The word February is born from the Latin word "februare" meaning to "purify" or "expiate." In ancient Rome, Februarius was the "Month of Purification" and great festivities were held to reestablish the empire's focus on righteous living. As we consider the theme of unconditional love this month, we can begin with the aspiration to purify our hearts of the critical thoughts that limit our fullest expression of lovingkindness. Steven Smith, guiding teacher at the Insight Meditation Society, suggests that cultivating metta (lovingkindness) is first a process of softening - breaking down the barriers that we feel inwardly toward ourselves. These barriers are born of self-judgment and built on self-criticism. The first step in developing unconditional love is to purify our minds of the negative thoughts that undermine self-love. From there, we can begin to radiate lovingkindness in all directions.
As we approach a brand new year, it brings my thoughts to the animals I see every day in my 'other' business (pet sitting), and how we can learn so much from them. All they really want and all that really makes them happy is to simply give and love.
Animals were doing yoga before humans ever were. Cat/cow, down dog, frog, pigeon … they know what feels good! They live instinctively and love completely and unconditionally. Without doubt or the need to wear a mask. For whatever reason we chose to disguise ourselves, whether it's fear, shyness, intimidation, discouragement, we hide from our true selves, but animals are not worried about how something might look or appear. They do not live in their heads, they live in their hearts. Unlike humans, they have an incredible ability to forgive, are optimistic and do not hold on to grudges. Animals live in the moment and so should we. As humans, we are too often distracted by our thoughts of the past and the future and we forget to fully appreciate what is happening in our lives in the present.
Fully alert to their senses, animals use their instincts as a way of navigating through life. Humans, on the other hand, rationalize everything and constantly ignore what our senses are trying to convey to us, and in doing so, we miss important signals about events, circumstances and the people around us.
I can't think of a better way to enhance life than to live each day connected to our true selves, to shed the mask, live in the moment and love completely and unconditionally. May we go into 2016 living fully from our hearts and allowing our true selves to shine through.
Happy New Year!
"The things that matter most in our lives are not fantastic or grand. They are the moments when we touch one another. " - Jack Kornfield
- Touch your experience with your full presence. Cultivate awareness.
- Feel the freshness of nature. Cultivate appreciation.
- Look for the beauty within and around you. Cultivate wonder.
- Love the people who have been put on your path. Cultivate openheartedness.
- Play with uncertainty and let life surprise you. Cultivate freedom.
- Move your body and discover its inner landscape. Cultivate curiosity.
- Listen to the voice of truth within. Cultivate wisdom.
- Learn to embrace your imperfections and watch how that makes you more tolerant of others. Cultivate acceptance.
- Speak in a way that promotes peace. Cultivate gentleness.
- Let go into the newness of each moment. Cultivate courage.
- Stretch your body, mind, and heart and see how expansive you can be. Cultivate flexibility.
- Stay with your emotions as they arise, even when you want to run away. Cultivate patience.
- See beyond what feels broken inside and know that you are already whole. Cultivate trust.
- Focus on what you already have. Cultivate gratitude.
- Nurture the desire to serve something bigger than you. Cultivate devotion.
- Hold yourself with tenderness and lovingkindness. Cultivate compassion.
This month we are supporting the Rescue Mission of Trenton, an organization that does wonderful work to aid the truly needy. It is a privilege to practice yoga together in a way that fosters compassion and supports positive change within and around us. This is what unites us as a community. We are so fortunate to have the support of one another. Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh says, "When we practice with a community, a Sangha, we should take advantage of the group energy. We can see this Sangha as a boat…" We all have stones of suffering within us, whether they are the stones of having to be successful, the pressure of achieving, the heaviness of feeling like we are never enough, or the sadness of a loss. Each of us carries stones like that inside, and without a boat, we can feel like we are sinking. If you throw a stone in the river, it will sink. But a boat can carry tons of rocks and stones. We can rest in that.
On New Year's Day, we celebrate a few birthdays: The birthday of our yoga community - Gratitude Yoga was born 4 years ago today. The sixteenth birthday of this millennium - a Sweet Sixteen. And the birthday of each of us - Henry Ward Beecher wrote,"Every man should be born again on the first day of January. Start with a fresh page." It is exhilarating to feel like we are born again, to make a fresh start. We can all practice beginning anew by showing up more fully for the present moment, where the past meets the future. January was named after the Roman God, Janus, who has two faces, one facing back and the other looking forward. Janus represents the gateway between the past and the future. We meet that gateway in each and every moment. May we enter it with curiosity, with awareness, and with humility. Above all, may we enter the doorway of this present moment with our hearts full of gratitude. We are here. And that is something to celebrate.
As we close out the end of a year and begin the holiday season, let us connect to the true meaning of giving, or seva. Seva is a Sanskrit word that translates to "selfless service". Seva is not just any service performed, but rather selfless actions performed with a sense of gratitude and without the expectation of reciprocity. It is service infused with kindness and respect for the ones served, and it arises from a place of peace and love.
I was first introduced to seva in my family's Nirankari church. Volunteers from all age ranges would help out to ensure out that the Sunday service ran smoothly. My husband and I went to a service after our wedding last year and I was struck by the sincerity in which service was given, and which I would like to share with you all. After not having been to the church in many years, and my husband attending for the first time, we were warmly greeted by the ushers, who were young men in sharp suits. They made sure to set us up comfortably with floor seating. One of the young men even sat next to my American husband the entire service to act as a translator to help him understand the lecture, which was mostly in Hindi. At the the completion of the service, young women dressed in light blue and white tunics would have the congregants sit in two long rows and serve food individually to our outstretched plates. Preparing for all of this bustle of activity occurred behind the scenes, so naturally all the volunteers would have to miss a large portion of the service itself. It was clear to me that the individuals performing this seva were operating without ego, and were fulfilled in their sense of purpose and peace.
It is by performing seva, or giving, with kindness, compassion, and positive energy to help others, that individuals connect more deeply with the compassion within themselves, and attain a sense of deep fulfillment. It is said that through giving and seva that we awake the sleeping humanity within our own heart.
However the spirit of seva occurs not only in the realms of charity, faith, or donation of your time, but in our work and the carrying out of other relationships. If we all were to do our work and carry out our other relationships in accordance with seva, the world would change profoundly. Seva is not just about taking time to help others. It’s not something to be turned on and off, as if kindness, compassion, and gratitude are qualities to be doled out in limited amounts. Seva is about designing our lives in such a way that we consistently serve others selflessly. Every action, every interaction should be seva.
Think deeply about your personal relationships and friendships. In what way can we connect more fully to another person's humanity? In what ways can we give to others to attain a deeper sense of compassion and tenderness?
Even too within our professional lives, we often maintain distance between our clients, customers, or employees. In what way can we offer compassionate service? What if our thoughts, words, and deeds said, “I am thankful to you for finding me worthy of service to you, and for providing the means of my livelihood.” It is often difficult to integrate our deepest spiritual beliefs into the routine of everyday life, but within this challenge lies the path for life's deepest joy: true fulfillment.The month of November (archetype of #11) of this year will give us an opportunity to reconnect with aspects of our lives which genuinely inspire us. It is meant to help us establish a personal vision of how our future is to unfold, including intuitive recognition of the areas in which we are meant to transform and grow, other areas in which we are meant to heal and nourish ourselves, and yet other areas which we are meant to say goodbye to and let go of. Tapping into those internal messages which carry the highest vibration of integrity and inspiration will reorient our lives in the direction of external success and prosperity (November's heart number, as well as the overall theme of this year, is #8 - archetype of material success and healing). While we go through this, remember to use your inner power wisely (November's base #10). Do enable your brave, strong, and radiant leadership side, but don't over do it by becoming stressed, obsessed and too controlling.
Early in my practice, I remember my teacher, Kirin Mishra (Parvathi Nanda Nath Saraswati), defining a yogi as "the appreciator of beauty", and a yogini as "the beauty itself". This was striking to me. It implies that these terms are not definitions of gender, but states of being, states that any of us can inhabit at any time, and simultaneously. More intriguing, is the implied possibility that one can be a state of beauty.
I began to ponder, what would it be to exist as beauty, to be fragrance, as one's essence? It is the subtle contrast between appreciating the flower, and being the flower. Appreciating the symphony and being the sound. The last 13 years or so, I have been in pursuit of that possibility. Experiencing my body as my voice, I have sought out shapes, living/organic sculpture, architecture, structure, transitions, release and elegance.
It is commonly agreed, that there is no separation between body and mind. My observation over years of working with people in movement is that the state of our mind is always reflected in our body, in how we hold ourselves, and in our movement. The mind, perhaps, is a teacher, an informer. Is it possible that so is the body? I have discovered that by changing my physical space, by releasing muscles, contractions, holdings, letting myself be supported, embodying gentleness and fluidity, my mind has no choice but to follow. In this way, the body becomes the teacher, the shaper of the mind. We can begin to engage in truly complex shifts of mind and emotion by changing the orientation, patterns, and habits of our bodies.
In addition, beauty, the immersion in all her forms, has the capacity to heal. In the aftermath and woundings left by chaos and misalignments, both physical, mental and emotional, immersion in beauty and balance heals and restores to order where we are broken and disheveled.
Bhakti, the practice of devotion, has its basis in the understanding that we love and live devotion to and longing for some idea or form of perceived perfection, be it nature, a god/goddess, or another human. It is in this practice, feeling of love and longing, that we come to the eventual realization that we are the very perfection that we have been loving and longing for, the devotion itself transforms us. My practice and devotion is to beauty, her potential, and power, in all of her forms, and in her becoming.
"Friend, hope for the Guest while you are alive. Jump into experience while you are alive! Think…and think…while you are alive.
What you call 'salvation' belongs to the time before death.
If you don't break your ropes while you're alive, do you think ghosts will do it after?
The idea that the soul will join with the ecstatic
just because the body is rotten - that is all fantasy.
What is found now is found then.
If you find nothing now,
you will simply end up with an apartment in the City of Death.
If you make love with the Divine now, in the next life you will have the face of satisfied desire.
So plunge into the truth, find out who the Teacher is,
Believe in the Great Sound!
Kabir says this: When the Guest is being searched for, it is the intensity of the longing for the Guest that does all the work.
Look at me and you will see a slave of that intensity."
The outer-directed energy and enthusiasm of summer's fire power sharply falls away. Temperatures drop, winds accelerate, leaves change color and bid farewell as everything in Mother Nature's kingdom returns to the soil, enriching it to prepare the grounds for a new harvest. The process of nature reflects the cycles of the spirit to create and let go. It is important to be careful during autumn not to hold on to useless thoughts and patterns.
As the the nights grow cooler there will be a tendency to hold on to what the summer has produced and by doing so one defies their own inner nature. Pressing down on the process of spiritual maturity, creates an indent in the soul, which is better known as depression. Mild depression is very common this time of year and is the divine spark for letting go and falling apart. The inward pull of fall offers an opportunity to divide what is still fresh and useful from that which is decaying like the fallen leaves of the autumn trees.
Autumn is the strongest time of the year "to take out the garbage", cleaning out the old and useless patterns in life, and if moving harmoniously with the process the season will leave one feeling fresh and pure like a fall breeze in the early morning. Autumn delivers one back to the state of original nature, stimulating the removal of that which is no longer needed, and reveals what is most precious in life. Autumn is the season of the element Metal (or air).
To feel grief and separation is a natural symptom of the "letting go" of summer which is a time of increased pride and ego. Sadness is purifying, cleansing, and completely natural as one transitions into the colder less active months of the year. When the energy of air is blocked and unable to flow freely within the body anxiety may develop and to be active or outgoing can feel impossible.
The colon and the lung are the two main organs responsible for the flow of metal/air element within the body. The colon helps in eliminating toxic matter from the body, and offers the opportunity to remove mental negativity that may be clogging one's mind. The lung works to refresh and pull in the purifying energy of fall. A deep breath of crisp morning air offers the inspiration needed to flush away "the garbage" that is constipating the mind and delaying progress on the path of spirituality.
The lung in classical Chinese medicine is known as the receiver of the pure Chi from the Heavens. The lung and the colon work together to take in the medicine of peacefulness and eliminate the poisons of pride and ego. Without their hard work there is an increased potential for bronchitis, shortness of breath, cough, allergies, nasal congestion, emphysema, colds, sore throats, constipation, diarrhea, spastic colon, and abdominal pain.
If mental stability is not utilized during this physical process an accumulation of impurities can build up and eventually generate a blockage disabling the ability to eliminate waste physically and mentally. This type of blockage leads to depression, stubbornness, isolation, negativity, but most of all , the inability to "let go."
Metals such as gold and silver give value to earth and when metal element is balanced and flows freely within the body one enjoys the same feeling of increased self- worth. Every sentient being is unique and beautiful and has a special gift to offer the world. When metal energy is low it becomes difficult to see value in life. This can lead to "chasing" external objects that may temporarily offer happiness. These "things" only offer temporary satisfaction and again the thoughts and feelings of sadness will reoccupy the space where air element should be balanced and contained.
People that have the most difficulty in adjusting to the modes of fall are usually the same people who have trouble letting go because they falsely identify themselves with their possessions and achievements in life. The summer has passed and so has the time for power, fire, and "giving it all you've got." Use this time wisely and move freely like Autumn wind into the season of rest. This is a time to be contained, speak less, act less, and become completely absorbed in the calm and peace that only fall offers.