Praying for peace - My first true Sankalpa
Sitting on the carpeted floor of the apartment I shared with a lover who was older than my only living parent, I endeavored to learn how to pray honestly. Riding the desperation for a new way of living created by years of unmanageability and chaos that is the inevitable result of addiction; I was motivated to try something new. An actual belief in god seemed irrelevant to me, my instincts told me that the power was in the action, the behavior of praying, not in any real or imagined deity.
“What do I pray for?” I asked myself. I was being encouraged to ask for help, but I had no idea what to ask for. I sat there, in the quiet; the late summer sun beginning to burn the day while inside the air conditioning created a season-less illusion searching for a desire in my heart.
When I looked at myself, all I saw or felt was war. I was at war with myself and the world, full of shame fueled hatred and rage. My mind was a turbulent sea, crashing waves of blame, despair, and violence through the fibers of my being. The drugs had given me safe haven from the storm that was my internal reality until my need for them created it’s own chaotic storm; there was nowhere left to run or hide. I sat on that tan rug in the summer sun and cold air motivated by desperate need for relief from the pain of living and the pain of living without drugs.
My body still, my breath slowing down, I observed my warring insides and felt my desperate need for peace. The awareness of this desire came with the sense that outward violence is generated from internal violence. My first prayer was formed “peace within and peace without”. The journey to internal peace began that day when I committed to making peace with myself.
That first prayer was in 2003. There was not a precise end to the war within me, it gradually stopped, one surrender at a time. The scars from the internal battles won are sources of gratitude, empathy and compassion. Gratitude for my freedom and the opportunity to guide others to peace. Empathy for those still at war with themselves and the world around them. Compassion for the ongoing healing and integration that takes place within me and for those who still suffer.
Today, my heart's desire is to serve the forces of love and peace that I have found to be infinitely abundant. May you embrace your heart's desire and be blessed with the fortitude to commit to your highest purpose.
When it comes to self care, motivation matters. Motivation is in the heart and mind, that internal landscape has as much (if not more) effect on your overall health as your behavior. This is why meditation and cultivation of love and respect for yourself has a drastic effect on your overall well being as well as measurable physiological benefits.
Take exercise, for example. What drives you to exercise?
For example, you want to exercise for health, but currently use exercise as a way to punish yourself for eating what you want. What does a person who exercises for health do (action) that is different from a person who exercises for punishment?
This part of the evolutionary process must be personal, because only you can know what your true motivation is.
These new behaviors lay the groundwork for new thoughts, elevated and evolved mindsets. You must learn to think differently about exercise in order to sustain and evolve the new behavior. Your mind will follow your behavior and you help it get there by learning to cultivate and tend your internal landscape; orienting yourself towards your highest self and purpose.
This combination of regular, practical practice and internal, conscious control leads to the emergence of new feelings and emotions that flow from our natural state of harmony and peace. The new thought and behavior patterns that are created from acting as if we are the person that we are becoming and thinking like the person we are becoming shift our attitudes and feelings into our new way of being.
I created the Chakra Journey, as a way to offer this path of spiritual evolution in a group setting. If you would prefer work individually, empowered realignment provide this same guidance and hands on bodywork to manually adjust the energy of your body towards your natural state of harmony and peace.
As we approach the longest night and move into the depths of winter, I am inviting you to be gentle and kind with yourself. Allow yourself to rest into the certainty that you are a unique expression of pure consciousness and infinite potential.
May the light within you illuminate to your consciousness your divine nature.
You are what your deep, driving desire is.
As your desire, so is your will.
As your will is, so is your deed.
As your deed is, so is your destiny.
- Brihadaranyaka Upanishad
Yes, but how?
Changing your attitude changes your life. This is much easier said and written than done. I have been through many revolutions and evolutions in my life (from quitting drugs and resolving trauma to revolutionizing my relationship with money, work and worth), and one thing is clear to me: Daily contact with the practices of the person that you are changing into is the practical key to changing your attitude and as a result your life. Change occurs in three stages: behavior, followed by thought, followed by attitude. We initiate change with new behaviors, learn to observe and change our thinking, and then our feelings life changes. These new thoughts and feelings make up our attitude, and the life reflected back to us now matches the internal landscape that we've created for ourselves.
Change begins with practicing new behaviors, such as:
Practicing new behaviors brings the pain of withdrawal, which must be experienced in order to be free from the distorted comfort of familiar pain. As a way of coping with the pain, we learn to observe our thoughts through meditation and honest self examination. Armed with the knowledge gained from observation and evaluation, we move into the second phase.
Consciously choosing new thoughts. This is the substance and power phase of revolution and evolution, where we effect lasting alteration of our attitudes. Through meditation and other valuable means of self reflection and examination we learn to observe our thoughts: our self talk, the voices that we don't notice because we've become so driven by them. We answer questions like
When we see our thoughts objectively, we are empowered to choose which ones to surrender and what new thought patterns we wish to engage in. The practicing of behaviors in line with who we want to be has an effect on our thoughts, we amplify that effect by actively engaging in changing the way we think, cultivating the inner landscape of our True Self, leading to the third phase.
New attitude. Our attitude is a state of being comprised of our thoughts, feelings and emotions. Our attitude informs our approach to the world as well as our responses to stimulus, adversity, and novelty. Here we know the difference between thoughts and feelings (thoughts are ideas, judgements, opinions, feelings are sensations in the body and emotions are the energy of our mind felt in our body and mind. With our new attitude, we feel differently and respond differently.
I have experienced this process over and over again in my life. Quitting drugs, quitting cigarettes!, resolving trauma, revolutionizing my relationship with sex and love, giving up blame, shame and defeatism, evolving my relationship with money, work and worth. Now, moving steadily towards a new age in my life, I'm experiencing change from a different perspective, not one of my own doing, but one in which I must actively participate in.
As I move towards the vata stage of life, I'm experiencing The Change. I often feel as if I've been swept up in a wave of change and I'm paddling to keep up with movement in my body and mind; I feel both slowing down to an uncomfortable pace.
I'm shifting my perception of this winding down from one of weakness, to an opportunity to appreciate the value and purpose of moving into a new way of being. I've never embraced change this way, it's a curious adventure. The changes I've made in my life have come mostly from desperation, when the pain of remaining the same outweighed the pain of change I was moved into action. This menopause is something different; this change is happening whether I get on board with it or not.
I choose to ride the waves the best that I can, accepting the stumbles, the disorientation, the overwhelm AND appreciating the opportunity to to explore yet another lifestyle in this one that has already been filled with love, beauty, wonder, adventure and many revolutions. Each time a new shift comes, I draw on my experience of changing attitude and mindset. Adjusting my behavior, assessing my thoughts and beliefs through meditation and self reflection so that I can embrace this sacred change.
Max made a big mistake at a sleepover party recently. He is 10 years old and just beginning to navigate the social pressures of fitting in with his peers and older kids. He is experiencing consequences in the form of punishment and reversal of some autonomy. He is taking responsibility for his mistake by amending his behavior and writing apologies to the adults and peers that were harmed by his action. He has regret, guilt, and anger at himself. I hope these feelings imprint the experience in him in such a way that he will develop a strong hold on his own values and boundaries when in a group setting. I hope to prevent him from feeling shame over his behavior. Guilt is feeling “bad” for what we have done and shame is feeling that we are a “bad” person because of what we have done. My maternal instinct was to comfort him and reassure him at the same time as delivering some of his consequences because mistakes are a part of life and a part of becoming who we are.
I have made many mistakes in my life, however I think I’ve missed out on more by giving in to the fear of getting it wrong, of making a mistake. One of the great joys of parenting is being able to share the lessons that I’ve learned from my life, and attempt to guide my son in such a way that he realizes himself with the support of unconditional love. Parenting has been the greatest gift of this life, not only because of the joy that comes from giving unconditional love but also from the fierce self examination that is necessary to guide from that love (as opposed to from the needs of my identified self AKA ego).
I had to ask myself, what part did I play in Max’s mistake? I must look at my own decisions and take responsibility for my own behavior in order to move beyond my own fear of judgement and embarrassment over what he did. My willingness to accept how my actions may have contributed to his behavior, frees me so that I can parent from a place of unconditional love and support. My son is intellectually, socially and emotionally intelligent, to an exceptional degree, I’ve been hearing this from all of his teachers since he was in pre-school. These qualities make him a joy to parent, but also that I have given more autonomy and independence than he’s really ready for. Holding myself accountable for these mistakes is creating consequences for my son without blaming or shaming him for his mistake.
I hope that his takeaway from this experience will be that mistakes are a part of growing up, and that when you cause harm, it’s safe to amend your behavior with action and words. Watching him and guiding him through this experience (not to mention preparing for the coming teenage years) has been a good reminder to myself of the freedom that comes from trusting myself to take risks, knowing that it’s ok to make mistakes.
I had covid in late May, it was a relatively mild case, but the messages I heard from my spirit were loud and clear. Delivered with a sense of finality, minus the subtlety and nuance that usually comes with spiritual insight.
Accept your limitations
“You cannot return to the pace at which you were living” were the exact words. I had been working and living myself into a state of near delirium every day. I was mentally and emotionally exhausted. There were many days that I was so tired I was crying on the inside. I was aware that I wanted to use drugs, but I was too tired. I had slipped into patterns of choices and behavior that were based on fear, scarcity and urgency, ignoring that my body and spirit were telling me to slow down and rest. I was living in denial of my limitations and spinning my wheels. “ Limitation is the first law of manifestation, therefore it is the first law of power” Dion Fortune. In the absence of limitation, I was having the opposite effect of my intention. Manifesting emptiness and denying my own power.
Covid forced me into stillness, I have never experienced the kind of fatigue that came with the virus. It was almost as if I could sense the virus destroying my mitochondria. The enforced stillness eradicated the thought patterns of seeking ways to fix, manage and control every aspect of my life. The quietness that came into my mind was a welcome respite.
Listen to your body
This seemed and seems so obvious! As a somatic psychology practitioner who often works body to mind, listening to my body should be second nature by now, right? I was not listening, I was pushing my body beyond the limits of love and kindness, knowing that it would obey. I have a physical constitution that has an incredible amount of endurance and resilience. Much like my entire consciousness, my body will normally carry on until exhaustion or an outside force stops me. “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should” are words to live by for this person who not only possess endurance but also has a propensity for impulsiveness. Covid was an outside force that came into my body and affected the landscape of my mind in a profound way. My mind became still, I had a feeling in my mind of someone sweeping their arm across a desk or table and wiping it clean. The stillness in my body was not painful and I did not feel that Covid was even trying to hurt me, let alone kill me. Similarly the stillness I felt in my mind was welcome. My mind was very clear and quiet, a state I have only found previously through various meditation practices. This clarity of mind is what allowed these important messages to come through.
Life is short
Even though I had a mild case, I still felt a brush with death type feeling. I regularly cultivate gratitude for being alive, for living through attempted murder, attempted suicide and an addiction that nearly took my life more than once. However, the mental and emotional sensation that covid gave me, was a palpable, visceral feeling of death brushing past me, as if I could feel the whispy cloak brushing against my skin. I was struck with a deeper knowing of both the preciousness and fleetingness of this life. The result of that was a call to live in and serve Love over all else. Living and Serving loves means:
Cherishing every moment with the people I love
It can be so easy to get swept up in the busyness and temptation to mulit-task that comes with our modern, consumption driven culture. Covid reminded me to hold the moments with the people I love in the highest regard, demonstrating my devotion to love and gratitude for the opportunity to live by being fully present for those precious moments.
Leaning into my purpose with love, no holding back
The awareness of the shortness of this life, brings an inspiration to make the most of it. Covid showed me that fulfilling my purpose and completing my mission is THE REASON for this life. My gratitude for this life is expressed by using my natural gifts to their fullest potential.
Showering myself with love and kindness
Serving Love, Kindness, and Generosity as the highest powers in my life includes treating myself with the same tenderness that I offer others. Honoring my boundaries, my heart, and my desires has taken a long time to learn and continues to be a journey of discovery. Covid illuminated the reality that my desire to provide a loving space for others to embrace their power and divine nature must also include myself.
I want a little sugar in my bowl
I want a little sweetness down in my soul
A recent conversation with a mom and dear soul reminded me of this song written by Nina Simone. Our conversation began with the topic of "losing weight" and ended with the assertion that many moms need more sweetness in their lives and often turn to the most available sugar - food. In my role as a supporter and cheerleader to spiritual freedom I have never wanted to support a person's desire to lose, especially women; who are bombarded with the drumbeat of "be small". This recent conversation highlighted in my consciousness the sacrifice that becomes second nature in motherhood.
I, like many mothers started putting my son first the moment I found out he was growing inside of me. This was not a conscious decision, it was instinctual. The conscious effort comes in deciding to cultivate joy and sweetness for myself, pushing against the guilt that says I'm a bad mom for wanting something for myself, for divorcing my husband and redesigning our family. Mothering has been the greatest gift of my life, but not my only source of Joy or sweetness. The gift has come not only in experiencing unconditional love in a way that I could not have imagined, but also in the inspiration to fully embrace life that grew out of that unconditional love.
The conversation around the relationship between food, fulfillment, sweetness and joy brought this paradox of motherhood to the front of my mind. The Joy and sacrifice that comes from loving and managing another person's life. I can easily get caught up in keeping track of all of Max's activities and worrying about his internal state (not to mention fighting the guilt of what I might have done to disrupt or disturb his mind and heart) that I forget to check in with what TRULY makes me happy. I succumb to what THEY and THEM say I SHOULD be: young, skinny and having many possessions with lots of money to buy more. In this state my mind is in the confusion described in Yoga as kshipta (disturbed), attached to a non-reality and attempting to escape that non-reality at the same time. This avidya (ignorance) causes me to reach for the most available sweetness in an attempt to fill my soul and avoid my mind at the same time.
The recent conversation with my fellow traveler and my own journey into the Spring Cleanse has inspired me to recommit to listening and honoring what my spiritual heart is calling for. This has meant more present moments with Max, less scrolling on SM, more mindful eating and more play! Letting go of "should" and embracing what my heart says yes to is a gift of this privileged life; my gratitude for this privilege is expressed in my actions of Joy and Love.
Why do we do our big cleanse in the Spring and not the New Year?
Holistic Medicine is guided by the principles of harmony and integration. Your body, mind and spirit is more likely to integrate a release and rejuvenation in the during the very late winter and into spring than it is in the middle of winter. Our bodies respond to the temperature and light cycles that we are living in, as the light of the day increases and temperatures warm, our oxygen uptake increases, our production of D3 increases which elevates mood and supports robust digestion. This Big Spring Cleanse takes about 3 weeks and is the only time that fasting may be recommended for health. Fasting is not appropriate for all constitutions and is only included in the cleanse if it is appropriate and and an individual is beginning the cleanse at optimal health. The Holistic Cleanse is not about losing weight, getting skinny or depriving yourself in anyway, the Holistic Spring Cleanse is a mind body spirit clearing of what no longer suits you, to make room and set a foundation for the practices that nurture and align your body mind and heart.
Here is a general format of the guiding principles:
Nutrition to prepare and fortify the liver
Pranayama (breath work) to fortify the liver and mind
Meditation to soothe and fortify the mind
Movement to rejuvenate Prana and prepare the body for release
Nutrition to gather and release what is no longer needed from the intestines
Pranayama to warm, stir and release what is no longer sustainable in the mind and heart
Meditation to foster the friendship of mind and breath
Movement to warm and expel what is no longer valuable to the body, mind and spirit
Easy nutrition, allowing the body empty (may include one day of fasting)
Pranayama to balance and harmonize the subtle layers of being
Meditation to nurture the friendship of mind and breath
Gentle movement to harmonize the body, mind and spirit
The details of nutrition, pranayama, meditation and movement are specific to each individual’s constitution, level of health and present need for change or development. Nutrition may include specific foods, or behaviors such as consuming only broth after dinner if hungry. Pranayama may include such practices and Nadi Shodana or Agni Sara. Meditation is always breath centered and aimed at embodiment but may also include mantra or affirmations (these are two separate tools). The movement of the Holistic Spring Cleanse is guided by what your body and mind enjoys and your level of practice, may include walking, yoga, dancing, biking, etc. The most important thing to remember about this Holistic Spring Cleanse is to cultivate an inner landscape of love, compassion, fortitude and courage to joyfully let go of what no longer suits you and powerfully stride towards your best life.
Image courtesy of Jill Wellington on Pixabay
This Thanksgiving Holiday is so often fraught with conflict, pressure and stress. The burden placed on the already laden shoulders of the matriarchs, this burden yet another symbol of the patriarchal dominance idolized by our society. The origins of this holiday told as a story of love, generosity and community in order to whitewash and cover up the atrocities committed by white colonialism, by my ancestors. The food worship just one more example of our pornographic obsession with consumption and gluttony.
As a child, this holiday could be the delightful smell of buttery potatoes and the pleasure of being with the adults that I loved and craved, it is also the anniversary of my mother's first trip to America, adding to the sense of hope and possibility that occasionally showed up around this time of year.
As I learned a well rounded history (thank you Philadelphia Public School) I understood better the horrifying historical implications of this holiday and soon it wasn't just the food worship that repulsed me, but also the betrayal that this holiday was founded on. I spent many of my tween and teen years attempting to rebel by sulking in my room, or at the table scowling through my consumption of delicious food prepared with love by my Aunt. Eventually addiction took over my life and most of my choices were taken away, including having the luxury of contemplating the moral ambiguity of this holiday. My entire purpose was now bent on avoiding myself by whatever means necessary; all of my decisions and actions were motivated by this end.
A little over 18 years ago I was brought into utter desperation and was able to surrender, giving up the fight against myself and turning towards recovery. At 30 years old I restarted the process of growing up, slowly regaining the power to make choices and decisions based on my own morals and values.
This Thanksgiving Holiday still stirs up conflict in me: guilt, rage and defeat mixes with love and hope and determination. This mix is the beautiful, complex tapestry of my life fully lived. I am grateful to be able to choose what I do with this day, this life and how I celebrate (or don't) this Holiday. I choose to take this opportunity to gather together the people that I love in celebration of OUR LOVE and OUR community. The ideals of this holiday may have been promoted over a foundation of lies and betrayal, however the ideals are real to me and put into action of truth by my own demonstrations of generosity and love.
My body is the home of my spirit, this is what is meant by TEMPLE. Just as the church, Mosque, & Shrine are sacred spaces that hold and symbolize the energy of the Divine, the source of our creation, so my body is a physical space that contains an energy that is limitless. The spirit is in my body, but not of my body. This unseeable, immeasurable spirit is my connection to the Oneness, the Oneness that is everything and nothing.
Trauma and addiction necessarily disconnected me from by body's wisdom, severing the communication between spirit, mind, heart and reality. The journey back into my body has been and continues to be integral to my mental and spiritual health. Moving with my breath activates and strengthens my parasympathetic nervous system (the branch of the autonomic nervous system often referred to as "rest and digest".
Slow, undulating Yoga (if you've ever taken a class with me, you've experienced this coordinated movement) combined with the effort of coordinating my breath to movement built my somatic awareness (somatic:relating to the body) and retaught my relaxation response (rest & digest) how to work. Over time with regular practice, I have fortified my inherent resilience and strengthened my ability to come into a peaceful state of being by connecting to my present experience in my body.
My breath is the most powerful tool I have to positively affect my overall wellbeing, both through movement and stillness. This is experience reinforces my assertion that each one of us has what we need inside of us to realize our fullest potential and fully inhabit our lives. The path to our best reality is laid out in our own consciousness, we just need a lighthouse to guide us there. This is the inspiration for the name of my practice and for the services offered. I am honored and humbled each time I serve as lighthouse, illumination what is already there, for the spirit that shines through me, is the same light that shines through you.
I have a tendency towards all or nothing thinking and behavior, which lends itself to both perfectionism and procrastination. I will put it off, whatever “it” is until I believe I can do it perfectly. This is why I’m a late bloomer, I put off participating in life and trying new things. Once I was beaten by a devastating drug addiction, I started to learn the value of harm reduction and good enoughism. 18 years later, I’m still learning to embrace these ideas and finding ways to use them to support my overall health. These are the principles behind my assertion and encouragement to make daily contact with the pillars of health to create a holistic lifestyle that brings peaceful vitality to your everyday.
The pillars of health are: food, movement, rest, and mindfulness. Every day I make healthy contact with all four of these pillars. This does not meant that every single meal I eat is 100% appropriate for my constitution and the season that we are in. It means that once daily I make a choice to eat food that is purposely nourishing to my body and mind. Some days it’s every meal, some days it’s that green smoothie that supports my liver. The same goes for the other pillars. Every day I move, some days it’s my morning warm up, light stretches and undulating movements to greet the day, other days it’s more intense and longer. I’m much better at rising from rest than going to bed, but each day I take a few breaths to become aware of my body and my mind’s need for rest. I meditate every day, some days 5 minutes, some days 40.
It’s the daily contact with these practices that gives them their strength, each time I make contact, I build the longevity and resilience of these pillars that support peace and vitality in my body, mind and spirit. I would guess that you are making more contact with these pillars than you may be aware of. One of the first things we look at in a Yoga Therapy session is where you are already supporting your health, we then take what you have built already and cultivate the growth through accessible, measurable steps. I invite you to notice the ways that you are supporting your pillars of health.
Photo by Faruk Kaymak on Unsplash
Mother, friend, servant, mystic, yogi. Navigating this rocky, beautiful life with an open, grounded heart.