my thoughts float back out with the tide, and my mind is completely silent. My footprint has completely washed away now. All that is left is the sound of the water rolling over itself, and the evening breeze has set in. I feel briefly as if I have had an out-of-body experience, and I pick up my sandals to make my way home.

We are all seashells on a beach, experiencing the sun before we are pulled back in again. Enjoy it, don’t over analyze it, just experience the warmth and love in this brief moment we’ve been given.

Namaste

A Lesson from the Birds

I noticed while riding along the ocean the most peculiar thing. Looking up into the sky from where the sand meets the surf there were these flocks of birds gliding effortlessly in place. Like still-life black silhouettes on a softly painted background, these birds were just hanging in mid air, wings spanned and level. A perfect example of going with the flow I thought, yet these birds are not going anywhere at all. I wondered if they too were soaking up the sun on their feathers as I was on my face, if they were appreciating the same warmth. These birds were floating in the breeze, without purpose or destination; in fact they had absolutely no agenda at all. I began to think, although these birds are not a slave to daily itineraries, or smart phones like the rest of us; I have always believed that all creatures have a purpose at every given moment. All birds are either finding food, or building nests, or flying south like the Canadian geese do at the end of the fall season. Now that I live in Florida, why is it I have curiously not had a conversation about these geese flying north in the spring? I know when I lived in Canada, I have always taken notice of them.

The universe in its infinite wisdom always works with a purpose, and here are these graceful, charcoal black birds which seemingly have none. In a sort of moving meditation, these birds are completely present, still, and without any noticeable end game. As I felt my own breath soften and align to the intelligence surrounding me, my mind began to quieten, and I joined in my environment’s silent harmony. As I smoothly glided along the winding ocean road, I too did so with ease, and there was a moment where everything synced, briefly and unexpectedly.

Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale.

Sometimes, we get so busy with our lives that soon we stop taking notice. I too, am guilty of it. I seem to be always flying around the country for work, planning the next deal. Even birds intrinsically know the importance to be still. Every time my life gets hectic, I will remember this moment I had, a brief moment between moments, where I could be still, and I will remember to just

Be.

Healthy? It’s written all over your face.

Those puffy eyes could reveal more about you than you think .

How many times – for no logical reason – have you taken an instant dislike to someone you’ve just met? And, when pressed as to why the only answer you’ve been able to come up with is there’s something about them? Equally, when you bump into someone, how often do you find yourself exclaiming “you’re looking well!” without really knowing why?

According to author Jon Sandifer these spontaneous reactions indicate that intuitively we’re reading someone’s face – something the Chinese have been doing for 2,000 years as a way of diagnosing illness. “When we meet someone for the first time a diagnosis is going on almost immediately”, says Jon, who has more than 20 years experience of Eastern healing. “If you’ve never met that person before it’s in those first 10 minutes that you see the most. You see very clearly how that person appears energetically.”

Face reading was once an integral part of Chinese practitioner’s analysis. A bare foot doctor (the ancient Chinese hybrid of a health visitor and midwife) would divide their study into two distinct strands. Firstly, they would look at those things that never change, such as bone structure and shape of face, which reveal an enormous amount about the individual’s character and personality (constitution). Secondly, they would observe those tell-tale signs such as lines, puffiness and bruising – which unlike a person’s constitution will fluctuate – to determine their health (condition). From an oriental perspective, any symptom an individual displays is simply a microcosm of their whole condition. “You can look at any part of a person and, in theory, that should reflect the whole”, Jon says. “It’s like cutting through the stem of a plant. If you were a good gardener you could cut through the stem and say, “This plant needs more water”. Where Western medicine is designed to treat the symptoms of disease, Chinese medicine has always been more concerned to treat the symptoms of disease; Chinese medicine has always been more concerned with underlying causes.

It believes that the five areas of the face correlate to the five major internal organs of the body – the heart, the spleen/pancreas, the lungs, the kidneys and the liver. So the cheeks reflect the state of the lungs. The kidneys correspond to the area just below the eyes. An imbalance in the liver will be noticeable in the space between the eyebrows. The nose, with its central location in the face is a reflection of the heart. Finally, the condition of the pancreas will show up upon the bridge of the nose. Oriental medicine believes these five main players can be compared to the instruments within an orchestra. It takes only one to be flat and the whole orchestra will be affected. Discover which one is out of tune and it’s possible to steer your body towards grater balance and, ultimately better health.

Fundamental to all Chinese philosophy is the theory of yin and yang. When a practitioner observes someone’s condition they are also detecting whether it displays more yin or yang characteristics. In the West the word yang has come to be seen as synonymous with male qualities and yin with female. But Jon believes it’s inappropriate to limit the properties of either category to male and female. “We’re all more yin one day and yang the next”, he explains. “If a woman was feeling tired and spaced out (yin), but I threw her into the Thames river suddenly she would feel very alert and thoroughly fed up (yang). If a man was feeling wired and impatient (yang) but he settled down with a nice glass of red wine after a bath then he would yin out”.

In case you’re wondering how a practitioner can pick up on your yin or yang energy, your complexion offers some clues. Apparently, pale and sunken cheeks scream out yin. More puffy with broken red capillaries denotes yang. As does dry, prunish skin. Practitioners believe that, given the results of yin/yang observations it’s possible to ascertain which organ may be malfunctioning and how best to remedy it. Does our in-built constitution affect our daily condition? To a point. A person born with large fleshy ears will theoretically be blessed with strong kidneys. Just as the individual with deep-set eyes possesses a highly effective nervous system. However, as Jon says we shouldn’t take our constitution for granted. “We all have natural strengths or weaknesses but you condition can be shifted. Our health is born out of the quality and function of our internal organs. But good health also includes the emotions we experience, the stresses we endure and the relationships we are involved in”. In other words, even if you have been born with a great set of lungs and liver, if you hammer your body with alcohol and cigarettes, stick around in a lousy job or abusive relationship, even the best constitution in the world can’t prevent your lifestyle wreaking havoc on our health.

Or, ultimately, it showing on your face.

My Secret Shivasana

Shivasana in yoga, also known as corpse pose, is the very last pose of most yoga classes. It is the pose that all other poses have led up to, and gives me the opportunity to lay back, completely release all of my muscles, my breath, and my thoughts. It is a moment is time where I can be completely present and open to my surroundings, and to everything. This sounds easy, but for the longest time as I lay in this pose, my mind began to observe sounds outside the room, like my neighbors’ squirming and breathing, and soon my own mind would begin to stir. I remember wishing I could hush the restless yogis, but eventually and thankfully that feeling faded over time, and I began to accept my surroundings and find peace in the middle of it. I have gotten really still in Shivasana. My mind is like a still pond of nothing reflecting nothing. I relax every muscle in my face and body so well I could play a body on C.S.I. Maimi pretty convincingly. The more effective my flow in my yoga class, the more deeply I sink into the floor at the end. It is still my favorite pose.

Most of you know I lost my husband and best friend a few years ago. As anyone who has lost can attest, in those first few months you would give anything to talk to them one last time. Just to see them, sit with them and have one more moment…and you cling to every sign wondering if they are there. Out of the corner of my eye, several times a day I swore I saw him, and as I turned my head reality would set in that I am looking at a stranger. I would read books and talk to other bereaved spouses, and hear the stories of how their spouses came to them in a dream and they would feel the connection again. I never had this experience, but my competitiveness transcended and I wanted this too, and people would say it happens when you are ready, or if it was meant to be, you will feel that connection. I was annoyed by the advice, and I was frustrated that there was nothing I could do but miss him.

Shivasana is my safe place. I was doing yoga several times a week back then to deal with my grief and the stress of learning my new life without my friend. It was a moment where I could be in the moment, yet without having to be in this current life which I was still trying to make sense of. I was escaping and remaining present in the same breath. To anyone who asks, I always tout the benefits of yoga when dealing with loss. Not only the loss of a loved one, but dealing with the loss of a life you once had known. As I recently lay in corpse pose basking in the complete silence within my mind I felt it. I felt as a memory flashed over my mind like a shooting star in the sky, I felt that connection again to my friend. It may have been a second in Earth time, but I felt like I had all the time I needed, almost as if it had stood still. With nothing else to distract me, I sat in that connection to my friend and told him I missed him, and then I expressed my goodbye. The tears streamed down my cheeks as I released the connection, just as the teacher gently rang the bell which pulls us from our slumber. It had been a long time since I had wished for this, or thought I would feel any presence, and so my experience took me by surprise. As I left for home and I felt a greater peace in my heart that night, and had another reason on an already extensive list on why I do yoga.

Let Your Stories Free

“Watch your thoughts, for they become words.

Watch your words, for they become actions.

Watch your actions, for they become habits.

Watch your habits, for they become character.

Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.” ~Unknown

Throughout my own personal journey these last few years I have met some truly amazing people. Time and time again I am in awe at the strength and compassion of the human spirit. We are people who have the ability to overcome tragedy, survive in the harshest and most desolate conditions, and find inner perseverance sometimes without a sign of our conditions improving. I also have an inexplicable fascination with shows like Hoarders and Intervention, where the world can catch a glimpse into the lives of people who have become stuck in their stories, unable to forge through them.

I am like some of you, a child of divorced parents. My younger sisters and I found strength in each others’ company throughout our childhood, and found common ground with the two little boys across the street from us. Also dealing with their own parent’s separation, the five of us bonded immediately. Those bonds lasted through to my adulthood and as some of you may know, my first husband was the eldest boy whom I married 27 years later.

I felt the five of us were an interesting microcosm of a group of kids all stemming from a similar upbringing in the first few years of life, and the experts say that a child’s age from 0-6 years is the most crucial in shaping personality traits. We were living parallel lives, in the same neighborhood, with similar financial means, and yet with vastly different outcomes into adulthood. As some of us have soared and some of us have struggled, it has really shown me that while our past influences who we are, only we decide whether we let it become who we are.

When I was first introduced to Meditation, I was really skeptical of its touted wondrous effects, and I thought it was too hard. I mean thirty seconds of trying to be still in a seated position made my body start to squirm, and my mind began to get louder the harder I tried to think of nothing. I remember thinking it was impossible to clear my mind because it was meant to think, and process things. Wasn’t it my brain’s job to be organizing 24/7?

As I persisted with meditation, I noticed that no matter how hard I tried, thoughts were still popping up, and I felt powerless to stop them. A wise teacher during a yoga class walked us through dealing with these thoughts and I have been forever grateful. She instructed us to imagine as these thoughts arise, to acknowledge them, and then wrap them inside a balloon and watch them float out of your mind. Do this without judgments, and do not allow them to become “sticky”. A sticky thought is one that pops up and grabs hold causing a train of thoughts behind it. An example would be thinking about what to have for dinner. Instead of allowing it to float off, you begin virtually rifle through your pantry, and develop a mental grocery list. Over time I became…calmer, peaceful, and so did the environment around me.

We have all heard the quote that to get real lasting change in our lives, we must start with ourselves. Maybe we have all heard this because it is true. We associate each other to the stories we tell, and if we are not careful our stories can become just as sticky as our thoughts. When you think of your friend who you are supporting through the loss of a parent, you now think of your friend as the friend who lost her mother, and when your neighbor complains about losing hours at work, you now think of him as the neighbor who is struggling financially.

Once you can start you free your thoughts, naturally your sticky stories will start to detach from who you are as well. Almost like peeling an onion, the layers of your past will fall away allowing you to experience true self. Once your thoughts become less sticky, you can start to apply the same meditation tools to your waking life as well. Imagine that you have to deal with an unexpected car repair. Instead of letting the experience become sticky, losing your temper, and ruining your day, you can look at it inside the balloon, and deal with it objectively. After all, your car is not conspiring to make you late, it is merely a thing, and all things are impermanent in life right? Then at the end of the day, when the tow-truck driver who assisted you arrives home to his or her own family, the story they tell about you will not be about the crazed/angry/difficult person who they helped off the freeway, but the amazingly calm and pleasant person who made their day. Now that is a positive chain reaction.

Be the change you wish to see in the world. ~ Ghandhi