It’s said by many spiritual folks that we choose everything in our lives, from relationships to accidents to riches to illnesses. Depending whom you ask, we choose things for reasons unconscious (we’re trying to heal a childhood wound); metaphysical (we’re working out a past-life issue); psychological (we’re looking for power/safety/validation/etc.); or all of the above. [...]
Think about the word fast. Close your eyes. What do you see? I see a blur of cars, the color red, an e-mail inbox filling faster than I can click. Now what’s happening in your body? I get a little panicky, scared, overwhelmed, worried that I can’t keep up, that I’m missing out, that the [...]
You may be well along in your holiday gift shopping. But if you’re like me, buying gifts because the calendar says so feels a bit hollow—and you have therefore been dragging your heels. Here are some ways to make giving more meaningful.
Meaning kicks in when you give in a way that’s aligned with your values like, say: stepping lightly on the planet; supporting local and/or small businesses (a.k.a. people following their passions); helping those in need; giving experiences over stuff; tapping your creative juices instead of Amazon.com’s; and more. But it’s also important to stay mindful of the receiver: Just because you think your mom should do yoga, giving her a mat might read as unwelcome pressure.
That said, here are some conscious ways to give:
That girl isn’t pretty enough to be that annoying.
WHAT? WHAT did you just think? Who ARE you?
Oh, right. I’m me. Hi. My name is Valerie and I have a judgmental brain feed that reads like a cross between Mean Girls,The Hangover, and Heathers. It’s stunning to me. But there it is. Judge, judge, judge, all the livelong day.
Swami Kripalu once said, “Every time you judge yourself you break your own heart.” I’m pretty sure that judging others also breaks our heart. That’s partly because we bear the brunt of the poison that burbles up to form a negative judgment, and partly because we’re all energetically connected. I’m convinced that, on some level,we feel each other’s psychic barbs, especially if we intentionally throw them. They’re also the seeds of violence and war.
Harsh, constant judging creates barriers—which at times can actually be helpful. When judgments protect us from maniacs who cause harm, that’s good (yep, I’m judging!). But we also use judgments to protect our hearts from other scary things, like, you know, love. If I’m judging you, then I don’t have to take you in. I don’t have to need you. I don’t have to be vulnerable to you. I’m tough—I’ve got my barbed wire thoughts and they’re protecting me! (Or not.)
A cancer survivor explores bold new directions
When I plopped into the Radiance program’s opening night welcome circle, I was exhausted. That morning, I had attended the memorial service for my dear friend, Dara, who had passed a week before. A couple hundred people gathered to share stories, laughter, tears, and outrage that this beautiful, lively, loving soul had left at age 40, from cancer.
And now, a train ride and time warp later, here I was in the branch-filled Berkshires, sitting in a back jack, meeting eight cancer survivors and our co-leader Maria Sirois. In that moment, “life after cancer” looked to me like throwing a rose on my friend’s coffin and hearing it thud. It looked like crying myself to sleep every night for the last two weeks.
But as I settled in and heard tales of diagnosis and survival, I remembered: Oh. We’re all still here. In my fellow workshoppers—eight people from their 30s through 50s—I saw stress and fear and bravery and resilience and resistance. I saw myself. Diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma seven years ago at age 31, I had almost been forgetting that I was a survivor, too.
As a yoga girl who’s ever so slightly an introvert on the Myers-Briggs personality scale, I tend to be most comfortable with people one-on-one. In contrast, parties are not my thing: In about 10 minutes, my circuits are usually overwhelmed and I’m ready for a nap and a snack. As one snarky bodyworker once said a few minutes into our session, “I didn’t realize you were such a delicate little flower.” So it’s ironic that someone as energetically sensitive as me lives in a city like New York, where I’m often packed in with every flavor of human—sane, furious, nutso, aggressive, kind—in sardine-like proximity. The good news is that on the subway or in the streets, I don’t have to ask or answer questions for an audience. The bad news is that I have to work hard to not get squished by the enormous, busy humanity of it all.
What I’ve learned over the roughly 30 years I’ve lived in New York (born, raised, left, returned) is that being in a city is one of the best ways to practice energetic boundaries—essentially to not get squished and to not squash. To live in balance no matter how many tourists, artists, fashionistas, hip-hoppers, business dudes, or attack strollers are headed my way. Here are some lessons I’ve learned. I think they’re relevant for many of the spiritually sensitive among us and can be applied to being in crowds anywhere—at the mall, the supermarket, concerts, even while driving.
Most people I know who are really into yoga, meditation, and living a more conscious life are pretty moderate in their TV watching. It’s not that we don’t enjoy an entertainment escape now and then, it’s just that mindlessly consuming lots of TV can feel… icky. Like eating too much cake, it’s kind of antithetical to being in touch with your body, mind, and spirit. Which is why it’s so counterintuitively interesting to see yoga popping up more and more on TV, which these days also means online. Now, instead of just using it to numb out, we can actually harness this medium to move, breathe, and explore our practice. Though nothing compares to an actual, supportive teacher who knows your name and hamstrings, it’s a pretty brilliant innovation for the modern yogi. Weather- and time-related excuses be gone! Here’s a collection of next-best classes when the studio is out of reach.
I’m allergic to spiritual texts; one sutra and I’m prone to wild swelling of the nap gland. But as someone who’s practiced yoga for 20 years and is a certified Kripalu Yoga instructor, I’ve managed to cram the 10 yamas and niyamas (yogic do’s and don’ts) into my head. I aim, loosely, to practice them. Mostly, this is not a hardship. For example, ahimsa, or non-violence, means taking a breath when I want to say something cutting and offering compassion instead. Bramacharya, moderation, means eating three, and not 20, double-chocolate organic Newman O’s. Satya, truthfulness, translates as being upfront in my relationships. One that kicks my yogic booty, though, is aparigraha, non-possessiveness. Or as I like to call it: non-shopping.
I’m not sure if this is because I grew up in New York City as a double-Aries only child who wants what she wants NOW, or what, but I do like to shop. I’m not proud of it—you’ll never see me with a “Born to Shop” bumper sticker—but I like pretty stuff. I like looking for it, buying it, and wearing it. Usually, it’s clothing that brings me those temporary bursts of shopper’s delight, but I get a similar rush from buying a notebook, hair tie, or a mug with a spiritual message like, “Trust the Process.” Judging by the compliments I get from my fellow yogis on my sparkly TOMS, Lulu hoodies, and Sayta lotus earrings, I’m not alone in the paradox of wanting stuff that reminds me to give back and let go.
A visiting friend riding with me on a New York City subway said, “Wow, I didn’t realize so many people here had a meditation practice.” I looked around and laughed, hard. Indeed, we could have been surrounded by meditating monks using a variety of techniques. Some stared into the middle distance, others had an eyes-shut, chin-down approach, and some riders were fixed on a small gadget, jaws dangling.
Alright, so maybe they were doing the opposite of meditation–checking out so they could be anywhere other than crowded public transportation. Been there. A lot. Eco-friendly as they may be, trains, planes, and buses are simply not where most of us choose to be. Pretty much everyone in transit has a psychic bumper sticker that reads: I’d Rather Be… Absolutely Anywhere Else. This, of course, is what makes these interim spots, these transitional moments, perfect places to practice being present. (Say that six times fast!)
I’ve heard some yoga teachers talk about the importance of these over-looked transitional moments on the mat. Our minds are so focused on lining up the pose just right, breathing with movement, holding, watching our minds, etc. but when it’s time to switch postures we often drop it all—our gaze, our breath, our attuned awareness. That’s why, anecdotally, most yoga injuries happen while we’re shifting from one asana to the next.