Saturday, August 27, 2011

On Suffering - Cultivating Our Inner Garden

It often seems so easy to focus on our suffering, our anger, our hurt feelings, our sadness, our frustrations, etc. And in my reading of Thich Nhat Hanh's books and attending his retreats I have heard him speak on the importance of acknowledging our suffering and looking deeply at it, it's origins and how it manifests in our mind, body and behaviors. As I mentioned in a previous post, Thay suggests that it's good to cradle our suffering as we would a sad or hurt child, offer it our love and a warm smile so that it can be heard and understood. Then I like to imagine symbolically giving my suffering what it needs to be release from within me. This may be thinking of an image or lighting a candle or writing a simple message and then burning the paper so the request can be released into the universe. In this way, we can learn to let go of our attachment to our suffering. Of course, for severe depression, I think these techniques can support formal counseling but shouldn't be used in the place of professional counseling.

If we ignore our suffering, then it can grow and feed on our lack of looking deeply and take the "control" seat in our minds and it can influence our behaviors, thoughts, perceptions, attitudes and words. Then we can start to feel as if we are, at our core, our suffering, we are anger, we are sadness, we are jealousy. That is is who we intrinsically are as a being. But we are not our suffering. We may have feelings related to our suffering but they are impermanent feelings - even if they seem like they are around us all the time, if we look deeply, they come and go. We can laugh and smile and feel moments of happiness even during sad times. My father-in-law passed away recently and during the days following his death, there were moments my husband and I would catch ourselves laughing about something and for those moments we were outside of the suffering that we felt from our loss and in a moment of joy.

Thay has a quote, "The seed of suffering in you may be great but don't wait until you have no more suffering before allowing yourself to be happy." For me, this reiterates the idea that suffering is impermanent, coming and going and that in between those moments of suffering, whatever the type of suffering we may have, are moments of true joy that we often don't notice. If we look deeply enough at the causes of our suffering, we can see that they lie more in our perceptions and beliefs about how we think things "should" be as opposed to seeing things for how they truly are. There may be days when we feel terrible and our normal reaction may be to call someone and wallow in our suffering or to go out and maybe make others feel our suffering too or to just distract ourselves from our suffering so that we can try to ignore it but Thay suggests that this is the perfect time to stay in, look deeply within ourselves to understand the nature of our suffering, where it has come from and what it needs so that we can calm the energy of our suffering and begin to allow those moments of "non-suffering" to stay with us in a more true and everlasting way.

Thay talks about these seeds that are in our "store consciousness" which basically are the potential for any kind of behavior, feeling, attitude, perception, etc that lies within what we call our subconscious. We all have seeds of anger, sadness, jealousy, greed, confusion etc within us but we also have the seeds for joy, happiness, peace, love, clarity etc and it is up to us to decide which of these seeds we want to water and nourish into beautiful flowers for the garden of our conscious mind. Meditation is one of the greatest ways open our awareness and water the seeds of joy.

I love Thay's analogy of a compost pile. We must meditate to help transform our internal garbage into rich fertile soil where we can grow the most beautiful garden.

Breathe. Smile. Compost. Tend to your garden. Be Patient. Love.

Photo for this post is from Nuttakit's portfolio on Free Digital Images.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Changing of the Seasons

The changing of seasons is underway, even though if you're in the Atlanta area there's been barely any change in the temperature since about mid-June: a near constant low to mid-90's. So you may think I'm mad to talk about the seasons changing. But what inspired this post was that I have noticed how the days are just a little bit shorter which means the sun is sitting just ever so slightly lower in the sky. If you open your awareness you can sense the subtle changes in the angle of the light, the shadows and where the sun sits in the sky. I believe wholeheartedly in the significance of honoring the change of seasons, eating according to seasons (even though I may not do it all the time), and allowing the change in the rhythms of the earth to guide our own biorhythms. It's easy with electricity and heat/ac, being indoors the majority of the time, etc, to become extremely disconnected from the earth and her cycles but when I do remember to open my senses to them I feel a great peace.

The upcoming fall season is probably my all time favorite of the seasons. I get such a strong sense of inspiration from the change in the sun's position, the stronger gusts of wind, the crisp mornings and evenings with still warm days and of course the ever magnificent colors the leaves become. There's an energy that is ignited that is just spectacular. It the season that I connect to the most.

I recently had a consultation with an ayurvedic doctor during which she determined my body constitutions or "doshas." For those of you who are not familiar with Ayurveda, each person's body is comprised of 3 dosha: pitta (heat/fire), vata (air) and kapha (earth) - this is a VERY simplified explanation of an unbelievably complex and amazing system of health that is from India. We are all dominant in at least one of these 3 doshas and some of us have 2 dominant and on some occasions there are people with all 3 having an equal amount of presence. I was found to be a vata/kapha dominant with pitta just behind almost making me tri-doshic. That being said, we all have all 3 doshas within us, it's just a matter of how strong or dominant each one is. In addition, any of these doshas can become 'aggravated' causing us to have different imbalances based on the dosha that's been aggravated. So, after a hellaciously hot summer like ours in Atlanta, most of us that have spent anytime outdoors probably have a pitta aggravation so we may not only feel overheated, we may have had some increased frustrations/anger/short-temperedness rise up and we may also have encountered skin rashes. Some quick off the top of my head suggestions for calming pitta are eating cucumbers, watermelon, cilantro and pears. I just recently learned that adding a tsp of rosewater to an 8oz glass of water and sipping on it during the day can calm a pitta aggravation too. When balanced, pitta is the energy that drives us to complete our tasks and get things done.

So, now that we prepare for autumn, my beloved season, we run the risk of aggravating vata. When vata is aggravated, we can feel spaced out, ungrounded, anxious or worried and feel very cold to our bones. So, as the temps begin to cool off, we can start to make and eat yummy soups, stews and other warm, soft, well-cooked, heavy and slightly more oily foods and dishes. Enjoying a cup of your favorite herbal tea is also really nice. Vata is the element that is connected to creativity and speech. To keep from it becoming aggravated, it is also important to have a more regular daily routine and eating habits and to get plenty of sleep.

At the end of winter beginning of spring is when kapha begins to become aggravated and it's right about then that we've all been hibernating in our homes during the coldest time of year and things have been damp, heavy, cloudy and of course cold. This is when we might feel extreme sluggishness or be getting over a cold or sinus infection. With this type of aggravation it's important to continue some kind of exercise routine, to vary your daily routine some, and eat lighter less fatty/oily foods. Kapha energy is grounding, and has the energy of structure in Ayurveda.

All that being said, enjoy the end of this incredibly hot summer but more importantly, start thinking of all the fun and joyous activities to do this fall as the weather turns to amazing autumn.

Breathe. Run. Jump. Sweat. Smile. Take Care. Observe. Breathe. :-)

The photo for this post is from Evgeni Dinev's portfolio on Free Digital Photos.

I got some of the info on the dosha's and their qualities from the Blue Lotus Ayurveda site.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Our Appointment with Life by Thich Nhat Hanh

I just finished reading, well almost finished reading, a short but really powerful book by Thich Nhat Hanh - Our Appointment with Life. It is one of his more Buddhist text books rather than his mindfulness books as it does discuss some of the sutras or religious text from the Buddha's time.

But it really sums up so much good stuff that I would LOVE to share with you: Letting go (no attachment), Present Moment, Internal Formations, Community.

Letting go (I have chosen the words letting go) in this book is described as living alone, but not in the sense of the word as we know it- we must learn to not let our attachments to things, our obsessive negative feelings, our thoughts even ideas overwhelm us and keep us from being present in the moment. So I had a hard time with the idea of not being attached because I thought, when I first learned of the practice of no attachment, that it was a perfect excuse for people to not care for others around them. But this is completely NOT what it means. Think of your favorite something that you have. Let's say car or an expensive electronic device. Sure, we should do our best to take care of it so that it continues to work and help us get to work or do our work. But the moment that we feel so attached to it that we constantly worry that someone will steal it or how terrible it will be if it gets dinged up or scratched then we are overwhelmed by our attachment to it. Our attachments are considered one of the "Internal Formations" - desire, hatred, pride, ignorance, stubborn views, attachment, doubt, jealousy and selfishness. If we are distracted by our thoughts, emotions, beliefs surrounding these "Formations," then we are not able to be clear in the present moment. So, then we are living with them, therefore not living "alone," in the sense of the word according to Buddha. So living alone really meant being mindful of our Internal Formations, their influence on us, so we can be present in the moment. So the next great point of the book, The Present Moment.

Our life only exists in the present moment. This is not to say that we should forget the past or never plan for the future. If we forget our past, then we can never learn from our mistakes. But we shouldn't dwell on it or beat ourselves up and not take action or responsibility for our past actions. We can try to look back at the past, the good and the bad, for purposes of learning, healing and improving. Thay (Thich Nhat Hanh) says that the ghosts of the past that we allow to follow us into the present are then also part of the present. But if we can observe them deeply and understand them clearly we can transform them and ourselves.

As for the future, Thay says we must of course make plans, but not to get lost in daydreams that steal us away from the present. We must stay clear and grounded in the present as we plan for the future. If we are unhappy in the present, for whatever reason, our minds, thoughts and feelings can get lost into the future daydream we have that helps us run from the present moment discomfort, pain or suffering. It's soooo important for us to recognize our suffering and to look deeply at it. Thay often says to take your fear, sadness or whatever negative feeling that you have that burdens you and hold it, recognize it and soothe it so that it can calm down and no longer drag you along on its rampage or destructive thought pattern. Our feelings are valid but getting lost in them and letting them take control only leads to more suffering. Thay has a beautiful metaphor where he draws up an image of a lotus flower that grows out of the mud in a pond - the mud is our suffering and out of it, if cultivated properly, grows a most beautiful lotus flower. We cannot have true happiness without looking deeply at our suffering, understanding it and transforming it into our own lotus flower.

When talking about not getting lost in the future, this doesn't mean that we shouldn't care about what happens in the future but that we should focus much of our attention on the manner in which we live in the present moment as it will soon become the future. And if we use any regret we have of the past to heal the present moment, then our remembrance of the past has served a positive purpose. Mindfulness can help us see deeply that which causes us suffering and help us to heal it in a conscious, positive and transformative way.

Finally, this living alone idea doesn't really mean to live alone - but to live free of our "formations" while also engaging in our community. It is so much easier to stay strong when we have a community that supports us. And we can feel so much stronger when we give back to our communities AND when we can receive support from our community. I think community is a very fluid being and can manifest in different ways for different people. The most important thing I have found is to stay connected in the way that makes sense for me while trying to be there for others in the way that is positive for everyone.

Long post today - thanks to Anjali sleeping for 2 hours... :-)

Breathe. Stay Present. Breathe. Smile. :-)

picture is ZenbyDan -

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Reiki, the next step?

I have had a long time passion for health and wellness starting in 1998 when I worked part-time as a cashier in a health food store in Greensboro, NC. I had just officially become a vegetarian (and continued as one for the next 11 years...) I had also been suffering from chronic sinus infections for a very long time and western, allopathic doctors just kept giving me antibiotics that weren't curing the source of the problem. I found the natural remedies to finally help me get to the root of the problem!

I spent a good part of the next decade learning about herbal remedies, dietary influences and the mind-body connection to how my body was able to heal itself and be healthy, physically and emotionally. I began eating organic food and finally tasting, I mean really tasting, apples and tomatoes as they should be - full of flavor! I also started dancing, doing yoga and meditating regularly and could finally take charge of my life and health in a way that I never had felt before.

In 2003, I decided to move back to Georgia after living in California for 3 year and when I left I was planning to study Ayurveda but got derailed at the core because of fear but also because I decided to focus on other important areas of my life after meeting my husband...

I had heard of reiki and was always intrigued. I got attuned to the first level when I was first back in Atlanta. I used it mostly for self healing on and off for the next several years. This past November I started to feel that strong push towards making a career in health in wellness again. I have now made some short-term plans and long term plans to finally be able help others begin their path of healing their bodies, minds and spirits. The short-term plan: Reiki! I became a reiki master June of this year. The long-term plans, TBD... acupuncture? Life Coach? Not sure! There are so many different modalities and exercises that can assist us in living to our fullest potential and heal ourselves at a deep core level.

Ok, so finally, to the primary focus of this post: Reiki. It is one of the most beautiful, subtle yet powerful, modalities I have encountered. It can be beneficial for soooo many things it's unbelievable, on the physical, emotional and spiritual level. My personal experience has been mostly emotional and spiritual healing but I've heard of many testimonies of the physical benefits as well.

Reiki is simply spiritually guided life energy or channeled cosmic energy from the universe for the purpose of balancing the subtle energies within our bodies. "Rei" is universal, spiritual consciousness and "Ki" is life energy or universal life force. We all carry within us some level of reiki in the sense that when we get hurt we might rub our wound, or a mother will kiss her child's injury. The different levels of reiki attunements essentially open up the reiki practitioner's chakras to allow for a stronger flow of the energy and there are symbols that also help boost the level of energy or focus the energy for more specific purposes.

A person receiving reiki will usually be lying on a massage type table fully clothed. The reiki practitioner will clarify if the client wants to be touched or not and will then place her hands on or just above the 7 major chakra energy centers of the body, as well as some smaller ones on the legs and arms. The receiver may or may not feel the energy flowing out of the practitioners hands and may have other sensations or may not have any physical sensation at all during the treatment. There may be more of an emotional cleansing with the resurfacing of old memories, emotions or experiences that need to be looked at or processed in either a conscious or unconscious way in order to release, grow, evolve and heal so that he/she can move forward.

There is soooo much more to reiki but this is a brief introduction. I am also still learning as I delve into the beginning of what I hope will be a long journey of bringing healing into my life and those who want to share it with me..... So, I currently can see clients in a Marietta, GA or at a client's home in the metro Atlanta area.

Breathe, Smile, Laugh.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Meditation? When? Where? Yeah right!

So, I was recently asked about meditation techniques and felt a little hypocritical giving them since it's been a super long time since I've actually meditated on a regular basis. Being home with a 2 year old who thinks I've turned into a jungle gym when I lay down on the floor to do some stretches makes any calming, meditative exercise a bit of a challenge. Actually, Anjali has really gotten into trying to do some of the yoga as well but she still loves to jump on her mama when I lie down...

Meditation - just the word can turn some people off, interest others or intimidate or sound extremely "boring." Well, I really like Thich Nhat Hanh's notion of mindfulness and the process of becoming mindful of our every action, thought and feeling. I also really believe that meditation in itself is very important but much more simple and attainable than many think. So, we can practice being mindful (or deeply aware) of our thoughts, feelings and actions when we sit to meditate and then little by little we will begin to carry that mindfulness and the mental calm and clarity with us through out our day to day.

Ok, ok, sounds great but how do I do it? Very simple but hard to find that jump-start motivation to just stop doing anything. We just want to do and do and do. Even now, I feel so excited to sit and do this post while Anjali is sleeping when I could be meditating... the right time will come.

When I am as out of practice as I am right now, I find it best to meditate in a quiet room with the symbols and objects that I connect to on a spiritual level. But there can be meditation without any spiritual connotations, if that isn't something you want or need. Even 5 minutes a day is a great practice of meditating. Make sure when you sit, you are comfortable. You can sit on the floor with a cushion designed for meditation, in a chair or up against a wall. Just be comfortable.

When you sit down, you may want to light a candle or some incense but this may also be distracting or if you have allergies could be bothersome. I will sometimes light a candle as most incense irritates my sinuses these days. Now, here comes the good news. Meditation is NOT about eliminating all thought from the mind. It is more about calming the mind and not getting swept away by all the hundreds of thoughts flowing around in our minds. I can't remember which book I read this from but think of your thoughts as a river current and that normally we are all just being swept away but this current of thoughts. Well, meditation is a process that allows us to swim to the side of the river and sit on the banks and watch the thoughts go by. We notice them, recognize them, deal with them appropriately and then let them float on by. Usually as I am meditating, I try to become aware of the random sounds I hear and tell myself what they are: "I hear a bird." "I hear the air turning on." To help me from being swept away by the "Oh, I've gotta get laundry detergent when I go to the store today, oh, I can't forget to put in on the list when I'm done meditating, and oh yeah, there's a load of laundry in the washer that I forgot to put in the dryer and I need to get some new sweaters because it'll be fall soon and......." The thoughts go on and on and on don't they? It's like a chain of events that are being played out in our minds. So, if that happens when I'm meditating, as soon as I become mindful of the fact that I've just been swept away by the thought current, I stop, swim to the side of the river and say, thanks thoughts for the ride, but I'm just going to sit here and breathe in and out and I'll attend to you when I'm done. So, we're not going to ignore the things we need to do but we don't want the thoughts of them to carry us away on a nervous current of "oh my I have so much to do."

Be patient with yourself but continue to push yourself to face challenges, whatever they may be.

Be mindful, breathe in, breathe out. Smile. :-)