Monday, November 1, 2010

Re-gifting as the highest offering.

Re-gifting gets a bad reputation as something to be avoided-something we only sheepishly cop to. But Bernadette got me thinking about the gifts we offer of ourselves last week, so I started thinking about it all from a Tantric perspective. At this point in my life, I'm pretty sure that I can't think of it any other way. Tantra teaches us that re-gifting is exactly the action of the Grace of this world. Each of us has come into this world complete with gifts, parts, instructions and all. While we spend a lifetime figuring out how to put it all together (I'm kind of sure my instructions came in Swahili,) we refine what we are and what we have to offer from ourselves. Get it? We receive gifts from the Source and then we offer them back out. We re-gift them. Isn't that easy?

Now, to take it a little deeper, you may say, "but I didn't ask for these gifts. Am obligated to participate in this exchange?" And the answer is emphatically-No. You don't even have to acknowledge your gifts if you so choose. But herein lies the rub, the gifts are still there. In your heart. Do with them what you will. Ignore them, shove them under the bed, or sweetly offer them back out. That's what makes it a gift of Grace. You didn't ask for it, you can't really repay it (not that it's expected,) and the more you pass it on, re-gift it, the more you have. The beauty of this elegant system is that the more you partake of and engage with your own gifts, the more you will have to offer. You don't give it away and get left with nothing. Grace is way smarter than that.

All of the gifts aren't lined up under your metaphorical tree, waiting for you to unwrap and assemble them for the offering, though. Sometimes we have to go searching for them, like I make my kids do for their birthday presents every year. (It's a little torturous for them, I admit, but it teaches them perseverance and the joy of discovery! And it's kinda fun for me too.) But knowing that what you give away of yourself will refill the well abundantly, isn't it worth the effort? It can be painful to give away things that we think will leave us without. No one wants to be without. But when we learn that it's really the opposite, that we receive more than we could ever give away, it becomes an exercise in abundance and gratitude. Now that's a gift worth assembling.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

A step back from the Apocalypse: The Three Gunas

Recently, a student told me that my classes were apocalyptic. Yikes. I think he was saying it lovingly, but point taken anyway. I guess I've had a rough month and have really been indulging in the darker side of the practice. In and of itself, darkness isn't a problem. It's just one side of a spectrum of light. I guess my students have been wondering about the lighter side of the spectrum, because today, another student asked me about joy. Could I talk about how to cultivate joy? Ok, I can take a hint. I will take a step back from my apocalyptic blinders and gratefully offer a practice that is more balanced. I'm so grateful for my students for dragging me back from the edge every now and then. It begins like this:

Just because you can, doesn't mean you should (as in, just because there's a whole pie on the counter doesn't mean you should eat the whole thing.) Availability shouldn't be the sole criteria for cultivating joy. Likewise, just because something is hard, doesn't mean you should avoid it. There are many lights in the dark spots that will help us navigate our way.

We meet extremes on both ends of the spectrum, and they have names. On the dark end of the spectrum, we have Tamas. It's heavy, weighty, and oh so dark. On the other side of our spectrum, we have Rajas, which is light and fiery.

Now, Rajas and Tamas, like two ends of a see-saw, have a middle point. A point of delicate balance where both sides balance each other out. This point is called Sattva. Sattva is the middle point of the spectrum that has all the perspective to see out to the edges. It's the place where joy and contentment arise gracefully. Have you ever sat on a see-saw? I remember that the first thing my partner and I would do, would be to shimmy forward and back, until we found the point of balance—that sweet spot where you could both balance your 40 pound bodies on the board and lift your feet off the ground. It was magical and always fleeting. Sattva often appears like that. When we find the balance between the Rajasic and Tamasic energies, we balance in Sattva. It's sweet. It doesn't always last, but we always remember it and continue to seek it. Seeking balance is a practice of awareness that requires steadfastness, determination, and compassion. It's exactly the cultivation of these practices that are the act of cultivating joy. Joy doesn't just drop in your lap. You have to work at it. (When we live in that place of joy, we eventually move even beyond sattva. But that's a whole other blog.)

If our viewpoints or actions are off center though, mired in the polar ends of the spectrum of sattvic light, we can't see the dharma, or the most life enhancing choices. We can't see all the way to the other end. When we're in the middle, however, we balance between the opposite ends of the spectrum. As seekers of the sattvic middle, we can't avoid the ends, or we throw the whole thing off balance. Kind of like one kid abruptly getting off the board and sending the other one flying to the ground. Not much fun, I assure you.

Now that I've stepped back from my apocalyptic ledge, I feel a little closer to the middle.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Little Silver Charm

As I spent a weekend in Florida, away from my husband, children and friends, I knew that I should enjoy the responsibility-free time, being grateful for uninterrupted breakfasts and only having to wipe my own nose. It's amazing how the little details of life increase in importance once they're gone. Instead, I felt like Dorothy in the middle of Munchkin land, a complete anomaly who no one knew quite what to do with lest I drop another house out of the sky. This surely wasn't Cold Spring. Over the three days I visited my grandfather with the women of my family, I may have even clicked my flip-flops together a few times and muttered my own personal mantra, "Let me go home, where people don't think I'm weird."

Somewhere in the distance between New York and Florida, I gained enough perspective on my life, to find not only deep gratitude for my present life in and of itself, but I also to acknowledge the fact that this wonderful life was one I had created not been born into by chance or karma. I couldn't look into a snow-globe glass at my own life without marveling at how well it fit who I was at that very moment. For the first time in my life, I felt a safety net of support, not only in my immediate chosen family, but in my friends, who wouldn't roll their eyes at my compost pile, the women who not only didn't think cloth diapering was a silly idea, but some had done the same. The seemingly insignificant details of my life now became magnified in that strange land; the washed out Ziploc bags, the non-hydrogenated snacks in the cupboard, and the friends who thought I was funny and not weird. Or at least they were as weird as me. This was a life worth living and I had constructed it myself. I amazed myself with the fact that I could do such a thing — my life wasn't accidental — it was a family, with most elements chosen by me, and some thrown in by random good luck. For the first time since having my children, I didn't feel that I had escaped; I wanted to go home. Like Dorothy, I had to go on a journey to realize the value of home, and I didn't even have to get thumped on the head with a window to realize it. Lucky me.

For the rest of the weekend, I answered my family's curious questions about my life, shrugged off my mother and her cousin giggling as they watched my yoga practice on the patio, and maybe, no, were those flying monkeys out there over the man made lake? Must have been my imagination. At the end of the weekend, as I gratefully packed up my bag and headed back to the airport with my family, I felt a relief spreading across my entire being, not that I was leaving my childhood family, but that I was going back to my snow-globe world. I could enjoy the last of my time alone with my mother and sister, enjoying the women who helped shape me enough that I could make the choices leading up to my present life. I was ready to return to my own life, and I guarantee, they to theirs. I returned, not only with gratitude for my own ability to create a fulfilling and rich life, but also for everything leading up to it. Let them think I'm weird; they love me regardless and I love them too. Along with the souvenirs I brought home for my kids, I bought myself a little silver pair of flip flops for my charm bracelet to remind me to constantly have gratitude for my small world. And sometimes, If I feel the lesson slipping away, I put on my charm bracelet, slide into a pair of flip flops, and survey my surroundings; it's then that I know that there is truly no place like home.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Optimism park

Last week, as we drove around North Carolina after the Anusara CTG, I was deeply involved in a conversation with my boyfriend about self honoring, not as a concept, but as an every day sadhana, or practice. The point of the conversation was that I have a very hard time practicing what I preach. As an over-achiever, I strive for my best constantly, and like most perfectionists, think I'm falling short at every corner. I've been told I never miss an opportunity to shoot myself down. True enough. I get caught up in a fearful space of not being the best, or not getting what I want, so I fall into my default safety zone of pessimism. If I don't hope for anything, then I won't be disappointed, right? One certified teacher, named Paula, put it very well, "the inner core is the sharpest edge." Ouch. I realized that I had been living on that sharp edge for a while.

At the Certified Teachers Gathering, John Friend told us that words can have an emotional or physical charge. We must be skillful in how we decide what to put out there because it will build strength as it moves out into the world, especially when we unthinkingly repeat self defeating words to ourselves like mantras. John said, "Lay every part of yourself down with devotion." This clearly does not say, "Lay every part of yourself down with trepidation and clenching fear." If I want to live fully in the light of the Self, then I must be willing to be hopeful. I have to be willing to entertain the possibility of success. This way, I build a matrika that shows my Self the highest of respect. When I honor myself, I also honor the Self, the highest aspect of existence.

As this conversation got deeper and deeper, I vowed to myself and my boyfriend, who keeps me honest, that I would be more skillful in the matrika of optimism, rather than building the possibility of disappointment.

At this point, we realized we had overshot our destination and turned into a side street for a U-turn. Lo and behold, a sign directed us to Optimism Park. Seriously, Optimism Park? How could we resist? We accepted the invitation from Grace, and drove up to a small town park with trails, a pool and tennis courts. Hardly a place I would imagine making a vow to the universe in. But this wasn't a coincidence. It was a message. A funny one, at that. So we parked just long enough for me to close my eyes, and make a commitment to myself—to the compassion and respect that go hand in hand with it. It seemed right. Just like the adage, "You are what you eat," you are also what you speak. As a new resident of Optimism Park, I say this from my heart.

Pretty Pink Shoes

Note, this was written four years ago when my kids were younger, now I'm a no-frills mother of three children under 12.

In my everyday life, I'm a no-frills mother of three children under the age of 7. Just your standard making lunches, breaking up toy wars, wondering when my last shower was kind of stuff. Some days, I really pull myself together with a shower and mascara and just as many days, I don't. I've learned to forgive myself for those days that I knowingly leave the house with a stained shirt, planning on blaming a recent cup of coffee for those unsightly blobs. Or the days that I can smell myself when the wind blows in the wrong direction.

I have one (maybe a few) indulgence though, that makes all the difference in the world. Nothing rare — just your standard shoe fetish. Like Clark Kent emerging as Superman, slipping on my new pink Stuart Weitzman sandles transforms me from domestic goddess, into Cleopatra, Grace Kelly and Princess Di, all rolled into one. I no longer walk — I glide. My posture improves. I'm the fantasy of every man, woman and child I pass. My sons tell me my shoes are beautiful and my daughter sneaks them into her room and attempts to break her ankle in them. Who can blame her?

I'm convinced that fabulous shoes have a potentially transformative power on the universe, and every time I look at them, they make me smile. Does it matter that when I wear them, my t-shirt states, "we like tha moon!"? or that I have retained a bit of morning cream cheese under my nail polish chipped pinky nail? No, my friends, once the leather soles connect to the floor and the heels click click click against the tile, it all fades away and I once again begin to channel Jackie O. I can almost feel the pillbox hat materialize on my head as I go to break up another fight over the latest McDonald's toy. Yes, yes, these shoes are self help books, therapy and anti-depressants all rolled into one. I may sleep in them tonight, just to start tomorrow off right. I'll fall asleep, smug with the knowledge that in my world of downwardly mobile breasts, lack of adult conversation and horror of all horrors, 2 minute showers, the powers that be, have blessed me with pretty toes, high arches and a closet full of pretty leather ego boosters. I now understand the phrase "mother's little helper." For each of us it's different. In the fifties, it was a good stiff cocktail, in the sixties, it was Prozac. For me, the 21st century has brought Stuart Weitzman. In my world, I'll take what I can get.

Mothers on the edge

The most sensitive boy I've ever known is having a great time. He's in the mad stampede to gather the pinata candy, happily grabbing lollipops and plastic kazoos with a huge mangled Clifford hanging over his head, for the moment having put aside concerns about itchy tags, being bumped, and the large echo of the room. Life is about candy right now, and survival of the pushiest is the rule, His mother is relieved that he's happy, and even more relieved that there have been no tantrums thus far. It has been a smooth day. Her patience for his sensitivities runs low when other kids are acting so "normal," and she is slowly believing that since he began kindergarten, he has turned a corner and life might just be okay after all.

And then it happens. In a slow motion terrible turn of events, my husband leans over to pick up candy for the smaller kids and the cold beer he has cradled in the crook of his elbow, dumps over the top of the boys head. There is a stunned silence between my mortified husband and the six year old who's huge blue eyes are now drilling a hole through my husband's head. A milli-second later, the hysterical squall begins, and of course, escalates into a full scale banshee scream. Just before I actually fall onto the floor laughing, I manage to knock off a few shots of the torturous event. Don't think my flashing a camera in his face, or the hysterical laughter of every adult in the room helps to calm him down. Of all the children in the room, for this to happen to this particular boy, can only be described as bad karma. Which is of course what makes it funnier to us "grown-ups" who are now behaving in a manner that should surely receive a strict lecture on being sensitive to other people's feelings from any decent kindergarten teacher. What really comes through in the pictures though, is the complete disregard for the incident by every other child in the room, who, by now, are doing complicated math in their heads, as they each divide the boys uncollected share of candy in their minds. To the herd of sugar hungry kids scrambling around the alcohol soaked floor, this means only one thing — more candy for us. The moment forever caught in megapixels shows a screaming six year old, with bad hair, amidst a scavenging crowd of his peers, and one forlorn mother in the background, knowing her idyllic party scene has just devolved back into every other day of her life.