Category Archives: Relationships

Let Bygones Be Bygones

A senior monk and a junior monk were traveling together. At one point, they came to a river with a strong current. As the monks were preparing to cross the river, they saw a woman also attempting to cross. She asked if they could help her. The junior monk, in keeping with his vows never to touch a woman, ignored her request for help and crossed to the other side of the raging river. The senior monk carried the woman on his shoulder, forded the river and let her down on the other bank. The junior monk was very upset, but said nothing. As they continued on their journey the senior monk noticed that the junior monk was suddenly silent and enquired, “Is something the matter? You seem very upset.” “As monks, we are not permitted to touch a woman,” the junior monk said. “How could you then carry that woman on your shoulders?” The senior monk replied, “I left the woman a long time ago at the river bank. However, you seem to be carrying her still.” This begs the question: What baggage are you carrying that you should have left behind a long time ago?

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The arrival of spring is a good time to do some mental and emotional housecleaning and to finish up unfinished business from the past. You can start by doing an inventory of old grudges you still carry, like the boss who kept you from getting that much needed raise and that much deserved promotion, the friend who never paid you back the money you lent, or the person you love who broke your heart. Your unwillingness, or inability to let go of past hurts stunts your spiritual and emotional growth and can cause stress that may lead to physical illness. Carrying old grudges weighs you down and keeps you stuck in the past. Dwelling on past grievances is a form of emotional and mental clutter and keeps you from getting on with your life.

Don’t let life pass you by. Forgiveness is an important step toward letting go of past offenses. It releases you and the other person. It creates opportunities for new possibilities either to form new relationships, or to transform the relationship with the person you feel has wronged you. If you have unfinished business with someone you need to release forgive him first and then let him go. If you need to reconnect with someone so you can begin again forgive her first and then push the reset button.

Forgiveness doesn’t happen all at once. It is a process that requires regular and consistent practice. If you are having difficulty forgiving someone who you feel has wronged you, start the process by forgiving yourself. Admit it, most of the time when someone has done us wrong, we not only blame them for the wrong doing, we blame ourselves for not being smart enough to have avoided the offense. “How could I have been so blind?” “Why didn’t I see that coming?” “What I should have done/said instead was…” Instead of blaming, shaming or criticizing yourself for something you wish you hadn’t said or done, or wish you had done differently, try forgiving yourself using this four-step process

  1. Identify what it is you feel you’ve done wrong or neglected to do right.
  2.  Allow yourself to feel the remorse that comes from having done something you regard as wrong or neglected to do differently.
  3.  Promise and mean that you will never do it again.
  4.  If you do it again, repeat the first three steps of the forgiveness process and then don’t do it again. Forgiveness is a recursive process, not something you do once and for all.

As you practice forgiving yourself, you will discover that it becomes easier to forgive others. Don’t be like the young monk whose rigid adherence to a rule blinded him to the senior monk’s kindness. Leave the past where it belongs, in the past. As Jack Kornfield reminds us, “Forgiveness is giving up all hope for a better past.” Practice forgiveness. Step into the present moment. Let bygones be bygones.

Namaste

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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

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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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20/20 Insight

Recently I watched a documentary called “Dark Girls” produced by Bill Duke, in which various shades of brown-skinned American women of African ancestry described their experiences of being shunned, bullied, and made to feel inferior because of their dark skin. These women were beautiful, but had been made to feel unattractive and unwanted in a culture that regards certain differences as odd, foreign, threatening or, even worse, repulsive.

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Whether or not we know it, like it, or believe it, deviations from deeply embedded, culturally accepted stereotypes shape our attitudes toward what is acceptable and what is not, as well as who is acceptable and who is not.

Americans have been acculturated to regard certain types of beauty, usually fair skin, straight blond hair, blue eyes, toothpick thin, no curves (except maybe for large breasts), as the standard by which to evaluate women as worthy, beautiful, smart (or not), pleasing, and acceptable. And there are other stereotypes that shape our consciousness and affect our attitudes toward race, ethnicity, religion, body type, gender, political affiliation, gun ownership, physical ability, intellectual prowess, age, and more.

Attitudes operate on two levels – consciously and unconsciously. They reflect our thoughts, influence our words, and manifest in our actions. Our conscious attitudes are made up of what we are aware of, what we choose to believe. Our unconscious attitudes are those knee jerk reactions and automatic associations that lurk beneath the surface of our awareness. These unconscious attitudes could be entirely incompatible with what we say we believe.

We don’t deliberately choose our unconscious attitudes; we’re obviously not aware of them, and therein lays the problem. Unless you become aware, the unconscious may cause you to say or do things that embarrass you and unintentionally harm other people. We see this all the time in media reports of people falsely accused of wrong doing based on their looks alone, or the latest high-profile politician, celebrity, or religious leader who has to publicly apologize for making outrageously offensive remarks about a group of people or an individual who doesn’t fit their stereotype of acceptability.

There is an ongoing national conversation about how to cultivate inclusive attitudes and behaviors that embrace and celebrate all types of difference, and that challenge cultural stereotypes. The yoga community in the United States is an important part of this conversation.

The word “yoga” means to connect or to join with. Yoga really is for everybody, not just for those who look a certain way, think a certain way, and act a certain way. We can easily forget this and be lulled into thinking of union as sameness, ignoring the reality and the value of difference.

Some of us have been taught to ignore difference, learning that it doesn’t really matter and shouldn’t exist in our minds. But that’s delusional. Any observant human being knows that difference does exist and it does matter.

Ignoring differences might give you a feeling of comfort or security, but it creates disconnection between people and makes intimacy impossible. It also sets you up to be highjacked by unconscious attitudes.

Our attitudes around difference may not always be conscious, but through the practice of compassionate Self–Study we can become conscious of them.

If we choose to live a conscious life, we can benefit from checking our attitudes. With awareness we can rid ourselves of unconscious prejudices and shape our consciousness to be open to, embrace, and celebrate a culture that is becoming more varied and expansive every moment. If you’re curious and want to learn more about your deep seated attitudes regarding a variety of differences including race, gender, ethnicity, weight, skin tone, religion, sexuality and more, go to www.implicit.harvard.edu and take the test that reveals your unconscious attitudes about difference. It’s a real eye opener and remember: 20/20 insight is a precursor to change.

Namaste

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Light on Secrecy

“Listen, 
Do you want to know a secret?
Do you promise not to tell?”
The Beatles

Whether it’s an embarrassing story, a secret crush, or a family skeleton, each of us needs someone to confide in. Yet some truths seem so deep and dark we keep them hidden from everyone–our parents, our spouse, our siblings, a best friend–hoping no one will ever find out about them.

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The 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. Hiding parts of your personal history takes energy and is stressful. Ongoing stress poses a health problem due to increased hormone levels that cause inflammation and compromise the immune system. These are some of the reasons keeping secrets is a dangerous practice.

While growing up, Doreen was embarrassed by her mother’s behavior on more than one occasion. Doreen’s mother was an alcoholic. At times she could be sweet, loving, rational and fun. At other times she was volatile, emotionally labile and depressed. She was unreliable and her behavior was unpredictable. Doreen loved her mother, but was ashamed of the way she acted when she was drinking. She never knew what to expect and so as a child she never invited friends to her house, a habit she continued into her adult life.

Although she was ashamed of her, even as an adult Doreen felt protective of her mother. She didn’t want anyone to judge her or her mother negatively, so whenever conversations about childhood would come up among friends, Doreen would change the subject. She didn’t want anyone to know about her mother’s drinking. But keeping this secret locked inside made it impossible for Doreen to ever feel truly at ease in her friendships, leading to chronic anxiety and bouts of loneliness and depression.

It doesn’t matter what your secret is: hiding debt, telling or concealing a lie, secretly eating, covering up physical and sexual abuse. 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.

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When you’re preparing to be open with others about a secret you’ve been harboring, a good first step is to be honest with yourself. Journal, write a poem, draw a picture or even write a song about the secret. When you feel more comfortable about sharing the secret, try role-playing what you’ll say with a trusted friend before you reveal the secret directly to others. If you don’t feel comfortable divulging the secret to someone you know, seek help from a professional who is obligated to maintain confidentiality.

When Doreen could no longer tolerate feelings of loneliness and isolation, she sought counseling. Being able to share all that she felt about her mother’s alcoholism helped her to become more comfortable in her own skin. She realized that by trying to keep her personal history a secret, she was actually repressing other parts of her self. Years of holding her self back caused her to lose touch with who she really was, undermining any chance for lasting joy and deep happiness. By sharing her secret in a safe place with a safe person, Doreen learned to be more open with her friends. She began to talk more freely with them about her past when it came up. To her surprise no one held any of her past against her. In fact, they seemed to like her more for her openness.

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Here are some suggestions that can help make sharing your secret a positive experience:

  • Choose someone who is trustworthy, a good listener, open-minded, nonreactive, and nonjudgmental.
  • Choose a place where you have sufficient privacy and a time where there are no distractions.
  • Choose someone whose loyalties are not divided and who will not feel the need to tell another friend or his or her spouse what you’ve shared.
  • Keep in mind that therapists and clergy are sworn to maintain confidentiality so long as your secret doesn’t involve doing potential harm to yourself or another person.

Remember what matters most is not your secret. What really matters are the friends and family who still love you once you share the truth with them.

Namaste

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