May: where do we go

All week I have been thinking about running off to the mountains with my furry friend for a jaunt in the woods. But when I get there, I know that I’ll still be searching because what I am looking for is not anywhere, any place to be found.

I’m continuing this thread of without and within. With out, or outside of ourselves, there is great promise for everything we desire… and yet it never fulfills. It only leads to more emptiness. Within is where all the treasures can be found… it is where peace resides.

But I know that in nature there is a crying and an aching for stillness and silence. It is a reminder to draw inward while looking outward. Exploring all the things by reaching for an end that will only lead back to the beginning.

This week is filled with distraction because I am in avoidance mode. Avoidance of reality. The mountains provide a good daydream because the distractions will be diminished. I won’t be able to grasp. There will only be me, my furry friend and the mountains, which is so similar to right now and this moment with my girl curled up at my feet dreaming of the mountains.

But peace isn’t out there. It can’t be bought. No one can give it to us. No place can make us feel finally at home within ourselves. Only we can do that, and only here and now. There won’t be a magical time or a magical place or a magical person that can change everything.

It is so easy and yet so hard to accept.

It is easier to grasp and hold on and avoid. I’ve lived a lifetime doing it. Yet the only way out is steadiness and ease – sthira and sukha (in Sanskrit).

Today’s yoga class delivered on my dream of the mountains and brought me the peace that I’ve been craving for days because I found a few moments of presence.

The mat is always a magical carpet ride because it is only me and my awareness, which can take me anywhere I want to go. And the only place I truly want to go is home to the peace within.

OM Shanti. Shanti. Shanti.

April: The story of the penny

Recent estimates have suggested that there is $10 million in pennies littering the streets of the U.S. How many times have you stepped on a penny or walked past a penny without picking it up? Or are you a karma yogi and insist on picking it up knowing that it will bring you good fortune more valuable than a penny?

Yoga is a discipline focused on increasing our awareness and the insignificance of the penny is entirely significant based on its story. Have you ever wondered where a particular penny came from, and wondered if perhaps someone you know once owned the penny? Have you ever wondered if someone lost a particular penny and where it was located when it belonged to no one?

So many questions for one little penny.

Years ago, my then 4-year-old daughter found a penny on the sidewalk and excitedly decided that we needed to post signs on street corners to find the owner of the penny. She immediately began formulating a plan to screen would-be penny claimers to assess the validity of their claim – asking them to describe the penny and share the story of how it came to be lost.

While I was never quite certain if she was serious, I was fascinated by her curiosity and wonder at something we all take for granted, never giving a second thought to where individual pennies came from or who they may have belonged to in their past life.

Since the “penny incident” I’ve been asking students in my creativity workshops to imagine the story of a particular penny that I gave them, and indeed I have heard some fascinating tales that have changed lives, shaped history, and transformed societies all contained within the smallest unit of currency.

Focusing on the insignificant can lend significance to everything we see, touch and feel in our daily lives. Noticing the miracles and majesty contained in simple packages that we dismiss everyday is yoga.

So next time you see a penny on the sidewalk, pick it up, feel it, take a moment to breath and give it a story.

Om Shanti.

 

March: Better late than never

I could make excuses but I won’t, let’s just say that my life has changed dramatically in the past couple of months and I’m finally getting back to my yoga groove.

Stiff back, neck… tightness everywhere. Most of all in my psyche.

I have been working on a love letter to no one in particular since love is the foundation of yogic philosophy and it is the reason we are all here.

Everything pales in comparison to its importance. Our journey here should be guided by love. Our actions should be dictated by love.

But what happens if we lose our way? What happens when our path is not straight, but rather filled with twists and turns?

What if our path doesn’t feel like a path at all, but rather a tilt-a-whirl, vomatron, kick-you-in-the-keister roller coaster all wrapped together?

My love letter to no one is filled with these references as I’ve recently come to realize that my search for meaning and connection with someone special has had more to do with learning to protect myself rather than finding any such meaning and connection?

In other words, the path that we want to be one isn’t always the path that we’re actually on. Isn’t that truly wonderful? From my perspective, this is the meaning of life. Learning to recognize and adapt because there is a reason. This is yoga. Finding the quiet in the chaos. Finding the meaning when we are lost. This is yoga and it is indeed beautiful.

Here is my abbreviated love letter to no one based on this lesson:

…you weren’t there when I most needed you. At first, I hated being alone and then I hated hating that I was alone. I walked away from so many people who offered nothing of any value to me – the people who pushed me away but desperately needed me at the same time; the people who manipulated me and then manipulated others to believe things about me that weren’t true, I walked away from all of them; the people who couldn’t take no for an answer; the people who needed me to make themselves feel superior; the people who tried to make me feel bad in hopes that they would make themselves feel better. I walked away from all of them recognizing that sticking around would have been a journey of love, but not my journey. Because I continue to believe that there is more. More through peace and quiet. The wanting is the suffering. Recognizing and appreciating the love that is in my life, rather than focusing on what is missing… this is the journey of love. Loving myself to walk away every time that the lesson presented to me is one that I’ve already learned and I don’t need to stay. This is yoga. My small-minded moments wanting what I want and not caring about the lesson only lead to suffering, the real meaning and connection has always been inside of me, wanting my attention. Thank you for all the big bumps along the way, and all the messengers who have given me great opportunities to keep moving, walking away from suffering and walking toward greater meaning and connection. This is love. This is yoga. 

I love this topic, and I’m not done writing my love letter to no one. So stay tuned, more to come… soon

OM Shanti. Shanti. Shanti

 

 

 

 

 

By the time he got to Woodstock…

woodstock Guru
There are trail runs that rock your world and there are trail runs that change your life, my self-supported Yogaville 108k was both. (Recall: http://integralyogamagazine.org/running-a-moving-meditation/)

I got to Yogaville on Wednesday afternoon and changed in the campers bathhouse and took off down the maze of magical trails. Not even a half mile later I bonked my nugget on a tree that had fallen across the trail and never even saw it coming. In fairly short order, I started balling my eyes out thinking I was in way over my head and now my head wasn’t quite right after being knocked silly – No tribe, no pacers, no crew, and very little common sense.

I asked Swami Satchidananda to be with me for the next 67 miles and felt a sense of peace come over me, I was in his home and knew that I would be ok. Shortly thereafter, I ran past a tree that was shivering. The leaves were rustling and the entire tree seemed to be moving, I could hear the leaves from a few hundred feet away as though it were alive. Other nearby trees were completely still. I took this as a sign that I wasn’t alone.

I broke most of my rules in the early miles – my yoga and meditation stops became extremely brief, I was not following my nutrition plan since I desperately needed the caffeine and sugar to keep me moving, and I stopped more frequently than originally intended.

Wednesday night was the only time that I stopped for dinner during the run and they were serving mushroom soup, which melted my heart and softened all my hard edges. I didn’t just eat this bowl of soup, I elevated my being through this soup – it was a spiritual experience. Only long dirty hard-fought miles can make me appreciate seriously good food this much.

When the sun went down on day one, I started listening to live recordings from Woodstock and did some long miles on the LOTUS road, stopping and bowing at LOTUS temple, the tomb of Gurudev and Nataraj shrine each time that I passed. As the miles wore on, I started confusing the spiritual sites and mixing up the names, I was getting tired. (Jai Gurudev, Jai LOTUS, Jai Nataraj)

Not only that, I was terrified running in the dark. It was pitch black and the Ashram was locked up and shut down, and I could only see a few feet in front of me. But here’s the thing that kept me going – the most amazing sky full of stars that I have ever seen in my life. I secretly wished that everyone who loved Yogaville could experience this at some point, I cried deeply over how beautiful it was and how much I appreciated this experience… all the while listening to Hendrix and CSNY and Joe Cocker and on and on rock out at Woodstock.

But the fear became overwhelming and I climbed the stairs to the Kailash shrine and headed for home. There were more than 200 metal steps (I lost count). The night was dead silent and I could only hear my footsteps, until about halfway up the stairway to Heaven (that’s what it looked like in the darkness). My footsteps started to shake the metal contraption and it sounded like there was someone behind me, which greatly added to my fear. I looked down the steps and saw several dozen steps lit up and then drop off into darkness, and I looked up the steps and saw the same and felt that the world had disappeared and it was only me and these steps that seemed to take forever and a day to climb. My breathing was fast and my heartbeat was racing.

Reaching the top of these stairs and looking out over all of Virginia (recall: amazing sky full of stars) was breathtaking, yet still I was surrounded in blackness and now found myself in a big open field with only a couple feet of light ahead of me. (Recall: so scared)

I got back to the room, took a hot shower and climbed into one of the most comfortable beds I have ever slept in. Here I should note that Yogaville set me up in a special guest suite, since this is clearly a step above monastic life at the Ashram. They also put a bowl of fresh fruit harvested from their organic farm in my room. Special, indeed. Day one mileage – 18.

I woke up before dawn and scrambled to put on my muddy shoes and flew out the door. By the time the sun was coming up, I was running along the James River surrounded by deer who seemed to always be nearby. Since I had meetings in the afternoon (I do pro-bono work for Yogaville), I could only run until about 12:30pm. Day two am mileage: 19.

Post meeting I threw on my muddy shoes again and set off. This time, I only ran a few miles since the fear was even worse than the night before. By the time that I got back to the room, there were three deer right outside my door. It was special. Day two pm mileage: 10.

I woke early to wrap up the miles and set the strongest pace for all three days. I was getting seriously hungry at this point because of the high mileage and no meals of substance for several days. Fistfuls of Pringles, PBJs, bananas, Clif Blocks were my only sustenance… and lots of Tailwind, of course.

Near the finish, I stopped by the Yogaville Distribution Center and picked up mala beads as a reward for finishing. It was odd wrapping up 67 miles and not telling anyone, although there was a guy in the parking lot fixing his pick-up and he asked me how many miles I had just run and I explained to him. The look on his face was priceless. Day three mileage: 20.

My love for Yogaville can’t be captured in words and these miles made me feel a special connection to this Heaven on Earth that I had never before experienced in all my visits. I usually feel like a visitor on the trails, but this time I felt like I was at home.

I sat down with one of the Swamis that day and was distracted and hurried and focused on organizing myself and getting back on the road home. Of course, this Swami was filled with peace, love and contentment and she drew me in quickly and everything else seemed to drop away.

This is life as best as I know it – In all of the chaos and confusion and distraction, magic is happening. The goal of life is to not miss it, to be aware and present for it. The look in her eyes and the feeling of being with her is what has always brought me back to Yogaville, there is an energy there that I haven’t found anywhere else in the world.

Running those miles filled me with gratitude for what I have been given through Yogaville and through my life. My birthday was the next day, and someone (I think I know who!) tipped off the Swamis and they sang the Sanskrit happy birthday song (Mahamrityunjay mantra) to me, then the English version then a funny version that I had never heard before and I felt like the luckiest person in the world.

I always cry like a baby when I’m leaving Yogaville, filled with a new sense of focus and purpose. Being alone out there helped me make peace with being alone, and with that acceptance comes a feeling of never being alone. The people who are supposed to be closest to me – my daughter, my parents, my siblings, my long-time friends – are the people who are genuinely closest to me. With them in my life, I will never feel lonely even if I am alone. They are always with me and I do not lose the relationships that truly matter.

I was never alone on those trails, but I did feel a sense of empowerment that comes from supporting myself. The next day, I celebrated my 47th birthday. Three days later, I bought a house on my own. I broke down laughing when I saw my name in the middle of the contract – TRACY COOLEY, A SINGLE WOMAN.

Good reminder that I am standing on my own two feet, whether I am running 108k or buying a house and the lesson that I learned to get me here is the greatest lesson of my life. Maybe there will be another closest relationship in my life but being TRACY COOLEY, A SINGLE WOMAN buying the house, running the miles, eating the Pringles, savoring the mushroom soup and praying with the mala beads is profoundly awesome.

Jai Satchidananda. Jai Woodstock. Jai Yogaville. Victory, victory, victory!

 

 

 

February teaser

February was a busy month, I wrote this on a flight to Vancouver in between nodding off. So, take this with a grain of salt (or sand?!)

What if the universe could be contained in a grain of sand, as William Blake has suggested? If it is infinite, then wouldn’t that mean that size and space become irrelevant. Does a grain of sand contain infinite multitudes?

Just as our DNA – our biological building blocks of life – is infinitely complex yet too small to view without a microscope, couldn’t a grain of sand be equally as infinite?
Places can shape our feelings and guide our thoughts. There is a world of feeling in all places, an infinite source for newly experiencing ourselves. The opportunity for reinterpretation of whatever in us is stuck or rotting.

Places have an infinite wisdom, and can be an external mirror to our internal self.
I’ve always identified with certain places as microcosms of peace that I can go to whenever I want. Whether it be Olympus Mons, or the furthest end of the ocean. Hovering over the water and listening to vast open space, filling in every detail of the sky, the stars, the ripples in the water. Letting go of the grasping, letting it all fall away to the beauty of a place that expands consciousness by simply being.

Knowing that this place actually exists, and is available to me through my thoughts is one of the most profound truths of life. It gives meaning to the term infinite, and yet I cannot begin to imagine what the word truly means although I know that I feel more infinite when I choose a place and go there in thought.

These are the safe havens that fill the universe and are always available. They are real, and traveling to them in our thoughts can make life feel more real. The concept of infinite can be tangled in complexity and unending realms of meaning, or it can be touched through simple thoughts that reach beyond the layers of what is mundane and expected and limiting. The mind is infinite, anything is possible as there are no corners of the universe that are inaccessible through thought.

Once we go to a place, it never leaves us. Even if we go through mind-travel, it stays with us forever. How we view places and, specifically, our place in places is a reflection of who we are and this is the origin of the infinite. Interpretation and experience of a place provide infinite depth and breadth as it is different for every person, situation and time.
Yet places are real on their own. Living and breathing with matter and energy, even if there are no living organisms certain places exist as part of a collective energy. They give energy and serve a purpose.

We are part of the places that we inhabit, there is no separateness. We feel separateness but it is consciousness that produces the feeling of separateness. In reality, everything and everyone is inter-related. We all represent a collective consciousness and places are included in this consciousness. They exist in an energetic universe, they are the energetic universe just as we are the energetic universe.
It is impossible to understand or comprehend, but amazing to consider. We feel separate but we are not separate.

help me spread the word!

IY Mag cover
My Yogaville 108k is quickly approaching and I am asking for your help in raising awareness! To learn more about the run, please check out the story in Integral Yoga magazine:

http://integralyogamagazine.org/running-a-moving-meditation/

I am using this as an opportunity to raise awareness for the Woodstock 50th Anniversary and Swami Satchidananda’s role in setting the tone for the event as a gathering of peace, love and joy.

This will be a “moving meditation” run on sacred ground – the message that Gurudev delivered at Woodstock captures the intention of this run to align mind-body-spirit in all endeavors.

I know that many of my followers are fellow bloggers and I enjoy checking out your content. If you are interested in a guest blog post from me, or sharing content (you share a guest blog post with me, I share a guest blog post with you), please reach out!

I’ll be sharing more details on the experience in the coming weeks, please stay tuned…

OM Shanti. Shanti. Shanti.

 

January teaser

My New Year’s resolution is to write a book, which sounds much more ambitious than my true intention. I want to record thoughts that have been with me the majority of my life, and I have never taken the time to write them down.

And here’s the thing – I always follow through on resolutions… even the resolutions that have initially seemed crazy impossible. So, this year I considered what I really wanted more than anything… recording all the thoughts and ideas that have captured my attention and imagination for decades emerged quickly as the priority.

Since I have a full schedule right now, these ‘chapters’ will be brief but will perhaps serve as a starting point for future writing. I don’t know where this will go but excited for the possibility.

In January, I wrote about the geography of the moon.

Each month, at the end of the month or thereabouts, I will post a teaser and at the end of the year, I will post the full-length book of thoughts and ideas.

So, here is the January teaser:

the moon is a balloon

Olympus Mons is the tallest planetary mountain in our solar system. I discovered Olympus Mons when I felt my life was in the abyss and I needed to go to a place that was as unreal to me as my own life.

Here’s why I became so intrigued by Olympus Mons – it took billions of years for the gigantic Martian mountain to grow and the main reason the shield volcano is different than any found on Earth is the limited amount of plate shifting. Olympus Mons is three times higher than the elevation of Mount Everest. It was formed by lava slowly flowing down its sides. Collapsed craters – or calderas – stack on top of one another rather than forming separate volcanos because of the limited plate shifting and movement beneath the surface.

Imagine a great god deep inside of the moon – heavy breathing filling the inside of the moon – making its way toward the surface as it builds up and intensifies for hundreds of billions of years until it is finally released. Yet instead of a volcanic fiery explosion, it is released slowly like a gigantic sigh as it rolls out in every direction and issues forth, creating a new landscape pulled from the depths.

The un-realness of Olympus Mons became more real each time I considered how it had formed and why as part of the big universal mystery of why anything forms that is outside of our comprehension. My limited understanding of cosmic truths created challenges in making it real but the power of perception – merely thinking about it made it more real – became a miracle that led to other miracles.

There is truth and meaning in focused attention, and thinking of Olympus Mons gives it greater significance. My limited understanding of science combined with my endless fascination for the magical and fantastical of the universe led me to the chapter on the Law of Miracles in Autobiography of a Yogi, which is the story of Paramahansa Yogananda’s life.

Light is used as a reference for awakening, enlightenment, clarity. Light is one of the greatest mysteries of the cosmos. Yogananda describes a non-mechanical reality, or as Sir James Jeans writes in The Mysterious Universe, “The universe begins to look more like a great thought than like a great machine.”

This theory adds weight to my affection for Olympus Mons and inspires me to invest more energy in thinking about my own personal concept of the dreamy landscape of a Moon volcano and the great god that resides deep within.

I hope you enjoyed and stick around for more teasers to follow…

Om Shanti. Shanti. Shanti.