All is Well - the antidote to the dark alleys of the mind

I have a teacher. She lives in the mountains of Montana and when I first heard her name, I did what we do these days, I googled her. To find her website. Her spiel. Her approach. But I came up empty. This woman, apparently, needs not advertise but is solely word of mouth and by introduction and even then, she doesn't always get back to people for a long time. Not because she is rude. She just manages all her own mail and she gets a lot of mail. So sometimes messages get lost in the shuffle and friends that I have introduced to her are left wondering if she is choosing not to see them for some esoteric reason. But for the most part it's really just been a matter of pushing and insisting until you get to speak with her on the phone. She does her sessions over the phone. 

The first time I talked to her, she gently started speaking my deepest fears, she gave voice to the uncertainty, the angst, the despair. It was like someone had written the most eloquent, tender poem, just for me, hitting me deeply and profoundly and painfully. Tears were streaming down my cheeks for an hour straight, snot was running out of my nose -- I was turning myself inside out and everything that had been bottled up was released and cascaded to the surface. It was excruciating because it was the Truth beneath the Truth and the fear behind the fear. Really, she shit we don't want to acknowledge for fear it will swallow us up and leave us incapacitated for ever and ever. 

In the days that followed my first session, I was hit by fatigue so profound that at one point, I fell asleep outside on my porch in the middle of the day for 4.5 hours. With my cat on top of me (I know because my daughter thought it was so unusual that she took a picture). That's not normal for me. I emailed my teacher and she assured me that when we are 'over ripe' for release, it can be very exhausting. Indeed. I was exhausted for the better part of the week to follow. Then I continued the work. The work of naming what resides in the shadowy reaches of my soul and bringing it into awareness; not to wallow in it mind you but to name it, release it and speak a new Truth through the power of the Word. Speaking, Commanding, Creating something new into being. 

With each session another layer is revealed. She assures me that she is simply helping me give voice to what my soul is ready to work with. I believe it because it always feels so right on. Dead on. Bull's Eye. Lately we have been working on monitoring where I allow my mind to go. How my thoughts weave and wander and tells stories to the point that my whole nervous system is engaged, complete with adrenaline and jaw clenching -- all from the impact of my own little thoughts. My teacher says there are dark beings that feed on our negative emotions and if we allow them to fester for much more than 5 seconds then they've 'got us' and it's very heard to stop the negative spiral of despair, anger, jealousy or some other dark state of mind. My boyfriend who has long been a student of Carlos Castaneda's book says that Don Juan says the very same thing. So for a couple of weeks now, my task has been a new level of witnessing, no I would say monitoring or even guarding, what I allow to occupy my mind. It's shocking frankly, to realize the habitual extent to which, I take certain dark turns and start walking down very unpleasant alleys: imagining unpleasant arguments, or worst case scenarios, what I would do if or if or if...you know, just to be prepared if all that I fear really happens -- and before I know it it, all that I really fear IS happening, right there inside of me and my whole body is in reaction. I am no longer present to my life here and now or to the lovelies that occupy it -- in fact, I may be slightly suspicious of the lovelies that occupy it because in my dark imaginings they are no longer so lovely and I can't really trust them, now can I? 

The antidote that my teacher has given me is this simple sentence: All is well. Or more specifically, "“All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.” First uttered by Julian of Norwich in the 14th century. Here is what I can say about my progress so far. It's amazing. My dark thoughts were somewhat unconscious -- and certainly very secret -- until my teacher bluntly pointed them out and made me aware of just how damaging it is for the mind to entertain dark scenarios. What got my attention was especially her bit about dark, demonic beings feeding on my miserable states of mind. Yuck. Somehow that has made my hyper aware of what my mind is up to. For only a few weeks now, I have been nipping the dark thoughts in the bud and showered them with the antidote de jour: All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well....or simply, all is well. All is well. Isn't it lovely to say. Say it out loud now: All is well. I feel my body relax, my breath deepen and somehow my thoughts are redirected to all the ways in which all things really are well. Really are well. 

Today I talked with a special someone in my life who likes her privacy. She experiences people's vibe in colors. She told me I am lighter -- that the darker blue that made me appear sunken at times had evaporated, that the whole color field has lightened up. I believe it. I feel it. I don't want to be too exuberant about it. Like my teacher said, you will be tested. I already feel that. The things that normally start a stream of fear seem to come at me with a suspicious frequency. I picture myself riding a fearless horse though the dark woods with dementors coming at me and me repeating the magic spell: All shall be well, all shall be well, all shall be well. If you try it too, I would love to hear your experiences. 

 

When meditation is hard and hurts...

The media abound with stories of how meditation will cure everything from high crime and low grades in challenged school districts to the common fear and anxiety we all struggle with. It's proven to improve your ability to concentrate and even aid in the healing of physical ailments. You have likely seen cute pictures of inner city elementary school kids in lotus pose in lieu of time-outs and images of beautiful people with blissful yoga expressions might well lead you to believe that if only you could meditate, you too would experience instant bliss and higher awareness.

It's easy to understand why it is thoroughly disappointing and downright disconcerting when all you experience when sitting in meditation is a nervous shortness of breath and a significant rise in anxiety. 

If that's happening to you when you practice meditation, you are not alone. As a trainer of aspiring yoga teachers, I am a stickler about having them implement a meditation practice throughout the training and the reports I am getting back from a number of students, are not as rosy and excited as you might think. In some cases, my students experienced such severe increase in anxiety that they have to temporarily quit their practice and they struggle to understand how a 20 minutes practice can be so challenging.

Indeed, the single most difficult yoga teacher training program requirement for my students to implement is not the acrobatic poses like forearm stand or handstand -- no, it is sitting down to do their daily meditation. It takes much less time than the average asana practice and with the right support it's not all that physically challenging (they are even told they can use a chair if necessary) -- so why does the touted yogic meditation bliss elude a fair amount of students when they first embark on a meditation path?

My best answer is that meditation is in part the art of becoming quiet and attuned to what is truly happening in the inner environment and in a culture where being extroverted and busy in the world is celebrated from an early age, chances are there has not been a lot of quiet introspection happening along the way. So, whatever feelings and experiences have been stuffed into the back of the closet so to speak, often for years, and years, and years, will suddenly become visible. Or in my teacher, William Prottengeier's words, when the water of the mind becomes still, you will suddenly see the old gunky tires and all the other junk that you have stored at the bottom of the lake. 

When the surface of the mind becomes still and the inner landscape becomes visible, it might well cause some sadness or even fear, 'what is wrong with me that I am not experiencing deep happiness from meditation?' -- and then it's understandable that you might hurry up and try to ruffle the surface of the mind with a distraction of some kind. In my teacher training program, we call it your 'netflix'ing' -- which can indeed be Netflix and ice-cream but might also be anything from drugs and alcohol, to shopping and social media to something as innocent as engaging in outer chatter and busyness with other people instead of sitting in stillness with yourself. Netflix'ing works, then you no longer have to deal with the awareness of what shadowy objects, experiences, habits and emotions lay at the bottom of your mind lake -- and all is seemingly well again. 

Of course, the yogic path is to stay the course. Dive in. Inspect the old tire and address it instead of ignoring that it's there because ignoring the presence of pain that is crying out for healing is ultimately a lot of work and presents its own set of problems. Any kind of 'netflixing' designed to distract yourself from the presence of inner pain and discomfort will ultimately have its own detrimental effects on body and mind.

What you can do when meditation is anything but blissful:

  1. SEEK HELP. If the anxiety that arises is overwhelming you, the wisest course of action is to seek professional help. I don't think I know a single serious meditator that hasn't gone through a significant amount of counseling. One student experienced such serious anxiety and nightmares after a sincere attempt at developing a meditation practice that she nearly dropped out of the program. At that point, we have to realize that whatever 'old tires' have become visible, they are just too big and scary for one little person to deal with. So get help but stay the course of clearing out the lake of your mind. Because once you know what's down there, it will become all the harder and take all the more netflixing to keep it covered up. 
  2. SHARE YOUR FEELINGS. If the anxiety is mild but definitely there, know that it's normal. Speak up. Share your pain. You are not alone. All serious yogis have to go through this declutter work. It's not comfortable but once you have taken the first steps, it's a lot more work to stay stagnant than to move forward. 
  3. MEDITATE IN GROUPS. Many meditation centers offer meditation sessions paired with sharing and discussions and other community building activities. Here you might find more experienced meditators that will be happy to mentor your through the initial phases of finding your meditation groove. 
  4. PRAY. This is a loaded word so let me just suggest that you try it out for size; find inner trust that Spirit, The Divine, God is with you and that Divine Grace will help you through the rough patches. Surrender to The Divine process of becoming free from the inner obstacles that are operating beyond your conscious awareness. Ishvara Pranidhana is sanskrit for complete surrender to the Divine Will. When Meditation becomes painful for me, I shift my intention from sitting with what is, to praying to transform what hurts. I pray for help. Just like that, Help me! Please help me! I feel small and inadequate and what I am feeling is overwhelming and sad. Please help me....
  5. NETFLIX. Whatever that means for you. Step away from the meditation cushion. Soothe yourself. It's OK. You are hurting and it's too much. Go to bed with Netflix or go out to a party. You have the choice not to feel this anymore today. But come back to it again when you feel a bit stronger. 

In my early days with Tibetan Buddhist meditation in the late 80's, I remember hearing something to this effect: 'Before enlightenment, meditate to find out who you are.  After enlightenment, meditate because you know what you are.' If I had known 26 years ago that at age 45 I would still be in the process of finding out who I am, I might have given up. But here I am, still at it. Some days, meditation is a truly blissful experience of oneness, every cell in my body sings with joy and aliveness and beauty radiates back at me  everywhere I look. I rest in the sea of pure awareness and my body seems completely porous and the world around me is inside of me. Other days, I tremble and suffer. My gut is fraught with anxiety. My loneliness is profound and emotional pain nearly chokes me. I want to scream and run away. Sometimes I do. I do my version of netflixing; I eat sweets and I immerse myself in other people's problems so I don't have to feel my own;  then I see a somatic experience practitioner who makes me feel my pain even more deeply so I can release it and then I meditate again.

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Sinking into the silence of the pause...

Today, I will courageously stay a little longer in the pauses. I will just linger and be. I will let my gaze be held and held some more by the tree that catches my eye, and I will stop and really pay attention to the way the Light is playing with the shadows on the path before me. I will slow way down even if it's just another Twin Cities Tuesday, and I will drink in the moment through all my senses.

What sounds surround me, what smells, how does the autumn air feel on my skin, how does my breath move in my body, what is really going on inside right now? Where in my body are all my feelings felt, could I name these feelings, can I hear what I really need? Can I ask for it? Who do I ask for it?  Why is my tongue so tight against the roof of my mouth and what makes me pull my left shoulder forward just a touch? 

I was born and raised in Copenhagen, a city that is highly residential, with an abundance of majestic apartment buildings from the 18th and 19th century, mostly with out elevators but with beautiful landings between the floors. Landings with intricately carved little benches and stools, and stain glass windows that project juicy colors on the walls and open just a crack to let fresh air in to the stairwell -- and often well cared for plants in heavy pots.

I remember walking up these endless steep stairs as a small child, right foot first on every step, and often finding a little old lady with a scarf around her head, just sitting there on one of these landings. Taking a tangible pause from the climb up to the 5th floor, grocery bags on the floor beside her.

There was a peacefulness and gentle sense of her full being just being right there in that moment, on that landing, between the third and fourth floor. Breathing, sometimes sighing audibly, and patiently taking the time that it takes for the energy to arise within -- the energy to keep moving and doing and going up. 

As I move through my own story, trying to understand and trust this intricate tapestry of what? Self-created projections, destiny, unexpected twists and turns, my responsibility, my lessons, my repeated lessons, and my once more repeated lessons and then what to do about it all...I have found again and again that it is in the deliberately drawn out pauses that I understand just a little bit more...and only to the extent that I stop and really feel and acknowledge the feelings that are moving within -- especially the ones that are heavy and murky and that make me weep and sigh audibly...

Life in my childhood Europe was slower it seems, at least in hindsight, the cafes on the streets were crowded not with people isolated on laptops but with people being deeply engaged in each other, leaning in, touching arms, throwing back heads in laughter and sinking their heads into their hands, frowning foreheads and nodding in agreement...and then the silence, the not talking, the silence that you can only be comfortable with when you really trust each other and know that just being together in stillness is also something, lingering into the pause between words and actions....

So, today I will not do so much outer work -- I will be quiet and pensive and be really slow about it all. I will be with all of me. The sad longing. The losses and regrets. The bewildered not-understanding and the optimism that inevitably bubbles up around the grief. And then the beauty that surrounds it all, penetrates even the most head hanging moments. 

 

 

 

 

 

If I love your baloney, will you love mine?

25 years ago I embarked on my spiritual journey by taking refuge in the Tibetan Buddhist Kagyu lineage. I was 19 years old. If I had known then that I would still be going through such tremendous struggle to illuminate my baloney a quarter century later, I probably would have refused to believe it. Partly because I had yet to become even remotely acquainted with the extent to which my baloney would drive me in certain situations and partly because I believed so strongly that if only I would meditate and pray enough, all life long, then it would all turn out ok. It's cleverly designed, really, just how one's baloney is only revealed to the conscious mind in little, or sometimes not so little, drops. It's counter intuitive actually, the longer I have been at this inner-work-business, the more baloney I encounter within. Probably because it would be totally overwhelming, early on, to come face to face with the total picture of how unevolved we, well I, can be when the right person comes along and pushes the tender buttons that activate the hidden baloney.

What do I mean by baloney? Well, it's actually a word I just learned. I am not American and English is not my first language so I had to look it up when this word was used by someone very special to me to describe my way of handling myself, "your high consciousness is total baloney" -- and after looking up the word, 'baloney', and then sitting with that heavy message for a several painful hours of self-reflection, I had to surrender and just own the painful truth: My high consciousness is total baloney -- because my higher consciousness has so not penetrated all areas of my being. There are some really dark and bratty rooms left in my inner castle and, as promised 25 years ago, these really dark areas would be revealed (and healed, oh, please be healed)  one by one -- and it might well take many, many life times to do the work of transforming the darkness and the fear. And as long as there are still baloney rooms left, I will continue to attract just the people and situations who will lovingly, or shamingly, hold up a mirror so that I can see the error of my ways. Basically, there is no where to run and no where to hide. The inner work must be done and it is humiliating, scary and just really, really painful. 

We have a saying in Danish: "Aben flytter med" - it means, the monkey moves with you -- as in you can change all your outer circumstances, leave your lover, move to the other side of the world, fire all your friends and your entire family if you must but whatever your baloney is, it will show up again and again until you own it as just that: your baloney. And you will be magically drawn to the people and circumstances that will trigger it so you can become acquainted with it and then what? Heal it? Integrate it? Not be so quick to react outwardly? Realize in some deep way that these visceral reactions are pointing to where the work is? That the churning, anxious discomfort in the gut is the work? That numbing this almost intolerable discomfort short circuits the process of bringing Light into the darkness, Light into the pain, Light into the fear. 

It so easy to despise the baloney that arises, what's not to despise? In my case it shows up as extreme bodily and emotional discomfort  seemingly caused by someone else's actions and then there is the real baloney, that is, the almost irresistible urge to correct the baloney activator so that he or she won't cause discomfort in my inner being any longer. That's when the reaction comes and the drama begins because now I am no longer alone with my inner baloney. I have officially rung the bell and now we have stepped into the baloney boxing ring and the internal struggle has now become a full-on physical experience played out like a scripted play where everyone is sure to suffer because no one is able to identify whose baloney is whose but everyone is certain it's not theirs. 

Then comes the shame. The heavy, debilitating shame that deflates my energy from the inside out. And all that is left is an empty boxing ring and anxious certainty that until all this baloney has been cleared out, lasting love isn't really possible. That's when the question and the hope arise. Can we love ourselves and even each other while we move through the slow and arduous process of downloading more Light into more darkness? Can we love our own and each other's high minded selves while also loving and even honoring our own and each other's total baloney? Is baloney little more than a fear ridden and immature child who needs holding more than shaming, who needs attention more than rejection? Truthfully, I have no clue. What I do know is that blessed be the friends who love me in spite of my baloney. Here is to them on this Labor Day of 2015. 

 

 

 

 

The battle of my selves

If I thought that ten days of Vipassana (silent Buddhist meditation retreat) would alleviate the craziness that arises within when my lower self meets my higher self then at least I am a tiny bit wiser, because I now know that it didn't and doesn't. At least not for me or any of my beloved, dharma sisters and brothers to whom I cling because they understand how hard it is to be present to the awfulness that is uncovered in the process of becoming fully alive and present.

What it did do,  I would say, is make it glaringly obvious when my lower self is operating and my higher self is effectively being drowned out -- which is all the more painful. At least, before, I could comfortably, and with great inner conviction, accuse the person who triggered my lower self into action, of 'making me' anxious, angry, sad  -- or whatever the nasty, uncomfortable emotion might be. Then all I had to do was get the hell away from said person and then do something, anything, to alleviate the unwelcome inner state. 

Being that I don't use intoxicants, I really considered myself a person who is willing to 'be with what arises' - I am using quotation marks because this is such yoga lingo. But not really so. I don't want to feel what arises when it feels like shit; I squirm like a bottom feeder in the net when these emotional states arise within -- and run. Somewhere. Anywhere. To a friend mostly. Because as soon as we are talking about how terrible I feel, then it's not so terrible anymore because the terribleness has been moved from that awful, visceral feeling in the gut or elsewhere in the body -- to the intellect where he and I, or she and I, get to process it using all of our yogic wisdom and pretty soon, it's all so clear. Until it's not. And until next time the same uncontrollable feelings are triggered.

Today I am starting a new job at yet another treatment center for drug and alcohol -- it's the third center I work at. In getting ready for that, the guy who hired me asked me to read a book about yoga for trauma and it didn't take a whole lot of reading to realize that that we are all on that spectrum. Of carrying trauma, wounds, experiences that were too painful to process properly so they are lodged like little landmines inside, ready to go off when an unsuspecting individual (or a very suspecting trickster sent from the Divine) trespasses and steps on them. Then a sophisticated process of biochemical reactions are unleashed and real life panic sets in. And who is that? Reacting and feeling so self-righteous about the reaction? It's also me. The unevolved me. The me that we are not greeting in yoga when we say namaste (may the Light in me see the Light in you) -- the me, that needs transformation. The me full of samskaras -- which is the Buddhist term for negative impressions or imprints that we carry and from which these undesirable reactive emotions arise. 

What we learn in vipasanna is to stay. Feel it all. Every last, nasty bit of the awful anxious, angry, sad state and try, as best we can, not to have it out with the messenger who came into our lives with the explicit purpose of shining a harsh light on these samskaras. That the drama we create when we battle with the messenger from God, the trickster, is effectively diffusing the process of allowing Higher Consciousness to penetrate the knots in our Being that tie us to our ego and abort that process of giving birth to more of the Higher Self into our earthly vessel. 

What we learn is to stay and watch, like an eagle from above, how we run way. And we all have our ways of running away from feeling awful. We can't stop the running until we recognize the sneaky ways in which we do it. And then we just stay and feel it and feel it and feel it and accept that it may be a hundred years before we can even make sense of it and we just feel it and stay with it and we build a tolerance for feeling it all. Being with it all. And then, maybe, we can become so good at being with it all that we also don't run away from each other anymore. That we stay when the other is in that place of pain and has nothing to give, when their Higher Self channel seems all but shut down and all that's visible is an unattractive ego display or downright tantrum. 

Maybe we no longer just greet the Highest Light in ourselves and one another. Maybe we also greet the bullshit, the suffering ego, the impossible child, the shadow who kicks and runs and squirms. Maybe we can make friends with this process that we are all in and use our Highest Light to forgive and even hold and embrace the patients we are, as we subject ourselves to the painful surgery of surrendering the ego and peeling away the layers that cloud our vision from understanding our True Nature. Here's to hoping. Off I go to my new job. 

 

 

 

On drinking and judging

This weekend I found myself in judgment. Harsh and severe, self-righteously spewing and zapping, quite eloquently, I was told, and with such certainty of my accurate discernment. I judged on a subject on which I have judged so many times before; and have tried so many times to stop judging. Yet,  I did it again and I suspect it will happen again more than once before I finally understand, in a real, integrated way, that I really, truly am to abandon judgment. That the speck in my neighbor's eye is not mine to remove, the log in my own eye however, is. 

I went to see my friend, well he's more than a friend and that is when my judging gets really sticky. He was drunk. It was not even 6 o'clock but he had been drinking with friends much of the day. His breath was stinging my eyes and his beautiful blue eyes were swimming.  He didn't want me to leave, I wanted to run. He wanted to talk about it. So we did -- and that is possibly when leaving would have been preferable because that is when the judging began. I started out staying beautifully in my own business. Just making it clear that alcohol is something I stay away from completely because it shuts down my ability to hear my own Spirit guide me, and I don't want to be around intoxicated people because I find them unable to connect with me in any real way. That he is free to drink, and I am free to leave. That's ok, right. I get to not be around drunk people. 

But it didn't stop there of course. I have so many feelings about alcohol and over and over, as I tried to remember who was in front of me, I had this nauseating deja vu, and I didn't see my friend, I saw my dad. Really, like I was momentarily hallucinating; or he was shape shifting. I was in some time warp and there I was, a little girl, sitting in my father's lap, in his library, the sweet, oddly comforting smell of scotch on his breath. Their eyes are so similar, the blue, swimming eyes that look at me with so much love and lostness at the same time. Wanting so much to connect and reach me, yet being unreachable themselves behind this foggy veil.  

I refocused on the handsome man in front of me, the man I am just getting to know but who feels like I have known him for a thousand years - and on and on I lectured, about the devastation that alcohol brings to families, how it breaks people apart, disconnects them, undermines their Spirit's efforts to manifest more fully in our bodies, how I can't live with it, how alcohol damages your organs, your liver in particular and how the eye infections that won't heal, yes, those are all because of alcohol. 

Today, I feel oddly hungover myself. As if this judging binge was not so different from that of a raging alcoholic's. Confucious said, "A gentleman calls attention to the good points of others; he does not call attention to their defects. The small man does just the reverse of this."  By that standard, I am small. Yesterday, I let my ego rule and judge and I closed my heart to protect it while I was doing it. Yet, we somehow got through it. I didn't run away, I stayed. I listened and I judged and today I judge myself for judging -- and tomorrow I will forgive myself for judging myself and others. 

 Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment that you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, "Let me take the speck out of your eye," when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.

Matthew 7.1-5

So hard to open the heart

I am a yoga teacher and I do heart openers every day. I teach heart opening asanas. I teach how to make more space for the heart to shine in all directions; to give more freely, to receive more deeply. How to correct the slumping of the shoulders that we blame on computers and cars but probably has more to do with trying to create some safety and protection around the heart, yes make a little cave of protection for the heart; like a turtle's shell that we can draw backwards into. Daily I hold my hands in prayer position in front of my heart and in prayer position behind my heart so that my heart may open in the back and in the front and to the sides. But what is all this sweet work worth if my heart still closes like a fragile mimosa that folds inward or droops when touched or shaken by intimate love. 

Yesterday I saw a dear friend.  I see myself in him -- he is much younger but, like me, he has journeyed on the spiritual path from a very young age. Foregone parties and drugs and frivolity to sit in deep meditation in faraway meditation halls. We both prostrated ourselves for years to the Tree of Dharma of Tibetan Buddhism in Europe and we have both kneeled till our knees hurt in Catholic churches imploring the Holy Mother to hear our song, fill our hearts and protect us from the hurts of the world. But yesterday he wept with me. Which is brave for a young man to do even in 2015, he wept for all the relationships he passed up in order to pursue his spirituality, to go to all these meditation retreats in remote locations, far away from the world and far away from the lovers that touched his heart. Far away from lovers that might have broken his heart -- instead he left and maybe he broke their hearts.

I still see myself in him. I see how I struggle when love touches my tender, battered heart. How, just like my young friend, I struggle just the same to stay open and vulnerable in the face of romantic love. How cleverly and how often I have looked for reasons to run away and leave and be anywhere else but right here where my heart is being touched and invited to open. How dramatically I fear the heart break before love has even begun, how the petals of my heart slightly contract, just a twinge really, but in the world of new and tender love even a subtle twinge in my heart toward closing is all it takes for the other heart to do the same and for the my heart to do the same and for the other heart to do the same until the hearts that were open and childlike in their excitement about new love and each other are not open anymore. But scared. And when the warmth of the heart is blocked, the cool voice of reason will start justifying, in terms too logical to defy, how life is already so full and busy and demanding and who has time for dangerous sidetracks such as opening one's tender, longing hearts with so much risk of pain and so little promise of true love. 

So, now my left shoulder is caving in a bit on the left; shielding the heart below. It hurts all the way up my neck. It started the day I kissed the handsome man who has touched my heart. It was down by the river in the waning, golden light of a Sunday evening not long ago at all. I think I knew that day; that I would be challenged to meet him with out guarding my heart; and I wanted to be brave and I wanted to open my heart. But my shoulder is not convinced that an open heart is a good idea -- so my shoulder is doing the guarding and it hurts constantly. I have seen my acupuncturist three times since the first time the handsome man kissed me tenderly, I have seen my chiropractor too and yesterday I saw my somatics mentor -- they each gave me a bit of relief but  a few hours later my left shoulder is back on her guard post, watching out, staying tight and alert and not losing a moment of information. And if you make a point to look, there is so much information and so many ways to prove to yourself that love cannot win, that egos, and reason and the humdrum of the day will drown love and keep your heart safe from being open to another. 

The man who kissed me so sweetly and touched my heart so deeply in no time, brought me lilies today. They are beautiful and their scent fill not just my bedroom but my whole house and yet my shoulder is on high alert, responding to my heart's perceived, urgent need for protection...in fact, I think my right shoulder may be joining the defense team as we speak, trying so hard to protect the heart from stepping up to its God given job of staying open in the face of anything whether it's the beginning of love or the end of love. Otherwise, I fear that I, and my young friend too, might just be using meditation and the 'spiritual path' and even heart openers as a means to run away and not be right here, right now with exactly what is going on. 

Here is my favorite poem by Shelley...it's so sweet and full of longing.

Love’s Philosophy

 

The fountains mingle with the river

   And the rivers with the ocean,

The winds of heaven mix for ever

   With a sweet emotion;

Nothing in the world is single;

   All things by a law divine

In one spirit meet and mingle.

   Why not I with thine?—

 

See the mountains kiss high heaven

   And the waves clasp one another;

No sister-flower would be forgiven

   If it disdained its brother;

And the sunlight clasps the earth

   And the moonbeams kiss the sea:

What is all this sweet work worth

   If thou kiss not me?

 

 

Sleep, sweet sleep

I CAN'T GET THROUGH THE DAY WITH OUT A NAP -- OR CAFFEINE. IT'S NOT NORMAL! I TOLD MY CHINESE DOCTOR IN DESPERATION. WELL, SHE SAID, ACTUALLY IT IS. WHAT IF I TOLD YOU THAT MOST OF THE WORLD NAPS, EVERY DAY. THAT THE DOCTORS IN THE LARGE, BUSY HOSPITAL IN BEIJING WHERE I WORKED BEFORE COMING HERE, THEY NAPPED, EVERY AFTERNOON. 15-20 MINUTES. SOME JUST LAID THERE HEADS RIGHT DOWN ON A TABLE AND SLEPT.

Ah, so maybe the cure for my 'chronic afternoon fatigue' is not yet another expensive supplement or exotic powder from the co-op for 'maxed out adrenals' but simply, to sleep, sweet sleep. 

So, I did. I have let myself take time out to simply rest. For a while now, I have just given into this overwhelming urge to rest in the afternoon. Mama's doing yoga nidra for the next 30 minutes - the kids know to be quiet - the cats don't get to come in. My thick, no-light-can-get-through drapes from Ikea are drawn, eye pillow - and then, yoga nidra. Yogic Sleep. Because that makes me nap almost instantly. It's a guided meditation, rotating my consciousness around my body and the funny thing is, it's very much like the guided meditation my grandmother would use to make my sister and me sleep when we were kids and would sleep over in her awesome feather beds. Relax your big toe, she would say, then your second toe, your third toe, your...your...zzzzzzz - and somewhere on the journey through our bodies, we'd be out. I don't know where she got this idea but it worked like a charm every time.

It's become even more important that I take the time to nap after I have added several evening classes to my teaching schedule, it gives me that second wind and when I avoid the caffeine/chocolate temptation then I still fall asleep like a baby by 10 or 10:30PM. 

I realize that my particular schedule allows for napping, many of my students are working in office settings where taking a snooze at 3:30PM is not possible; so instead they resort to caffeine or just spacing out - checking out mentally and not getting much done anyway while managing to look reasonably productive. I know, I have been there. 

Maybe I won't always need to incorporate naps, maybe my adrenals really are depleted or my heart and body just strung out from post-divorce-making-it-on-my-own-in-a-foreign-country-stress. But for now, I nap, as often as I need to and just count on my body to tell me when it isn't tired anymore, at 3:30PM - speaking of which, it's now 3:45PM and sure enough, I am just wanting to conclude this little blog entry so I can go snooze and be ready and rested for a get-together tonight.

If you are like me, and need a bit of help dozing off in the afternoon, then this Yoga Nidra CD is guaranteed to help you. Just don't have caffeine right before you 'nidra'. 

 

 

The least of my brethren

"CAN I BUY YOUR APPLE. I WILL GIVE YOU A DOLLAR FOR IT. I HAVEN'T HAD ANYTHING TO EAT. I AM REALLY HUNGRY." THE MAN WHO WANTED MY APPLE APPEARED OUT OF NOWHERE AND SPOKE VERY FAST TO ME.

I was walking in my own little world, between classes today, munching on this apple before teaching another class in the dodgy end of South Minneapolis.  I had already made my way almost half way through this apple. The man looked disheveled. "Are you serious?" I asked, "you want to eat my half-eaten apple?" He really did. I gave it to him, wishing so bad that I'd had another, a fresh un-bitten apple in my purse, but I didn't. 

I walked away, leaving the man with my apple. He was already busy eating what was left of it. 

Personally, I'd say that I might eat a half-eaten apple left by one of my children. But that's it. I wouldn't even eat my mom's half eaten apple let alone the half-eaten apple of a random stranger. Or maybe I would. If I were hungry enough. Downtrodden enough. Believing enough that begging for a half-eaten apple is what it takes to get an apple.

After class I got in my car to drive home, sweet home, in my safe neighborhood where my kids were waiting for me to cook them burgers but as I sat in a bit of traffic by the Franklin entrance to E94, I noticed an older man next to a shopping cart that held a couple of dirty, ragged blankets. He was wearing a prominent cross around his neck and looked completely resigned. No cardboard sign asking for money, stating the obvious: homeless, poor, forgotten by society. Just sitting there alone by his shopping cart. 

I rolled down my window and I reached into my purse and told my fingers to pick the right bill. I knew I had 1's, 5's, 10's and 20's in there. My fingers picked a $10 - I was a bit relieved that it wasn't a $20 because $20 felt like a lot - he hobbled over to my car window and I gave him the bill. He just stood there next to my car, and looked, and held my gaze in a way that made me want to cry my heart out for the state of the United States where people live like this, right under our noses, where we are debating whether minimum wage should be a living wage or not or whether people like this man should receive food stamps or not.

Then he sat back down by his cart and pulled out a pill bottle, opened it up and took out a slim roll of bills, 1's from what I could see, and he added the $10 bill to the roll. I wanted to change my mind and do it over. I wanted to give him a $20, or more, or make him some food, or find him a place to live. But then the car behind me honked and I rolled onto the freeway and I drove back to my home where I cooked burgers for my kids. 

 

From Survival to Surrender

I am learning, and teaching to the best of my abilities, the shift from survival to surrender. I guess I would say I am always moving actively from survival to surrender. The doorway to surrender is presence; presence to the magnitude and wonder of the expansive Spirit that breathes life into my limited perception of myself.

To be that present I must cultivate, over and over and over again, a mindset of meditation, of inner quiet, of identifying with the steady breath that moves in and out of my physical body. In truth, I am not sure I would have been able to perceive of such an act as surrender, had I not found meditation when I was 19 years old at a Tibetan Buddhist Center in my hometown, Copenhagen -- and had I not kept coming back to meditation - and prayer - again and again and again. 

The benefits of meditation and prayer reach far and wide for both my body and my mind. It is taking an important step in assisting my Divine Spirit in weaving itself more deeply and intelligently into my physical vessel.

As my Spirit is allowed ever more presence in my physical life, I notice a deeper sense of inner guidance and wisdom that begins to shine more consistently into my life through my thoughts, emotions, actions and words.

And yes, gradually my body and mind move out of survival mode and into surrender mode. I relax and my Spirit moves more deeply into my physical tissue bringing with it healing and peace.

I see a greater sense of connection to all things, to nature to my fellow human beings. My natural, inborn capacity for empathy and compassion seems to grow ever stronger and clearer.

A fluid state of gratitude infuses me wherever I go. I don't just  believe that I am deeply blessed; I know it with every fiber of my being. My intuitive capacities grow stronger with meditation and I listen more to my inner wise and loving voice.

As my Spirit Light shines more brightly in my heart and unto other people, I grow in my capacity to heal and console other people.

I feel less cut off from friends and family who have passed on to the other side. I just know and feel deep in my heart that while I miss those who have died, their Spirits are as alive as ever and we can connect in deep love and appreciation.

With all my love I wish you a wonderful journey into a Spirit guided life. If you need a daily nudge, get my new Breath of Life Morning and Evening meditation CD. Right here www.mariatoso.com

 

Yoga works in mysterious ways

This morning I took a real, old-fashioned yoga class.  The kind I used to take long before vinyasa came to town. Back where it all started for me. With Iyengar yoga. My body nearly forgot how that goes. How you stay long enough in each pose to truly take your seat in it.  To asana. Just sit and breathe with what is.  No direction to the breath even; simply letting the breath be what it is in that particular pose.  Just allow the props to hold and cradle, push and lift.

I am hanging upside down on the wall like a bat and I release fully into the weight of me; I let every exhale sink me deeper into my own innerness.  I give in and release and I am letting go to what is.  There is no music to float away upon.  The teacher is still. There is no incessant dharma talk to soothe what arises from within.  I am just present to the current state of affairs in my life; I feel a big, quiet space open up inside. 

I am arched back and inverted; my brain is below my heart; giving the heart the upper hand perhaps. Bathing my brain in the blood from my heart perhaps. Now I allow the Spirit of my breath to find its way into all the places where it doesn't get to go much because it's too much. It's all too much. 

Now I am fully present to the current conditions of my life and it really is too much; and perhaps I took to using yoga as the escape; the reprieve from it all; a place to numb the pain through physical expertise.

But here I am with my legs in the air and my back arched upon a chair; I am in it. I am in the divorce proceedings that won't end; that drain too much of my life force into a black, greedy hole. I am also the strong dog walking through unknown, dark territories with my pups. I am the hair standing up along my spine when a branch breaks behind me and another appeal is filed and I lick my sweeties reassuringly: Mama's got this. No fear, dear. I'm here. Holding a shield of calm, fierce love in place. 

As I take my seat in these poses, long enough, the magnitude of it all is just here with me; and the pain is deep and dangerous. I know it will not last; I know it will be here now and it will also go away one day; eventually.  But right now this is what I am dealing with. In this morning's yoga class, I was lead to a deep place of feeling that.

In savasana, I am nestled underneath a wool blanket; the tears of fear and grief and just plain overwhelm, flow, warm and salty. Silently from the silent space within; they run in a steady, stream into my ears. In this savasana I am given the time and the space and the quiet that I need for this.

For that I am grateful. From that place I will put one foot in front of the other - even if the territory is unknown and many breaking branches and legal maneuvers will scare me cold. 

I am grateful to the teacher that held this space for me today. His name is William Prottengeier and I am very lucky because he is a master and he is teaching at St Paul Yoga Center which is right around the corner from my house. 

Yoga every day, keeps the doctor away....

When I first started doing yoga, in the early 90's - it was a pretty nerdy thing to do. The studios were not fancy and the teachers were not dressed in $150 spandex outfits. The only requirement of their pants was that you could see their legs. Most of them wore very short pants that showed all the muscles and bones. They would get impatient, or downright angry, with you if you wore pants that were loose around the knees. How could they check if you were actually 'lifting your kneecaps" if you wore baggy pants? (So you'd pull your pants up and look extra-nerdy to expose your knees). 

A pose would be worked on for what sometimes seemed like an eternity (you try being in trikonasana (triangle pose) for 5 minutes) and in the beginning of class you had to raise your hand if you were on your period. Then you'd be relaxing in subdabadakonasna (bound angle pose) while everyone else did inversions. If you told your friends that you were doing yoga then they weren't quite sure what that meant and if you told them; they'd likely think it was a bit odd. 

We all know how that has all changed. Yoga has become as mainstream as organic potatoes and that can only be a good thing. Even the established medical community has embraced the tremendous health benefits of yoga. I have just been invited to teach Yoga Nidra at the U of M and the Mayo Clinic is promoting yoga as a means to 'fight stress, get fit and stay healthy'. The barriers between what was once considered 'New Age' and western based medicine are crumbling and it's no longer either or. 

My family doctor, Dr. Kara Parker, is a Naturopath/MD who works at HCMC (Hennepin County Medical Center) and she has everything from bladderwrack and meditation to antibiotics and acupuncture up her sleeve. The one time that she has ever prescribed antibiotics, I feel confident that it was after exhausting every alternative method at her disposal. 

All though the meaning and practice of yoga has become mightily diluted, it's still a good thing that yoga has been endorsed as a means to greater health. Even students that never dive into the Yoga Sutras and beyond, will experience amazing changes in their body and mind from doing yoga on a daily basis. 

Here's words straight out of a Mayo article on the matter: 

  • Stress reduction. A number of studies have shown that yoga can help reduce stress and anxiety. It can also enhance your mood and overall sense of well-being.
  • Improved fitness. Practicing yoga can lead to improved balance, flexibility, range of motion and strength. And this means you're less likely to injure yourself in other physical endeavors or in your daily activities.
  • Management of chronic conditions. Yoga can help reduce risk factors for chronic diseases, such as heart disease and high blood pressure. Yoga might also help alleviate chronic conditions, such as depression, pain, anxiety and insomnia.
  • More here: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/yoga/CM00004 

Peruse my older blogs here! 

 

That human task of finding the Light in the darkness...

I am surrounded by yogis and yoginis, and also great friends who don't subscribe to yoga, but to some other path of spiritual and personal growth. Friends and students and, of course, me; who do things like meditate, exercise, garden and compost, eat organic foods - and who drink little to never. Who know the power of connecting to the earth and connecting to the Light -- in equal measure. 

 Friends who 'walk the path consciously' and look for how they create their own circumstances, 'co-create' is the word these days, who take responsibility for their choices and who truly wish to find their voice and serve in whatever capacity God, The Universe, The Greater Good would have them do. 

Trying very hard and persistently - and succeeding as well, some of the time - in finding that Higher Self voice, the place where it's all cool; and every experience is part of the picture, the voice that elevates us out of feeling small and contracted, alone and inadequate, 

Why is it so hard for us to maintain that perspective?

Why must we dip into the icy, dark waters of forgetting our Mighty Light? Of believing even for a moment that we are not loved and guided and that there isn't Great Big Meaning behind the hurt and the pain that get invoked time and again by circumstances that, yes, we attract into our lives to figure out a better way to deal with them than we did when we were 5 years old. 

I don't know the ultimate answer of course (what earthling does?) but I know that for me, being flung into darkness and doubt on a semi-regular basis is how I have developed my now fairly dependable "see-the-Light-shine-in-the-darkness' capacity. It is how I can stay grounded enough in my 'Observer' to recognize what is going on with the part of me that identifies completely with the 'soft animal of my body' and my present circumstances (better known as my ego, I suppose). 

I also know deeply, from personal experience, that community is crucial. That the friend I dragged out of a dark perspective yesterday is ready to do the same for me today.

That I wouldn't learn to swim toward to Light when I feel that I am drowning unless I got plunged into the Dark waters enough to practice, practice, practice. That coming back to my own Light again and again, is how I have come to trust that the Light does indeed Shine in the Darkness, and that the Darkness, indeed, has not overcome it. 

15 years ago, my now ex-husband told me, and I have no idea where he got this idea, that reciting the first 14 verses of St John's Gospel daily could not, not transform a person completely. That's how he said it; not, not. So I memorized it at the time, we both did. It's interesting that we have grown so far apart and yet, he is another person in town who has that memorized. 

Reciting John has become a remedy, a pathway out of the Darkness for me. It's powerful stuff. Sometimes these verses just pour through me when anxiety and fear creeps in. Before I am even consciously aware of it, these words just spread within like Golden Light. 

There are many versions, here is the one I memorized. Maybe you want to try it sometimes when you feel lost and lonely and all small and contracted into dualism.

Maybe it will help you remember that the Light shines in the Darkness and that the darkness has not over come it. Here it is. 

In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God

He was in the beginning with God and through Him were all things made

Without Him was not anything made that was made

In Him was Light and His Light was the Light of men

The Light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.  

There came a man sent from God his name was John

He came as a Witness to bear Witness to the Light that all might believe though Him

He himself was not the Light but came to bear Witness to the Light.  

The True Light that enlightens every man was coming into the world

He was already in the World but the World knew Him not

He came to His own people but his own people received Him not

But to all who received Him and believed in His Name

He gave power to become children of God

Not born of the blood, nor the will of the flesh, nor the will of man but of God

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld His Glory

Such Glory as of the only begotten Son of the Father full of Grace and Truth

 

 

Pushing through my laziness

I have developed a method. A method for cleaning my kitchen. When I look at a messy kitchen I get so weary in my soul, I really just want to, not clean it. Go to bed. Do it later. But what's worse than coming back to a messy kitchen, getting up in the morning to a messy kitchen? So, the method is this: I split myself into two personalities. Yep, sounds a bit scary but it works.  

Lazy Me, who really can't deal with it right now. Who's too busy, got too many other things that just has to be tended to. Wise Me, who knows that the energy drain of not getting that something done is massive almost incapacitating. Totally out of proportion to the actual task of getting that thing done, be it that messy kitchen or something else on the list of to-do's.  

Wise Me then sets my kitchen time. 10 minutes. Yep, that's it: 10 minutes. Even Lazy me can deal with just about any task if it's only for, promise, just 10 minutes. Then Wise Me divides my kitchen into sections. That space to the left of the sink, the sink, the space to the right of the sink, the stove, and that space to the right of the stove. Eating nook, narrow counter, sweep the floor (mop if necessary).  

To make the whole situation more bearable, Wise Me also lights some incense and puts on some music, that really soothes Lazy Me and makes me more cooperative. Then the timer starts and Lazy Me gets anything but lazy, Works really hard and fast. Fast because I've only got 10 minutes, and I gotta get all this done. Section one, done. Section two, done, three, done. Always catching a backwards glance at the completed sections because nothing is more satisfying than a completed section.

Ten minutes later, the kitchen is almost done, the timer on the stove goes off and Lazy Me is frantic, No, not yet, I am not done. Give me a few more minutes, I need to sweep too; and I also want to do a quick mopping to make it all extra fresh. Wise Me allows it. Yes, you can have 2 more minutes. I will set the timer though.  

Two minutes later the kitchen is done. For real. That's it. The dreaded task is just done and the whole kitchen, and my mood, is lifted and beaming.

And my other tasks are not so different. It takes very little to overwhelm me. Too feel completely weighed down by my own to-do's - must-do's.  

The only thing that seems to do the trick is for Lazy Me and Wise Me to work together and that always seems to involve setting a time. A deadline. A 'you-won't-be-stuck-doing-the-kitchen-sink-forever-promise'.  

I have expanded this method to the rest of the house. When it's all a big mess (usually got that way with generous help from children) - then I divide the house into sections. 10 minutes, Lazy Me, that's all, 10 minutes per room. Go! For half an hour. Then perhaps another half an hour.

And voila! The house is unbelievably, incredibly, amazingly transformed. It's borderline magic nicer.  

For earlier writings, click here: 

http://mariatoso.blogspot.com/ 

 

Walking in full awareness of who we are

I wonder if it's possible to walk through a whole day, from waking in the morning to going unconscious at night, with out ever forgetting who we are? That we are Divine Light inhabiting physical bodies and that Divine guidance is ours for the asking, every minute of the day. Can prayer be intravenous, can the communication with the mothership - or Highest Selves - be constant and can we allow our thinking, our emotions and our actions to be guided from that place, every minute of one whole day? 

Is it possible to stay above the fog of forgetfulness - of slipping into the illusion that the other is not me and that what I do to the other is not actually done directly onto me....?  

Maybe the very act of forgetting our Divinity and falling into matter so far that we truly think and feel that we are all alone is how we exercise, again and again the ability to elevate our Being to a state of constant Divinity. To be in the darkness so deeply that recognizing our True Nature as Divine Beings is the only way out.  

That the wounds inflicted when we dwell in the ignorant state of duality are exactly where the Light finds it's way into our Being. All the way into our Being. Shines its Light into the dark corners that don't yet know God. Our Shadow, the part of us that is still kept hostage by the ego. And finally surrender into the arms of the only true salvation. The Divine Light of God in each of us. That was there all along.