Monday, December 9, 2013

Profound Insight from the Zombie Apocalypse

 I love the show "The Walking Dead". Yes, it is a zombie apocalypse show, but it is also a show about the strength of the human spirit when confronted by the most dangerous, scary, death filled conditions. It is a show about human relationships, community, conflict, loyalty, betrayal. It depicts through its various characters, the best of human nature and the worst as well. It confronts the essence of love meeting violence and hatred, courage in the midst of terror and the overwhelming will to survive, to carry on. Life and death are front and center.

I was watching an episode the other day and was struck to my very core. Hershel, who is the archetypal sage medicine man, a doctor and the wise elder in the show, complete with long white beard, gives a short but heart touching, very powerful speech about risk and purpose in life. (To watch the scene click this link)

Hershel says, " You step outside, you risk your life. You take a drink of water, you risk your life. And nowadays you breathe and you risk your life. Every moment now, you don't have a choice. The only thing you can choose is what you're risking it for."

My heart, my whole body, every part of me felt the power of this statement. It touched me so deeply, because I understood it so well. I wanted to jump out of my seat, give a standing ovation, and say, "YES!!!"   I understood its simple truth, and it jolted me awake, reminded me to be here, to live while the living is good. His words are words I have heard, seen and read before in varying forms, but in this moment, for Hershel's expression of it, I was ready and I got it. Message received.

Here is what I got from it. 

Life is risky. Any one of us, on any given day, may or may not be confronted with the reality of life's impermanence. Sure, we are not in the zombie apocalypse, but life is unpredictable and we are not guaranteed tomorrow. Safety is an illusion. To live is to risk in its essence. As Hershel says, "Every moment now, you don't have a choice. The only thing you can choose is what you're risking it for."

A life well lived is one where we have lived with intention and purpose. This is the question we each must ask every day to live a life of purpose. "What am I risking it for?" The answer to that question might be different from one day to the next, or it may shift and change over time. The important thing is that we ask it.

When we ask the question, then we must feel the answer. The answer won't come from our thinking or stories, it will come from the depths of our hearts and souls, it will come through our blood and bones. It will most likely be the thing we fear, but feel a compulsion to do. It is that thing we feel pulled toward, but hesitate to step into. Success or failure is not the measure, the value is the risk and what we have risked this day, this moment, this precious life for.

Mary Oliver in her poem "The Summer Day" asks, "Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" 

This risking does not mean to be reckless, to the contrary it means to be awake and mindful. This risk includes a deep honoring and gratitude for the life we have been given and to have the same honor and respect for all other lives. This risk is about being bold of heart, courageous and giving in love and compassion, authentic and true to one's self and the soul calling of this lifetime. This risk is about truth and vulnerability, taking a chance to be fully expressed, to be all of who we are called to be.

Hershel wants to be free to live his purpose, and to give of himself to fill that purpose, even if it means he might die. To stay small and safe in this life is a prison, and a life lived in the confines of that safety is another kind of death, a worse kind of death. We must step through fear over and over again to grow into ourselves fully. We must look fear square in the eyes and step forward. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, "You must do the thing you think you cannot do." 

We are all here in this life together, in the risk. We must help each other, hold each other, open doors for each other, show each other the way. We must risk to love, most of all, we must risk to love. To love even in the face of hurt, to forgive and risk loving once again. A life well lived is a life of love.

"With life as short as a half-taken breath, don't plant anything but love." ~ Rumi   


Thursday, November 28, 2013

Bless This Mess

 This is my first Thanksgiving with my family in China. It feels a bit odd, diffuse and awkward.The kids had school and Stephen had work, we have no extended family to feast with and, given the time difference, Thanksgiving here will have nearly come and gone before it starts for my family and friends back in the USA.

It is a bit lonely and making my heart a bit achy. I have been feeling that kind of ache and pain for awhile now. Life has been throwing some major curve balls at me and my family, everything from head lice to bullying, missing homework and academic struggles, to witnessing oppression, dealing with culture shock, working in an unsupportive and challenging teaching environment, language barriers and sensory overload. This is aside from the normal adjustments and challenges of moving which are always hard for me, a socially awkward and extremely sensitive type, trying to find friends, places of belonging and a system of support. 

All of this brings me to write about what seems to be my theme of the year (or my life), struggle.

I might sound whiny, but hey, I feel like after all this I am allowed. I am allowed to be honest and open, to be vulnerable and share what is on my doorstep and in my heart.

There it is, despite all this I can keep coming back to my doorstep, the experience of what is showing up in this moment right in front of me and then also what is steady and true in my heart.

All these experiences of struggle and turmoil are helping me grow, making me stronger, cracking me open. I feel such deep compassion along with my frustrations. I have been fierce at times and in that warrior stance sometimes skillful and sometimes not. I have been angry and deeply loving. I am growing and in growth there are often growing pains. 

For all this amazing, chaotic, soul shaking, heart breaking, emptying out and filling up, in my face and piercing my soul experience I give thanks. I am always blessed, as we all are, by a birthright of breath. No matter what a person's circumstance might be, we all live in this family of breath, this kinship of experience. In this moment of loneliness I feel immense joy and gratitude as I think how every person on this earth is breathing with me now. I am held in every moment by an ocean of  infinite breath, by the beating of billions of drumming hearts. We are all in the dance, beautiful, messy and painful. Together. 

I give thanks on this day and every day for the miracle of life and love, from China to the USA to Australia and all the places where I have friends and family, as well as all the places where I know no one as of yet. We are all one family of the human spirit. May we all serve to uplift each other, understand one another, and when we lose our way may we light lanterns of forgiveness and compassion for one another.

Bless this beautiful mess! All love and Happy Thanksgiving!         

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

I Got Nothing

I have had to dig deep just to get myself seated here in front of this keyboard.I have felt a pull, a longing, a need to get here, mixed with a dull guilt and sense of failed obligation. I have stayed away because I have felt heavy and sluggish, with words and ideas caught in my throat. I have been stifled.

I want to be creative, active, vital. I want to feel like my days are worthwhile and productive.I want to be a value added being on this planet. I want to give. I want to give something special so I can rest back into the assurance of worthiness, a feeling that I have contributed something useful to the conversation. I know that is selfish, but I am trying to get it out and get real.

I have had so much swirling in and out of my brain these last few challenging weeks, that in the end I have not uttered a single confounded word here. I am simply too congested with it all. I am blocked up. I am so full that I got nothing. I am at an impasse to expression. The words are tangled and tied up. I am reaching in and coming up empty handed.

I have wanted to withdraw, and with cooler weather settling in, I find myself compelled to cocoon in a soft shell of blankets with steaming cups of tea and a mountain of novels. Sweet escape.

The name of this blog is "The Magnificent Mess" and lately I have been keenly aware of and immersed in the mess. I can't quite get a clear view of the magnificence. It is not that I am depressed, well maybe I am a little, but I truly do have a deep felt sense of gratitude down to my very bones and in the bottom of my beating heart for how truly blessed my life is.

I feel all the blessings I have been gifted with and I in turn want to be a blessing. I aspire to be good, kind and clear. I wish to rise to the occasion of this life. I look to find somewhere in the far reaches of my mind or in the depths of my soul, somewhere in me, the words, actions or images to convey the beautiful, breathtaking, sweet and deep aching I feel for this sacred life, for this amazing, terrifying, dizzying, spinning ride we are on, together.

I want to feel a hand holding mine, and another and another. I long to get back my sense of solidarity and connection with myself. I sense it is my own hand I am reaching for , my own hand that I need.

I am considering what is so tragic or awful about having nothing. I have nothing very eloquent, poetic, impressive or brilliant to say. I just don't have it in this moment, and so what? What if I never write another word again after this? What about just letting it go? I could drop this persona of writer like a pebble into a pond and watch it ripple into stillness, and what? I consider resting into the value of my divine worth and the love that I am.

Even if I have nothing to offer now I am still breathing, feeling and evolving. Even telling you about nothing is something.

Nothing to say is something to say.
It may not be interesting or engaging, but I remember my mantra now, "I have nothing to prove."

I am going to get a cup of tea, a blanket or three, and a good read. For now that's all I've got.


Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Challenging Practice of Contentment

Contentment is an actual yogic practice called santosha. On face value it seems perhaps simplistic or like an easy practice compared to vigorous sun salutations or challenging balances and inversions, but I come to this practice over and over and I assure you it is profoundly challenging and requires absolute focus and discipline.

For example a week ago right now I was in paradise, pool side with a beautiful beach on the near horizon, the sun was lighting up a brilliant ceiling of clear blue with just the right amount of fluffy clouds, my kids were happy and getting along, Stephen and I were sipping fresh coconut water and rum right out of the coconut and contentment had its warm soft arms wrapped around me, so easy to be there.

A few days later I am back in Shanghai sick as a dog, sick kids as well and they miss going on a week long school trip and instead are home with me, add in a typhoon with pouring rain, high wind and a cloud cover that made the day dull and dark. Where did my sweet contentment go? It seems like those fluffy clouds; elusive, thin, vaporous. That is the contentment of grasping and clinging to external phenomenon and the opposing aversion to others.

Desire and aversion create suffering and loss of contentment.

Santosha or yogic contentment comes from within and is independent of the weather out there. The weather of our ever changing life circumstance, the endless waves, rising and falling, up and down leaves us always temporarily happy and then discontentment shows up again and we descend into craving, looking for the next fix. The syndrome of,  if only I had..... or when I am or when I accomplish.....then I will be happy. That contentment for most of us is never enough. When we get what we want it's luster fades quickly and we are searching again, or the vacation ends and there is life waiting.

So to be in a practice of santosha we have to go in. We have to take time to sit with ourselves and dive into the world we hold within our hearts and souls. Only there will we find true peace and happiness and a better way to be with all the changing weather and waves of life.

I find myself so drawn to this practice and I notice that either directly or indirectly I write about this consistently.

I am doing my own very challenging work here. We all want happiness, love and safety, but the truth is the only one who can give that to us is ourselves, and isn't it amazing that it is there waiting for us, calling out to us, inviting us home. There is a door in each of our hearts that opens to a great temple of love and light, when we slow down long enough to breathe deeply, feel fully, awaken internally it is as close as a heartbeat, a sacred drum calling us to the dance, the ecstatic dance of the true self.


Sunday, September 22, 2013

Holding Happiness and Struggle

"I am learning so much right now, about myself, about holding happiness and struggle both at the same time. I am learning about acting and letting go in synchrony. Wow."

The quote above was a recent Facebook post of mine. Quite a few people liked or commented on this and a few asked to me to teach them about this, so I decided to elaborate and get specific.

At the very heart of this powerful learning is struggle. I am struggling. The center-point of that struggle is a complex and tangled web of beliefs and questions about myself, my worth, and also about power and control.

I have circumstances in my life, as we all do, over which I have no power or control. Does that make me powerless? I have had moments where I have felt that it does, moments where I just want to lie down and give up, moments where I feel I am too afraid or weak to handle the challenges of my life. I have felt small and lost. I have questioned my value and worth.

The particulars of this experience or story are not as important as the feeling of it, the energy or loss of energy. The particulars are the "story" that is unique to me, the feelings and energies are essentially human. You have probably felt this way too, in some way at some time, maybe right now.

For the sake of understanding the learning I am in,  I will share some of the details of my current struggle, the story.  I live in China with my family, as my husband is on a work assignment here, meaning a new culture, new environment, a big learning curve. We have three children here with us, two of them are teenagers. Do I need to say more? Probably not, but I will. I am also teaching yoga at a studio. The environment and mindset are so foreign to the yoga world I have been in and I am swimming against the current.

My son, Mason, has ADD and a computer addiction, besides being a teenage boy.  I know. I am up against it with him. His grades are not so good, but worse are his attitude and bold disrespect right now. He is angry because his father and I have set some strong boundaries around school and computer use. He is railing against it. My other two, girls, almost 13 and 8, are also finding bumps and struggles in this new life in China. I love them all so much. It hurts me intensely to know they are and will have to go through their own trials and tribulations in this life. My mother instinct wants to fiercely protect them even from themselves. I thirst for a power and control that are impossible to have.

The yoga culture here is, again, a circumstance which I am operating under. It is what it is and I am who I am.  Many of the "beginning" students here have far surpassed my asana abilities, and deeper practices or spiritual practices are somewhere way in the background. I feel a bit like Alice down the rabbit hole, out of place, awkward and unsure.

It (the struggle) seems to be coming at me from all sides and I have found myself feeling paralyzed and breathless at times. Point to the exit sign, I want to run away!! I have felt this so deeply and agonizingly.Then, eventually, a breath comes and my wise and true self with whom I am reconnecting through yoga helps me to remember; pause and be. Be with it, open to it fully, let go. 

The despair, the loss of empowerment, the depth of the struggle live not in these details, the story, but how I am choosing to relate to it. I cannot control all these events and circumstances, I most certainly cannot control other people. I can control myself and myself alone. Even amid struggle there is this beautiful possibility of happiness and contentment. To hold happiness and struggle together, to allow them to coexist is such a powerful action. True happiness does not come from control of the external world it comes from a deep connection in the inner world. I feel this when I accept all parts of myself and trust my heart, trust life, trust grace. I pause into my sacred breath and feel abundance and gratitude for all I have and even these struggles, they are surely wise teachers helping me to evolve, helping others to do the same as well.

 I would do my children a deep disservice if I protected them from all hardship, from their mistakes and heartbreaks. I would cheat them in so may ways and on every level. I know that when I listen to my own life.

I would cheat the yoga community here if I tried to fit in, if I did not show up and offer my teaching in its unique expression. If I tried to do that I would really be lost. 

I do not have this mastered in any way. I have moments of success and many moments of forgetting. I am a student of this life, learning lessons as they come, finding more acceptance as it goes. In this way I can be in the action of my life, engaging with all the people and events, but in the moment not clinging to those actions or an expected result. I still become reactive, afraid, angry, more often than I would like, but I am understanding it more. I am learning about these aspects of myself and integrating and harmonizing my light and shadow sides slowly, diligently.

Yoga is about union, wholeness and completion. We are all yogis, maybe some don't use that terminology, but we are all seekers of this union, this deep knowing of ourselves. Yes, to marry that which seems so deeply separated over and over until illusion is stripped away and all is revealed as perfect and harmonious, life flowing from source. Happiness in the midst of struggle, action enjoined with surrender. The essence of life being love.

My children need to be who they are and I most powerfully guide them by loving them. I do the best I can as a mother and then I let go, the love is constant, the circumstances ever changing.

I show up in my teaching with what I have in my body, mind and spirit in that moment. It is an offering that I need not cling to or depend on for my sense of self. I act and surrender.

My own yoga teacher is currently focused on the concept of deliberate faith. I know that there can be no faith without surrender, no lasting happiness without letting go. To let go and step forward into the unknown deliberately and repeatedly is the fire of transformational practice, the light it creates is love. These serve as my guideposts, my pathway, and so I carry on.

"I am a pilgrim on the path of love." ~ Swami Kriplau


Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Daring To Be Me

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

     This week, on Friday, at 2:00 Shanghai time to be exact, I will officially begin my part time teaching gig at Y+, the biggest yoga studio in Shanghai. Exciting? Yes. Terrifying? A bit.

This studio has three locations, it is fancy, high gloss, big city yoga, way out of my comfort zone. It's clientele is predominantly super bendy Chinese women in their twenties, versus me, a not so bendy 42 year old woman and mother of three, further still from my comfort zone. The yoga culture here is all about the body, achievement oriented, far from spiritual, all about sweat and doing the next more advanced pose, a universe away from my comfort zone.

There is that quote, maybe you have heard it, "Your life begins where your comfort zone ends." I am about to step into a whole lotta life! This is that yoga of "bearing the consequences of being who you are". From the get go I had a choice, to try to fit in and mold myself as best I could to blend into these surroundings, or I could dare to be me and accept whatever outcome that provided.

When the studio manager interviewed me a few months ago, I was very transparent and conscientious in making sure she completely understood where I stand on yoga practice, as well as what strengths and gifts I bring to the table and what I don't. I talked about being a yoga educator and not just a one dimensional asana leader. I talked about a yoga that everyone can practice, and populations who need yoga and are not being served by the current yoga culture. I admitted that after all these years of practice I can not do a handstand and probably never will, but that my spirit and life force are exponentially stronger, and I know myself more with each day of practice. At the end of this lengthy interview I wasn't sure where I stood, but I knew I had been completely authentic, honest and true. The studio manager said she wanted to set up an audition class. I agreed, heart pounding.

She billed my audition class as "gentle flow" and it would be open to all studio members. Leading up to the class she asked me if it would really be gentle? Even on the day of the class she asked me if it would be very gentle and if she would get very sweaty? I told her it would be gentle and definitely not very sweaty. I had planned a flow, very Kripalu in style, compassionately working and opening the whole body with a focus on self inquiry and awareness of all aspects of being, and, of course, a lot of breath!

As I led the class I could sense many of the students were unfamiliar with such a gentleness in the movements and this emphasis on feeling and inner focus. I stood firmly on what I have learned from my teachers and my practice, be true to myself, have faith in my path, when in doubt, breathe. Really, in no uncertain terms, it was dare to be me or just not show up at all. I can't will my body into being other than what it is. I can model acceptance though, I trust that shift will happen.  

"The feedback from the class was mixed." I was told in a subsequent meeting. "Many of the students loved it and appreciated this style of yoga. Those who rated the class lower," the studio manager explained, "did so because they thought it was not hard enough, not intense enough." I said to her, "But it was listed as a gentle class." "Yes," she replied, "and that is where, like you, I see a problem."

The fact is that people here, at least the people I have seen on the yoga mat, have a resistance to being gentle or doing less, and perhaps that is born out of a lack of understanding of yoga, and also, perhaps, a true reflection of the fast paced life and demanding mindset of people here in China. (Not so different from the culture I left back in the states.)

I wondered now whether the studio would want to hire me? I had dared to be myself, to show up and teach from my place of authenticity, and offer something that goes against the grain here. I almost had to pinch myself when the studio manager said, "We need you here. We want to sign you on as a regular teacher at the studio."

In just a few days, I will once again show up, heart pounding, returning to my inhalation and exhalation, faith unfolding, as well as mats.  I will dare to be me, nothing more, nothing less.  I will teach from my heart and let it be an offering. I will take this chance, step out of my comfort zone and dive deeper into living, and I know deep down that by doing so, I will certainly help others to do so as well.  Wish me well.



Wednesday, August 28, 2013

My Miley Outrage

"Be kind for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."  ~ Plato

  I am outraged over the Miley incident!

  I am outraged first of all that the media, and the population at large seems to care more about this, spend more time thinking about this, posting more about this, than actual travesties, actual injustices, actual real world problems, to the point that here I am too posting about this!

Honestly I usually dismiss this sort of nonsense, superficial, completely vapid gossip news crap. It is maddening that we can be more concerned with what will happen next with the Kardashians than the fact that wars are being fought, blood is being shed, children are suffering and dying. Wake up!!

So why do I care about Miley? What has happened in the aftermath of Miley's performance says volumes more about us than it does about her. I have read post after berating post, each one more vicious than the last, defiling her in far worse ways than anything that she did on stage.

When I watched the video clip on YouTube to see what all the fuss was about I saw a confused, awkward, struggling young girl. I saw struggle. I saw a girl like any other at that age trying to find herself, to express her new and yet not fully formed womanhood and sexuality. I saw her trying to do what she thought would be cool, attention getting, provocative. It should be noted as well, that she did not create that performance all by herself. Why is no one pissed at the TV executives, MTV, and no one is lashing out at Robin Thicke. Robin Thicke's  music video closely resembles what Miley did on stage, and the song is about drugs and sex.

Honestly, when I saw the video I wanted to reach through the screen and pull Miley into my arms and hold her like the child she still is and tell her that she is so beautiful and loved, and just hold her.

All anybody wants is love and acceptance and here is a girl who was thrust into the spotlight as a child, put under the pressures of such a life, exposed to all it's darkness as well it's shining lights and we are shocked once again at this outcome?

Many of the women and men who are now ripping her apart in the most shaming and cruel ways possible, were probably singing along and dancing in their family rooms with their own little girls to the latest Hannah Montana CD.  Miley is not Hannah though, and Miley was sure to grow up just like our little girls. Our little girls will go through these same turmoils of adolescence, they too will make mistakes and have moments of poor judgment. They too might explore behaviors and activities that we can only pray they will have the wits and self esteem to avoid. The only difference is that Miley has the added dimension of celebrity, and a stage to advertise it on, which clearly, she did not choose all on her own.

My point here is where is the compassion?

The deluge of angry, debasing and down right nasty articles and posts makes me wonder not what is wrong with her, but what is wrong with us? Are we really this callous and uncaring, full of only judgment and self righteousness?

It becomes clear to me that there is little regard for her as a person. She may have made an object of herself, and she is clearly looking for something, but we have perpetuated that objectification further with a complete lack of sensitivity and a failure to see the humanity in what she did. We don't want her to rise above this and become a healthy, self respecting woman, if we did we would help her. If we wanted that for her we would say, "Honey, that was not the best choice, but it will be OK. Everyone makes mistakes, everyone. You are still loved and precious and dear. Learn from the mistake, but don't let it define you. You can start over, you can begin again. Tomorrow is a new day."

I for one want her to know that, I hope someone tells her. I hope someone shows her not by cutting her down but by building her up. I wish for more kindness and tenderness in her world and in the whole world. I want that for Miley, myself, my children, and all the daughters and sons, for every being.

"Be kind whenever possible, it is always possible." ~ Dalai Lama

Now those are words to live by. Love, peace, and harmony.


Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Right vs Wrong and "The Usual Shame"

    Shame: a painful emotion caused by consciousness of guilt, shortcoming, or impropriety

  My son Mason is 14 years old. He is the oldest of my children that I gave birth to. He has an adopted sister who is now 23 years old, her name is Meg. He also has two younger sisters, Avery, 12 years old, and Harper, who is 8. I can honestly say, as can most every parent, that I have done the best I could, with what resources and energy I have had available from day to day, and circumstance to circumstance. I have loved my children intensely and sometimes that is messy! There have been times when I have looked back and wanted to do moments over because my reactions to a behavior or event were less about any wrong doing on their part, and more about my old wounds and stories, my self judging and shame spilling over onto them.

This is what I will refer to as "the usual shame". I got this terminology from one of my teachers while on retreat. She was talking about some of her recent life events and became tearful. The rest of the group clearly wanted to comfort her and she said, "Oh don't worry, it's just the usual shame." When she said this we all started to laugh, and she did too. We laughed because we all knew exactly what she was talking about, and she brought us into togetherness with that expression. Her words like arms pulling us close to each other in deep human understanding.

Later as I thought about those words "the usual shame", I was brought back to an event that had happened just a week earlier.

I was with my kids in Milwaukee visiting my sister and her family. I went to high school in Milwaukee, and so I still have some friends from school who live there as well. I made arrangements to meet up with a couple of those friends, one single and one married with two kids. We decided to do a picnic dinner in a park and my sister and her family came along as well.

Now my sister has three boys, 7 years old or younger. Jack, the eldest, is 7 and is on the autism spectrum. Jack is a delightful kid, funny and smart, but he can't tolerate certain certain things and struggles in some social situations.

When we arrived at the park the kids headed off to the playground and the grown ups sat down to chat. The kids would play a bit and then come around to hang with us and have some food. Mason was playing quite happily with Jack over on the playground.

At one point I look over, and I see Mason struggling to carry Jack, as Jack cried and flailed. Mason was eventually able to deliver Jack into my sisters arms, and she took Jack off to the side to comfort him. Mason made his way to the table where I was sitting with my friends and a few of the kids.

I asked him what had happened to Jack?  He said that two little girls had been teasing Jack and chasing him, and that both he and Jack had asked them to stop because it was making Jack uncomfortable and upset, but the girls would not stop so Jack had picked up a rock and thrown it at them. The girls rushed off and told their mother.

Mason then described how the mother came after Jack and began to scold him. Mason said he told the mother to leave Jack alone, that it was not his fault, and that he has Aspergers and he can't be blamed. Her daughters wouldn't stop teasing even when they asked them to stop.

I felt so proud of Mason as he told of his heroic defense of his little cousin. I found myself thinking  about how good of a mother I am, and how impressed my friends must be.

Then Mason said, in front of my friends and their children, "Mom, that lady was an asshole!" I felt a bolt of horrified shock run through me, and my girlfriend's husbands' eyes grew wide. I said, "Mason that is not appropriate language, and there are little kids here!" So he said, "OK, she was a butthole then!"

( I did not laugh at this at the time, believe me, but I do now, and so can you.)

I looked at the shocked father sitting across from me, and I felt the usual shame pouring through me, a wave of defeat and self deprecation, and an impulse to punish Mason for this wrong doing. I apologized to the dad that Mason had used bad language in front of his little ones, but added, "He is a 14 year old boy." The father replied, "And does that make it OK?"  I meekly said, "No, it doesn't."

Just after that it was time to go, we all packed up and went on our way. My mind was still reeling and tumbling with guilt and hurt, but it shifted away from needing to make Mason wrong, and I saw how this feeling was coming from a well of old wounds and pains, the usual shame, it was really about me, me being flawed, me being a failure, me not making the grade.

By the time we got back to my sister's house I had decided that Mason deserved that badge of heroism despite his slip of the tongue, which only showed how fiercely he felt about defending his cousin. I saw the goodness in him, his strength, and how he was stepping into being a man, and a great one at that. A great man defends those weaker or smaller than himself, even in the face of authority.

How often do we punish our children, not because they are really doing something "wrong", but because they are bringing up pieces of old baggage and touching old wounds that send our egos howling? How often do we punish them for being completely appropriate for children, but the environment, as well as social dictates and pressures are harsh and unforgiving? How often is it really about us as parents and our own fragile self images versus a real behavior issue? I am not saying children should not be disciplined. I am saying perhaps a closer inspection of where the impulse to punish or correct is coming from, and how we as parents choose to implement it, is needed.

In this instance I saw through "the usual shame", which made me reactive, and incited a punitive impulse toward my son, and I arrived at a new place of love and tenderness. I saw the "right" of my son, his right to act, to express, his right to be fierce and bold, demonstrative. Honestly there was nothing to fix. I had a brief talk with him about using expletives in public, and especially around little ones, but I also told him how very proud I was of what he had done for Jack, and how special it is to be a person who stands up for others.

I think, wow, what a world we would create if we had a new paradigm of parenting free of "the usual shame"! What if we could all gather together in love and honesty, have that laugh and cry, be in a deeper human understanding together? What if the parents re parented themselves and shifted out of oppressive strictness and into compassionate awareness?

We could create a new generation of someday grownups, future leaders, innovators and parents living beyond the legacy of "the usual shame". I know that new paradigm is generations in the making at best. I know I won't always succeed in being so mindful, and I will try to be much more self forgiving in those moments too. Awareness is where it starts, love is what it is.  


Tuesday, August 20, 2013

My Summer Gift

 My kids and I went back to the USA for summer vacation. Initially we were quite busy and I was off to Kripalu for ten days and the kids visited my parents in Tennessee during that time. I joined them in Tennessee for a few days and then we went home to Connecticut.

We went home not just to our town, but to our house which we have been able to keep despite our move to China. Our furniture and everything was all there, it was almost like we had never left, and summer was shining through the windows and singing in the woods.

When I had considered these weeks we would have in Connecticut I envisioned them busy with social outings and activities; the kids off on meet ups with friends and me doing much the same. Some of that did happen, but not as much as I had imagined. Their friends, and mine, were busy in camps or at work, or away on vacations. That had always been our summer too, kids in camp, me teaching yoga, and time away.

The weather was brutally hot for those weeks in Connecticut and no air conditioning in the house. I had my three kids with me all day every day. This was something I had not had in years, well ever in reality. Me, by myself (Stephen was still in China working), with the kids, and no schedule or structure of any kind.

The first couple days I felt a bit agitated and quite a bit anxious. My mind was filled with logistical question marks, some valid and some ridiculous.

"What will we do all day?" " How will we keep cool?" " How will I cope with the kids fighting if it is all day?" "How will I keep up with household stuff? " Where is my ME time going to come in?" "Will I break down and just fail?"

These and many more worries and considerations stuck into my mind, but then there was a shift. As I have found so many times the key to transformation is to stay. Stay the course, moment by moment and breathe. Breathe, relax, feel, watch, allow; the wave system of my Kripalu yoga tradition, so simple and so powerful with applications that reach far beyond my yoga mat and right into the nitty gritty of my life.

Stay, feel it, breathe. I did this and after a day or two something marvelous happened. I rediscovered my children. My love and adoration for them grew new and beautiful blossoms. I realized that THESE are my favorite people. Who else would I want to spend weeks of spacious, free for all, "what do we do next?", time with?

It was still a bumpy ride with crabby moments, fighting episodes, grumbles and complaints on all our parts, but it was splendid and rich. I feel like I got to know my kids even better and more importantly they got to know me, the total me.

After a few weeks Stephen came back from China, and we traveled to Milwaukee and had time with even more family and it was brilliant, especially reuniting with our older adopted daughter Meg. We had not seen her in years and she is now 23, in a stable relationship and expecting a son. So I guess that makes me grandma to be, blessings abound, miracles do happen. We are family and sometimes we are far away geographically, emotionally or needing some time to grow and learn. It is not neat and tidy, but it is beautiful.  We see each other, and with those closest to us, we are our best, and sometimes our worst selves. 

That is bliss, being perfectly ourselves in the best company. That company that might call us out on our ugly moments, or pitfalls, with whom we sometimes come into the deepest conflict and suffer the greatest heartaches, but always knowing that in the end they will love and adore us just the same, and we will love them right back.

The gift of my summer was that I stayed. I weathered the worries and moments of conflict, and in that I found love truly does conquer all.                 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Cultivating Compromise, Calming Sister Strict

“Because one believes in oneself, one doesn't try to convince others. Because one is content with oneself, one doesn't need others' approval. Because one accepts oneself, the whole world accepts him or her.”
Lao Tzu

 I am recently back from my summer away in the USA, and back in Shanghai, China.

 Just before leaving the states, I had the blessing to go on retreat with my yoga family, The Acharyas, and our beloved teachers, Vidya and Devarshi. We did a lot of deep soul work together, as we usually do. Many things were shared, felt, and miracles requested for transformation and awakening.

My personal work was about continuing to step through a door that has become more and more known and clear to me, a door to more vulnerability and authenticity. Some of the work I see for myself on that path is a shift in my warrior nature, moving on from a struggling, protective warrior and a victim identity, to a loving spiritual warrior, fully empowered from the deep wells of heart and soul.

There is also a crucial component of acknowledging and embracing a new life mantra, "I have nothing to prove."

I have found as I inspect much of my life and my patterns, I have invested an enormous amount of energy in proving my worth to both others and myself. This has caused a mindset, and internal culture of perfectionism and strictness in my life. That mindset has kept me from softening into myself, from fully enjoying the gift of my beingness, and has kept walls of defense in place. On the other hand, it also has gifts of discipline, resilience, stamina and strength to offer when it is in balance with open-heartedness, self esteem and that good ol' yogic non attachment to results.

As I come back to my blog now, I will hold an intention to write wide open, to make this a vessel for that miracle of truth and vulnerability, transparency, and guided by my mantra of "nothing to prove". I will write to know myself and for you to know me, maybe we will find some awakening together.

As I headed out for my morning run today I had it in my mind that I would be running four miles. It is extremely hot and humid here in Shanghai right now, and even at 7:30 the heat was staggering. My run consisted of running around the block I live on, one block equalling one mile.

By mile two I was dripping with sweat and my body was protesting, but I was enjoying the idea of getting cleaned out, sweaty detox, a purification ritual. Mile three brought more intense sun and I emptied of energy and resolve. Sister strict showed up, that's what I will call my strict mind, and she started to throw all her judging and berating at me, because I was ready to quit at three miles and call it a day. Then it dawned on me I was overlooking another option for myself, compromise.

It did not have to be all or nothing! It should be obvious, but for someone like me, not so much. I chose a different approach. I did the last mile as a run walk, guided by my intelligent body. I ran slow until my breath and felt sensation prompted a shift to walking. The last mile was perfection. I allowed it to be just right every step of the way.  I let go of expectation and opened to the wisdom in me, beyond the story, and beyond shoulds and coulds.

Would it have been equally OK if I had stopped at three miles? As I reflect on the shift that happened, I find much more spaciousness existing in me for all alternatives. I can trust myself, I open my inner hearing, I listen to my life. I listen to my life and the right path is revealed.

And the journey continues.....            

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Let Your Yoga Dance Shanghai: Video Post

  Summer is spacious and yet I have been away from my blog. I have been busy with other endeavors and sharing one computer with a 14 year old boy, that will kill writing for sure!!

This post is short and sweet and is only happening because the lazy bones teen is sleeping in.

Here is a video created by the yoga studio I have signed on with to teach in Shanghai. It is a video of scenes from a Let Your Yoga Dance Workshop I held there on June 1st. I think it is beautiful and shows the power of dance across cultures, bridging gaps. Dance brings us together!!

I hope you enjoy it.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Will The Real China Please Stand Up

 I am packed and ready to return back home for the summer after four months in my new life in China. I have volumes to say about what I have experienced so far, but time is short and that flight leaves soon and so I will give it to you today in a nutshell and lots of revisiting and detailing will come later.

What I have learned about China so far is that everything I thought I knew before coming here was a half truth at best. China is evolving, growing, shifting and the complexity of life and society here is mind boggling. China's history is rich and deep and its people have had to be resilient throughout the ages. They have traditions that put family and community first and above the individual aspiration. The cities here are booming and Shanghai is the largest city in the world by population. This city is cutting edge and modern, full of seas of skyscrapers and luxury shopping, but it is also home to many rural migrants who have come to the city to work and improve life for their family. So the city is full of intersections between old and new, glamour and grit, luxury and poverty.

I have not even made it out of the city and into the country yet. Future adventures.    

 My family and I moved into an area of Shanghai called Jinqiao, but we tend to refer to it as "the bubble". The bubble is safe, familiar in many ways, it is full of expats from all different places, and it is in China, but it is not China. It has hints and flavours of China to be sure but it is a watered down and highly westernized version.

In my first months here I began to explore both inside and outside the bubble and I sensed the different personas and intricacies of the city and the people. I became keenly aware that in my neighborhood I was not seeing the "real" China, only catching short glimpses or subtle hints. These hints come in the forms of rickshaws pulling any variety of items, the corner turtle vendor I pass most days on my runs, noticing that someone is actually living in the animal stalls behind the fence down the street from my cushy gated villa community and touring the migrant village just a few miles away from my house but hidden down the alley ways and out of sight.

   Futuristic skyscrapers in Pudong Shanghai
Vegetable vendor in the migrant village 

The city is rich and luxurious and that is not a status reserved just for the foreigners, there are many Chinese from the city who are prospering and very wealthy, but the masses, the working poor and the migrant population are the sweat and tears of this blossoming abundance and modern flair.

I don't think I am anywhere near really understanding this city much less this country. Everyday I see something new or astounding. I know so much more is waiting to be revealed. The real China is many faces, millions of stories, it is ancestors and history, family and future. The real China is full of people just like us trying to make the best life possible for themselves and their children.             

Monday, June 3, 2013

Giving Myself Credit. Do you?

 On Saturday I taught the first ever, in the history of the world, Let Your Yoga Dance class to a sold out room of forty people in CHINA. Many of those people were local Shanghainese and so I also taught for the very first time with a translator. I went into this completely unsure of what would unfold, how these students would respond, how the language barrier would impact me and the practice. I was scared, which is typical for me, but this had a different edge, a sharp one.

A few days prior I had a skype call with my teacher and guide, Vidya. As we talked about this fear I was experiencing, we came back to the recurring theme, or samskara in yogic terms, in my life that is about worthiness. I tend to not feel worthy or to see my worth, my value. No matter how many hills I climb, or challenges I complete, no matter how much positive feed back I receive, it is never enough.


Vidya pointed out something very valuable to me. She said, "Jyotika, you never give yourself any credit. Others see such gifts and richness in you, but you don't see it yourself. You need to stop and notice what lens you are looking through. Some people wear rose colored glasses, but you are looking through a lens of no credit and it is a distortion."

What she says is so true. I don't give myself credit. I don't think I am alone in looking through this particular distorted lens either. I believe that we are culturally entrained and often parented to think that taking credit is not humble, it is egotistical and impolite. That is the root of the distortion, that is a flawed and erroneous storyline.

I am moving forward in my inquiry around this. I am checking out the lens, trying on some new cooler funkier shades.

So here goes.

I taught the first ever Let Your Yoga Dance class in China. I was courageous as well as highly creative. I put together a rockin' playlist and dances that blended the fun and playful with the poignant and spiritual. I showed up and gave my all in my most authentic way. I put the students at ease and guided a fabulous practice. I am a talented teacher who has a lot to offer.

I have to say that, just now, I felt uncomfortable writing that. I know its truth, and yet, there is resistance. Old patterns are hard to undo, but bringing them intentionally and consciously into compassionate awareness is the door to transformation.

Is it time for you to give yourself credit? Write your proclamation and share it with me, or even better, the world!     


Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Do This And Change The World!!

We live in a world where there is suffering. Everyday in our own lives, in our families, our communities, and certainly in our world we are confronted with it.

In just the past year I have seen events of cataclysmic suffering close to home; Hurricane Sandy, Sandy Hook, the bombing of The Boston Marathon, and I have felt grief and despair. There is so much heartbreak, it is so difficult to process, and certainly very hard to find peace.

Everyday I can look at the world news headlines and find violence, disaster, horror, such profound suffering endured by my fellow beings. Just today my heart seemed to shatter again as I read about the victims of the tornado in Oklahoma City, many of them children.

How can we keep our faith in the face of such pain? How do we continue to be steadfast in the belief in the ultimate goodness of this world? Where do we find grace and strength when it might seem that we are powerless. How can one person change the world?

Can one person change the world?

I believe we can. I believe I can. Maybe not in a big or sensational way that will lead to fame and public accolades, but in a quiet and yet powerfully direct and intentional manner.

We must change the world from the inside out. We cannot make peace in the world until we learn to make peace within ourselves. Gandhi said, "Be the change that you want to see in the world."

I have come to believe in the power of meditation and prayer. These are tools for transformation, again nothing flashy or glamorous, but powerful, like a slow steady stream of water that in a quiet way can carve through the hardest stone.

One of the most transformational meditation and prayer practices I have found is the practice of metta meditation or loving kindness. This simple offering done regularly will begin to vibrate in increasing intensity in your whole being. It will radiate from you, everything in the world is energy, change your energy and change the surrounding energy. The prayer will always create a shift to a higher energy a greater lightness.

Here is how you do it.

Find a comfortable seat, on a cushion or in a chair with a straight spine to increase the energy and mindfulness. Connect to your breath and to your heart center.

The prayer is quite simple and you first direct it to yourself. Again the first place we must create peace is within our own beings. Three times say or think:

May I be happy.
May I be peaceful.
May I have ease of well being.
May I be free.

Next say the prayer for a benefactor. That is a teacher, a friend, a partner, someone who is a positive force in your life.

May you be happy.
May you be peaceful.
May you have ease of well being.
May you be free.

Next say three rounds for someone for whom you have neutral feelings, for example your mail person or the cashier at the supermarket.

May you be happy.....

Fourth, direct the prayer to someone who challenges you, someone who has hurt you or others. You don't even necessarily have to know them directly. This one is the most challenging for many people and can be the most important. We must be able to see all beings as part of the spiritual family. Those who commit acts of violence and harm are in deep suffering. They still at their core are beings of goodness and light. We help create change by extending the powers of love and forgiveness everywhere, especially into the darkness. Hold this person or people close to your heart and offer to them.

May you be happy.
May you be peaceful.
May you have ease of well being.
May you be free.

Finally direct the prayer to all beings in this world and others.

May all beings be happy.
May all beings be peaceful.
May all beings have ease of well being.
may all beings be free.

I would like to suggest that if you took the time to read this whole post that you take on this practice for one month. It only takes about 15 minutes to do a short practice.

The Dalai Lama said " “If every 8 year old in the world is taught meditation, we will eliminate violence from the world within one generation.” We can begin now with ourselves, our impact will be significant.

If one person's prayer is like that small stream that given time can cut through rock, together we can create mighty rivers of peace and compassion. You can change the world.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

My Arab Education

"Every tree, every growing thing as it grows, says this truth: You harvest what you sow.
With life as short as a half taken breath, don't plant anything but love." ~ Rumi

The first person I met here in my new neighborhood in China was a woman named Miral or Mira for short. It was my third day in my new country and there we were standing at the bus stop. My inner voice told me "Go on, you HAVE to say hello to her! You need to talk to someone, so get to it!" So I looked her way and caught her attention, we both smiled and I said, "Hello." We proceeded to exchange names and basic information, it turned out she has been living here for two years, a "veteran", so to speak, but she had also just moved into this neighborhood or what we call "compound" here in the local vernacular.

She spoke good English but with a pronounced accent which I could not identify. I asked her where she was from and she told me how she is originally from Egypt, but has spent many years living in the United States, and that her family had moved here, to Shanghai, from Michigan. I found her immediately endearing, kind, and exotic. I have never had a friend from Egypt before. Most of all I felt an immediate connection to her, and in these few months we have become friends.

Moving to Shanghai, of course, would be a chapter of life full of new experiences for me and my whole family. I never imagined though, that it would offer me an opportunity to experience and learn, on a personal level, about Arabic culture and people, not book learning, but experiential learning, relational learning.

A few weeks went by and Mira had given me loads of advice on places to go, where to find things and invited me along on outings to some markets. She has been like an angel, truly, I have felt so blessed to have her in my life here and she has made my landing so much softer.

 Then on a bright unusually warm Saturday in March she invited our family to come to a barbecue at her house with her friends. I asked if she was sure, would she have enough food for five more people? She replied that she is an Arabic woman, of course there is enough food. So we accepted the invitation.

When we arrived some of her friends were already there and kids were playing, our three kids just folded into the mix. Then, for the next seven hours we met and socialized with her family and friends who came from Jordan, and Lebanon, and of course her family from Egypt. We feasted on a grand banquet of delicious food, enough for a wedding, dish upon dish of delightful color, flavor and texture. We drank and we laughed. The sun went down, and they lit two big hookah pipes with double apple tobacco. I am an ex-smoker and I usually find smoke repulsive, but this actually smelled mellow and sweet, so I decided to take a couple puffs just for the experience of it all. At one point some of us moms ended up dancing to "Gangam Style" with the kids. An evening of pure, unadulterated fun.

The most beautiful part of the whole thing was that no one in my family felt the least bit awkward or unsure. These people wholeheartedly invited us to their table, to eat, drink and be merry. There was so much newness in it for me, but it felt easy, effortless and natural. I wish the whole world could have been at that table, this is the true human spirit. We are people of common experience in friendship and family, breaking bread and celebrating life. Across cultures we share the need for love and connection, community. This very simple event brought me so much happiness, as well as new insight.

Soon after that night, my husband Stephen came across some information on a Muslim market at a mosque here in Shanghai. I was very interested to go, so I asked Mira about it. She said yes there is a market at her mosque but it is not very big and is mostly vendors selling food. I wanted to go check it out regardless, so Mira offered to take me with her on a Friday, since she goes on Fridays anyways for prayers. She told me I didn't have to go in for prayers though, I could wait outside. I felt a great possibility in this. I asked her, "Can I go inside for prayers with you?". She said that I could if I wanted to. I most definitely wanted to. A door opened to a unique opportunity to once again learn about something so often judged and misunderstood in my home country. I would again be able to learn from first hand, direct and personal experience.

A few weeks passed, and finally, on a bright sunny Friday morning I went to Mira's house to prepare to go to the mosque. There is a bodily cleansing that must be done before entering the mosque. We washed our feet, our hands and forearms, rinsed our mouths and washed our foreheads. She explained to me that this is to enter the sacred space clean and pure and is done for respect of the holy space. She helped me pick out a pretty scarf, or hijab, to wear over my head. The men also wear a hat to cover their hair. She explained to me this is also done as a respect. We wore the scarves around our shoulders for the moment and we headed out.

We arrived at the mosque to survey the market first. We ate some wonderful barbecued lamb with bread for our lunch, and as we ate we strolled and checked out all the meat,vegetables and other foods. We each bought a leg of lamb from one of the vendors to take home. The atmosphere was friendly, lively, and as it got closer to the time for prayers many people were convening there. I was surprised at how many people were arriving and even more surprised at how many Chinese people were there, and they were not there just to look, they were there to pray.

The time came to go inside so Mira helped me put on the hijab and we went to the women's entrance. I was not sure, as we prepared to enter, if I might meet some resistance or disquiet, but I did not feel that at all, at least not here, and Mira explained every detail to me so beautifully that any reservation I might have had melted away.

We removed our shoes and entered the prayer room. There were several long narrow rugs arranged to make rows where we sat to wait. There were strands of prayer beads on the rugs to use and they looked so much like the mala beads we use in yoga, or the rosary beads of the Catholic faith. Some women were already there using the beads or praying on their own.

The formal prayers began and the room was quite full. I was shoulder to shoulder with Mira on one side and another woman on the other side. The prayer was very ceremonial and included words which Mira explained to me were to express gratitude and devotion to Allah or God. The words were accompanied by movements, first standing up, then a standing bow, finally down to kneel and bow to the ground in prostration two times. The prayer was beautiful and the energy in the room was peaceful and reverent. This is the same energy I have felt in churches and cathedrals, at Kripalu, my spiritual home of yoga, and alone in my practices. This is the energy of the divinity that lives in all of us, it is love, it is universal and unchangeable.

I believe it is that love, our higher consciousness, that is at the heart of truth in all religions, all spiritual traditions. The separation we imagine between those expressions of faith is just that, an imagination, an untruth. If we really took the time to know, to inquire, to reach out for understanding before leaping into judgment we would see that the love is what is far more pervasive, but that does not get the attention of the media. We do not get the full story or the true picture. We must seek it.

The bombing in Boston happened just a week and a few days after my visit to the mosque. My heart has broken for it. My heart breaks for the victims and the city of Boston. My heart breaks that this kind of violence continues to happen in my country or in any other country on this earth. My heart breaks to see people seething, angry and vengeful,and directing that anger, in some cases at all Muslims, or on the other side to all Americans. Some terrorists are Muslims and unfortunately they are the celebrities of Islam in the world. They are the exception and not the rule, just as oppressive states that victimize women and say it is in the name of Islam, I believe, do not represent, in truth, the hearts and spirits of the majority of people under that rule.

I am no expert on religion, politics or world affairs. I say this from my felt sense of what I have now experienced directly. It is only what I can extrapolate from a knowing that comes from my own simple practice, prayer and insight, and notably from friendship. It is an offering, and for me it rings true. I pray for peace in this world and for the liberation of all beings.

"If we have no peace it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other." ~ Mother Theresa                                     

Thursday, April 18, 2013

You Do Have To Pick A Side

 I woke up on Tuesday morning here in China to hear of yet another tragedy close to my home back in the States, and also one close to my heart. The Boston Marathon had been the target of a vicious bombing. My heart began to race, my stomach turned, I knew people who were participating in the race as well as volunteering. I was able to find out quickly that all of my friends were uninjured, at least physically and I was very thankful for that. I am still so saddened for those who were killed and injured both physically, emotionally, spiritually. May healing come quickly to all.

It was in the media fairly quickly that a suspect, a Saudi, was in custody. It would appear to be another act of terrorism committed by an Islamic extremist. This was quickly proven to be false, this man was a victim, not a perpetrator. President Obama in a press conference said that it is not known who is responsible, but that they will be caught. No one knows who is responsible.

Yet I have also heard that in the media and in conversation there is a renewed surge of anti-Islamic sentiment happening. One contributor to Fox news, Erik Rush went so far as to say "Yes they are evil. Let's kill them all."  Yes, he is just one guy, but he is a representative of the contingency of people who have decided that Islamic people as a whole are extremists, violent, terrorists. These people have chosen fear, that fear becomes hate, that hate begets violence, terrorism. Erik Rush and those like him fail to recognize that they are becoming exactly what they claim to despise.

You do have to choose sides in this life. Will you choose fear, or will you choose love? Will you live with courage and compassion or in the cowardice of cruelty? That is right, compassion takes courage, forgiveness takes strength, tolerance is a show of true integrity and fortitude. Anger is easy, activism requires resilience and commitment.

We will not fight terrorism in this world by becoming terrorists ourselves in our hearts and eventually our actions. Forgive everyone, but also stand up for love, stand up for peace. We have great examples to follow, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, to name a few. Perhaps no one of us will become a leader of that magnitude, but the energy of each heart that chooses love, the small acts of kindness, the prayers that we utter in solitude, these all impact our surroundings, our world.

You do have to pick a side. Please choose love.

I have more to say about this. Please read my upcoming posts about my recent visit to a mosque, and the practice of metta.

         The prayer of St. Francis

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Suddenly Celebrity


This past week our kids were on spring break, which landed on Easter on the first weekend, and Tomb Sweeping, the Chinese holiday on the second weekend.
So on the Saturday of the Tomb Sweeping holiday we took a drive to Suzhou which is about an hour and a half drive from where we live.

We went to visit two temples, a Taoist temple and a Buddhist monastery and temple. Both were beautiful and expansive. They both featured multiple buildings with ornate decorations and statues of deities, many of them unfamiliar to me.

The places were crowded and incense was smoldering in large pits, multitudes of red candles were alight in small pagodas and ash danced in the wind. Many people were going from temple chamber to temple chamber bowing and praying at each deity. Others, like us were eagerly snapping photos and taking in the sight of it all.

I noticed as soon as we got there that we were getting more stares and attention than in Shanghai.
I had read, and also heard to expect, to be treated as a sort of novelty and that there is a certain celebrity in being a Westerner, particularly for the children. Even in Shanghai the kids get looks, smiles, interest, especially Harper she is still quite small, she is bubbly and has a huge smile, dimples, big beautiful eyes and curly hair. The curly hair makes her particularly attractive apparently, we have often noticed women reaching out in passing to touch her hair.

So there we were, in a part of the Buddhist temple filled with hundreds, if not thousands, of golden Buddhas. It was spectacular. I was busy looking and taking a few photos when I noticed a gathering group of women smiling and pointing and talking to each other about Mason, Avery and Harper ( my kids). I smiled at one of them and she started speaking to me very enthusiastically in Chinese and moving closer in to Avery. Before we knew what was happening it was like paparazzi, and our kids were on the red carpet. The women were taking turns having pictures taken with the kids, they touched their faces, and even hugged and cuddled Harper. One woman in clear gestures, and in fun, made out like Harper would now be going with her.

You might be wondering if I took offense or stepped in to intervene for my children. I did not because my kids were just fine, they were smiling and quite happy with the attention. Had they looked the least bit worried or scared I would have stepped in, but the scene was one of delight on all accounts.

When we were done in that temple room we headed outside, the crowd followed and a second photo shoot continued there. That is when I took the picture above. Look how everyone is smiling, everyone in that picture is happy. I love the togetherness in that, even with strangers who we could not even speak to.

These people loved the beauty of my children. My children were clearly a highlight of their holiday, and they became a highlight of ours. Honestly it just warmed my heart and made me proud to be a mother. I witnessed the possibility of the kinship of humanity. All those Buddhas were smiling too.          

Thursday, March 21, 2013

My Yoga Breakdown

Since I arrived in my new hometown of Shanghai, China, I have been expanding in many ways. I am meeting new people, experiencing and exploring new places, trying new foods, starting to learn a new language and surrounded by new culture. I am growing and absorbing more each day.

My yoga life however has been in a state of contraction. I have been drawing inward and not in the best or easiest of manners. I am feeling rigid, insecure, lost.

I am a Kripalu yogini, I am a Kripalu yoga teacher, I am dedicated to practice on and off the mat. My yoga is a yoga of compassion, love, and devotion. These are the cornerstones of my lineage, a lineage that is powerful and profound. It is a path home to the heart and eternal soul.

My practice includes observance of the yamas and niyamas or yogic ethics, asana or posture, pranayama or breathing techniques, chanting sacred songs of prayer, meditation in various forms and most of all compassion, prayer and devotion to God. All of these practices are intended to awaken consciousness and strip away illusion, bring freedom from suffering and ultimately culminate in realization of one's true nature. Love.

Recently I have been struggling in my practice, feeling that I have lost my way. I feel like I have lost myself.

I have gone to a few yoga classes here. The first two were crushing. The teacher took us through a very challenging physical class. She offered no modifications, gave no permission to do less, she performed aggressive "corrections" on me in several poses. When, at one point, I told her that my back and shoulders were not going to "to do" what she wanted, she coldly told me "Try."

There was no heart, no spirit, no compassion. I left that class deflated, questioning myself, my practice and judging my body. This opened up my core wound of unworthiness and the familiar internal dialog came gushing in torrents through my mind, thoughts like, " See you don't really know anything about yoga. Your practice is weak and your body is a failure. You have no business teaching. You are not good."

As I searched the city for an alternative I only found more of the same. Hot power and vigorous vinyasa abound (these can be wonderful and beautiful but don't serve me on a daily basis), and several people confirmed to me that the yoga environment here is full of striving and competition, not much room for love and compassion. I felt disheartened and alone.

I retreated to my home practice, to my way of moving, to the breathing and praying and inquiry of Kripalu yoga. Bapuji (Swami Kripalu) said in a well known prayer to his followers, "My beloved child, judge yourself no longer. Each time you judge yourself you break your own heart, you stop drinking in the love which is the wellspring of your vitality."

Love is the path, the practice, it is the beginning and the end. If I move in an asana practice with no love and care for my body, and beyond that my whole being, the practice is bankrupt and useless, and yet, even that struggle and suffering comes to teach.

I see now that that experience brought me here, back to my home practice, it brought me to this insight, to this page, to these very words I offer now. The struggle is the field that, nourished by faith and surrender, blossoms into growth and becomes an offering. It is perfect.

I have not lost myself, what I long for is community. I realize I rely on my yoga community or sangha to see myself, to reflect my light and gifts to me. I have been put on a pilgrimage of sorts, to know myself, by myself, to know my value by my own light. My name, Jyotika, given to me by teachers, means light or torch bearer.

My teachers gave me that name but it is my responsibility to claim it, to fulfill it.

Therefore I declare; I have something very valuable to offer. I am a teacher of Kripalu yoga and that teaching is needed where I am. I have the ability to create a loving yoga community. It is up to me to shine the light.

I made this declaration with the guidance of my teacher Vidya, whose constant support and unshakable faith are my inspiration. Her love is a wellspring fed by devotion and flowing with grace. She reminds me that my practice is nonstop, we live the yoga. We are truly powerful yoginis not because of physical prowess or accomplishment but because we are choosing to be awake in this life, to feel, to struggle, to walk directly into the fire and turmoil, because we have love in our hearts and faith in our souls. We follow the path that Bapuji offered us, the path of love.

My yoga breakdown has been a gift. I lean into my faith now, I let go of fear. The last line of that prayer from Bapuji is my mantra now, " Do not fight the dark, just turn on the light. Breathe and let go into the goodness that you are."

Jai Bhagwan

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Call Me Crazy But...

Call me crazy but I think that God, universe, source, higher power, angels, whatever  terminology you prefer, speaks to me through the radio. Yes, that' s right, well today it was actually through the grocery store overhead music. Does that make it more plausible or more crazy sounding?

Let me explain before you unfriend me, delete me from your contacts or unsubscribe from my blog.

I have had so many experiences where I have been down or struggling for whatever reason and I turn on the radio and "Shazam!" , the perfect song comes on. You know what I mean right? Right??

So anyway I have been doing pretty well adjusting to my new life here in China. It is a very cushy life to be honest so I can't complain too much, but it has been tumultuous and I find myself struggling to find myself here. I have become fairly undefined in a sense. I do my mother thing which is a big thing but then....what? I am a yoga teacher with no students and struggling to find yoga community at all, but that is another post. Yes that is it, most of all I miss my people. I miss my community of students, friends, teachers, family. China would be perfect if I could just get all of you over here with me, after all what's a few hundred more people in China!

Back to my original point, God in the radio.

This morning was dark and gloomy, fierce wind and rain. My driver was unavailable so I found myself slogging it to the grocery store pulling a cart and hanging on to my umbrella for dear life. I tried to stay positive, but my mood was sinking fast. I started thinking of the people I am missing and fretting that I will be forgotten, worrying that I am not making progress in my life, my practice, my teaching. Going no where, the wind agreed with me.

I got inside the store, ambled through a few aisles and then the music came on. It was freaking Backstreet Boys again!! Last time this lifted my mood, but today it made me scowl and want to throw an all out tantrum. I thought, "Are you kidding me?? Who plays the same songs over and over for days?!! What is wrong with this place??!!".

And then in mid song the music stopped. It turned into "Hey Jude" by the Beatles. I stopped right there in the cereal aisle and just took in that song, bathed in it. I sang along softly with tears in my eyes.

"Hey Jude don't make it bad, take a sad song and make it better. Remember to let her into your heart and then you can start to make it better."

As I sang those words my heart opened and my mood completely shifted. I felt love in that song, I remembered who I am in those words. It was a miracle, small but so profound.

If you don't believe in God, source, higher power, angels or even miracles, maybe it is time to turn on a radio and really listen, or just open the eyes of your eyes and the ears of your ears to what is all around you. Something is bound to show up. Or maybe I am crazy, but I'll take it.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Resistance is Futile

I have said it many times before in this blog, not in those exact words perhaps, but it is true, resistance is futile.

I am living in China. I do not speak Chinese. There are many things here that are so different than what I am used to. It is worlds away from anything I have encountered before.

My life circumstances have been melted down and completely remolded. I look around and it is almost like watching a movie or being dropped into someone else's identity, which has happened in a few movies I have seen.

Confronted with life altering circumstances can bring up a veritable gusher of resistance. The sources of suffering we all are confronted with; desire and aversion. The internal struggle of "I want this, I don't want that.", the feeling that the present moment, as it is, is lacking, flawed, or undesirable.

So many of life's circumstances are beyond our individual control. The weather, what other people say or do, or even cultural parameters and societal constraints. For example Chinese culture has a deep investment in hierarchy which determines your station in life, for your entire life. Chance of birth trumps all.

Resistance is futile and true peace can only come from within. China is teaching me that in the most profound ways.
It is not the circumstance that creates distress, disturbance, or unhappiness, it is how we choose to react or respond to it. So when I can't communicate with the person at the shop, can't find that one thing I need but can find plenty of things I don't need or that I am actually a little frightened by, I can become increasingly frustrated (which has happened more than once), or I can soften, smile and go with the flow.

Happiness is an inside job, no matter where you are.

Friday, February 22, 2013

It's Just Never How You Imagined...

 "It is not how I imagined it would be."  Isn't that so often the tagline for big experiences?

As I prepared to move to Shanghai, China I knew I would never accurately imagine or envision what I would find, but I knew it would be big, crowded, full of sights, sounds, smells, tastes I had never experienced before, in a nutshell, foreign. Completely foreign.

There is a meditation exercise I have done a few times where you pretend you are an alien landing on earth and seeing everything on this planet for the first time. The idea is to let go of stories or assumptions about anything and everything you might encounter, so you might experience its essence, its energy, its consciousness.

These past four days, my first four days here in Shanghai have felt like that exercise, but intensified exponentially.

No one here speaks English, somehow this is the one area where I was dreaming. I thought I would be fine being completely unprepared linguistically, yeah, not so much.

If not for our driver, Shane, who speaks a fare amount of English we would be completely, what's the word, oh yeah SCREWED! The shopping process here is a world away from what I am accustomed to. Small shops are more the norm, cash only, and shop help is there to help you find the item you need, but when they are speaking Mandarin and all I can do is smile, nod and shrug my shoulders, we are getting nowhere fast. Shane has been a lifesaver, and we have come away relatively unscathed, but for my part feeling like a bit of a jackass, not to mention completely helpless.

The immigrant experience so far has been exciting and enlivening, but also shocking and frightening and we (myself and my family) have all the perks, we are highly privileged immigrants, but I still feel like the proverbial huddled masses.

Everyone should go through this at some point and perhaps we would find ourselves much more compassionate to newcomers in our country. Believe me no one would go through this without the kind of help and support I have unless they really needed to. They would not go through such fear and frustration, such upheaval, just to be a nuisance or to inconvenience others.

 I have been treated with kindness and respect by all the people I have met here so far, even though I barely can say two words in their language. I am grateful for their compassion. Compassion, respect, and love truly do make the world go around. That is a global language, we all can speak. With that we make a home where ever we might end up, that is the ground to root into. I am full of great hope in the midst of that rooting process. Homecoming in Shanghai, China.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

"Cultural Reprogramming"

   Saturday morning at precisely 9:00 a black town car seemed to materialize in our driveway. Emerging from its dark and mysterious interior were two figures, clad in black with dark sunglasses, briefcases in hand, looking like secret agents and ready to do whatever it would take. It was "cultural reprogramming" day. We did not know exactly what we were about to be confronted with or what methods would be employed, but with subtle glances we vowed to stay together, to stay strong. They could try to get in our heads, but we would not be broken, we would hold on to "us", together. Nothing is stronger than the bonds of family, bonds of blood.

OK, "at precisely 9:00" is the only reality based part of the previous paragraph. They showed up in a red soccer mom looking SUV or crossover type car, you know the kind. They were a very happy and friendly thirty something woman and a middle aged soft spoken man. Our "cultural reprogrammers" were two of the least imposing or intimidating people you could hope to meet.

To be honest it isn't even called "cultural reprogramming".  That is what my ever cynical and smart ass husband had written on the calendar and what eternally gullible me believed it was really called. Stephen informed me later, while having a good laugh, "No, did you REALLY think that is what they would call it! Ha ha, I can't believe you really thought that."

Anyway, the kids worked with the woman for the day, and had a hoot of a time. They were so proud of all the China trivia and facts they had learned. Some things were quite useful, for instance in China it is extremely important to respect your elders, see, very useful indeed! They also learned how to count with some corresponding finger signs, and how to say "thank you". Other things were more novel, like not to give umbrellas or clocks as presents since they mean bad luck or death. Apparently it is also very bad to give a green hat as a gift, since it means that the recipient's spouse is being unfaithful. Guess we will have to return all those Green Bay Packer hats we were planning on giving out.

Stephen and I worked with the soft spoken man and learned about similar things, but with an emphasis on the real differences in cultural identity between the United States and China. China is a very ancient culture with deep roots in group identity and family as opposed to our American spirit of the individual. Chinese people are very concerned with hierarchy and maintaining their place in that hierarchy. Where an American would focus on elevating his or her status and become the best they could be and strive to be a great success, the Chinese are very settled into their station in life and value that identity.

I was told that I will have to learn how to have servants. We will have a driver and an "auntie" while we are there. An "auntie" basically does all the household duties and helps with the children. I was told that Americans tend to go over and want to make friends with these employees and that in actuality that makes them very uncomfortable and is what they refer to as "losing face". They do not want to be put into a position that they do not identify with.

We talked about practical issues as well, such as who gets tips in China, how to get around if the driver is not available, where to shop, how to find a public toilet and so on and so forth.

We also talked about, for myself in particular, if I want to stay in the bubble or go out of the bubble. The bubble being the safe world of the ex-pat community. I am definitely an out of the bubble type person, but  in this case it might take awhile to navigate ways out of the bubble.

I know I am going to learn by trial and probably a whole lot of error, but in my experience that is when I grow the most.

Just learned that Valentines Day is our launch date. Full of love, staying together, bonds of family, takeoff!!        

Sunday, January 27, 2013

It's The End Of The World As We Know It...

"When God is moving you toward a new consciousness, you need to recognize the winds of change at once, move with them instead of clinging to what is already gone." ~ Marion Woodman

The winds of change are blowing at a good clip right now in my life. I know they will only become stronger in the coming weeks, strong enough to lift my entire family up and drop us into a foreign land.

I find myself in a space that my teacher Vidya calls "in the midst", in between worlds, at the crossroads, hanging out in the void. It is interesting to feel a kind of dissolving of my current life happening day by day. Yesterday I taught my last class to a very loyal group of students, the last class with them for I don't know how long, maybe ever. There is a loss in these endings that has a quality of deathlike finality, because the truth is, even if I do return to this town and these same classes someday, they won't be the same. I won't be the same, the students won't be the same. It is assuredly the end of this life, at least in the way it has been.

It makes me think of a lyric from a song I loved back in the day, "It's the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine." ~ R.E.M.

My world as I have known it is crumbling and I am being toppled headfirst into the unknown. A death is occurring and as a consequence a rebirth. As I let go of clinging to what is already gone I can shift my focus onto what is happening now and what possibilities lie ahead. As a yogini on the path, seeking  clarity, inner awakening and ultimately liberation there is so much here to inquire into, to feel and process.

In China I will be completely anonymous. No one will know a single thing about me. The one external constant will be my role in my family, mother and wife, but other than that it is a clean slate. Which begs the question so many people have asked me and which I ask of myself too, " What will I do over there?" Huh, what WILL I DO??

There is a part of me that has a pattern of feeling that my value is measured by my "doings", having a full and hectic schedule, getting things done and feeling productive. This pattern has at times robbed me of needed rest, time to reflect, time to just be.

So the first thing I will do will be to do nothing more than what each moment of each day requires. I will take time to settle, attend to my family, breathe and feel, be present. I will take time to land and reflect on this quality of being empty. I will embrace emptiness and become still so I can use all my senses to look inside, taking time to be with me.

Wow! Amazing how it has taken this coming move to China to get me to see the certain value in this. Going on a retreat from my external identity that is sometimes wrapped up in ego and accomplishment, desire and aversion, is ripe with potential soul growth. Stepping away from things that are fulfilling but also energy consuming and sometimes a source of fatigue and frustration could be a great healing.

I want to take this transformational circumstance and dive deep into it, and by doing so dive deep into me. I will shift my focus from being a teacher of yoga and return fully to being a student of yoga, step back to self discovery and become even more of who I am.

I intend to just make space for whatever will show up, outside, and more importantly inside of me. I want to be wide awake to the wonder and adventure, as well as the sadness and loneliness that will come. I want to be a vessel of experience and insight, whether that experience shows up as delight or struggle.

Even if you are not moving to China maybe you need some of this too. More inner looking than outer doing. Pausing to slow down and empty out, to get back to the bare bones of who you are. Spaces to be in feeling instead of rushing to the next item on the to do list and staying numb.

Transformation is always happening, sometimes it is big, fiery and all consuming or more often it lives in life's subtleties, ordinary exchanges with friends and family, small choices and daily commitments. Things are constantly coming and going, moments live and die away, pieces of who we are also have a time and then pass away. The cycles of life and death are always turning. Our dharma, or soul work, is to look, listen, feel, act and create so that these opportunities for growth are more often taken than left aside.  Sometimes the best action is a seeming inaction. Taking time to get quiet, so we can hear the music of our own souls and come to know ourselves completely. In knowing one's self, evolution becomes automatic.

The only sure thing is change.

"It's the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine."

Here is a link to the song from the soundtrack of my life.