Checking in

For the past month or so, I’ve been hosting a weekly yoga class. My intention was to gain teaching experience while helping my friends better cope with the challenges of the difficult times that we’re living in.

I’ve realized that the real value of the weekly sessions are to connect and check-in. While I usually just teach impromptu without much of a plan, I can find a groove based on the general mood of the group to quickly decide what is most needed.

As a heavy consumer of media, I’ve been reminded many times since March to reach out and check in with folks. Yoga gives me an opportunity to not just ask how they’re doing, but sense how they’re doing based on body language and their requests.

Most people are feeling exhausted and drained, particularly in the evenings. Even though social isolation seems to make time slow down, the days and weeks seem to be passing quickly. It is difficult to truly process all that is happening in the world right now, leaving a deep emotional imprint that we each carry with us.

So, what about the check-ins? Reaching out to friends to ask how they’re doing generally results in an avalanche of complaints, gripes and long venting sessions. All understandable, but my takeaway is usually that they are irritated but not truly struggling. Because truly struggling generally results in silence and introspection, followed by (hopefully) strength and courage.

Yet irritation demands attention, like a gnat that just won’t go away until we attend to it. I believe that venting and complaining are avoidance strategies, but not true coping mechanisms that will ultimately serve to resolve issues, rather they only perpetuate and spread them.

And if we don’t attend to minor irritations, we tend to get bigger challenges until we finally relent and acknowledge the struggle, which is the beginning of coming to terms with it.

When the pandemic started, I recalled all the conversations I had with my spiritual mentors at Yogaville who believe that difficult circumstances are a Kali Yuga, or a time of upheaval that can ultimately be transformative.

While it is easy to fall into the trap of reacting, awareness and patience an turn a bad situation into a potential lesson and opportunity for growth.

Easy to say, yet hard to do. In Emerson’s words, “Life is a succession of lessons which must be lived to be understood.”

While I have managed to commit to teaching yoga once a week, I have neglected to write because it requires honesty and authenticity and right now, it is hard just to get through my day. Creativity remains largely elusive for me. I haven’t painted in months. I feel numb and overwhelmed most of the time.

The majority of my efforts in life to connect with people have fallen flat and while I know how important connection is, mostly I just want to disconnect. Social isolation has made me want to isolate permanently and I have less agitation in my life when I don’t attempt to connect to new people.

I look forward to weekly yoga classes all week, and checking in even if I hear so much irritation. While I don’t usually share my own irritations because I try to focus on widening the lens more than anything else, it is comforting to know that I am not alone in having them.

I hope that the great changes in the world and in the struggles and tragedies that we all face only lead to positive outcomes achieved through awareness and patience. I hope that these times lead to profound growth and greater connection.

My hope for all yogis is a deeper understanding of the minor irritations that can lead to a greater self-concept and more serious commitment to the journey of growth and experience.

Om Shanti. Shanti. Shanti.

 

Let’s all do our part

When the pandemic started, I thought of it as being asked to do very little and didn’t consider social distancing and staying at home to be a real big deal. It was the least that I could do to maintain a safe community and get us back on track while preventing any unnecessary damage to the economy. And I think the majority of the people that I talked to felt this way.

Then George Floyd was killed sparking protests across the country and we saw another aspect of our society that it had long been easy to ignore as a white person. I always knew that it was there, but I for one neglected to understand my part to change it.

And for the first time, I started recognizing that I not only had a responsibility to be educated on the two Americas that we live in, but I also had to do my part to be a part of the change that is so desperately needed.

A few things have made me see the world differently over the past few months. First, people pouring their hearts out who have been in pain a long time pointing out that to do nothing makes us complicit. Second, people who believe that their reality is the only reality who make hateful remarks… truly this is a time that has drawn out all the racists. Third, recognizing that I needed to be prepared for a situation in which someone is being mistreated and act quickly. I know from experience that in order for me to be ready to act and know exactly what to do, I have to educate myself and be prepared to respond before the situation presents itself.

And let’s be honest, we all witness situations that are inappropriate and wrong. Oftentimes, I feel as though I am taken off-guard and am too shocked to react appropriately.

So I chose to use this time to learn and grow and prepare. Being an antiracist is a value that I now hold as I recognize that the only way things are going to change is if we change individually. Being antiracist has many dimensions, and it’s important to understand them all. I started with Dr. Kendi’s book to question my own assumptions and ingrained beliefs.

I grew up outside of Detroit and always knew that we lived in a society with extreme inequities. In college, I wrote my master’s thesis on depictions of slavery in a historical context and read books on segregation in housing and schools. While I had an interest in learning, I always knew that it was something that we don’t talk about generally and as a white person, I felt like it wasn’t my issue because my rights weren’t being taken away because of the color of my skin.

But thank goodness times have changed and what we now need above all else is compassion for one another and the desire to seek and learn more about one another and the experiences that we have survived. All the answers lie within and listening unlocks all of the power for a better, stronger society to emerge.

Below is a list of the resources that I have collected and committed to using to expand my understanding of the world around me, please let me know if you have any to add.

Om Shanti.

Books:

  • White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism, Robin DiAngelo
  • How to Be An Antiracist, Dr. Ibram X. Kendi
  • Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World and Become a Good Ancestor, Layla F. Saad
  • So You Want to Talk About Race, Ijeoma Oluo
  • Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, Reni Eddo-Lodge
  • How to Be Less Stupid About Race, Crystal M. Fleming
  • White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide, Carol Anderson, PhD
  • Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower, Dr. Brittney Cooper
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou

NY Times Podcast: 1619

Mellody Hobson: Color blind or color brave? 

Rich Roll (Podcast): This Is America: Byron Davis & Phil Allen, Jr.

  • This Is America: Baptized in Whiteness Phil Allen blog post

  • 13th on Netflix, a documentary analysis of the criminalization of African Americans and the U.S. prison boom — and a master class in contextualizing the systemic aspect of racism.

Tim Wise Video: On White Privilege

TedTalk: Lucky Zip Codes

The eye of the hurricane

I’ve heard times of great difficulty expressed this way – to find stillness in the eye of the hurricane – and it has never been more challenging in my lifetime.

CBS This Morning interviewed Bishop T.D. Jakes and he described it as a trifecta of crises that the country is dealing with – economic, physiological, social. I would add political to the mix. Before he described it this way, as these forces of turmoil coming together, it just felt overwhelming and difficult to comprehend.

But we have to find a way to break it down into manageable parts and tackle it the best way we know how for the sake of the country, our families and our sanity since there is no other choice but to cope. I’ve encountered far too many people in life who avoid coping, it isn’t healthy but rather cowardly and painful. As we say in ultra running, the only way out is through.

The protests are front-and-center right now, and I’ve spent the last week or so seeing the problem in a new light by diving in deep to commentary and perspective to understand and recognizing that I have a responsibility to understand. We all have inherent biases and without doing the work to gain perspective, those biases will always be there.

Tara Brach shared a wonderful African proverb on her weekly live stream last night:

The child who is not embraced by the village will burn it down to feel its warmth

While I’ve never been a victim of police brutality and I’ve never feared the police, I have had experiences in life that have made me feel this way. During the #metoo movement, I read the news everyday and broke down in tears nearly everyday. We all have a responsibility to care for and support one another in our efforts to become more human, and most of us have the capacity to show empathy for other people suffering and respond with, ‘what can I do to make it stop?’

Many of us have been asking ourselves this same question for months – ‘What can I do to make the virus stop’… ‘What can I do to help businesses survive and help people who have lost their income?’ Yet in reality, many times we can only deal with the biggest question on our minds, ‘How can I get through this day?’ And then it becomes the next day, and the next and the next until it feels like it’s never going to end…

Discipline and priorities can be liberating as they provide the comfort that we are doing our best. The priority right now must be to take in the historic moments that are defining the times. For me that has meant scouring the news, watching all the news reels –  regardless of how painful it is – and making decisions about what can be done now.

From making masks to patronizing local family-owned restaurants to joining an anti-racist book club, these are all small steps that can make a huge difference especially if they become habitual.

I have no wisdom or unique insights to share because life has been daunting and humbling these past few months and it has taken my breath away nearly everyday. I am grateful for an income and a continued ability to provide for my child and myself. I am grateful for every day that I’m given with my kid and my dog at my side.

There are many spiritual leaders stepping up to support us, find one that you believe in and take it all in. Breathe in experience, exhale peace. The world needs more of it right now.

Om Shanti. Shanti. Shanti.

 

 

 

Starting with OM

OM.

That’s right, OM.

I started with OM. Despite the fact that I have a blog called Start with OM, it is very rare that I actually start with OM. A centering technique to remind me to be here now. Irony. I am starting with OM. This time.

This is my practice, and this is why I have a blog called Start with OM – to remind myself to start.with.OM.

This is OM:

  • I used to want to fall in love with the man of my dreams and thought about the perfect life we would have together all the time. Now I am just happy to find a few chocolate-covered espresso beans in my hydration pack. My “falling in love” dream may have been temporarily disappointing, but my chocolate-covered espresso beans delivered true happiness and I am not disappointed in this outcome because I’ve discovered ways of finding the joy in the simplest of pleasures.
  • When I reconnect with friends I haven’t seen in awhile, they fill me in on their relationship troubles and dating woes… and I talk about what I am watching on Netflix. And this is how I know that my life is good, even if it is not always great. The path is the OM, the path is the way… no destination or goal will ever deliver like the journey and this is my practice.
  • Instead of wondering what’s playing at the movies, now I look around my house trying to figure out what I can fix with my jigsaw and I enjoy myself even more than if I had gone to the best movie I have ever seen. I have had some difficult moments learning how to use power tools but these difficult moments have given me appreciation for what I can do rather than an emphasis on what I can’t do. I’ll never figure out what I can do unless I try to do stuff. I found a note in my daughter’s room this week that said, “everything is figure-out-able” and this is a great practice.
  • When I feel frustrated at work, I remind myself that I have a job. When I am frustrated with family, I remind myself that I have a family. When I am frustrated with friends, I remind myself that I have friends. And I tell myself to be quiet and turn inward, this is my practice.
  • When crabs try to pull me into their crab pot so that they do not have to suffer alone, it is ok to gently push away and move forward without them. The act of breaking away delivers hope to them that it is possible and this is sometimes the most compassionate action available to us.

Perspective is at a premium in today’s world. I am not an expert and don’t have any answers for anyone besides myself and even then I am a BIG work in progress. But I have found that starting with OM is worth a shot.

OM. OM. OM.

 

 

 

 

12 Habits

The focus of the closing session at most retreats that I’ve attended is how to bring what we have learned and discussed into everyday life. This is often the challenge – not the lack of brilliance or discovery in these sessions but rather the discipline to put the lessons into practice.

Each year, I try to come up with a meaningful resolution for the new year. But long ago, I realized that I cannot change my life in one day and have it really stick. Starting with last year, I do one small thing a month. Last year, I resolved to write one meaningful post each month (and I was basically successful although I was a bit late some months!).

In 2020, I resolve to create a habit each month based on what I have learned during my personal retreats, accepting that although I am made of stardust (as we all are) I am terribly imperfect and will more than likely fail repeatedly before I am truly successful. And success will look very different than the vision in my head before I begin, but it’s all part of the learning process.

This is roughly how I want to tackle the 12 habits:

January: Meditate for 5 minutes in the morning and in the evening (this one is easy as I’m pretty close to this timeframe already… but I need to start slow here!)

February: Yoga for 10 minutes in the morning and in the evening (so important when I’m not running, so achy all over… I probably spend 5 or so minutes doing this already, but I’m going to actually time myself starting in February… yikes!)

March: Add 5 minutes of meditation mid-day and 5 minutes of yoga mid-day (now it’s getting serious)

April: Learn the Hanuman Chalisa (finally)… It has been years since I’ve been chanting right along to this one and I’m about 3/4 of the way there but this year is the year!

May: Go back to being mostly vegan, having a kid has made this difficult as I don’t like to force her to follow my eating habits.. but I want to make more of a commitment this year

June: Celibacy… this is not hard for me as I love being alone and haven’t met the right guy yet! Knowing me, this will probably be the entire year actually… So I guess this just means I get a break from forming habits in June!  (still, it counts!)

July: Increase my water intake. I’m so bad at this.. July seems like a perfect month to add this one in!

August: Catch up on all my doctor’s visits. I’m a little behind and since I work in healthcare, I don’t like our healthcare system and try to avoid doctor visits. But during the slow summer months, I’m going to catch up.

September: Pick up my paintbrushes again! I’ve taken a long break but I really miss having a creative outlet…

October: Speaking of creative outlet… I haven’t played guitar in months and when the weather starts changing, I will need some quality indoor activities

November: Less TV… boy is this one hard with a kiddo in the house. We used to play games, now she wants to watch TV all the time. I don’t watch a lot but would like to cut us both back.

December: Vacation as discipline! I have fallen off the vacation wagon big time. Mainly because I’m a freelancer and need to work even while on vacation (not so fun), but this is the year that I start to get back into the vacation swing of things.

Here’s the best part… my plan is to journal the experience so that I know what works and what doesn’t and can keep better track of where everything is falling apart. If you’d like to join me, please share your own list… maybe we can all learn from each other!

Have a wonderful holiday… and best wishes for an amazing new year.

Om Shanti. Shanti. Shanti.

 

 

messengers

In yoga class, we often talk about “messengers.” Aches and pains in the body that provide information and call to us – or even scream at us – to pay attention to alleviate the suffering or address a small issue before it becomes a bigger issue.

It’s also called “tuning in.”

But it extends beyond the physical realm, it also applies to the people in our lives who are messengers. We don’t learn and grow solely from healthy, mature, nurturing relationships, and the biggest opportunities for growth and change are in challenges and conflict.

This is what is most exciting about yoga – you can heal the body through the mind, you can heal the mind through the body, you can heal the body through emotions, and you can heal emotions through the mind. And all of it in reverse or vice versa or whatever… you get it. It’s all connected.

And it’s a practice that you can work on and get better at over time.

When you have a niggling ache or pain in the body, don’t take pills or a shot or numb it, lock up and turn away. Ease into it and try to unravel it, figure out the source and solve it for good. Then move on.

With people, it can be more complicated.

Messengers are not intentionally trying to be helpful to us, rather they are usually attacking us or tearing us down in some way because that is their path and often has very little to do with the person they are undermining.

But they offer a valuable message. The reaction we have is filled with treasures. If we are annoyed, irritated and have a flight or fight response, we miss out on the opportunity.

Sitting with the feeling and recognizing what is really happening, these are the treasures. Recognizing that the attack may have nothing at all to do with us, and instead feeling compassion because the person is suffering. Then having compassion for ourselves by staying strong, voicing true feelings and beliefs, and understanding the dynamic is the gift we give ourselves.

Unwrapping our reaction to better understand what is inside, why we are triggered in certain ways and why someone else’s opinion may have a negative impact is the practice.

As I tell my students, negative people and bullies don’t come after you because of who you are – they go after you because of who they are. There is only one person who gets to decide who you are – YOU!

Once you know who you are, their efforts to make you feel horrible are stripped away and with practice, their efforts are futile.

I love my family and friends, but I also love the people who have kicked sand in my face and left me lying in a gutter because these people gave me messages that changed my life. These messengers led me to magnificent lessons and gifts that I now treasure.

OM Shanti. Shanti. Shanti.

 

 

 

OKT: Yogaville 108k

woodstock Guru
Sri Swami Satchidananda speaking at Woodstock in 1969

The Spiritual Life Board at Satchidananda Ashram-Yogaville has approved my request to run 108k on the trails of Yogaville to honor Sri Swami Satchidananda, the ‘Woodstock Guru’ as this year is the 50th Anniversary of Woodstock.

I’ll be running the “Only Known Time” for 108k at Yogaville on my birthday weekend at the end of March. This run will be different than any other trail run that I’ve ever taken on since I will be primarily focused on honoring Gurudev and the Ashram.

The significance of 108 is that it is the number of beads in mala beads, which are used for prayer and meditation. In addition, the number has a scientific foundation as the circumference of the sun times 108 is the distance between the sun and the Earth as well as the moon and the Earth. There also are 108 nadis – energy channels – in the body.

Yogaville is located at 108 Yogaville Way in Buckingham, Virginia. Swami Satchidananda chose the location from a helicopter as he recognized the area as a spiritual place and the preferred site of his dream of ‘heaven on Earth.’

Yogaville follows a Daily Schedule that includes meditation in the morning, at noon and in the evening in addition to a morning 90-minute Hatha yoga class, as well as an evening Hatha yoga class. I will be participating in all meditation and yoga sessions during the run. When available, I will be stopping for Puja at Kailash as well. In addition, I will be taking my shoes off to walk through all sacred sites and will stop to show respect at Kailash at the Nataraja Shrine, Chidambaram, and LOTUS on each loop.

I will follow the general guidelines of Yogaville – no meat, fish, eggs, alcohol and only minimal intake of sugar and caffeine. My phone will be off throughout the weekend.

Yogaville encourages a monastic lifestyle to quiet the mind and bring peace. The message that opened Woodstock 50 years ago remains the powerful message of Yogaville – Always choose peace by seeking the kingdom within.

The run will be a moving meditation for me, each step will be guided by Gurudev and the beauty and peacefulness of the magnificent hallowed ground beneath my feet. The opportunity will allow me to promote the message of Yogaville and importance of appreciating the peace, stillness and happiness that is ever present within each of us.

Nothing brings me greater peace than becoming one with nature by freeing and opening myself to the freedom that is available when fear drops away and the journey fills with pure possibility. To bring this passion to my experience on the trails at Yogaville is a profound, magnificent opportunity.

My sangha – spiritual community – at Yogaville has changed my life. I am deeply grateful to Siva, Prem, Santoshi, Swami Mataji, the Spiritual Life Board and all the beautiful people who have inspired me during my sacred times at the Ashram.

While I haven’t decided on the path that I will follow, I’m estimating 2-mile loops on trail primarily, with a few brief road sections within the LOTUS gate and on Karuna Lane leading to Kailash. Not only will I be following a “leave no trace” approach on the trails, but will stop to care for the trails as necessary.

I will be camping during my entire stay and will arrive early to first establish a greater sense of well-being before beginning the run.

While I still have more planning to do, I am thrilled to find more ways to honor and respect Gurudev, my sangha, and the Ashram through this moving meditation.

Peace, love, joy to all.

Om Shanti. Shanti. Shanti.

 

Go with the flow

flowThis book – Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi – was on my reading list for as long as I can remember and it did not disappoint. It is a book about yoga… it is a book about running… it is a book about life and how to find happiness.

Not the superficial kind of happiness that leaves you feeling hollow but the deep-down rock-your-world happiness. In one word – flow… it’s all about flow.

Csikszentmihalyi defines flow as ‘the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.’ (Sound familiar, ultra running friends??)

He cautions that problems can arise when people are so fixated on what they are trying to achieve that they don’t derive pleasure from the present moment (the golden present!). Here he starts to uncover the secret to contentment in life…

Many beautiful concepts in this book center on the ability to find enjoyment and purpose regardless of external circumstances. Again, meaning of life stuff and reminiscent of many foundational yogic philosophies that connect state-of-mind and perspective with inward bliss.

So many profound truths in this book, here are a few:

  • We create ourselves by how we invest our energy
  • Attention shapes the self, and is in turn shaped by it
  • To improve life one must improve the quality of experience
  • The meaning of life is meaning: Whatever it is, wherever it comes from, a unified purpose is what gives meaning to life

When I read this passage, I put the book down and cried happy tears for a while because it perfectly describes the flow experience that I have had difficulty relating to others who aren’t familiar with or who don’t regularly experience ‘flow’…

Flow helps to integrate the self because in that state of deep concentration consciousness is unusually well ordered. Thoughts, intentions, feelings and all the senses are focused on the same goal. Experience is in harmony. And when the flow episode is over, one feels more “together” than before, not only internally but also with respect to other people and to the world in general

And…

The self becomes complex as a result of experiencing flow. Paradoxically, it is when we act freely, for the sake of the action itself rather than for ulterior motives, that we learn to become more than what we were. When we choose a goal and invest ourselves in it to the limits of our concentration, whatever we do will be enjoyable. And once we have tasted this joy, we will redouble our efforts to taste it again. This is the way the self grows.

All truly dedicated yogis/yoginis and runners and lovers of life know what this is all about, but it helps to refine our thinking around the flow experience and this book explores every dimension in-depth.

Check it out!

OM