The Loss of Cause & Effect… #Mindfulness

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Photo Credit: Pixabay

It kept me up three nights ago. My mind became busy and I got to thinking about mindfulness. I’m sure you’ve all heard the term by now. Mindfulness. “Paying attention to the present moment.” “Living fully in the present moment with awareness.” Sometimes “without judgement” is added. While searching the Internet, I came across this video on the Greater Good Magazine website featuring Jon Kabat-Zinn defining mindfulness in his words.

In the video, Kabat-Zinn talks about living the “story of me” without the realization that there is, in actuality, “no me.” Although I am not a follower of Kabat-Zinn, or any of the many mindfulness gurus out there today, I like what he has to say in this brief video. It’s not a new revelation, in fact it’s very old. His words echo the sages of long ago who carried forth the wisdom that there is, in essence, no “me.”

Three nights ago, I let this mind that inhabits “me” process the concept of mindfulness in terms  of “my” perception of the current state of the world. Not so concerned with the “me,” but the “we,” my mind thought about the mindless actions that permeate our collective existence. In particular, I was thinking about the consequences that result from a mindless existence, or, rather, an existence so focused on the “me” of the ego that all else is neglected. The president of the United States is the archetype of this type of existence. The mindless ego unchecked by self awareness.

Last night, I had an hour in the car with my fourteen-year-old son, who initiated a conversation that, in essence, centered around mindfulness. He, like me, is deeply troubled by the world we live in and the mindless movement we have spiraled into, despite the current attempts to make “mindfulness” the “in thing.”

What’s the purpose of mindfulness if we can’t get passed the concept of the self as all important?

Since my eye-opening experience attempting to teach mindfulness to Montessori school teachers, and later yoga to their equally unmindful students, I’ve given a lot of thought to what “I” think mindfulness truly is. Simply stated, a mindful existence includes the realization that there are consequences to our actions, words and thoughts. The law of cause and effect is nothing new, but it’s been essentially forgotten in favor of our “me” obsessed world.

Am “I” breathing properly? Am “I” paying attention to the bird outside my window? Am “I” living in the present moment with full awareness? 

This is a start, but not an end. This “I” living in the present moment must, eventually become aware of the “I” that is trying to live. Who am I? The I must eventually ask to fully understand itself. What am I doing? What am I thinking? What are the consequences to these thoughts and actions? How do I effect not only myself, but the world around me?

Until, eventually, the I realizes that there is no I, but a vast, limitless “we.”

The day before my sleepless night, I had been in a waiting room eavesdropping in on a conversation that was occurring at the front desk between two educators. When I over-heard one of them mention teaching in the town I live in, comparing the students to inner-city kids, my interest was piqued.

What I heard, in essence, was the frustration of an educator trying to teach in a classroom without consequences filled with kids living in the myopic world of “me.” And, I thought, it’s not only me, before I thought, how pervasive this disease of “me” really has become.

When I attempted to teach yoga to the Montessori children who exhibited rudely defiant behavior, I inquired about whether there was anything I could do to thwart their disrespect. What I discovered as that we are living in a time when, despite our obsession with “mindfulness,” there are few, if any, consequences to our mindless actions. How can we teach mindfulness behavior if we don’t teach the law of cause and effect?

When trying to discover the root of a group’s behavior, we must always look to the leader. It’s rather obvious that the leader of our “free” nation is living the antithesis of a truly mindful life. Instead, he exhibits all the rude, self-centered, and dangerous behavior of the ego out of control.

While I was not sleeping the other night, I thought about how the majority of the teachers at the conference I was invited to present at where not interested in, and in fact seemed to harbor a severe aversion to, engaging in self-awareness exercises. I realized that there really was no point in me trying to return to teach yoga to their students. Before yoga asana, must come a deep awareness of mindfulness and the laws of cause and effect.

I’ll admit, it’s not a “fun” process to really and truly examine the self and the self as a part of the whole, but it can be a deeply rewarding and enriching process. When one realizes that the self is simply a conglomeration of experiences and reactions to those experiences, folded into a cellular body, a process of detachment and non-judgement can result that leads to fascinating and enlightening discoveries about not only the “self,” but the self as a part of the whole.

The “I” easily forgets the “we,” as exhibited by the pervasive self-obsessed behavior that predominates our world at this time in history. We’re living a time that is artificially sped up and controlled by the false screen of the outer. With the tap of a screen a photo is taken of the “self” and then altered by another tap or two, to be artificially enhanced so that the “self” can appear more outwardly attractive than the “self” really is. Then the self awaits, mere seconds it can take, for the “likes” of the self to pile up. With a few short taps, the self’s words can be tweeted around the world and read by millions of followers. What a heady power trip that can be! Making the “self” feel all-important.

Then there is the flip side of this. The self that arrives at the self-realization that his or her individual self is not good enough. Will never be pretty enough, when compared to the false images of beauty held in front of it, or thin enough, successful enough, etc. And, so the self decides that its life is not worth living.

There is a desperate need in my own self to try, in whatever way my self can, to bring true mindfulness back to a world that appears to me so desperately in need of it. Behind the ego’s need for self dominance is fear. Fear of the self’s discovery of its own imperfections, and the often even greater fear that those imperfections will be seen by others. In the striving for the perfect self, the self fails to realize that perfection of the self will never, and can never be achieved, because the perfect “self” is, in actuality, the no-self.

When we realize we are beautifully imperfect, here to learn and to grow ever closer to love until the self becomes only love, life becomes filled with purpose and infused with the beautiful existence that is Life. We realize that each piece of life, our life, in fact, is a part of an intricate whole. No more than, or less than another, but unique in its conglomeration of parts and experiences. Our essence, in fact, realized,  as equally important as our neighbor’s whether that neighbor is a fellow human, an animal, insect, stone, or plant. When a stone is removed from the earth, a hole remains. We are each, individually, part of a vast and intricate web of life beyond the comprehension of our individual minds. Each of us with a role to play, a life to live, that is infinitely more enriching for the self, and the whole, when lived mindfully with an awareness of cause and effect.

 

 

 

Chocorua Part 1: The Journey There

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Chocorua in early August

Sometimes the spirits of the land study you before you are allowed to study them. Their secrets held inside the membrane of earth and stone until you have proven yourself worthy of receiving.

Before we left that morning, I sealed acceptance into my aura. There was the knowing that I would be given what I needed to receive and perhaps not all that I yearned for. There is no rushing the land and its protectors, but a grateful, open-heart is always accepted.

I had met Chocorua over the winter, when I had turned a bend in the road and found myself faced with its head of stone, balded in patches of white from the snow, looming before me. It was one of those moments when the body defies words. My daughter looked at me, and I at her, with the same knowing. Someday, I would return. There was no discussion.

We drove the rest of the way to her ski meet immersed in our own thoughts, my eyes blinking away the moisture bought on by our encounter with Mt. Chocorua. Why, I wondered, have I not seen you before? 

I have lived in NH since I was nearly five years old. The mountain I had just passed, a mere 1.5 hours from my childhood home. I must have heard of it, even “seen” it in my travels.  I have learned, thought, that we do not truly see until the land is ready to be seen.

And, so I found myself traveling the roads to Chocorua six months later. Now mid-summer, there was no snow, but plenty of heat. We had just over twenty-four hours for our trip, and this would be our first night away without our children, ages 14 and 15, since they were born. A strange way to celebrate a slightly belated 20th wedding anniversary, perhaps, but my husband, like my daughter, understands my desires even if he doesn’t entirely comprehend them. When I found out he had booked us a night in North Conway so we could celebrate two decades of marriage by hiking the legendary mountain, I was deeply touched. My only reservation was that we would not have enough time.

Which was part of the letting go.

The morning began with tension after the release that yoga brings. I had a morning class to teach, and when I returned home, it was to find my husband nowhere near ready to go. I have a long history with time controlled by the minutes that tick by on the clock. I loathe being “late,” in whatever circumstance that involves. It’s not easy for me to let it go. I had breathed acceptance into my body at the start of the day, and it was not going to allow me to forget it.

When finally we got on the road, an hour after I had hoped we would leave, my husband and I found ourselves doing our individual best to release the threads of tension between us. That is until twenty-five minutes into our journey he realized he had forgotten his dress clothes, and, true to his nature, blamed it on my long-battle with time. Once more I found myself breathing into acceptance as we turned the car around.

It was a mostly wordless journey back home. When we arrived our daughter, just recently having woken, greeted us with some surprise as she smiled above the top of the couch. We had now lost about two hours of the day, by my calculations with the clock, but my body knew it was what we needed. This test of letting go of what we tend to hold onto, if we could.

And we did, gradually at first, as we settled back into an uneasy silence. My husband making the first offering of peace by placing his right hand on my thigh as he navigated the road back toward the mountain with his left. I felt the letting go as I met his offering with the wrap of my hand around his. Our journey now officially underway with all we needed packed in the car, even though later we would lament not having brought more. Not in terms of clothing, but in terms of supplies for the long walk ahead of us. In our determination to hike 3.5 thousand footer, we had not given much thought to the long, indirect path we had chosen to get to the top.  Chosen as though it was not a choice, because it was the path walked before the white man had landed on the shores of New England.

To be continued…

Finding Home in the Body #Yoga #PastLives #Healing

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I am finding my way home through the body. Again, perhaps, but the path always changes as we circle into untouched avenues of the labyrinth of self. There has been the lingering question of home as a physical landscape calling me back. I have labeled it Albion, or what once was Albion, but I have been lying to myself. It is not a mere physical place that draws the deep longing out of me, it is the pure, boundless joy of being.

It is true I find home in the stones that hold the memories of long ago. They speak to me of a time when the stars touched Earth without dimension. I have called it magic, because that is what it feels like inside of cells that have learned to forget. Yet, it is simply the true state of the boundless self that knows that the one self is home only when there is no self defined by matter, space, or time.

We can live attached to concepts of structure as we walk a linear path to a false destination that can never be reached, and I have found this path to be lonely. I have struggled to free the desire to gather the lives around me into my arms and dance us all awake before Earth destroys us in her need to heal the wounds we have inflicted upon her.

The ancient stones remember what we have forgotten and that is why they draw me home to where the hearth fire inside is kindled in a landscape that does not judge or reject. There is only the embrace, welcoming the return.

It is not enough to return, temporarily, to sites that hold the memories of truth. These places are not outside my physical doorstep where I find myself tethered to a life that feels artificial in more ways than I can count. There are thousands of footsteps between me and the stones that call me home. I go to them to return, then turn back again to this physical place I must call home as I search to define it in a language long lost to our tongues. Too often I feel the structure of  nailed together wood painted on the outside to keep the self contained behind walls as though the boundless needs protection.

At night I find the freedom I seek in the daylight, flying through the glass that looks inward and outward. I soar easily to the ceiling and will myself back to the knowing that this too is false until the molecules of division give way and rejoin in the opening. Why, I ask, am I allowed to fly boundless only in the dimension of dreams? Why do a live in a time that has chosen to forget?

Days stretch false minutes and I find myself speaking the rote words of the mundane least others think me insane. Sometimes, I ask out loud, “When will this nightmare end?” Because, I must admit, there are days that feel like nightmares. The computer screen pulls me into the vacuum of humanity’s created chaos and I become entrenched in the darkness until I pull myself back to present surrounding me. The living, breathing pulse of the now where chaos becomes a complicated dance of cause and effect; of shadow and light; of the endless cycle of life. Each moment passing into the next, asking only to be let go.

Yet, sometimes we must circle backwards to go forwards. I have found myself once again traveling through lives passed to feel the chain around the black man’s neck before it can release the body’s constricted voice. My womb aches with the rape of the priestess, and so many more that I am surprised that it bore life. I breathe in love to release constriction as I look at the fence of bodies stretching back further than the eyes can see. How long will it take, I wonder, to free them all? Until I remember this pain that becomes a memory for cells constantly renewing themselves need not find a home in my body that wants to remember only joy.

Outside the structured walls of my physical home, I am drawn each day to the weeds beneath the blooms. Digging these hands of mine into the body of Earth to release the tangles of life that suffocate growth. I am not immune to the knowing that life must be taken to feed new life. It is equally cruel and beautiful. This surrender of death to birth.

I find a harmony in the cycle I help to create. Sometimes active participation is required to free the ties that bind, and so I move this body I also call home. I listen to its urgings, feel the lick of its flames as they rise through the belly. Summer allows the shedding of shoes, and I walk barefoot on the body of Earth to feel her heartbeat and the knowing that I am her child too. My cells are made from her elements. Pieces broken to be reformed. I cannot neglect this vital part of me.

Chaos lures the mind to disorder and the body to dance free. Yoga has become a necessity for balance. If a day passes without the body stretching the mind free as it heeds the call of release, I feel the fires inside smolder for lack of air. It is not easy for light to creep through dense layers. Cracks must open. Air must be let in. Prana follows the breath into the labyrinth as the body becomes the dragon raising its wings.  And that is when the soul soars home to itself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Should a Yoga Practice with Kids & Teens Be? #Yoga #KidsYoga #TeenYoga

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Image by Johannes Plenio from Pixabay

This week will mark the end of my first sessions of full-immersion into the world of teaching yoga to kids. What has felt like an initiation by fire, with five different classes of kids ages 3-17, has left me with more questions than answers. What is, I find myself wondering, the “correct” way to teach yoga to kids and teens? Or, is there one?

Each day is different. You can arrive with a lesson plan, sets of props, and a bag filled with yoga-themed goodies, and some days this will be grand. On other days, you may as well throw it all out the window. At least that’s how it was for me.

Humans are creatures driven by their emotions, which can be impacted by not only their own internal state of being, but by the emotions of those around them, and the energy pervading the planet. Children, in particular, are highly empathic beings, easily influenced by the inner and outer emotional body.

Some days, I would arrive to a yoga class and find the energy of peace and happiness pervading the classroom. Joy easily filled us, and our yoga practice would flow like a stream of clear water. On other days, the air would be thick with humid emotions. Restless bodies trapped in an airless room were all striving for release. Who could blame them? If I were five, I too would rather be outdoors running free. Heck, even at 45, my body prefers freedom when it feels trapped in a space of confinement.

So what does one do on these days? I don’t have all the answers.

Ideally, yoga would travel to meet us where we are, at any given time. We would take it outdoors when the weather calls us to plant our feet on the grass and align our pulse with Nature’s. But, sometimes we must make do with what we are given. Closed, airless rooms.

There are days when I pretty much gave up. Threw in the towel, you might say, and mostly observed and accepted, as best I could. Taking the few precious moments when they arrived to engage a wild child in a yoga asana or breath.

They became moments of self-observation too. I would notice my own emotions, tipping toward frustration, futility, and sometimes anger. Unruly children can be cruel and disrespectful, often without intention. I found myself searching for the rare moments when I could reign them in, and teach them that there is more to yoga than moving the body into animal-like postures to find the seed of goodness within and grow it.

Even the kindest child can turn into a monster when their peers are unruly. It is not fun to watch. It is, just the opposite. Yet, we learn and grow from these moments as best we can. Moments when I found myself resisting the urge to yell. To take a small body and shake it into awareness after it reached into a bowl to grab a helpless fish, or stuffed tissues up its nose while grinning wickedly in my face.

Oh yes, there were those days when anything and everything that felt like it could go wrong did, and I would wish for a miracle that never came. Although I don’t believe in corporal punishment of any form for children, I do believe children in the society I live in tend to be over-indulged and, for the most part, lack an understanding that there are consequences to actions, even though punishment of any form is not given. And herein, perhaps, lies the gift for me.

I have found, as much as I try, that although I love to make yoga fun in creative ways, I am not a yoga teacher who finds home in the make-believe. Elaborate stories filled with action, songs, and props are not my thing. When I create these types of classes, I find that the children easily get bored unless you change the scene and plot each week. To me, this takes too much effort and feels contrived. It feeds the over-stimulated mind I am working to calm.

This, to me, is not yoga. Yoga, for me, is finding the seed of each essence held inside those restless bodies and allowing it to bloom into being. In whatever small, or big way, it is willing to bloom. And, sometimes we simply need to take away what does not work, including the children who are not ready, or wiling to engage in the practice of yoga. In each class I taught, there were always at least two children who were not ready, or interested in yoga. At least not this stage in their lives. Or, with Miss Alethea. And, that is okay.

On those rare occasions when these children left the classroom, the energy transformed.  Children who would normally follow the reckless leader(s) when present, were now engaged  and attentive. Their sharp mind tuned to my soft words inviting them to find their own yoga dance as I gently guided them along.

Sometimes an entire group needed to leave. Last week, I found myself down to two students in the last fifteen minutes of one class. Two five-year-olds who could be as unruly as the rest, remained with me while their four peers left, one-by-one, to join their other classmates on the playground. They were fifteen magical minutes. Two bright minds focused on my voice as they danced from pose to pose. “Show me how you would go from Dog Pose into Cat Pose?” “From Warrior One, into Warrior Two?” I simply sat, watched, and gently asked as the magic unfolded through their bodies.

Sometimes, the ideal yoga class is two students. Sometimes it is only fifteen minutes. And that is okay. More than okay.

The same thing happened during my middle-school yoga class last week. More than half the students were not present, due to a sport’s commitment. A group of five girls, all friends, who would rather socialize and fool around with each other than practice yoga together were absent. Instead, I had four students, two boys and two girls, who were engaged for an entire class without interruption. It was a thing of beauty.

And so I find myself asking if it is unfair, or fair, to request true engagement in the form of commitment to yoga when the person is a child? I think, perhaps, it is. From what I have seen, even a three-year-old can be engaged. There is a reason I have not mentioned my two preschool classes in this post yet. They are my largest classes, but they are also my “best” in many ways. Yes, there are challenges. The wanting to hug the teacher, and sit next to her. The friends who need to sit apart least they wrestle the entire class….but, for the most part, they are perfect in their imperfections. The students young enough to listen to their teacher without resistance, still hold a desire to please and learn. It’s easy to release the inner child when there is joy dancing around you, and a half-hour passes quickly with these children.

And so, I find myself at that point of endings that calls me to assess and evaluate before I can determine the next path to take. Still, there are more questions than answers before me, but I know I want to keep walking the path of yoga with children.

 

The Box of Fear & Why I Believe We All Must Find Our Own “Religion”

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I  have recently received an email from a friend I met years ago at a metaphysical class. We were both searching and seeking a deeper understanding of life, like all who are drawn to unravel the mysteries. Now, she has turned to religion, following the urgings of a man she loves. I am not surprised, but there is a sadness to her desperation to be loved and accepted into a secure form of life.

In her email, my friend urged me, and the rest of the group of friends to which she sent the email, to follow her path as a born-again Christian so that our souls, like hers, could be saved. She has labeled us as “New Age,” a label I have never tried to own.

I don’t care for labels, and this one I find offensive and incorrect. Although I cannot speak for the others in the group, I consider myself a spiritual being who seeks, in each moment, to heed the inner voice of truth that aligns with the core Truths of being. I do not follow one guru, or worship within the confines of one sect. I simply try my best to live a life in alignment with love.

If that makes me a sinner in some eyes, so be it. Yet, it troubles me that is should be so. Perhaps, in some ways, I am fortunate to have not been raised in what feels like the confines of a particular set of beliefs. As the child of agnostic parents who leaned toward atheism, I had to find my own spirituality in my search for inner peace and wellbeing.

I can recall many sleepless nights lying in bed wondering if my last breath would lead to my oblivion. I would wonder if my life was meaningless as a mere conglomeration of cells adhered into a body with an intelligent brain that allowed me to think both rational and irrational thoughts.

It was only when I started to think beyond the confines of my brain, and stepped into the realm of the heart, that I found a home that stretched beyond walls into the vast expanse of being. My path has lead me to explore many teachings, which all possess the same core of truths. The yoga sutras, which predate all religions, echo the words of the oldest Egyptian texts. The furthest back you go, the more threads of common truths you find. This, to me, feels like home.

Yet, it is not my place to judge another’s beliefs, nor to where they feel most at home. We are, in essence, all searching for belonging. But, do we have a right to label others as incorrect and ask them to follow the way we have chosen? This troubles me. It reminds me that we are still fighting wars and killing each other because of our spiritual beliefs, the color of our skin, and the sexual physiology and orientation of our bodies. This is not okay.

The need to destroy and convert are premised upon fear, not love. At the core of all religions and spiritual teachings, from what I have found, is Love. That is all. Love. It is a calling to find home in the knowing that we are all born from and a part of Love, which unites all life. When I breath into the stillness of being that is what I find. It fills me with a connection not only to myself, but to all life. It reminds me that I am not above or below anyone else, I am simply a part of all life. That, to me, is enough. It is a coming home.

The Hummingbird’s Visit #YogaPoetry

While sitting on the porch this afternoon, I had a visit from the resident hummingbird and found myself pulled into the stillness of the present to bear witness to life. While it is all too  easy to try to take over life in our hurry to live it, sometimes it is worthwhile to allow it to take over us. If even for just a few moments.

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Sometimes it is enough

to watch the circle of life

and listen to the rise and fall of its notes

How the sky screams the hawk’s warning

before a spirit lifts from the body of a chipmunk

to rejoin the infinite expanse

Hidden in the green, the house cat

skulks as though it were in Africa

The dimensions of size and place lost

to the memories of cells

In the stillness of the moment

tense is erased by the rhythm

of the breath’s own steady rise and fall

inviting the heart to find

the harmony of the dance