Category Archives: Love

Am I doing the things I need to do to be a good person?

je-8888

self-acceptance stud-muffin who also sings karaoke.

I was driving to work today and I was thinking about waking up with my husband, Dave, and the class I was about to teach, and my car on the road, and the big white fluffy clouds in the very blue sky, when I caught a glimpse of this unpleasant story that was running in my head. It was going on in the background, mostly undetected, until I had this small, bad feeling come up. Kind of like tuning the radio to get better reception, I tuned into to this stream of thoughts. As the static cleared, I could feel what was happening just under the surface of my conscious thought, “Sometimes I feel like I’m not doing the things I need to do to be a good person.” I was worried because I didn’t reply to a student about scheduling and I failed to complete some paperwork for my yoga therapy program that I really wanted to finish. I didn’t feel bad and think, “I’ll take care of these things this afternoon,” I felt bad about myself. I realized, When I don’t accomplish certain things, then I can start to feel low. A little less worthy.  A little less loveable. 

Then I thought about Dave. Being with him is a good way to get some self-acceptance beamed right through me. I can sit around all day and not accomplish any tasks or projects, and Dave doesn’t give off any hint that my lack of productivity makes me a less valuable part of the family. If I suggest that I’m having a hard time accepting how little I got done, he might point out a few simple things that I did or comment that resting is good and we all need it. There are days when I accomplish a ton of stuff. On those days, Dave sincerely appreciates what I do, but he doesn’t love me more because of it. I get the feeling that he just loves me. Sick or well. Happy or Sad. Productive or not. He’s glad I’m on the planet.

It’s a very special gift to be on the receiving end of this kind of love.

I turned into the parking lot and the icky feeling I had earlier was gone. In its place was relief: I don’t have to work so hard at justifying my place on the planet. Openness: Neither does anyone else. And beneath it all, I was aware of another story playing through the brain-frequency of radio waves: Nobody has to change. There isn’t anything wrong with who we are. There isn’t anything that we must do to be worthy of love. We are all good. We are all lovable. We are all worthy. 

 

 

Conversion

Willie

On Sunday mornings, our local radio show has a great gospel music hour. The host plays an hour of really moving hymns, Willie or Dolly singing spirituals or some old recordings on a scratchy record player. I’m always happy when I’m in the car at the right time to catch a few songs.

This Sunday, I heard the song, “I saw the light” and it made me think about conversion and about the moment when something is clear – something seems possible that didn’t before or something changes and you can’t (or really don’t want to) go back from this light-filled peace and knowing. You want to eat well, you want to change the way you relate to your partner, you want peace all the time. You want the perks of conversion.

I saw the light, I saw the light

No more darkness, no more night

Now I’m so happy no sorrow in sight

Praise the Lord I saw the light

This song might give the impression that once converted, once you see the light, then that’s it. The event is done and then there’s no more darkness, no sorrow in sight and perhaps at some level this is true. Maybe, with a spiritual conversion, you can feel held by a higher power in a way you didn’t before and that brings great comfort and does, indeed, relieve some existential darkness. But that’s not really all that’s required.

If your conversion is of the ‘healthy eating’ variety, then true conversion, real life change, would come from the day to day eating choices that you make. You might see that eating cheetos and icecream in front of the tv every night is having a negative impact on your life. You might see the light, but if you don’t implement the change, then there will still be sorrow and darkness in the form of declining mental and physical health.

If I realize that the relationship I’m in isn’t good for me and have this light of knowing but I don’t take steps to change the problematic stuff in the relationship, then the knowing doesn’t lead to the end of that particular source of sorrow either.

I fully believe that we can lessen our suffering and that of others. It can be born of our own choices and actions and it can come through grace. I’ve seen it happen in my life. But this idea that we can have an experience, even one that truly changes how we behave and how we see, and then there’s no more night ever, is misleading.

At the end of the day, there’s still night. We need it. We need the time to rest and digest and to experience the other stuff that happens in those dark quiet hours. Bats, opossums and many other phylum of creatures do their best work at night. If we try to convince ourselves that it no longer exists, there will be some serious cognitive dissonance.

Maybe seeing the light means that we see more clearly how things are. We see that darkness comes at the end of the day, and we accept it for what it is. We know that some suffering is a part of human experience and rather than pretending it should no longer exist, we approach it with deference. We are kind to ourselves when we feel sorrow and support others when they are going through dark days. Instead of continuing to exist in this dual-idea of light or dark, we can relate to the darkness and through this, we really do see the light.

The sweetness (and discomfort) of being open

IMG_1101 IMG_8247 IMG_8265

IMG_8282There are all of these tender things happening in my life.

  • My girls are home for the Summer and with a slower and more relaxed pace, they get time to enjoying each other. And Dave and I are enjoying them.
  • The yoga therapy clients I see are sincerely doing their work. I can see that though it is sometimes very hard, they practice and are willing to stay with it. This is inspiring.
  • Honey, my grandpa, moved from independent living to an apartment where he can have more care. There’s so much I could say about this, but mostly, today, I’m touched by the way that Honey and my parents love, respect, and care for each other. It’s so special to witness.
  • The move has unearthed treasures from Honey’s life—photos of my dad and uncles when they were boys, special things that belonged to my great-great grandparents, pictures of my grandmother’s high school friends held in an envelope with a one-cent stamp and addressed with only my grandmother’s maiden name and the town where she lived at the time.   Touching things that were special to my relatives gets me every time.
  • I turned 40 this week.
  • My yoga practice these days is hard and that always leaves me tender and a little uncomfortable.
  • I just back from Nashville where I had the next part of my training, and now there’s a lot to digest.

I’m taking notice of how these experiences leave me feeling open and tender and vulnerable. It’s really good and really uncomfortable.  I have a tendency to not want to feel this way. My most practiced tactic is to stay busy and distracted until the stuff passes. But this time, instead of pushing through or forcing myself to keep going or work harder, I’m trying to slow down. I’m sleeping a little more. I’m saying, ‘no thank you’ to the many enticing things that I could do with my days. I guess I don’t want to miss any of this good stuff that’s happening.  I’m getting used to what 40 feels like and considering what it means to have these pangs of nostalgia or to be overcome by the profound mystery of aging. I’m enjoying the sweet ache of parenting my two young girls who will only be 8 and 12 for a little while and I’m grateful for the practice of yoga that makes so much of this possible.  What if it all leads to grace?

 

equanimity

Fall Obedient Plant in my front yard

Fall Obedient Plant in my front yard

 

I’ve been thinking about equanimity, mostly because I had a situation this week where I was not that. I was totally and unreasonably pissed off. I heard some upsetting news, started stomping around and then catastrophic thinking took over. I could see into the future… how generations of people would be affected by the incident and how the people involved were fraught with wrong thinking. They were wrong. They are wrong. Totally. Their. Fault.

It took several hours, but eventually I cooled off enough to consider my reaction. Everything I felt still seemed absolutely true –the whole part about them being totally wrong and generations of people affected, but I was very unhappy and uneasy. This motivated me to look a little closer. I thought of a similar situation that happened with a family friend in which I was able to dispassionately consider the feelings of the people on both sides of the matter. Yes, there was this unfortunate incident…and the very strong response by those involved. Yes, both people had a right to their feelings. It went on like this and I found that I felt compassion for them all. I wished them well, no matter how it turned out. and I didn’t worry about the generations to come.

This helped me to see that, perhaps, in my situation, it isn’t the incident itself that upsets me, but my relationship to the persons involved. This admission is difficult because in a relationship, all sides play a part and each person contributes something. This means I have to take responsibility for my part and that part happens to touch on deep insecurities and the some things about myself that I would rather avoid. The real (and very painful) work has to do with what’s inside of me.

How do I want it to all turn out? Eventually, I’d like to be able to come to this relationship with the kind of equanimity that allows me to see the difficult stuff clearly without all my triggers getting in the way and clogging up the glass. Clear understanding can help me to identify my role  (What can I actually do here?) so I can lovingly respond even when hit with news of crazy stuff. I think of yoga sūtra 4.7 that describes a yogi who is neither black nor white. *There’s transparency… because the yogin has no personal agenda. I won’t try to work any angle… either for my own good at the expense of another (black) nor trying to help or support so that I can feel better about myself and avoid my own suffering later (white). I’ll. Be. Clear. And ultimately, that clarity will make it easier to simply love.

 

Yoga sūtra 4.7 karma-aśukla-akṛṣṇaṁ yoginaḥ-trividham-itareṣām

The yogin’s action is neither white nor black; for the others, it is of three kinds

Patañjali emphasizes the transparency… because the yogin has no personal agenda.

 

*From Franz Moors, Liberating Isolation, The Yogasutra of Patañjali, Media Garuda 2012

***

Practice with me in Ojai, CA this summer!

AUGUST 31ST TO SEPT. 5TH, 2016 ** Peppertree Retreat Center

I’ve been invited to participate in this year’s Hands-On Retreat.   This is truly a unique 5-day experience, designed especially for women in beautiful Ojai, Ca. This retreat will focus on Practical Transformation: Healing Your Life from the Inside Out. You’ll work with 3 systems of transformation to heal and learn to age with grace, vitality and restore our body’s innate balance. We have an extraordinary group of teachers who each have decades of experience in their field and our committed to helping women flourish and grow in Body, Mind and Spirit.

Take advantage of Early bird registration until July 11th. It takes a deposit of $500 to hold the space. For as little as $1475, enjoy 5 days of gourmet ayurvedic food, beautiful accommodations, plus full days of working with these amazing disciplines!

Contact me with any questions or visit www. hands-onretreats.com for more information.

Respite

img

Tuesday morning, I woke up, but barely. I was heavy all over. It has been raining for weeks in Austin, and this morning was particularly dark and wet. My body and my mind moved slowly and my heart felt heavy, too. The night before I watched a movie and I woke thinking about it. It made me feel so sad.

I went through my morning yoga practice but didn’t really mean it. Some days are like that. When I was finally at the end, I thought about the story of the woman in the movie who had suffered so much. I thought about women throughout history who have suffered in similar ways, and I started to cry. Sometimes the weight of these things feels overwhelming.

But then something happened. Peace came over me. It wasn’t just peace, it felt like God was there with me and all this suffering that was so painful a moment before shifted and I wasn’t holding it alone. This happened at the exact moment that the air conditioner kicked on in my practice space, and the cool air felt so good, I wondered if i had it wrong and it wasn’t god I was feeling.  Maybe I was just hot. For a moment, I considered going with the air conditioner explanation, but then I remembered that I have an old habit I have of denying anything spiritual. I took a few deep breaths, felt my body cool off, and I noticed that the relief was still with me. So was the feeling of peace.

Philomena-and-Anthony

from ‘Philomena’, the 2013 film starring Judy Dench and Steve Coogan

Sister Helen Prejean: A Life Guided by Faith

Click image to visit Sister Helen Prejean's website: Ministry against the death penalty. photo by Scott Langley.

Click image to visit Sister Helen Prejean’s website: Ministry against the death penalty. photo by Scott Langley.

I’m interested in people who live lives of faith. It might be a life of religious faith, but it’s bigger than just that. My fascination is with those who are guided by and believe in something that is bigger than themselves — people who organize their lives around a relationship to a divine presence or a cause or a calling. For years, I’ve sniffed out clues, read books, and positioned myself to catch glimpses of people who live this way. I’m a secret scientist, collecting information and making observations about what it looks like or feels like to be a person of faith.

Last night, Dave and I went to hear a lecture by Sister Helen Prejean. The movie, Dead Man Walking, is based on the book she wrote about her relationship with a man on death row. She says that it was that experience that awakened her to what she now does—she serves the poor, the families and victims of violence, and those in prison. She’s works, writes, lectures and educates others with the explicit aim of ending capitol punishment. It’s heavy stuff, and yet she goes about it with southern charm, infectious conviction, and a sense of humor.

I was there for the whole lecture, but I was really there for the chance to hear any juicy tidbits about Sister Helen’s spiritual life. I want to know how she relates to God. What kind of prayer life does she have? What is her relationship to the Church as an institution and to Catholicism? I want to know where she accesses this joy despite the very serious and difficult work. I want to see for myself what a sister, whose spiritual commitment is so public, is like to hang out with for a couple of hours. Is she nice? Relatable? Is she grounded?

Here’s what I noticed.

She is very much herself. Her personality and her human-ness came through during the lecture and I get the sense that it flows through all the work she does. She’s not lecturing from some higher plane. She’s down here with the rest of us.

She looks for balance.  She says she relaxes. She plays cards and drinks beer. She puts effort into her friendships, appreciates her sisters, and gets enough sleep. She said that when she’s on a plane, she doesn’t talk to anyone. She likes that she can be anonymous in airports.

She spoke openly and freely about her personal experience – but it wasn’t about her. She talked as though the real work was coming through her. She talked about God’s grace and Jesus and the Gospel. She talked about the victims and those suffering from acts of violence and how important it is that we don’t leave them alone. She said those who find forgiveness and love are the real heroes of her stories. She was talking and it was her experience, but it wasn’t all about her.

She said something that really touched me. As in, when she said it, I felt a big gut-response to the words. She said, truth springs from the earth, so if we want to get close to the truth, we have to put our feet on the ground. Of all the calls to action, this one got me. And she is a living example of what she is asking others to do.

She’s on a first name basis with Jesus. Her relationship to the divine is personal and intimate. Sister Helen said that when she first agreed to write a letter to a man on death row, that was “sneaky Jesus #1.” She had no idea where he was leading her. She was willing to open her heart to write letters, which was all she could handle at the time, so that’s what she got. Sneaky Jesus #2 was when she agreed to be this man’s spiritual advisor. It was another single step, and look where it led – it led her to know and fulfill her dharma.

I’m interested in these personal faith stories because I’m still wondering and exploring my own — a story that unfolds a tiny bit more every time I practice yoga, every time I kneel at church, every time I feel some knowing that moves through me, every time I say yes to something that I can’t really explain. It was an honor to spend time in the same room with Sister Helen and to see, so palpably, that she believes her life is guided by something divine. The way she tells the story, it’s because 20+ years ago, she was willing to open to the moment, to what she calls God’s grace, and follow her life in the right direction.

—————————-

I’m happy to announce my upcoming class in Austin, TX:

Healing from Addiction with Yoga

blog2

–       Cultivate a positive relationship with your body

–       Develop tools to support you in every phase of recovery

–       Foster well-being
and emotional stability in a supportive small group environment

COMMUNITIES FOR RECOVERY

Tuesdays 12:15-1:30

May 10th – June 14th, 2016 (6 weeks)

10 participants

 ! FREE !

Please contact me to reserve your spot or to find out more

—————————-

Registration now open!

Ojai Women’s RETREAT

AGY readers receive a $200 discount on or before May 15th! IMG0172

REAL LIFE. REAL TOOLS.

AUGUST 31ST TO SEPT. 5TH, 2016

This 5-day retreat is specially designed to teach you the art of unlearning and letting go of old patterns that have long since lost their usefulness while also providing precious leisure time which allows these new skills and understandings to become more rooted in your daily life.

We teach YogaAyurveda and the Alexander Technique in a practical and meaningful way so that when you return home you will have useful tools to keep this new, balanced relationship going—not only within yourself but with everyone around you.

Carol P. Prentice ~ Amanda Green ~ Sydney Laurel Harris

Enter the code *RENEW2016* in your registration form under questions and comments to receive your discount. (*cannot be combined with any other discounts)

http://handson-retreats.com

The raw landscape

IMG_0628

Ollantaytambo, Peru

I’ve been back home for nearly a week, but I’m not settled or back to normal. In some ways, I guess that’s good. Travel has a way of changing my perspective and I wouldn’t want it to wear off in a mere 5 days. I want all that perspective to stick around so I can continue to be more aware of the things in my life that are particular to my life. The special circumstances, this environment, the location, the privilege, my family, and my inborn constitution are just a few of the aspects of my life that shape my experience. These factors don’t look exactly the same for anyone else. As a matter of fact, sometimes they look really different. Some people grow up with llamas and live in the countryside and speak Quechua. Some people don’t have running water and have never been on an airplane. Some people know how to make amazing woven cloth with the most intricate of patterns from wool using natural dyes and a loom-thing that they wrap around their waist.

Yoga gives us tools and experiences that helps us to see things more clearly. I think it also gives us a fortitude to see stuff that isn’t so easy to see. Maybe it’s that I’m entering middle age and maybe it’s that travel isn’t all about the adventure anymore, but I need this special strength to be able to look at my life and the lives of other people. It’s good to be able to see the things that I do that could change. That need to change. I need this space that yoga creates in me so I have the ability to stay with something that might be hard to think about and not get so overwhelmed that I reach for the distraction or the next adventure. Sometimes seeing things without all the personal protective shields in place is tough. Seeing more clearly can be difficult and raw.

There’s also raw beauty. Raw passion. Raw love. That stuff is really amazing, though can be difficult in their own way, without the personal protective shields. It’s all part of the same raw landscape. And it is worth the visit, even if we come back from that place and can’t sleep very well and have stuff lingering in the gut. I’m glad I went and I’m glad I continue to go.

IMG_0161 IMG_0141
IMG_0087 IMG_8182

IMG_5590 IMG_5632 IMG_5656 IMG_5673

That thing we hate about our personality might actually save us one day

IMG_0013

I have two kids. When our whole family is out and people see how much Nora looks like Dave and Hazel like me, we often get the comment. “looks like you got one of each.” We laugh a little because if that observant, friendly stranger hung out at our house, there would be no doubt. Hazel is her own person, but she and I have a lot of the same tendencies and personality traits. You could say the same about Nora and Dave.

One of the things that Hazel and I share is sensitivity. If we get hurt, it hurts a lot. If we are sad, we feel it so deeply that it can be overwhelming. If someone in our presence is having a great/bad/emotional moment, we feel great, bad, or emotional right along with her or him. When I was a kid, I was labeled as moody.  I knew that my sensitivity could be hard on my relationships with other people, and it was also hard for me. At the time, I managed this sensitivity by ignoring it and by pretending to be different than I was. That didn’t work out very well for me so I’m trying my best to help Hazel develop a healthy relationship with this aspect of her personality – something I am still in the process of doing for myself.

I had an appointment with my yoga mentor this week and he asked about Hazel. He knows that Hazel is a special kid with a lot of sensitivity to what is happening around her. The question helped me to reflect on how this process is going for her, and to appreciate how good she is, even at her young age, at self-regulating. When she starts to feel overwhelmed, she usually knows what to do to get grounded again. She’ll take some space from a person or situation. She spends a lot of time alone, reading, listening to music, and especially drawing. If she needs it, she’ll come over to me for a hug and then stay there a while and I can feel her settling. Because she has ways of managing her emotional world and taking care of herself, she doesn’t struggle in the same way I did.  I really think she sees her sensitivity as a special part of who she is. I think she even appreciates it.

Just writing this makes me choke up because this is amazing to me. We all have things inside of us that are the difficult and wondrous gifts. The yoga sutras talk about the functions of the mind, the vṛttis, as kliśta akliśta (I.5). The same mental function can be helpful or not, just like the very same aspect of our personality can be great help in some situations or the very thing that gets us into trouble in others. When we know ourselves well and have a perspective that lets us accept and work with our personality traits instead of wishing we didn’t have them, it gives so much meaning to why we are who we are. Maybe this kind of acceptance and self-awareness even brings us closer to understanding what we are here to do, our dharma. Those are really lofty ideas, but for me, today, it boils down to this… I’m so grateful that Hazel can be herself and like her self.  I deeply admire the emotional intelligence she’s cultivating. And if I have some small part in helping her be able to do this, then I’m here to tell you, this motherhood thing I’m involved in is worthwhile and meaningful.  I’m grateful to be able to watch this magic happen.

Registration Opens soon! 


Ojai Valley Women’s Retreat:

Practical Transformation from the Inside Out

August 31st to Sept 5th, 2016

Inside Pavilion1

 with Amanda Green and Carol Prentice


 

Spend five days in the beautiful Ojai Valley immersed in good company, gourmet Ayurvedic cuisine and the transformational teachings of Yoga, Ayurveda, Alexander technique.

*Private and double occupancy rooms available.

Peppertree Retreat Center, Ojai, California

IMG0172 IMG0171 IMG0118a

Full of Light

 

I love this photo of my cousin and Honey, probably because I love these two men so much.

I love this photo of my cousin and Honey, probably because I love these two men so much.

Honey, my grandpa, had a fall about a week ago. He does some exercises and some walking every day and it was during one of his walks that he lost his balance. Initially, he had some pretty bad bruising, swelling, and a few scrapes so he’s been laying low.

One day last week, I packed a lunch basket so we could eat together at his apartment. We had a wonderful visit. When I asked how he was, he said he was fine, and he said it with such sincerity and brightness that I didn’t have any difficulty believing him despite the bandages. I like these visits when I have Honey all to myself. He asks about my family and my work and wants to know how I’m doing. I seem to come up with a question about his life that I had never thought to ask before. And we find some things to laugh about. Before we are through, our conversations always come around to Grandma Mary and during this visit, when we were having our ice cream with chocolate sauce, Honey brought her to us by saying, “Grandma and I liked to have ice cream after almost every meal.” This was my opening to remember her with him, to ask about her favorite flavors and to say how much I miss her. I love thinking about what they looked like when I sat across from them at their kitchen table when I was a child. He misses her so much. Spending time talking about her and remembering her together feels really important.

After we talked and cried a little about Grandma Mary, I asked again how he was feeling, and commented that his swelling had much improved from earlier in the week. He said, “Well, I feel fine, but I hurt all over.” And he meant it. Both parts. Because part of him really is fine, untouched by his soreness and his injuries, and then there’s this other aspect, the physical parts, that need to heal. It’s so interesting how clear he is that how he is doing isn’t inextricably tied to how his body feels. This idea is in the Yoga sūtras, too. One of the root causes of suffering is asmitā or misidentification (YS II.3 and II.6). When I confuse my body, my sickness, my job, my role in the family, or any material aspect of my life, with who I really am, it causes suffering. Honey gets it. He lives it. And it’s really wonderful to be around.

The yoga sūtras teach that when we connect and identify with this special place, it’s said to be full of light (YS I.36). Even though I’ve had an intellectual grasp of this concept is something amazing to see in someone. It’s how Honey lives. He is full of light and I’m so grateful for his example. To see this in him and in how he lives is so meaningful. He brings this teaching to life and his special way of understanding himself (most everything, really) makes him such a pleasure to be around. I aspire to be able to say, “I’m just fine” no matter what else is going on in my life because I can stay connected to this light within me and remember who I really am.

Married, part II

5e5cf3ec-3b97-11e5-9be2-c9beed7c2430-1020x573.jpg

People Places Things — it’s a  movie

Dave and I have been back together for Married, Part II for a couple of years now. The hurt and the tumult of our separation isn’t so close to the surface anymore, though occasionally, a memory from that time will come up and I can feel it’s presence even if I’m not actively thinking about it. Like when you have gas… you can go about your day, but you aren’t as relaxed as you could be.

One evening last week, with the girls in bed and Dave out of town, I snuggled up on the couch to watch a movie. I picked one from the ‘quirky comedy’ list and, turns out, this story is about a couple navigating separation and co-parenting after divorce. With this story playing out on the screen, those gassy feelings I mentioned moved into the realm of fully conscious reflection. I could relate to the confusion, the excitement, and the parenting negotiations that went on with our hero and heroine. I appreciated the story telling that gave time for the uncomfortable stuff that’s a part of divorce. I was happy, in the end, when the two of them were able to move on.

Memory is such a funny thing. We might forget something that has happened to us, the details may fade, we may remember something correctly or incorrectly, or imagine something. However they come about, and in one form or another, these experiences stay with us. In the first chapter of the Yoga sūtras, Patañjali presents us with 5 functions of the mind, one of which is smṛti or memory*. In YS 1.11 he defines smṛti as the “unthievable record of your experience”**. Untheivable… can’t be stolen. I love that because it is totally true.

Memories don’t leave us, but as we create more memories, the old ones do change and can be refined. After the movie, I went to bed but didn’t fall asleep right away. I was having a lot of old break-up feelings.  They are so different now than when I was in the midst of it. Back then, I could feel my heart race and my body respond over the littlest reminder. This time, they didn’t overwhelm me.

Time heals. Yeah, okay. But the thing about time passing is that in that time, we have other experiences. Time spent laughing together, really listening to each other, offering care and feeling loved – all of these things leave their own memories and record behind.   These experiences have more power than the break-up ones once did.  The new experiences are the ones I want to connect to, and am trying my hardest to create. As a result, these new experiences are reshaping the old memories and giving rise to who we are together now.

 

 

*The 5 vṛtti, functions of the mind.

The mind can…

prāmaṇa — perceive correctly

viparyaya – perceive incorrectly

Vikalpa – create something that isn’t there (imagine or invent).

Nidra – be in a deep, dreamless sleep

Smṛti – create memories

 

*This translation comes from yoga sūtras classes I took with Chase Bossart.