Category Archives: Self-loving

Ignorance Is Not Bliss

Yoga is a pathway to happiness. As more and more people have begun to practice yoga postures, some once or twice a week, others everyday, they find that yoga gives them more than a physical workout. It also offers a sense of peace, inner strength, and resilience. It encourages us to live in harmony with nature and to choose actions that are healthy not only for ourselves, but also for others and the planet as well. Yoga helps us cleanse ourselves physically as well as psychologically and find our inner smile.

But what happens when the peace you experience on your yoga mat is disrupted by life’s ins and outs, its ups and downs? How do you take your yoga off the mat and make it a way of life? One way is to practice accepting reality as it is, not as you want it to be.

Have you ever caught yourself wishing that a situation would be different than it is? How many times do you pretend everything is great, hoping the problem will just disappear? Sometimes reality makes us feel uncomfortable or frustrated. Life doesn’t always go according to our plan. When we get bad news or fall on hard times, we naturally wish the situation were different. Our unwillingness to face the situation head on, not the situation itself, is what causes us to suffer.

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Click on the cartoon to view it full size.

Yoga teaches us that ignorance, in Sanskrit it is called avidya, is not bliss,  that knowledge is power. When we avoid reality, it is impossible to deal with the situation. That’s when we feel helpless and start to worry. We can make the situation worse than it actually is. Think about the times you have avoided phone calls that you thought might bring bad news, and then worried all night. Or the times you’ve avoided opening mail you didn’t want to read and then tortured yourself all day with what it might contain. Or about the time you avoided seeking medical advice for fear of what might be wrong and suffered needlessly not knowing the truth.

Have you ever bent the truth to avoid a confrontation or tortured yourself with thoughts of what might have been to avoid feeling regret? “If only I had turned left instead of right.” “If only I had taken the job I turned down instead of the one I took.” “If only I hadn’t spent all the money.” “If only I hadn’t gone on an eating binge, a drinking binge or shopping binge.” “If only I hadn’t gotten married, had gotten married, had children, didn’t have children.”

If only I could change reality.

The “If Onlies” are a form of denial and defense against feeling helpless. You are capable of looking at every situation realistically, from  the most trivial to the most serious. As unpleasant as certain realities can sometimes be, avoiding, denying or ignoring reality is an energy drain, a waste of time and in some cases, as we see in the Calvin and Hobbs cartoon above, dangerous. Avoiding reality is the cause of our suffering not the reality itself.

To strengthen your resolve to face reality head on, even if you do feel helpless to change the situation, before you begin each day recite the Serenity Prayer: “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” And then remind yourself, whether you like the reality of your situation or not, – Reality Is Manageable. Knowing this can help you solve whatever problem you face, find your inner smile, and your place of bliss.

Namaste

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The Key to Happiness

The mind is a powerful tool. We can use it to love or hate, forgive or condemn, create or destroy, accept or blame, trust or doubt, respect or shame, despair or hope. How we choose to use our minds is entirely up to us. Every thought we think creates our reality. The mind affects how you feel, and what you do. All of your experiences are the outer effects of your inner thoughts.

Many of us think we have no control over our minds, but this is only because we have been taught to believe this is so. In fact, we are capable of controlling each and every thought we have. When we can’t change anything else, we can choose to change our minds.

KEY TO HAPPINESS

Human beings have what psychologists call a psychological immune system. It is a system of cognitive processes that helps us change our viewpoint, enabling us to feel better about our circumstances, conditions, or situations, no matter how undesirable. In other words, we are not dependent on getting what we want or having things go our way to feel happy. Instead of chasing after experiences that we hope will bring us joy, we can manufacture our own happiness by changing our minds. Our brains are hardwired that way.

Toni, (not her real name) a 29-year-old quadriplegic confined to a wheelchair for five years, was referred for therapy. She was depressed and acting out in self- destructive ways; resisting help she couldn’t do with out, firing her caregivers with regularity, and generally being non-compliant with her medical treatment. The story she told herself about her quadriplegia was, “God is punishing me. Before the accident I wanted to kill myself so God took the use of my hands from me.”  “Do you still want to kill yourself?” her therapist asked. “Yes, but now I can’t. That’s why I’m depressed.”

Being trapped in a body that did not move was bad enough, but being trapped in a negative mindset, which was there before her accident, was literally destroying Toni. Like Toni, many of us are trapped by negative or limiting thoughts. We distract ourselves from our negative thinking and its effects by searching for and relying on experiences to make us happy, never realizing that by changing our thoughts we can change our experience of any situation.

Toni knew she couldn’t change her paralysis but through therapy she discovered that she could change her mind. Through techniques of meditation, controlled breathing, and deep inner listening she learned to use her mind as a tool of awareness. She strengthened her psychological immune system and was able to develop the insight she needed to find peace of mind, hope, self-love, kindness, happiness, and forgiveness. She even became friends with the man who caused her accident.

Five months into therapy, Toni’s perspective had shifted from despair to hope. When asked, “Why do you suppose God kept you alive?” she corrected, “You mean why did God give me a second chance at life?” Her therapist nodded yes. “Because He knew I didn’t love myself when I had my accident and He wanted me to have a chance to do that, so He gave me a chance to rest and to use my mind to think, and to use my imagination, and to learn about myself.” Because she had no distractions and no other choice, Toni had to rely on her mind as a tool of awareness, which is the proper use of mind. Her efforts did not go unrewarded.

As her psychological wounds healed, Toni’s body and spirit also healed. She began to take good care of her body by complying with her medical treatment. She began to develop positive relationships with her caregivers and returned to the church where she had once sung in the choir. She began to experience a level of support she never imagined possible.

Your mind is a tool for you to use any way you wish. Instead of relying on winning the lottery, finding the man or woman of your dreams, landing that big contract you’ve been working hard to get, strengthen your psychological immune system. Tap into your ability to create your own happiness.

  • Attend personal growth workshops and go to psychotherapeutic counseling.
  • Make dietary changes and engage in various forms of physical activity such as yoga, martial arts, or other forms of exercise.
  • Do meditation and prayer.

It does not matter where you start. The key to happiness lies in cultivating practices that strengthen your innate capacity to create your own happiness whether or not you get what you want.

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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The Art of Soulful Living

Ponder the soul; for it is the source of all our inspirations
for material, mental, and spiritual success. ~ Paramahansa Yogananda

When the Peace Corps sent Susana Herrera to teach English in northern Cameroon, she was ecstatic. In her book, “Mango Elephants in the Sun,” she describes how she wanted to blend in to her adopted village, to drink deep from the well of the spirit of Mother Africa – and to make a positive difference.

edit_MG_7112The villagers, however, regarded her as a rich privileged American tourist, a nasara (white person) who had never encountered hardship and suffering. The women in the village stared at her in silence when she went to the village well to pump water to fill her bucket. They laughed at her when her foot became entangled in her sarong causing her to trip and fall as she tried to balance the water bucket on her head. When she attempted to break the ice by engaging the village children in play, they ran from her screaming in fear. This was not the experience she expected.

Susanna didn’t want to be an outsider, but she could not have felt more isolated and alone. As she watched the village women sitting in their sacred sister circle, she noticed her neighbor Clotilde, also an outsider, arriving at the well. Clotilde had made friends with the women and had become a part of their daily lives. Intrigued by their acceptance of her, Susanna watched closely as Clotilde greeted each of the women asking, “Jam bah doo nah?” It means, “Are you in your skin?” or more accurately, “Is your soul in your body?” They respond to her enthusiastically exclaiming “Jam core doo may.” “Oh yes. I am in my skin. I am alive and in my skin. My soul is in my body.”

edit_MG_7008Each of us, like Susanna, has a need to belong, to feel a part of a community. We long for connection with others. It is natural. Being an outsider can cause us to feel the pain of alienation so we sometimes sacrifice our aloneness to be with others, trying to fit in, even when we are not welcomed. Although the circumstances vary, each of us at various times in our lives has had to confront our sense of isolation. As painful and scary as it can be, experiencing your aloneness can teach you how to enjoy the pleasure of your own company ~ how to welcome and fit in with yourself. Embracing aloneness teaches you how to sit through the discomfort of loneliness so you can get to the other side of it and realize it didn’t kill you. Embracing aloneness teaches you how to be in your own skin and prepares you for being in healthy relationship to others.

Sitting with our aloneness requires courage and begs the question, “How do I live in my own skin? How do I live with myself as an autonomous being?” Rabbi Tamara Kolton teaches that loneliness should not be avoided because it is the soul’s longing for itself. Loneliness, she says, is a sign of spiritual hunger pains.  It is the longing for connection not just to others; it is the invitation to come home to Self. Learning to cherish and enjoy your solitude rather than fearing and avoiding it allows you to actively begin to know and like yourself. It gives you time to think about how you want to be treated by others and time to practice treating yourself the way you want others to treat you.

Author Elizabeth Gilbert says that during her “Eat Pray Love” journey being alone prepared her for meeting her soul mate. Rather than avoiding her aloneness, she decided to treat herself like she was her own amazing boyfriend, taking herself on great dates, offering herself words of comfort, and asking herself everyday, “What do you need, dear one? What can I do for you?” She says she had the time of her life just being with herself enjoying the pleasure of her own company.

That is our work as evolving human beings. Before we can create optimal relationships with others we have to create optimal relationships with our Self. How? Learn to love your Self. Spend time alone with your Self. Loneliness is the opening to step more fully into your Self, into your Soul. To be able to enjoy aloneness we need to learn to endure loneliness, to go deep into it, and make friends with it.

When we miss the company of a friend, we reach out. We don’t hesitate to call, text, e-mail or visit.  So the next time you feel lonely, before you distract yourself by seeking the companionship of someone else, eating another cupcake, going shopping and spending money you don’t have, turning on the TV, or reaching for another glass of wine, put in a call to your Soul. Instead of reaching out, reach in and ask your Self, “Am I in my skin? Is my soul in my body?” Sit in your aloneness until the answer is “Yes, I am alive and in my skin. My soul is in my body.” And when that answer comes you know you have come home to the most important company you will ever keep – your Self. This is the art of Soulful living.

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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