i wonder if I’ll get there…

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Yesterday, driving south down the 405, creeping along in traffic at the pace of a severely hungover snail, I was exhilarated to find that I had remembered to bring my Bluetooth speakers. Whenever I magically remember to throw them in my bag on the way out the door, and especially if they actually happen to be equipped with a full charge, it totally turns my day around. It means that instead of listening to the gritty, between-stations radio of my trusty ’81 Toyota, I am able to play NPR TED Radio Hour. (Don’t get too excited, meow!)

With new-found resolve to enjoy my drive to Torrance, I switched them on.

I-phone in the hands-free dock? CHECK.

Bluetooth on? CHECK.

“DING!” (I’m connected!!!)

I didn’t look around too much – just clicked an episode – “To The Edge” (Link at bottom). If you’ve never listened to the program before – DO IT! These hour-long themed compilations of various TED talks cater not only to a hunger for inspiration, but to the short attention span that most of us suffer from these days. NPR picks the most astounding, brain-gripping, eyeball-widening parts of 4-6 talks surrounding a basic theme, and they re-interview the speakers to get deeper into their most life-changing moments.

I settled into my car seat, adjusted my rear view, and prepared to be lifted up and away.

“When I put one foot on the wire, I have the faith – the certitude – that I will perform the last step as well. You cannot have a project, a goal, if you do not believe firmly that it is possible. If not, it’s like, oh…I hope…one day…you know, success will fall from the sky and I will be there to receive it! It doesn’t work like that!”

While many portions of the program inspired me and hit home, this particular quote stuck with me because of its simplicity and clarity. It was one of those things that you hear and you think “HOLY SHIT! That’s Genius!” And then you realize it is TOTALLY obvious. You feel a little stupid at first, but then you realize other people might be in the dark too – especially since it’s groundbreaking and (potentially) genius enough to be put on a popular radio show.

I believe many of us make goals and start projects without consciously visualizing what it would feel like to complete them. Small things – like keeping the house clean for more that 48 hours or getting to your yoga class 5 times in a week – those are the harder ones – the ones we focus on less. But maybe if we visualized and truly believed in these small achievements more, our more daunting projects would seem more possible. Can we build faith, build belief in our own success, by just…practicing?

My theme in class this week was “You master what you practice” – something I was told repeatedly in class by my Minneapolis-based teacher Nora Byrne. This came to mind as I pondered the above. What would happen if we worked to master the visualization of small projects – if we could have faith that we are continuously capable of completing and succeeding in the smaller things that make our life our own?

If you’ve never seen the following blog post – check it out. It describes perfectly how the smaller things in adult life add up – how we courageously commit to changing our ways, and then quickly fall into the pit of despair that is the realization that we have to do it all over again tomorrow.

http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/2010/06/this-is-why-ill-never-be-adult.html

This humorously illustrates what I think most of us struggle with on a daily basis. We attack tasks from the perspective of “If I go to the gym every day, keep my house clean, make time for my social life, and brush my teeth on a consistent basis, I will succeed at life!” However, as life moves on, other things become important to us and take away from our desire to succeed at the smaller tasks. “Well, if I don’t clean the house tonight, I can go to yoga and go out to dinner, and then I will clean TOMORROW!” (suuuureeeee….)

What if we approached it from the perspective of Phillipe Petite on his way from one tower to the other? More specifically – what if I committed to write in my blog ONCE A WEEK – what if I actually imagined, believed, had faith that it would happen? What if I imagined the day next year…September 18th, 2014, that I sat down at my desk, gently bopped my fluffy bunny-cat Khaleesi on the head, and opened my laptop to see fifty-two entries? What if I imagined what they would say, and how they would evolve? What if I visualized how it would feel to look back, to re-examine my thought process and re-discover hidden gems?

Time for us to take it away from the what if. Time to actually do it. Time to start with the small stuff, to master what we practice.

If I can write once a week in a blog for a whole year – if I can be THAT committed, that consistent, and stay connected through total belief in my own success, who know what else I can do?!

TED Radio Hour – “To The Edge” 

http://www.npr.org/2013/07/11/201092483/to-the-edge

Natarjasana

i wonder what i’m missing…

I am lucky. I am OH. SO. LUCKY. I am fortunate, blessed, charmed, bright, content, and lucky. I am 27 years old and I can truly say that I LOVE my job. I love the people, the places, the mission, the transformation that I get to see on a daily basis. I care deeply about what I do, and who I work with.

I love it so much that  it’s often hard to put it down, set it aside, and love my life too. I think sometimes that I might be  missing things. I think sometimes my focus is too narrow, and some of what’s most important may not be within it’s range. Am I missing relationships, experiences, and sensations that are waiting for me just outside my view? If I widen my focus, will I lose sight of my dreams, my goals, my progress?

In Yoga, we talk frequently about Drishti, or one pointed focus. Drishti is your gaze during a Yoga asana or meditation. It fosters concentration, determination, and existence in the present moment. It creates balance, moves energy, and your body follows where it goes. The few times I’ve felt as though I’ve really tapped in to this gaze, I’ve gone further into postures than ever before. Why is it so hard to find? It’s just staring, right? I mean I’m pretty great at staring. I’m constantly staring – at my eyes in the mirror (hmm…puffy today), at the interesting faces around me (what are they thinking?), at the wall (oooh a bug!), at my laptop. Can’t be THAT challenging. But it is.

There’s something important to remember about Drishti. While you are focusing on one point, there must be a certain softness to your gaze. There is no strain, and you are still aware of the environment around you. Rather than being narrowed, your field of vision is expanded. There is the sense that you can see MORE of what is in your periphery, rather than less. There is a serenity, a calm, that both mirrors and strengthens the determination and conviction in your gaze. There is a sensation that you are no longer seeing with your eyes, but with something deeper, wiser, and more open.

Perhaps this is what I am missing in my life off the mat. It’s not a bad thing to be focused on your career, your love life, your education, your family. It’s not a bad thing even if you ignore the other aspects of your life for a while in order to take care of what seems most important. You can achieve great things when you direct your attention unequivocally to one single-minded path. Visionaries, artists, dancers, writers – ANY career – can be catapulted to a certain level of mastery if there is enough energy pointed directly at it’s progress. However prosperous the people who find this concentration may be, I think there must be some sort of sacrifice – a certain sensation of lack, something missing that keeps them (us) from the fullness of life.

Yes, you may attain great success when you focus so much on one thing that the other parts of life fall away. But…can you achieve even greater things when you soften that resolve? When you widen your viewpoint? When you allow MORE into your field of vision and consciously and continually make the choices necessary to find and keep a sense of balance? Awareness is at the root of all solutions, all problem-solving, all questions and all answers. It seems obvious that the more of which you are aware, the more you will achieve.

Life is not a partitioned conglomeration of separate realities. There are no boundaries between your family life, your career, your love life, your friendships. You are present in all of them, and they are all present in all of you. You learn from each of them and that knowledge effects your experience of the others. You can try to create separation, if you like. You can try to block things out in order to refocus your energies on what you think really matters. But does it really do you any good? Isn’t it better to experience life as a whole? Shouldn’t that be our natural state? Why is it so hard to find the balance?

I was surprised to find, when I looked in the dictionary, an incredibly broad, and ridiculously accurate definition of the word focus:

fo·cus noun \ˈfō-kəs\

1.The point where rays (as of light, heat, or sound) converge and intersect to give rise to an image.

2. A state or condition permitting clear perception or understanding.

3. A place of meeting; a rallying point, headquarters, or gathering place.

4. Collective order.

It was hard, as I read this, wide-eyed, not to gawk at my own stupidity for never thinking about it this way. I had a moment of pure wonder and celebration – a light bulb moment where something I already knew was defined, explained, and validated. My favorite definition is the first one. Since we are all energy, all vibration, I feel this definition directly correlates to a the broader spectrum of thought and experience that is life as a whole.

Where is the point where the seemingly different rays, vibrations, energies in our lives converge, and what is the image that arises when they do? What happens when sound, light, and energy congregate for the same purpose? The big picture, the whole, the connection between all of us becomes visible – even just for a moment. When that happens, what is possible?

I am lucky. I am OH. SO. LUCKY. I love my job. I love my family. I love my friends. So what am I missing?

I am missing absolutely nothing. However, I have to learn to find that focus – that place of convergence – that sense of unity, entirety, balance, and simplicity all rolled into one. I have found it on my mat, and because of that I know I can find it in life as well. Likely it is something, like meditation, not that you can grasp and hold, but that you must consistently and constantly practice and search out. Something that becomes easier to find with each moment that passes. Something that comes with experience, perception, and continuous awareness.

Stay motivated. Stay determined. Stay passionate. But broaden your view, soften your gaze, and let the rays of light and sound and energy combine to show you the the whole picture.

Nothing is missing. Everything is at our fingertips.

“Always remember, your focus determines your reality.” 
― George Lucas

i wonder why the roller coaster?

“The question is not what you look at, but what you see.” 
― Henry David Thoreau

roll′er coast`er
n.

1. a small railroad, esp. in an amusement park, having a train with open cars that moves along a high, sharply winding trestle built with steep inclines.

2. any phenomenon, period, or experience characterized by intense ups and downs or fluctuations.

rollercoaster

We often describe the seemingly endless ups and downs of life as a roller coaster. As defined above, “an experience categorized by intense ups and downs or fluctuations”. I’ve seen and lived with depression all my life  – as most of us have in one way or another. I’m a firm believer that depression is chemical – that it is an imbalance, a malfunction, a misfiring of the intricacies of the human brain. Whether you suffer from clinical depression or not, all of us experience times of ascension, progress, and transformation as well as times where it seems as though everything has been torn unceremoniously from our control. The term “roller coaster” interests me because it’s such an accurate description of these sensations.
Imagine for a moment…you’ve bought your ticket and waited in line for what feels like forever. As you step into the seat and the attendant buckles you in, (you check, and re-check…and re-check that she did it correctly and that nothing is loose), there is anticipation, fear, and the breath accelerates. You see her push a big red button, or pull an ominous looking lever, and she smiles knowingly as you feel an engine start somewhere beneath you. Something is activated, turned on, sparked,  in order to propel the machine into movement. There is the slow ascent – you can hear and feel how the track moves the coaster up…its gritty, its uncomfortable, and yet it feels exhilarating and your heartbeat begins to speed up. Personal transformation – growth, learning, experience, change…all of these things are associated with similar sensations.
There is, however, an attachment to results. On a roller coaster, it’s an attachment to reaching the top, and experiencing that stomach-in-your-mouth, heart-in-your-throat release of all control and complete submission to movement and gravity that occurs when the coaster crests and plummets down it’s steep decline. In life, it’s your expectation of the reward you will receive for a job or an experience completed. It’s the hope for a better future, something clearer and brighter, where you are a truer and happier version of yourself.
After the long climb – what seems like an endless ascension into the sky – much higher and more frightening than it looked from below, you grind, creaking to the beat of the track, to a shuddering stop. There is a holding of the breath, a widening of the eyes, and what seems like an endless moment of stillness. You can feel the others around you holding their breaths as well. There are always some that ignore the stillness – try to cover it up with an exhilarated scream or a challenge to their own fear. A nervous laugh, a gasp, a few sharp intakes of breath. But you are all feeling the same thing. You are all ready to let go of the work – to let go of the growth, and the challenge. You’re ready to face the fear so that you can MOVE from that place of stillness and anticipation. You are ready to submit to the whim of gravity and let it carry you (screaming and gasping mightily) all the way back to the earth below.
I think this is the moment we pay the LEAST attention to, and the moment that proves MOST important. It is in that silence that we make our decisions – conscious or otherwise. We decide that we will let go of the handrails (or not). We decide that we will scream, or we glue our lips shut in an attempt to take the plunge in wide-eyed silence as a challenge to the force of gravity and the fear we think we have conquered. How do you react in this moment? On a roller coaster? In life? Where does your mind go in that quiet space between the inhale and the exhale, the up and the down, ascension and gravity? Where does your mind go in the moments between growth and surrender? Do you submit to the whims of the universe or do you try to fight it off? If you fight, why? If you surrender, how? Can you do both? Absolutely.
There is a sound…a clank of metal, a screech of machinery in need of some serious WD40, and suddenly the breath you are holding can live in your lungs no longer. In a last-ditch effort to face the descent with conviction and fearlessness, you try to take in a tiny bit more air. And then, something gives. You can feel it in the seat beneath you, in the energy surrounding you, and in the wide eyes of tiny faces that look up from the ground below. And suddenly your breath is rushing out faster than you thought it could. You might be screaming or perhaps it’s the person behind you. Your heart has incomprehensibly traveled to the spot right at the base of your throat, and simultaneously seems to have stopped beating. For a moment, you wonder if you’ll survive. There is a sense of freedom, of being lost in an uncontrollable dive into the unknown. At some point there is the surprising realization that you are not, in fact, going to die (today).
And that’s when your brain turns back on, your heart returns to its anatomically correct location, and you begin to inhale and exhale like a normal human being. By this time, you’re slowing down. The slope has decreased in degree and the unseen speedometer begins its asperous coast to a halt. Bump…bump……..bump………bump………………….and stop. You sigh in relief, your shoulders fall from where they were frozen to your ears (you likely didn’t notice they were up there for so long)  and you look for your footing on the somewhat unfamiliar ground beneath you. It seems a little bit different from it was when you left it, and you have to get used to its stillness.
We ride roller coasters all day long, all of our lives. Emotional, physical, spiritual, mental. We are challenged to ascend, to work, to grow, to transform. There is fear, anticipation, excitement, strength, determination, faith, and pure exhilaration. And then we let go – we fall – we surrender. There is relief, a sense of giving up, an emptiness, doubt, and hopelessness. There is the feeling that we will never recover, that this is the end. And then we do it all over again. How we act and react the next time around will be unmistakably different. We’ll learn from our mistakes. We’ll do better. We’ll move forward. The important thing to remember is that we will ALWAYS move forward.
The word depression refers to a void – a cavity – something missing. The antonym of depression is elevation – a lifting up, an exaltation. In order to have both of these words, and both of these feelings, there MUST be some sort of neutral, right? A balance point where there is nothing missing, but nothing extra. In order for the life roller coaster to go up and down, there must be a place where it is doing neither.
This place of stillness is always accessible, always possible. In order to find it, all we have to do is take a look at the big picture.  We have to find that place at the very top of the roller coaster where everything is still and quiet. Where the world is laid clearly and expansively below us, and we can see both where we’ve been and where we are going. We have access here, to the knowledge of our past experiences. We are able to check in and remind ourselves that, as my Grandma says “this too shall pass”. Whether we are experiencing a moment of happiness, exaltation, love, or a moment of hopelessness, sadness,  fear, we always have that neutral place from which there is clarity, understanding, and a sweeping panoramic of the aggregate landscape at our fingertips. As long as we can find that place, neither ego nor depression can conquer us, for we are beyond both.
“If we are always arriving and departing, it is also
true that we are eternally anchored. One’s destination
is never a place but rather a new way of looking at things.” 
― Henry Miller

i wonder why cats are so awesome?

PSYCH! I NEVER WONDER THAT. Its seriously obvious.

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I mean really…how long did you think I could have a blog without writing about cats? Not only are they completely superior to humans, dogs, and most other animals, but they are completely aware of that fact and choose to grace us with their presence (if we are lucky) anyways! The humility! The grace! The compassion! Cats are obviously to be admired. For those of you still skeptical…here are a few interesting facts that may sway your verdict on our feline friends.

Did you know that each cat’s nose  a unique pattern – somewhat like a fingerprint?

How about the fact that sir Isaac Newton (you may have heard of his somewhat important discovery of gravity…) also invented some AMAZING things – like the cat door!

Also, I’ve got no beef with dogs – they’re totally sweet, but they can make only 10 sounds with their vocal chords. Cats? Over 100.

And my favorite? According to Hebrew legend, Noah prayed to God for help protecting all the food he stored on the ark from being eaten by rats. In reply, God made the lion sneeze, and out popped a cat. (Poor kitty…all covered in lion snot!)

Whenever someone comes over and has never had a cat of their own, you should see their eyes TOTALLY pop out of their skulls when they my kitten jump from the floor to the counter. A cat can actually jump more than 5 times its body length within a single bound!

The ability of a cat to find its way home is called “psi-traveling.” (Sadly, it does not refer to the cat dancing Gangnam style with a chubby South Korean man back to its place of residence.) Experts think that cats have magnetized cells in their brains that act as compasses. BAM. Winning.

Cats are WAY better at yoga postures than humans. This likely has something to do with the 53 vertebrae in their spines – vs the human’s measly 34, and the dog’s piddly 31. Take that, eight crooked limbs.

Ever wonder why cats can get into just about ANYTHING? A cat has no collarbone, so it can fit through any opening the size of its head. (That would be SO useful!)

Cats have been worshipped in Ancient Egypt, used by the CIA as spies, were feared and hated by both Julius Caesar and Napoleon, and admired by Abraham Lincoln, Leonardo DaVinci, and Ernest Hemingway. They can hear better, see better, sense better, run faster, stretch further, survive longer, jump higher, and sleep more than any human, and are undeniably pretty freakin’ awesome.

If you’re already a cat lover, you’re likely nodding your head knowingly, the corners of your mouth turning up in a smile that says “why of course…I knew it all along”. If you haven’t yet succumbed to the inevitable love for cats that all humans will eventually acknowledge, your face is probably a tapestry of skepticism and dismissal. Perhaps you are halfway there – willing to acknowledge feline skill and beauty, but not quite yet convinced.

Either way…cheers to cats.

Want more?

“The Cat’s Song” by Margie Piercy

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/174146

An essay on “Perdita: Why Cats are Better than Humans”

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/article/244232

MEOWMASTE!

i wonder why it hurts?

Behind-every-Beautiful-thingThere’s-Some-Kind-Of-pain

Yesterday, I took two yoga classes for the first time in a LONG time. It felt beautiful, wonderful, incredible. (Sometimes I think I use those words too much but then I realize if you’re going to use ANY words too much, those are definitely good choices.)

Sometimes I find that when I work out after a long time without moving my body it feels as though I am a brick trying to move across a cement floor. It’s that nails on a chalkboard/apple skin/shoulder-cringing/eyeball-squeezing nasty feeling of unwanted friction – stiffened with lack of use and unwilling to move forward.

Other times, I feel like something in my body was sleeping and has finally woken up – like I’ve finally restored balance and every muscle and fiber of my being is more awake, more aware, more connected. My brain seems to send impulses faster and movement comes easier with every breath. I feel like at last I’ve jumped some kind of hurdle – like my body will never hurt again – like all of the pain is gone and can’t come back.

But, it always does. Why do the things we love to do hurt so much? Why cant pain leave beauty and pleasure alone? Why can’t  good be totally free from evil, end evil be completely void of good? Why do right and wrong mean different things to different people at different times? I wonder.

I took a 6:30pm Vinyasa class with a good friend last night. It was a delicious class – full of flowing movement, freedom, focus, and determination to GET somewhere. I’d taught earlier that day and found a quote to use in class. For some reason, the occasion never arose to actually use it. So it just hung in my mind – slowly dissolving away as the afternoon went by, gradually being layered over with to do lists, traffic woes, and concerns for the future. However – it stayed with me long enough for me to share it with my friend before she taught. It was a quick moment of inspiration transferral – a few words to her and somehow she not only managed to remember it, but managed to weave it into her theme seamlessly and with more grace than I ever could have done.

Her theme for class was Ohm’s law. I = V/R or Electric Current = Voltage over Resistance. Our bodies are all made of electricity – and our breath flows on the physical, energetic current that is our being. She focused this class on the Resistance portion. Interesting, I thought, to start at the end of the equation – because that is (If I remember 10th grade Physics class correctly…which it’s likely I don’t) usually the place to start if you want a solution.

She spoke of finding the spaces of resistance in our lives – physically, mentally, spiritually. I was surprised to find, yesterday, that unlike that brick grating disruptively against cement, I encountered little to no resistance on my mat – in my body or elsewhere. As if on cue, she acknowledged the times when there is no resistance, and encouraged us to celebrate this lack – to take joy in a freedom it brings. However, as I lay on mat, I realized that I have not celebrated the lack of resistance that I have lately been blessed with. Each time I am granted a free-flowing path, I find a moment or two of gratitude, then I simply move on to my next goal, my next step. Towards what? No idea. But I haven’t taken the time to celebrate, to enjoy, to be free; I haven’t reveled in the unbridled cushion of fearlessness that lack of resistance inspires. Instead I just keep plunging forward, thinking only of the next challenge.

I crave resistance. I seek it out, strengthen it, challenge it, and try my best to get its attention. Most of us do. Most of us like to make it hard on ourselves. And we should! Because without resistance, there would be no gravity, no stability, and no growth. We would be floating, disconnected, swirling and unintentional beings without the capacity for transformation. In order to stretch a muscle safely and effectively, there MUST be resistance. There must be something holding it back from the direction it is trying to go.

When exploring the flexibility of our muscles, there are times of pain, of surrender, of pleasure, joy, grief, acceptance, frustration, and triumph. While we may not recognize these feeling so acutely when stretching our hamstrings, the same sensations and transformations happen when we stretch or minds, our beliefs, our hearts, and our ability to connect with others. There is a journey from the point of inflexibility, stiffness, stagnation, and grasping stubbornness to the release that comes when resistance is acknowledged, utilized, and then let go. Along this journey is where we transform, grow, learn, and tap into our internal capacity for wisdom and love.

The quote that I shared with my friend and she in turn gifted back to me says all of this very simply. It doesn’t give us details, or a handbook, or even a real direction to look in for answers. No selection of words, however poignant, can begin to do this. They can, however, bring our awareness to what we already know – somewhere deep within us – and that is just about the best thing you can hope for from words.

“You must see with eyes unclouded by hate. See the good in that which is evil, and the evil in that which is good. Pledge yourself to neither side, but vow instead to preserve the balance that exists between the two.” 
― Hayao Miyazaki