Category Archives: Friendships

Looking Back

An Akan proverb, or the Sankofa tells us “We should reach back and gather the best of what our past has to teach us, so that we can achieve our full potential as we move forward.”

It is hard to believe that the close of 2013 is just weeks away. I feel like this is a good time to circle back and highlight some thoughts I’ve shared over the past 12 months. I chose past writings that speak to some of the holiday ups and downs most of us experience in hopes my words will bring you greater well being and, as always, continued growth! Enjoy…

LIVING HEROICALLY
As far as I know my father never once stepped onto a yoga mat. Yet it is through his example that I learned what living yoga off the yoga mat really means. It’s about attitudes and actions that keep you focused, calm, and non-reactive in the face of life’s challenges. It’s about doing what’s right, not what’s easy.

Lt. Colonel Frederick L. Parker, USAF

Lt. Colonel Frederick L. Parker, USAF

He did this throughout his military career by valiantly fighting, at his own peril, for freedoms that were not always granted to him, because it was the right thing to do. He demonstrated courage by standing up for and insisting on equal treatment for all, even in the face of overwhelming opposition. He proved that obstacles are overcome by committing to relentlessly following your purpose, no matter who or what opposes you. He demonstrated that living life heroically means living life authentically and facing your fears head on, everyday, with an open heart.

LIVING FULLY
leg up framed-_MG_2724To live life fully we are called to live a life of service to others. Ask yourself each day upon awakening, what difference you want to make in someone else’s life. It doesn’t have to be a monumental difference. It could be something as simple as offering a listening ear to a friend in need, making a phone call to someone you’ve been thinking about, or running an errand for a neighbor.

LIVING HOPEFULLY
web_b_MG_6940Do not let limitations or barriers keep you from pursuing your dreams. No achievement comes without obstacles. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other and continue moving toward your goal. Remember no effort you make goes unrewarded. Keep looking for a job if you’re unemployed. Keep applying to schools until you’re admitted. Finish what you start. Don’t give up.

LIVING MORE SLOWLY
b-edit_MG_6892-1For many of us doing has become more important than being. Even though we long for rest and relaxation, these are needs we tend to ignore. We have to talk ourselves into the practice of slowing down and being still. A culture of doers, we have places to go, people to meet, things to do. The only thing we think we can’t do is nothing.

LIVING OPENLY
b_MG_8295The problem with carrying around a secret is that it can be toxic, costing you peace of mind, happiness, even your health. Keeping secrets interferes with your ability to be yourself, and to be intimate with others. It doesn’t matter what your secret is; keeping secrets is a form of dishonesty that causes harm to us physically, psychologically and spiritually, and sometimes causes harm to others.

Yoga teaches us that truthfulness is a guiding principle of our practice both on and off our yoga mat. We learn that by shining a light on the hidden places within ourselves we can safely avoid their stress-related consequences. Even though the thought of revealing a secret can seem scary, once you take that first step, it gets easier.

LIVING WITH STILLNESS
october blog“Go to your room!” “Sit still until I tell you to move!” “You need a time out!” For those of us who grew up hearing these words when we misbehaved, is it any wonder that as adults we have an aversion to being still, to being quiet, or to being alone? When stillness, time-out, and alone time are used as forms of punishment, how likely is it that we would look forward to, much less be able to delight, in stillness?


LIVING WITH CONTENTMENT
grayweb-edit_MG_4513Contentment should not be confused with complacency, which is a state of stagnation, or no growth. Rather, contentment is a sign that we are at peace with our circumstances, and ourselves. Being content does not mean that we have to settle for what we don’t want, whether it is a toxic relationship, unbearable living conditions, or inhumane working conditions. Contentment starts with accepting reality as it is, not as we want it to be. Accepting reality can lead us to make the necessary changes that result in an overall sense of well-being.

Contentment is not the same as happiness. We all face difficult times in our lives. But it is possible to find contentment even in painful circumstances through acceptance of the situation. In the case of a devastating illness, loss or other unwelcomed circumstance, we may go through various stages of emotional turmoil such as denial, anger, and depression before we reach acceptance. But it is possible to find contentment and inner peace, even then….No matter what your circumstance, there is always the possibility of living life more fully.

Contentment is the ability to appreciate how much you have, rather than how much you want.

LIVING LIFE WITH CHANGE
b-edit516Change is risky and can be accompanied by sadness, fear, regret, anger, and disappointment. If you stepped on a nail, it would obviously be painful and you would want to remove it. But before it feels better, removing the nail hurts, sometimes more than staying on it. Truth be told, there are times when we’d rather adjust to and accept a familiar hurt than risk the discomfort of change, even if the change we face leads to something better. But you can’t “put the past behind you and move on” without saying goodbye to what you are leaving.

There is wisdom to be gained by reflecting on change, its inevitability, and how to gracefully accept it. The ability to embrace change is an essential part of living. Accepting the pain that sometimes comes with it is fundamental to the embrace of life itself. Where there is life there is change. Without change there is no growth and no life. To align with life, we must become one with change and “go with the flow.”

 The Rune of Termination and New Beginnings
“The life you have been living has outgrown its form, and must die so new energy can be released. May you undergo a death within your self. You are always free to resist, but remain mindful that the new life is always greater than the old. Prepare then for opportunity disguised as loss.”

Namaste

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To Serve With Love

“Always give from the overflow of your well, not from its depth.”
~Sufi saying

october blog

There is a children’s story called The Giving Tree about a boy who is able to communicate with an apple tree. It begins, “Once there was a tree…and she loved a little boy.” In his childhood, the boy enjoys playing with the tree, climbing her trunk, swinging from her branches, and eating her apples. As he grows older he starts to make requests of the tree.

As an adolescent, the boy wants money; the tree suggests that he pick and sell her apples, which he does. As a young adult, the boy wants a house; the tree suggests he cut her branches to build a house, which he does. In middle age, the boy wants a boat; the tree suggests he cut her trunk to make a boat, which he does, leaving only a stump.

Finally, the boy becomes a shriveled old man. He wants only “a quiet place to sit and rest,” which the stump provides. The story ends,  “And the tree was happy.” As a young mother reading this story to my son, I interpreted its message to mean that giving away everything with no regard for self was the key to happiness. But unlike the Giving Tree, whenever I contemplated the possibility of a future as a stump, it never made me happy.

Most spiritual disciplines teach the virtues of sacrificial love. Setting aside your own needs to meet the needs of another is a beautiful form of love. But taking care of others becomes exhausting and unsustainable if you try to care for everyone else while neglecting your own needs. When the stress of continually being there for others is high, we can become overwhelmed by our own caregiving responsibilities and run the risk of burn out.

As I matured, I realized the key to selflessly serving others also involves self-nurturing. Only when we are nurtured is it easy to nurture others. When we do not nurture ourselves, we are unable to draw on qualities of love and compassion, and other spiritual values that support serving others. Ignoring our own needs renders us unable to give freely from a place of deep caring and compassion. When we give solely out of a sense of duty and obligation, without love and compassion, we feel resentful, taken advantage of, and depleted. In the end we can wind up feeling bitter and unhappy.

Secret Power of YogaIn yoga, selfless service to others is called Seva or Karma Yoga. In her book, The Secret Power of Yoga, Nischala Joy Devi suggests that to effectively serve others selflessly we would be wise to serve ourselves as well. She introduces the practice of Karma Yoga for oneself. If done regularly, Karma Yoga for yourself aka self-care, even if it is only done for 20 minutes each day, can revitalize your body, mind, emotions, and spirit.

Sometimes we confuse self-care with self-pampering – designer clothes, gourmet dining, extravagant vacations, and other luxuries – or with self-indulgence – spending money you don’t have, vegging out in front of your television eating a pint of Ben and Jerry’s (pick your favorite flavor), or indulging in a television marathon to catch up on those five episodes of Scandal you missed. As long as you can afford the luxuries you buy…and as long as you don’t make a habit of reducing your stress by choosing quick fixes that don’t require much effort, there is nothing wrong with self-pampering or self-indulgence. It’s just not the same as self-care.

Self-care, or Karma Yoga for self, requires effort, focused attention and perseverance. It means choosing behaviors that balance the effects of emotional and physical stressors. Self-care should include practices of serenity, exercise, love, and healthy food.

• When you are tired, rest and do practices that will quiet your brain like meditating, sitting quietly, using positive affirmations, or relaxation techniques.

• Get your life force flowing by walking, running, dancing, doing Tai Chi  or practicing yoga.

• Stay connected. Contact friends at least once or twice a week. Join a book club, or a walking group. Be involved in your community.

• Be mindful of what you put into your body, your mind and your spirit. Make sure your food diet, your thought diet, and your emotional diet are balanced and healthy. Abstain from substance abuse, pursue creative outlets, or engage in psychotherapy.

In the midst of the busyness of life, find what feeds and nurtures you. In order to serve others lovingly, we need to nourish ourselves. When you remember to selflessly serve yourself, service to others comes not from your depth, but from your overflow. And when that happens, like the giving tree, you will be happy (even if you are an old stump).

Namaste

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That’s What Friends Are For

The beauty and the peril of friendship is that it’s a relationship that is totally voluntary. No strings attached. Unlike those relationships that bind us by blood, duty, obligation, and love, we choose our friends. The only bonds in friendship are mutual attraction and a shared desire to be in the relationship.

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Friendships come in infinite varieties: yoga friends, misery loves company friends, Facebook friends, fair-weather friends, bosom buddies, work related friends, party friends, work out friends, and many more. There is no one size fits all friendship. We attract friends into our lives for all kinds of reasons and sometimes only for a season. But whether they last a season or a lifetime, our friendships help us grow.

Juanita and Sarah had been best friends for more than 25 years.  They met in middle school and attended high school together. Even though they attended different colleges they stayed in touch, visiting each other as often as possible. Once they graduated they went their separate ways each living in different cities. They corresponded, talked on the phone, and saw each other whenever they could. Because they were emotionally close, geographical distance never threatened their relationship.

Juanita said Sarah was the closest thing to a sister she had ever known. They were inseparable. They stood up in each other’s weddings, hosted baby showers for each other, mourned the loss of loved ones together, and supported each other through serious illnesses and even through a divorce…without a doubt they were best friends forever.

When Sarah told Juanita in a late night phone conversation,  “You haven’t been calling me as much as you used to, I guess I can’t count on you anymore.”  Juanita thought she was kidding. True, since she had remarried and taken on the responsibilities of a blended family, she had not been as available to Sarah. But what about all the times she had gone out of her way to be there for her; like when Sarah got fired from her job, or when she was diagnosed with lupus, or when her father died? It slowly began to dawn on Juanita that the friendship had become lopsided. When Sarah was in need Juanita had always been there to help. Now that she was not as available, Sarah put the relationship on the line.

Their relationship had always seemed balanced because Sarah was needy and Juanita needed to be needed.  Juanita was a giver and Sarah was a receiver. We tend to think that if a giver ends up with a receiver there is balance in the relationship – but this is an illusion. Two people out of balance do not create a balanced relationship. Eventually the one who needs to be needed asks for support, or the one who likes to be given to has something she wants to offer. When that happens it throws things off. If you’re not mindful, the shift in dynamics can threaten the friendship.

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Instead of relying on our friendships for balance we need to balance the ability to give and receive within our own personalities.

There is a certain energy that attracts friends to each other. Opposites do attract. Like magnets we tend to attract those who possess traits and qualities we would like to possess, or traits and qualities we are unaware we already possess. Needy people tend to attract people who love to give but who have a hard time receiving. Those who love to give tend to attract those who love to receive but have a hard time offering their gifts and talents to others.

To grow, each friend needs to become more like the other. Over time, if the friendship is working its magic, and you are making the effort, you will start to change. But here’s the peril. When you change even if it’s for the better, and your friend doesn’t make the adjustment, the balance shifts and you’re out of sync with each other.

So how do we restore balance when this happens? First of all try not to put your relationship on the line. It can be a deal breaker. In a dynamic relationship nothing stays the same. In order to sustain a friendship there has to be mutual interest and attraction as well as a willingness on both parts to maintain the connection.

When the dynamics of friendship change we have to make certain adjustments. Instead of trying to relate in the same ways you always have, if you’re like Sarah you may have to give more and ask for less. If you’re like Juanita you may have to give less and ask for more.

Can your friendship survive the change in circumstances that life inevitably introduces or that personal growth brings? Do friendships last a lifetime? What is true friendship anyway? Why is it so difficult to let go once we realize we’ve outgrown a friend? Is it really okay to end a friendship that’s gone bad or one that has stagnated?

I would love to hear what you know about the answers to some of these questions and to hear how your friendships they have helped you grow.

Namaste

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