Serenity Prayer

Most of us are familair with the following prayer:

“Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.”

…Through experience, I have learned that it is not always easy to accept the things in our lives that are not within our control. It can be rather difficult to come to terms with the fact that many things in life are uncontrollable, and perhaps even inevitable. Try as we might, we simply do not have the power to change all things we encounter, be it another individual or a relationship, an event or circumstance, or something different entirely. And this fact seems especially difficult to come to terms with when we are struggling to accept something that we do not like or something that may be particularly uncomfortable or difficult to endure. Especially when these things are what we are most desperately trying to change.

So when we struggle to simply accept these things, how are we supposed to take one step further and do so with serenity? How can we be expected to embrace such things “as is”, maintaining unconditional acceptance, a calm mind, and a peaceful heart? To approach life with a “Que Sera, Sera” attitude can be tricky, indeed.

Perhaps, it is better to remind ourselves not to dwell on such things, and remember that it is better to invest our energies into other things. The things that serve our higher purpose. The things that we can, in fact, influence and change.

Just as the prayer says, it takes wisdom to know the difference between what we can and cannot change. It takes wisdom to recognize what we have the power to influence, and what we must simply accept. And not only does it take wisdom to know the difference between these two things, it also takes courage to change that which is in our power. To adopt a different perspective, transform how we think, feel, and act. It can take courage to change the way that we relate, respond, and interact with the life that we are surrounded by. It takes courage to look at ourselves from a new angle and reflect on what we might do differently. And it especially takes courage to set those changes into motion.

So today, if you find yourself struggling with something in your life, consider this prayer. Ask yourself, what about this is within my control? What must I do to accept this with an open heart and an open mind? Or, how might I begin to let go of this entirely? How may I go about making a change, and, am I willing and able to take those steps? When you ask yourself such questions, you will likely find that as long as you are in control of your thoughts, and subsequently your feelings and your actions, you usually have more control over the “uncontrollable” than you had first realized.

I Am My Own Problem

A few years ago, while still in yoga training, my son found me buried under a pile of books, pouring over my notes and typing away on my computer.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

“Homework,” I told him.

“Homework!?” he asked. “Now what for?”

“Yoga training,” I told him.

He watched me for a moment longer before saying, “Mom, remember when you were stressed out about everything that you have to do all the time?”

“Yes?” I replied.

“Well, no offense,” he said, “But you don’t have anyone to blame but yourself. It is kind of your own fault”.

…My son has this fabulous way of rendering me speechless from time to time. He makes these wonderful observations, and then he finds these incredibly simplistic yet profound and blatantly honest ways of telling me like it is. He calls it like he sees it, and far more often than not, he is right. He holds up a mirror for me to gaze in to just when I seem to need it most, forcing me to stop dead in my tracks and reconsider what I have been up to.

As I do so, I often find myself adopting a new perspective and approaching life from a slightly new angle. He tends to begin many of said statements of truth with the dreaded No Offense, saying “No offense, Mom, but…” and then the words that follow are some eye-opening observation that he has made. As I listen to him, it is as if I am dying to know what brilliant statement he is about to make, while simultaneously bracing myself for some tough love.

Yet, even if he does make me wince from time to time, his insight really is a beautiful thing. Because every time he demonstrates a bit of such wisdom, he serves as a reminder that “I am my problem, and I am also my solution.” He reminds me that it is I that am the one stressing myself out. It is I that has the tendency to take on the world. And it is I that am the only one who can do anything about it, whether I keep on keepin’ on, or I give myself a break. He reminds me that, for better or for worse, I am up to me, and I had better take responsibility for myself. No matter the problem I am faced with, I must bear in mind that I represent some part of the problem, if not the whole thing. And, I must care for that part of myself differently if I am to reach a resolution.

So, today, I challenge you, readers, to take such a look at your life. And as you do, reflect on how you have become your own problem. Of course, do not be hard on yourself, but rather, acknowledge the tendencies you have that might perpetuate issues in your life.

And most importantly, ask yourself what you can do differently to become your own solution.

Laugh and the World Laughs With You

Most of us are well-acquainted with the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. And of course, this is an excellent rule to follow, as it offers us sound advice as we navigate our way through life. But how many of us are familiar with Rule Number Six? If you are not yet familiar with this rule, consider the following story:

“Two prime ministers are sitting in a room discussing the affairs of state. Suddenly a man bursts through the door in a fury, shouting and banging his fist on the desk. The resident prime minister quietly looks up says to the young man, “Peter, kindly remember Rule Number Six.” Instantly, Peter regains his composure, restores to complete calm, apologizes for the interruption, and leaves the room.

The politicians return to their conversation, only to be interrupted yet again by a hysterical woman, sobbing uncontrollably and gesturing wildly. Again the host prime minister quietly says, “Marie, please remember Rule Number Six.” Much like the gentleman before her, Marie calms down, apologizes, and exits the room.

When the scene is repeated for a third time, the visiting prime minister says, “My good friend, I have seen many things in my life, but never anything as remarkable as this. Pray tell, what is this Rule Number Six?” “Very simple,” the host prime minister replies. “Rule Number Six is ‘Don’t take yourself so damned seriously.’” After pondering this rule for just a moment, the visiting prime minister asks, “And what are the other rules?”

The host’s reply? “There aren’t any.”

As most of you well know, life can be pretty heavy sometimes. Our families and friends, our work, even our own well-being require constant and attention and care. And not only do these aspects of our lives require us to tend to them, but we also need to take them seriously in order to do so. Most simply said, sometimes life is no laughing matter. And yet while it is important to take our lives seriously, it can also be to our detriment to take things too seriously, all the time. Doing so can lead to burdens or problems that may not otherwise exists, a skewed or negative outlook, and undue stress and anxiety.

Because of this, it can be to our advantage to know when to lighten up bit. Whether that means making time for play, enjoying your loved ones, or finding the humor in life, enjoying the lighter side of life encourages us to make the most of we have. It can even help us put life into a healthier perspective as we focus on what is most important, letting go of what is not, and leaving time and energy for the things that matter most, such as our loved ones and our interests and passions.

Today, I encourage you to embrace the lighter side of life. Keep in perspective your responsibilities, your stressors, and the bumps in the road. Remember all that you have to enjoy in life. And maintain your sense of humor, as it is a strength beyond measure to laugh with others and appreciate what there is to love about your surroundings.

The Practice

{Sthira sukham asanam}  : Strength and ease within the pose

Sthira:  This word translates as firm, stable, resolute, changeless. Sthira speaks not only of challenge, strength, endurance and fortitude, but also vigilance, the ability to pay attention, and to be present. It is the opposite of agitation and refers to both physical and mental stillness: a controlled, fully engaged body and a focused mind.

Sukha:  This word translates as pleasurable, joyful, agreeable, easy, comfortable, happy, prosperous, relaxed. It is the opposite of discomfort, suffering or pain, or resistance.  This also ahimsa, or non-violence and self-acceptance and the nurturing of the self.

Asana:  This word translates as position, posture, seat, or a way of sitting that prepares the body for seated meditation. In the more expanded view of yoga, asana occurs not just on the mat or in meditation, but it is also the foundation from which we act in daily life, which means that we as we live life, we are present in the body, in existing, inhabiting and living fully.

…In yoga, we create unity of all things, including the above terms, for Yoga means “to yoke” or to “create union”.  This the MindBodySpirit connection that is yoga.

It is the ritual of entering and holding the posture without interruption for a period of time, being fully present with all the details, sensations, and experiences that occur in the body/mind. It is the qualities of engagement and letting go, the balance between tension and relaxation, effort and ease.  It is a state of equilibrium that is without agitation or inertia.  It is the marriage of the body, the mind, the spirit, and  all else.

…And as teachers and students, this does not stop here, and it goes much deeper and becomes much more personalized with practice, driving deeper into the heart and soul of the practitioner.  Because this, THIS, is where philosophy meets and unifies with practice.   And THIS is what is yoga.

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Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda

As the old adage goes, “You can’t make a square peg fit in a round hole.”  Most of us know exactly what this saying means:  You cannot force something (or most often, someone) to be something that it is not.  We cannot make a square peg  fit any better into a round hole by thinking that the hole should be square or wanting the peg to be round.  Instead, we are much better suited to focus on and tend to what actually is, rather than wasting our precious resources fretting about the way things should or should not be.  And while most of us would agree with this reasoning, it is certainly easier said than done.

When we are honest with ourselves and examine how we view the world, the majority of us would have to admit that we have a relatively clear idea of how things should be.  Whether we are talking about ourselves, other people, the ways of the world, or something different entirely, it seems that we all have some kind of definition of what should and should not be happening.  We have our ideals, our beliefs, and our way of making sense of the world, and it reasonably follows that we would like to live in a world that supports our views.

And I think this is quite natural.  As humans, it is natural to have personal preferences and aversions.  It is even natural to want things to be “our way”.  To see the world through our very own eyes.  To have a few expectations here and there.  To have a compass of sorts, that helps guide us toward betterment, as we see fit.

And while this may be entirely natural, and even beneficial, it is not always in our best interest.  For when we become attached to our ideals and fixate on the way that things should be in favor of how things really are, we become frustrated and upset.  We might even pass unfair judgments based on our biased perspectives and unmet expectations.  As we cling to how things should be, we project them onto the world at large.  And when that happens, we react to what we think should exist, rather than acknowledging what actually does.  And this, of course, sets us up for further disappointment.

However, when are able to detach from these “should bes” and take the world as it is, in a more objective light, we are better able to accept and respond to life as it truly is.  Instead of being obscured by ideals, we understand the facts.  Rather than focusing on what is missing, or what we would like to find, we deal with what is actually present.  And this is empowering, because it helps us clarify and illuminate what is within our power to change, and what is not.  And that is what allows us to integrate our ideals with our reality, live in the here and now, and interact with life as fully as possible.

The Lower Bod

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…In my yoga classes this week, we have given extra-special attention to the hips and lower-body regions. And this feels oh-so-amazing! And even more so amazing than that is the extremely important, yet often over-looked, aspect of this hip-opening practice… which is the emotions that are stored within the lower body regions.

As a yoga instructor and therapist, I feel that it is extremely important to bear in mind that our bodies do NOT operate alone. Rather, our physical bodies are just one aspect of a very complex and intricate system that makes up our entire being. And it is our lower bodies that often store emotions in need of further attention, processing, and healing. These processes occur in many shapes and forms and are healthy for us to experience, despite the fact that they may be uncomfortable, especially when they become substantial and important. Yet, even so, these sensations are to be welcomed, as they are good and necessary. So run into the feelings that arise, rather than running from them, feel what you don’t want to feel, and diffuse them with breath.

So, as you move forward in the practice, I would like you to keep your entire self (mind, body, spirit) in mind. And, as you do, listen closely to your own self. Check in. Ask questions. Notice and observe. Know that your practice will take you deeper than the physical realm. Revel in the magic that happens in all dimensions. And radically accept who, and where, you are now.

Fear vs Love

Several years ago, in my yoga study, I was given the assignment to journal and reflect on the connection between love and fear. Our homework began with the task of taking note of the what we are afraid of as well as the things that we love.visit it

We were reminded that our feelings of fear and love come in many forms: our fear may be experienced as fright, anxiety, apprehension, or insecurity, while love may be expressed as demonstrations of emotional investment, passion, fondness, or true love itself. After mindfully noting such emotions, we were instructed to analyze our feelings to decipher what exactly our attachment is, with the intention of detaching just a bit, and thus gaining a new perspective on life or a deeper understanding ourselves.

This assignment is based on the theory that fear and love are the only basic emotions that we feel, and everything else stems from them: greed stems from a fear of lacking, anger from a fear of perceived threat, humor stems from a love of the lighthearted, joy stems from a fulfilled love of some sort, and so on. And while you may online casino or may not agree with this theorizing, my homework showed me that there is a definite connection between love and fear. That every single day we experience some kind of love. Likewise, each and every day we encounter something that we fear.

…If you take a moment to think about what that means for you personally, you will likely discover that there is a connection for you as well. And as you see fear as an attachment to something you love, you may also find that fear itself is not be so scary after all. Of course, there are plenty frightening things that may or may exist, that may or may not happen to us in our lives, but fear itself is nothing more than a feeling. It is just one of many emotions that we may feel at any given time. It is natural, it is okay, and it is useful. Fear is always looking out for our best interest. It demands our attention, warning us of potential threats, and it guides us toward safety and security.

However, because fear is just an emotion, and it is just like the rest of them, it is up to us to be aware of our feelings, prioritize them, and act on those that best serve our higher purpose, even in the face of fear so that we do not become its prisoner. So when we feel frightened, what might we do? It seems to me that before we do anything, we should slow down and acknowledge our fear. Really examine it. Take note of it has to say, and ask ourselves if that is worth listening to or if we are better off ignorning it. And then, we can make one of two choices. We can choose to do what fear tells us to do, at the risk of doing nothing.asia Lambda sensor

Or, we can remember the words of Franklin Roosevelt, “There is nothing to fear but fear itself,” and call upon our courage and act anyway.

Pause

Consider this passage from the book, “Radical Acceptance” by Tara Brach.

“In the 1950s a few highly trained pilots in the U.S Air Force were given the task of flying at altitudes higher than ever attempted. Going beyond the earth’s denser atmosphere, they found, much to their horror, that the ordinary laws of aerodynamics no longer existed…a plane could skid into a flat spin…and tumble end over end towards the earth.

“The first pilots to face this challenge responded by frantically trying to stabilize their planes… The more furiously they manipulated the controls, the wilder the ride became. Screaming helplessly to the ground control, “What do I do next?” they would plunge to their deaths.

“This tragic drama occurred several times until one of the pilots inadvertently struck upon a solution. When his plane began tumbling, he was thrown violently around the cockpit and knocked out. Unconscious, he plummeted toward earth. Seven miles later, the plane reentered the planet’s denser atmosphere, where standard navigation strategies could be implemented. He came to, steadied the craft and landed safely. He had discovered the only lifesaving response that was possible in this desperate situation: Don’t do anything… Take your hands off the controls…It counters all training and even basic survival instincts,…but it works.”

We have all been there, in one way or another. We have all faced a situation in life that has literally thrown us for a loop, brought us to our knees, or knocked the very wind from our sails. We have all experienced some situation in life that we simply have not known what to do.

When we are faced with such circumstances, it is quite natural to do everything we can to control the situation. But imagine for a second what it would be like to deliberately take our hands off the controls. To interrupt our normal patterns of thinking, feeling, and doing, and instead take a moment to pause and observe what is going in our surroundings and inside of ourselves.

And while taking our hands off the controls certainly does not solve all of our problems, it does suspend time just long enough to gaze inward instead of outward, and re-evaluate where we are, who we are, and what is happening in the deepest, most intimate parts of our hearts and souls.

When we take a moment to pause, we may not know what will happen next, but we open ourselves to subtle messages, new possibilities, and potential clarity. We develop the capacity to stop running, hiding, controlling, and camouflaging, and instead accept our immediate inner experiences.

Ultimately, we open ourselves to who, what, and where we really are…at that moment.

Now and then, considering giving yourself permission to take your hands off the controls. Find the power of the pause, and observe what is going on inside of yourself. Accept the experience that you discover, and learn, most of all, something from it.

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{YAM} Heart-Openers and Back-Bending:

These poses, hence their name, involve the opening and blossoming of the heart. Which inevitably exposes the most intimate and vulnerable parts of our internal and external self.

And not surprsingly, this can feel scary, uncomfortable.  Yet, it can also feel beautifully and incredibly naked and raw, as these poses gently encourage us to peel away our protective layers and let the magic of our hearts shine.  They force us to drop our head and mind back into the unknown behind us, expose our neck and throat, drive our chest forward, and allow our heart, soul, and intuitive gut lead the way and journey blindly into the unknown before us.

Yet, as scary as this may be, we need not move in the direction of fear, or we will forever be stagnant.

Instead, move in the direction of your heart. Let it open. Expose yourself. Be authentic, raw, and naked. Liberate yourself. Dance with life. Open up to the cosmos.

Redefine Struggle

My sister recently sent me an article entitled, “Struggle for Smarts”. The author opened his article with a story about a fourth grade classroom in Japan. In this story, the teacher was teaching his class how to draw three-dimensional cubes. As he observed the class, the author noticed that one of the boys was struggling with the concept and appeared unable to draw the cube correctly. The teacher noticed this as well and invited the youngster to draw the cube on the board in front of the class. Doing as he was instructed, the boy went to the front of the class, and drew the cube to the best of his ability, but he still could not complete the cube correctly. After his first try, the teacher asked the class, “How does that look?” The class confirmed that it was drawn incorrectly, so he tried again. Every few minutes, the teacher would ask the class if he had gotten it right, and each time, the students would look up from their work and shake their heads “no”. As the hour went on, and the boy had still not completed the cube correctly, the author realized that he had begun to perspire as he watched the boy anxiously and worried that he would become discouraged and begin to cry.

But, to his surprise, he did not. He diligently persisted, drawing his cube incorrectly each time. Try after try, he continued to draw his cube until, he had gotten it right. And when he had finally drawn the cube with mastery, the class broke into applause and he was able to return to his seat with pride.

Like the author of this article, many of us become uncomfortable when we imagine this young boy struggling in front of his peers in such a way. We think, “Why would the teacher do that to him, knowing that he was unable to draw the cube correctly? That poor boy! I feel so badly for him!” Yet, while this boy was struggling to master the task of drawing the cube, it does not appear that he was struggling emotionally. So why is it that we assume that he was? And why is it that we ourselves shift uncomfortably and feel badly for this boy who struggled to learn something new? It seems that many of us tend to view struggle as an indicator that we, or someone else, is lacking or “less than” in some important way. That we are not as intelligent, not as capable, not as resilient as we “should be”. That because we do not have it figured out yet, we are missing a skill or trait that we should otherwise possess.

Yet, if we were to adopt a perspective that is similar to the Japanese classroom, we would realize that struggle is an inherent and predictable part of life. It is part of learning, part of mastering a skill, part of figuring things out and finding our way. As this classroom knows, to struggle is not a sign of weakness. Rather, to struggle is to be presented with yet another opportunity to overcome challenge and to learn. To struggle is an opportunity to be proud of ourselves and satisfied with our efforts as we work through something difficult and overcome an obstacle.