Let Your Little Light Shine

Wow, I don’t know about you, but every time I read the news or hear about what is going on, I feel very concerned.  There are things we can’t ignore- the vulnerability of our planet, institutions that we hold dear, and human lives. Things can change in a minute, and there is a lot of suffering in the world. But something that became clear on my recent trip to Oaxaca is that now, more than ever, we need to let the light inside us grow and shine out, and that won’t happen if we focus on fear.  We need, instead, to focus on what we can do in this moment to stay inspired and connected and to uplift others.

The theme of our trip was how to face this challenging time, with huge events like earthquakes, hurricanes, fires, and a suffering world mirroring a tempestuous political climate stricken by conflict and polarized viewpoints while letting the light inside us shine out into the darkness and finding joy and a playful spirit so that we could truly appreciate our many blessings. 

To cultivate that light, we have to transform fear and deepen our connection to the natural elements. We need to protect ourselves from negativity. In natural rhythms and ancient cultures we can find wisdom about facing obstacles and being with change.  We can learn to sink into our body and to trust, to rest in cycles and in the flow. Too often we stay caught up in our heads, trying to figure things out, and thinking our way into a state of anxiety. We want to explain the unexplainable instead of appreciating the wonder. The brain thinks but the heart knows, so allowing the heart to lead, and relaxing into the place where intuition can emerge is the surest way to allow fear to dissipate and the light of love to lead the way.

We can allow our minds to quiet and calm and to connect to the natural wisdom of our being, the combined resources of our body/mind/spirit, which holds many answers. Our mind wants to control events while our being can surrender to what is and allow things to unfold in their natural order.  Our mind tends to look to the past and the future and is familiar with regret and anticipation while our being knows that the present moment is our power and our grace.

Sometimes we just need to light a candle, or take a deep breath and notice the world around us, in this very moment. Being as loving as we can to the people around us is hugely helpful, as forgiveness and acceptance keep us appreciating the gifts of the present. Turning our attention to gratitude can relieve pain and distress.  Maintaining relationships with people who inspire and encourage us and who appreciate us as we are is a huge support for being the best we can be.  Remember that we are connected, through spirit, to all the people we care about and those who care about us, despite physical distance; we are always supported and never alone. Practice mindfulness, spend time in nature, and just dance, sing, and laugh- joy is the best medicine there is! And sometimes we need something unexpected to awaken a part of ourselves that needs to shine.

In Oaxaca, we lay on the wet earth and let the imprint of our body reveal our soul map. Laying there in the soft warm mud, being held by the earth, and feeling the deep stillness wasn’t easy, it wasn’t totally comfortable, but ultimately we had an amazing, transformative experience.  And a part of ourselves had been revealed through the earth. Later, warming ourselves by the fire on that dark jungle night, we could laugh like wild children, knowing we had faced our fears and really connected to the earth and each other.  We did something totally out of the ordinary and received so much from being present.

Each moment of discomfort can be a moment of empowerment. It can be so very freeing, to not worry so much about having things a certain way, to not be held back by fear, but just to let go and be present in the moment, and let your wild self out, let your light shine!

There are many familiar fears that can hold us back, I know them all, we used to be very friendly. I know to lay them on the altar of the earth so that they can be transformed.  Light them so that they rise as smoke, beseeching heaven, asking unseen powers to assist.  Let them fall back as soft rain to nurture the earth ready for a new growth of fresh ideas. 

We learned so much in Oaxaca, we practiced shining our light and feeling it grow.  We learned to be huge, huge enough to hold the suffering of many, huge enough to not be distracted by the temptations of fear, anger and despair, huge enough to offer love.  Mostly we learned that this is a magic place and a powerful journey, and we were glad we came.  And we really laughed a lot.

There are many ways to cultivate mindfulness and many ways to find joy, even in dark times.  It is important to have a community of support. Thank you for being a part of mine.  Let me know how you are doing.  And I invite you to join me on my next trip to Oaxaca- Feb 21-Mar 2, with a three-day add on at the beach, Mar 2-5.

With love and light

Maria

Kayaking in the Harvest Season: Taking in Abundance

Spring Courtright, and I led two fabulous Women’s Transformational Kayak Journeys this summer. The experiences were empowering as they provided a certain challenge, a lot of fun, and a way, through sharing and being witnesses for each other, to bring learning back into our lives. Great women wisdom was shared!

Challenges help us to be more aware of our inner state, and with awareness comes freedom. Two predominant themes emerged. One was the desire to connect authentically. People are craving the opportunity to feel connected and to share from their hearts. People long for real heart to heart communication, speaking about what is truly alive and what moves them, and sharing in a way that feels safe and comfortable.

On the trips, when we set the tone and introduced our way of listening and communicating, a valve opened up and gratitude and enthusiasm started pouring out. People were thrilled to be able to be themselves and to be seen and accepted for who they were. We forget how often society demands that we try to be something we are not. We harbor some hidden belief that we are not enough as we are. We fear that people won’t like us or appreciate us if we reveal our true selves. We also constantly face the reality that when we share some tender truth, we often get a response back that is at best not helpful and at worst, actually painful, because most people have never been educated about communication. And some people are in so much pain themselves, that they cannot be supportive of others, and are really best avoided. It is important to let go of toxic relationships, if at all possible, or, to minimize their impact by not taking anything personally.

Creating a safe container is key. Aspects of safety include: holding space for the speaker, refraining from giving advice or bringing up our own story in response to the speaker’s story, and finding a place of non-judgment within ourselves from which we can openheartedly remain curious and receptive about what is true for someone else.

It is amazing how someone’s story can touch something within us, trigger something maybe, and boom… we are off and running about our own issue. But focusing on ourselves is not really supportive of others. We have found that the best way to help people feel fully heard is to sit in a circle and give each person a chance to tell their story without any comment at all, or just a reflection back of what was heard. We support each other with our attention and our open hearts. We listen, accept, feel our common humanity, and offer our love. This is what people want and need.

We would generally ask a deepening question, and everyone would speak to it, such as: what obstacles did you have to overcome to be here; or what steps can you take now, to bring into your life the change you would like. Everyone could reflect deeply and share an intimate part of themselves, and with our format, people felt safe to really dig deeply. This way of sharing really filled the need to connect authentically. And we celebrated that connection with lots of chatting, laughing, bonding, great camaraderie, and sharing of wisdom.

The other theme that emerged was that, as women, we often spend our lives taking care of others and putting others’ needs first. Taking care of others is a source of great joy, but sometimes, deeply engrained patterns and ways of thinking and behaving prevent us from leading fully actualized lives because we don’t develop the capacity to put ourselves first. We might be workaholics, addicted to being productive or to having everything clean or orderly at all times, or have some other compulsion that makes us put something ahead of our true selves. We have to be aware of our own needs, and know how to meet them, and not let them be drowned out by all the demands that life places on us.

Airline travel teaches us to put our own oxygen mask on first but we often forget that in our daily life. Through talking about this shared reality, we learned that a simple shift can make a big difference. If we admit the need to fill our cup first, so that we can better serve others, it can help us justify doing for ourselves. If we understand that taking care of ourselves is not only good modeling for those we love, but that it also enables us to give our best back. It is, in a sense, our responsibility. We can accomplish this by noticing subtle shifts in our inner state and by cultivating the ability to say yes and no appropriately. Yes please, more of that. No thank you, not now, I can’t do that- for those of us who are unaccustomed- it feels weird and takes practice!

The concepts of giving and receiving, taking in and taking care are aspects of the Earth Element, which is alive in this harvest season between summer and fall. It is really a good time to practice taking in the abundance that is there for all of us, to relish the conscious act of receiving, to cultivate the art of giving from an overflowing self, and to take care of yourself lovingly.

Giving ourselves the gift of experience is a great way to take care of ourselves on a deeply nurturing level. More than possessions or consumables, moving experiences can help us grow, change, learn, and blossom into all that we want to be. They can shake up our life and let those things that don’t serve us filter out, while leaving the things that are truly important and most helpful. Consider putting off that remodel or new gadget and go on a trip or take a class or workshop. We become more through what we do, our life reflects our choices, our capacities grow as we allow new experiences to move us.

Think about joining me in Oaxaca- either in October or next January, for a truly life changing and transformative experience. You will be so happy you did. And if it is a challenge- well, that can be a gift too.

Thanks for reading this! Stay in touch and let me know your thoughts.

Leading with Heart

I went to a workshop a bit ago- 3 days in the city, indoors with the sun shining through the windows. I was on the fence about going- I don’t like driving in traffic or early morning ferries, or sitting in a room all day, especially in the summer….. But boy, I was glad I went.

Some things are so helpful that we can call them life changing. We hear the thing we have always known but we understand it in a new and clearer way, and we practice it so that we have more choice and clarity, and it becomes ours. We have a flash of insight or a new awareness or just a small shift in our way of being so that we understand ourselves and others better. We become more effective, gentler, less likely to judge, less reactive, more gracious and forgiving, we have more capacity. And we know the world needs people with capacity, people who can hold suffering without taking it on and who can offer a simple invitation to others, the invitation to heal. It was a very useful workshop.

It was called Whole Heart Connection and it was offered by one of my favorite teachers, Thea Elijah. I studied with her extensively when I was a newly graduated acupuncturist and her teachings are one of the reasons that my treatments are as potent as they are. She taught me about the spirit of the points, about vibrational medicine, and the importance of intention. She taught me so many things- she is brilliant and insightful. She helped me deepen my understanding of the Five Elements and the powerful and elegant system that is Chinese Medicine and eastern thought, upon which I base my understanding of health and well being.

This workshop was not about acupuncture, it was about presence. It was about how to stay centered and how to uplift others. It was about communicating, but not verbally or through body language. Instead we practiced subtle, important shifts in our own inner world that could radiate out and impact others. Most of the exercises and practice over the three days were done without any words, but they were deeply moving. We learned about heart, about standing between heaven and earth, about the front and back body, and about the unseen forces that we can turn to. It is now hard to put into words, but the experience has changed me.

Being in the presence of someone who has a developed awareness and a desire to share is so uplifting and helpful! And Thea’s point is that we can all have this and we should go out, make this work our own, and share it. I know I will be using it in my treatments and also offering teachings on my upcoming kayak trips and on the retreat to Oaxaca.

In Oaxaca we work with a woman, Elizabeth, who similarly has deep understanding and awareness. She is an energy worker, intuitive healer and a ceremonialist and we gain the same inspiration for presence and capacity by being with her. The connection to the unknown can be strengthened by these kinds of experiences and that in itself can affect our lives in so many ways. Oaxaca is a place where the unseen world is honored, it is a place where magic lives, and that connection enhances our own capacities.

Join me to explore the inner world while sharing a rich adventure. There are still a few spaces in the August women’s kayak trip and the October journey to Oaxaca is still open. Call now or click here for more info.

Me and My To-Do List, a Relationship

Like a compass needle drawn unwaveringly to north, my gaze turns to my to do list. Sweeping past the round flat drops of rain that decorate the skylight, never noticing the new blossoms that are threatening to emerge on the lilac tree, swaying outside the window, or the limb that can be seen from the kitchen sink, heavy and drooping with white balls of bloom- what is that plant called? – no time to wonder or even notice, the day’s chores are calling. The list is a structure that props up and gives form to the emptiness of a life focused on activity. It is a hollow tube through which things flow. It is always filling up- some great spring at its source, bubbling up constantly with more to do. It only gradually empties, a squeezing out of small drips, each completed task pulled from nothingness into accomplishment by a great force of will. That same will that insists that the music of life outside the door should be turned down low.

It is my great organizing principle, this list, the thing that states my priorities and outlines my enoughness. I remember the old days, when I would take a nap and then write it on my list and cross it off, as it was what I accomplished with those golden blissful hours. I have grown too serious, taken too many webinars about productivity, taken on too many projects that require follow up. I would like to write “spontaneous activity” or “unknown adventure” on my list. I wonder if that would change anything. I wonder if I could get away with it.

Saturday it was raining, but I still pulled my head up away from my work and went for a walk. It wasn’t exactly on the list, but it being the weekend, my will was distracted and I could talk it into thinking that there were endless hours left to keep squeezing out the small accomplishments that seem to define my day. I found myself near tears as I drove to meet my friend. Why is my life so filled with tasks that I have no time to live?

The rain paused. The sky lightened and blue sucker holes showed through the leaden clouds. We were by the shore and the water shimmered in the light wind, the waves dancing, the sea lions bellow echoing across the channel. New leaves decorated the woods with colors and textures that blended together into a sea of life. Steph pointed out the plants she loved: the watercress in the ditch, the ferns, the wild cherry tree blossoms. In her presence I came back into the moment and could take in what was before me and it was a sweet relief to see where I was, in my body, on the ground, in this place. I started to pay attention to the world, felt its call. The scent of lilacs wafted through the spring air and almost pierced me with memories and sweetness. The scent was like a song- alive, alive, alive- it spoke to me. Now I could hear the birds and enjoy the unfurling newness of spring growth in its untamable abundance and magnificent diversity. And I see how the garden needs no list to bloom, it has a deep knowing of when and what comes next and how to do it. The season doesn’t consult its priorities, just rolls and grows, and stays open to the next moment.

When I got home I noticed that the lilies in the back yard had grown a foot in the last week. The dishes were still on the counter and the laundry hadn’t moved from its retreat in the basket. I saw the letter was still unedited on the desktop and there were now more emails in the inbox. But the list looked different, it had a different meaning, as if it was written with Chinese characters, and was full of innuendo and suggestion. It beckoned me to look for what was there that I could not see, the very sweet thing that would ease life toward me, the thing that was the real priority and organizing principle- the being present to the moment, the surrender to the gentle flow of the bubbling up and the emptying out, casting my lot with the current, not the effort, and letting my gaze wonder from what I have to do to who I want to be, alive, with the cherry blossoms and lilacs, the sea lions and the wind on the water, alive and enough.

Back from Oaxaca, feeling the Magic and Medicine

After our journey to Oaxaca, landing at Seatac was a blast of cold air, in more ways than one. I have been integrating our amazing experience so that I can offer a perspective from that magical place that would be meaningful for people here, reeling from the changes in our political landscape.

Our time in Oaxaca gave me a mythic perspective on life. It seems that there are dark forces at work in the world and this darkness is within each of us in some measure. We have to work to cultivate the light, which longs to shine out and overwhelm the darkness. We have to protect ourselves from forces that seek to harm us or stop us. As we are powerful, filled with light, we encounter resistance from the darkness, but we have access to unlimited support, if we cultivate our connection to it.

Finding protection, cultivating our inner light and building support is a deeply personal path of connecting to the elements of nature and of creating simple rituals that enhance our aliveness – baths, candles, altars, special diets, essential oils, the use of color, standing on the earth, bathing in the river, feeling the flames of the fire etc. These are all things that help us know that we are more than we think we are and that, while there is much that we do not understand and many things that we are unaware of, we can find out what we need to know through a deep inner quiet and openness. Some people are more gifted in receiving awareness from this place of connectedness. Healers, curanderos, shamans- we were lucky enough to spend time with these gifted people who were dedicated to helping others cultivate the light within and who could see each persons special needs and considerations.

In a sense we are all healers, as we all are committed to offering the light that we are to the world in a positive way, for the greatest good. I felt that so strongly in Oaxaca, that we all have something to offer and that we are here to support each other in finding and expressing our own unique gifts, and that we all have an intuition we can rely on. And I felt enormous gratitude for Elizabeth and Laurencio, who gifted us with their talents and dedication and shared their insights. They led us in ceremonies and rituals as well as personal sessions, which tapped into our deep ancestral longings to connect, and transported us to places where we could feel a sense of primal aliveness. The earth ceremony, the water ritual, the fire ceremony, the rituals for protection, the gratitude circle- these moving celebrations brought us into alignment with the elements of nature that are alive within us and within all things, so that we could release all blocks to being fully present to what is and to the expression of our full self, as we are meant to be, a light in the world, the light the world needs.

So much of what we experienced in Oaxaca was outside of our norm. It challenged our edges, expanded our worldview, and led us away from our comfort zone into our capacity to feel, know, and understand. It also, hopefully, will help us take action in the name of the light, this desire to be a force for good. It will give us courage, as we can call on unseen forces to support us, it will help us collaborate, as we can admit our own limitations and seek to empower others, it can help us defy authority and work fiercely for what we know to be right, it can help us to stand up for those who need support, those who are the victims of hate, it can help us stay kind and compassionate even in the midst of darkness, it can help us rise up and stay active, defeating our own complacency and inertia, because we can know that we are living in times of opportunity, times when our light is needed as all voices are needed to speak out for our planet and all beings who are threatened. We are connected and we are here now, answering some call that we may not understand, that compels us to be more than we thought we could be, and to know that we are all here together, warriors for the light.

It is now clear to all that we have to defend and protect those things we care about- our freedoms, our democracy, our planet. We cannot expect our political leaders to serve anything but their own interests. We the people have to claim our power and our responsibility. By holding tightly to a vision of what we would like to see in the world, and and finding the courage and strength to share our truth, we can be midwives for a new era.

I hope everyone finds the quality of renewal and support that we found. I was told that I have to continue to bring people to Oaxaca, to sit with the shamans there. It is part of my work in the world. So join me next time….

Chinese Medicine and the Cultivation of Health

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The Parks in Beijing are beautiful

 

Practicing Bagua at the Great Wall

Am just back from China, where I was enrolled in a two-week course in classical Chinese Medicine and the cultivation of health. We studied very intensively every day, with the weekends off to practice, sight see, and rest.

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The Forbidden City

The Great Wall

The focus of the afternoon classes was acupuncture- various protocols and diagnostic principles, herbal medicine, moxabustion practices, diet, and even a little bit of Chinese astrology. We had a wonderful section on scalp acupuncture, which is so effective img_3595for neurological issues including pain, mobility, anxiety, depression, learning, autism, stroke recovery, and many more. We practiced on each other and used ourselves as case studies to enhance our understanding of diagnosis and treatment. How wonderful to think of lifting a weight from people’s lives by helping them activate their inner resources to heal.

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Turtle Shell Moxa

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Moxa Massage

The morning sessions were held outdoors in the park. We learned and practiced a form of bagua, as well as several different meditation practices- Buddhist and Taoist, all with the purpose of cultivation of health, strength, and capacity.

I am very excited to integrate my new learning into my practice. What has been most impactful has been realizing how essential it is to focus on health cultivation. As a culture, we don’t prioritize this, China was a better example.

I loved to see people out in the parks practicing martial arts. People would domoxa treatments, even in public, as it is well known that the application of moxa is restorative. The pharmacy had an extensive raw herb apothecary. Everywhere there were inexpensive spas where you could get massage, foot massage, and moxa treatments. The food was slow cooked and healthful, for the most part. The culture seemed to support people taking care of themselves, more than in our culture, which is so focused on productivity.

Taking care of ourselves, or health cultivation requires an active commitment. And it’s not just about the perfect workout or the newest and best supplement or dietary regime. We have to uncover those areas where we tend to go out of balance and commit to cultivating qualities that can bring us back to harmony.

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The Buddhists have a concept and symbol of the phurpa or dagger, which is about the clarity to break through confusion and obstructions. The chant om benza satto hum gives us the ability to dissolve spiritual impurities and eliminate obstacles along the path to enlightenment that come from our past negative actions. Part of the Buddhist tradition is about acceptance and equanimity, but there is also an element of fierceness, that we benefit from if we can compassionately apply it to ourselves, where we absolutely don’t tolerate self harm and actions, thoughts, and attitudes which don’t serve our good.

We all have long standing patterns that stand in the way of our own self-care. One is the tendency to give too much and not take in enough. We can worry about others, which is draining for us. This is apropos of the season, as we are still in the time of the Earth element with the emotion of sympathy. What do we do about this? How do we have better boundaries? How do we really nurture self while fulfilling our responsibilities to others? Usually it is about subtle shifts in awareness. Review what is working and not working- where do you feel drained, where are you energized? Can you let go of things which are draining or do them differently? If you continue to do things that aren’t healthy- ask yourself why? What are you getting out of it? What do you need? How could you meet those needs in healthier ways? Can you be there for yourself first, and still be there for others?

One teacher taught me about filling up my heart and connecting to others by overflowing to them- finding my own endless source and helping to connect others to their own source through my overflowing heart.

As a health care provider, giving too much has been an issue for me. I would feel drained and compensate by consuming. I had to realize how important my health was, how much I wanted to live, and to recognize a kind of urgent situation where I have to set good limits on what I can give. I have to make sure my life is full of replenishments, and I have to avoid negative thinking- in myself and others- like the very plague that it is. I have to be fierce when my old attitudes about self indulgence show up and I have to tell myself to grow up, buck up, and do what will get me the results I want, not what I feel like in the moment (one more piece of chocolate or extra glass of wine). I have to replenish in healthy ways and only give to the extent that I can without exhausting my inner resources. I have to stay tuned in to my capacities and examine my motivation for giving. If I give from an overflowing heart, it often renews me, it is only when it is out of a sense of “should” that I feel exhausted.

We have to have a fierce love for ourselves, we have to think long term and big picture and overcome our less helpful tendencies, even when they are about doing good for others. Taking care of ourselves by using a good “no” is actually the best thing we can do for others. Om Benza Satto Hum

It is important to cultivate a sense of deep caring. This is not something that we should take for granted. We need to care deeply about quality, and not settle. We should care about our homes, and not allow clutter; care about our work, and not overextend; care about what we consume, and have it be the finest ingredients we can afford. Deeply caring is how we express our love. It is sometimes easier to not care so much or to care about the wrong things- how things look, the short term pleasure, the convenience- but caring deeply can create a framework for our lives which can bring meaning and reward and is a basis for the cultivation of well being.

Various specific practices can fill our wells, so that we have more to give. Diet and exercise are, of course crucial, but also time in nature, creative expression, meditative calming activities, and meditation itself. It is so important to give ourselves a break from our demanding thoughts and to just be. I really enjoyed the specific meditative practices I recently learned, as I could feel the qi building within, and actually see it moving between my hands. It was so nice to concentrate on something like that, and on breathing into the kidneys, and holding the hands over the dantien to bring up the Qi. There is always more to learn about self care, what is important is to recognize how essential good self care is, and to persist in practicing ways that work for you.

One idea that works for me is to have an adventure planned that I can look forward to.  Beijing was awesome and I love learning while traveling.  The chance to experience how others live and to take in the richness and variety of exotic cultures and different environments is so stimulating. It is very healing and helpful, as well as fun!

If you enjoy unusual adventures, consider joining me on the fabulous upcoming trip– Oaxaca, the Magic and the Medicine, Jan 19-30.  I can’t speak highly enough about this journey.  It is a chance to really shift to a deep sense of gratitude, blessed by so many things at once- the exploration of a beautiful land, the enjoyment of wonderful food, lovely places, and interesting stories, the safety of an intimate group, the laughter and fun of shared joy, lots of learning and new experiences, and the prayers and intentions of the healers we work with along the way.  Check it out

Calm the distractions, find your bliss

These summer mornings, with the air so luscious you can drink it, and the abundance of the natural world a green riot everywhere, I feel filled up with gratitude and wonder. That sense of being completely present to an exquisite moment is a very delicious feeling and not common enough. Too often, we are distracted from our bliss by the imperfection of circumstances, by some pain or physical challenge, or by an emotional tension- sadness, anger, fear, depression, anxiety- that whole gamut of icky draining feelings which can take over and run the show. Wisdom tells us that the key to happiness is cultivating mindfulness, or the ability to dim the clamor of the distractions and tune in more deeply to our one, precious moment.

 

One of my most helpful tools is an acupuncture treatment. A good practitioner can help me connect to inner resources, so that the distractions, be they emotional, physical, or circumstantial, don’t claim my attention as much. I can be less bothered by what is wrong, and put more energy into healing, changing the circumstances, calming the nervous system, and deciding how best to cope. As well as appreciating all the gifts and blessings that abound. As an acupuncturist, I love helping people get to a place where they can enjoy life more. I am so grateful that acupuncture is widely available, and even more, that I get to practice this ancient art.

 

Spending time in nature is a sure fire way to get back to the moment. Noticing what is present in the world around us, the goldfinches flocking to the tree with a commotion of twittering, the lily opening to delicate beauty, the wind ruffling the aspen leaves into a moving pattern of color and shade, everything helps to bring our own personal reality into perspective. Nature has rhythm and cycles and it is very helpful to remember that everything is transitory and brief. We have to seize each moment and appreciate it and recognize that the painful experiences will soon pass and change, and the moments of wellbeing can be deepened with mindful appreciation.

 

It is not an easy thing to maintain equanimity these days. The political and economic climate can be so frightening that we all suffer. There is a lot of misery, grief, loss, and fear in the world. But we can still take precious moments and enjoy them deeply, appreciating this miracle of being alive, despite the challenges. The more filled up we are, the more capacity we have to serve. And we can do whatever is possible to enhance our experience so that we can share joy and light. The world needs this. Our personal wellbeing is a small but important contribution.

 

Finding a way to be there for others is an essential aspect of a balanced life. Many of us dedicate a big part of our lives to giving to our family or to a profession that serves. Some of us find great joy in volunteering and donate to organizations that make a difference. For some people, giving is the norm, and taking in for oneself is the challenge. This balanced flow of giving and receiving is part of the Earth Element in Chinese Medicine and again it can help so much to look to nature for its models. We have to fertilize and water our own souls before we can share our true abundance with the world, and it is our job to find our source of renewal, so that we can overflow to others rather than depleting our own reserves.

 

A practice is widely recognized as a path to mindfulness. Whether it is meditation, asana, pranayama, or a creative endeavor, bringing yourself routinely to a place of surrender cultivates the ability to give yourself to the moment. I am not a daily practice kind of kid, as I love a life with the flexibility to do different things at different times, so instead, I have things I do each week and they include a yoga class, a weekly mastermind call, a writing group, a singing group, a forest walk, and these days- a cool plunge in the cold sound every day that I can. The combination of these things on a regular basis works for me to bring a wider world into my being so that my being can expand beyond distractions into a sense of wellbeing.

 

The other thing that helps me so much is to have an adventure planned that I can look forward to. Something that stretches me and is fulfilling and satisfying, something that lets my heart smile, that lets my wild soul feel acknowledged. I have been so blessed to connect with amazing opportunities for travel and learning. I love the chance to experience how others live and to take in the richness and variety of exotic cultures and different environments. If you enjoy unusual adventures, consider joining me on the fabulous upcoming trip- Oaxaca, the Magic and the Medicine, Jan 19-30. I can’t speak highly enough about this journey. It is a chance to really shift to a deep sense of gratitude, blessed by so many things at once- the exploration of a beautiful land, the enjoyment of wonderful food, lovely places, and interesting stories, the safety of an intimate group, the laughter and fun of shared joy, and the prayers and intentions of the healers we work with along the way. Check it out!

Coming up soon, also, is a fabulous retreat to Kauai to immerse ourselves in the culture of aloha. More details soon.

Yoga for Emotional Healing

How do you love, I asked the woman as I stared into her eyes. The workshop was about emotional healing through yoga and we had been divided into pairs. How do you love, I asked her as I took in the depth of her. This was work done late in the afternoon after four days of intensity and lots of warming up.

First we had sat across from each other, folded onto the floor, feeling our hearts connected and had told each other what we observed. I observe your lovely haircut. I observe your earrings. On and on, and we could see how superficial were the things we could notice with our senses. The real juice of life and of the magnificent being in front of me was dancing beneath the surface. But the looking at the surface brought an awareness of the depth, and love grew. This beautiful person who was sharing herself, her time, her openness with me, was a gift, a wonder, a stunning package of radiance.

Next we told each other what we imagined. I imagine you are tired, I imagine your life is full, I imagine you are happy and on and on. How much we imagine about others without knowing. Its mostly a guess, this communication thing, we can make an informed guess based on experience, but so much is projection and imagining. We have to ask, to really know. Then we asked each other what we were experiencing right now, over and over, can we articulate and refine our state, our moment one more time, one new way. And we could see how similar we were, and how we could remind each other of some as yet unexplored possibility of experience. Yes, I too am experiencing a sense of peace.

And, the love grew. Confronted with the humanness of this being, her sensitivity and willingness to share, I could only soften into our connection. We were melting. Melting into the moment and into each other. And we would break into giggles, and the exercise was nothing, but being together in each others’ lives, that was the miracle. Being human together, with our imaginings and our experiences- that was a miracle.

And then she was to ask me how do you love. And I would answer and she would ask again, over and over, since time was spacious and the only thing was the moment and the richness of it, and this exploration was bringing us into the thick field of shared humanity that connected us.

How do you love. I love by caring and sharing. How do you love, I love by chopping the freshest of foods into green goodness and serving the most delicious menu, everything ready at once. How do you love, I love by singing and feeling the song go out into the world like a prayer. How do you love, I love by putting my hands in the dirt and encouraging the happiness of the plants who want love too and the soil, moist, dark, and rich, reminding me of what I am made of and what I return to. How do you love, I love by celebrating our world with a sweet breath of air and the feel of the wind on my skin. I love by seeing the moonlight out my window, glowing the pale leaves, and dusting the ground golden. I love by riding the waves like a horse and letting the movement remind me I am alive. I love by touching and healing and by listening. I love by being quiet and holding a thought. I love alone and I love together. I love with joy and with sorrow. I love by letting go.

And I asked her the question, over and over, and she reminded me of ways of loving I hadn’t thought of, and ways I have never tried. And we as we talked and thought about loving, love grew, and we remembered what it is to love, and how to love, and we filled ourselves with love until our eyes started leaking tears of joy and we had to stop and laugh and could we please have a break because it was exquisite torture to go on, to go on loving so much. We were only two people in a workshop, and this love was big enough to save the world.

And then we were to ask how do you want to be loved and the answer was with care and attention, with wild abandon, with sweet gentleness. And over and over we told each other the depth of our deepest desire and our desire came from our deepest place, our most true place, the place inside us where desire is born, pure and possible, because there is nothing to block its life. We asked each other how do you want to be loved and we answered the truth that we knew long ago, before we listened to anyone. We want to be loved in the way that we know is possible because we know it in a place that has not closed down to possibilities.

And we could bring that love, those possibilities, that sweet gentleness and wild abandon, that care and attention, we could bring it into the room and transmit it from our hearts into the group heart, so the whole room could open to loving and being loved. So the whole room could feel how love had grown. And we were finally able to stop, and to collapse, and take a break. There is only so much two people in a workshop can love, before they need a nap and some chocolate.

Women’s Kayak Trip- Nine of Us Together

There were nine of us together on the beach. Where to put our tent? We chose a spot under the tree and later learned the tree belonged to a pair of eagles, who sat above us, lost in the green lace of the branches. They graced us with their call, and took our breath away when they soared up into the sky, white heads directed, carried by the high currents, out over the water, to survey, to glide, to dive, to hunt. So magestic, so stunning. And so we had our totem and our inspiration. Could we send our hearts free and soaring, wild, but directed, hunting for gladness and diving into life?

There were nine of us together on the island. We had kayaked there in a flock, a school, a pod. A wad, Sigi suggested, was what you would call a group of women. Wild and daring women. A hot wad we were, a tight wad, a brilliant wad, and we worked it, and we overcame, and we deepened and we shared and it was glorious.

Nine of us together. The trip had been planned for so long and represented so much effort and thought. So much organizing and pulling the details from work-tired brains. It was like a child for Spring Courtright and me, we had conceived it and brought it into being, and wondered why we were crazy enough to do it, and were so grateful for our craziness. We brought nine of us together and we all prospered and our spirits soared.

There were many challenges, first making the commitment. Once that was done, so many things shifted. There are unseen forces working on our behalf, once we commit, once we take a step, not asking how it will happen but knowing it will. There were so many concerns, the weather report was not good, the wind was going to be high, it was supposed to rain, how could we remember everything, how could we buy everything and sort it and pack it and lug it and lay it out and look at the bulk of it and how could we possibly fit it into the boats. But there were nine of us together, and somehow, somehow, we got the boats loaded and everything crammed into the kayaks, now so heavy, and somehow, somehow, we got the kayaks carried to the water’s edge, and somehow, somehow, we got all nine of us, geared up, and ready to launch.

And nine of us together, we made our slow way across the passage. And the wind was not too strong, and it didn’t rain, and the ferries went by and we crossed over to the other side and made our slow way to the island, paddle stroke by paddle stroke, through the long smooth places and through the rough chop where the currents converged, and the boats bucked and danced and felt alive beneath us, testing and teasing. The waves cast salt spray up into our faces as we sat deep, riding the water. The sky was luminous- patches of blue and glimpses of sun, but dark grey masses that reached from the sky to the water off to the south, the north, the west, but we were dry, we were happy. And finally, the last stretch, where the island looms and it seems to take forever, but then we landed, nine of us together.

And I was still wondering what if, and still wondering how we would ever manage, still wondering if I was crazy. We landed on the island and our usual campsite was taken. For the first time ever, we wouldn’t have our place, and everything would be different, even if the wind did stay friendly and the rain clouds did avoid us. But I looked around and I found another spot that could work, and yes, we could put our tent under an eagle’s tree, and there we were, nine of us together in heaven.

That was when I realized that these trips are protected. I had heard it said about other things, but never took it in, never felt the truth of it before. These trips are protected. We are held in grace, this is sacred work. We were taking women to set their spirits free on this wild island after paddling their hearts out. We sat around the fire in the evening and the stories came forth about the angel in the house, the women we were supposed to be, the unhappiness of being stuck, and the joy of claiming ones own self, and putting oneself first. We laughed and cried and shared. We open windows into our souls and invited each other in. There were nine of us together and it became a small group, a tight knit family of sisters of all ages. A small group with a shared wild woman’s heart, with the heartbeat of a mother, a daughter, a sister, a friend, a wife, and all the roles that seek to define us, but with a wild heart that soars above them all. There were many stories and they belonged to all of us, stories of struggles, and obstacles overcome, of fears faced, and dreams realized and others as yet unfulfilled. And we offered up our stories and ourselves to the goddess of wildness and spontaneity.

We stretched our bodies on the beach and held the warrior’s pose, looking forward into the future towards our dreams, our feet planted on the firm foundation of our life, the past behind us, with its learning, its challenges, all that it gave us to make us who we are. We made art with shells and driftwood and we shared readings and poems. We feasted on the most wonderful food and relished serving and being served. We sang our song and added verses: I’m gonna to let life move me, I’m gonna let it stir me deep. I’m gonna let it wake me up from that ancient sleep. I’m gonna laugh all my laughter, I’m gonna cry all my tears, I’m gonna love the rain, just as much as the sun, when it clears. And there was chocolate and there was wine, and there were nine of us together, being our wonderful selves.

We paddled again the second day, around the island, in the bright sunshine and still water, this time, seeing the clearness of the shallows, the life below, watching the ferries in the distance, and feeling our strength. We were experienced now. We took in the beauty of the blue sky against the green trees reaching toward heaven, and the shining water, moving and carrying us. The hot sun kissed our skin and the cool breeze was like the most expensive silk. The air was a delicious feast. There were the rough patches as we crossed over the bar, and it was hard for folks to turn to come into the harbor, and their was the young boy in the canoe who capsized in front of me and started to cry and panic, and all manner of things unfolding, but it was all ok. Glorious wad of women, nine of us together on the water.

And back to our campsite, in the evening hours, our familiar home now, we made more fabulous food and luxuriated in the abundance of all we had brought and all the detailed plans we had made. We had everything we needed. When we had first come together and were talking about what to expect, I shared that we would all help make the meals and clean up, and then I knew that to help set hearts free for these wonderful women, to help free themselves from the angel within that could burden their wildness, I had to encourage them not to help as much as they wanted to, to skip a meal and let someone else do it, to sit in the sun and write in their journal and do nothing, to receive and fill up. Because I knew that these women would show up and give their best every minute, and I knew that they needed to show up for themselves more and give their best to their own wild spirit and this was the point. This was the gift of the journey, to give ourselves the chance to be, to play, to forget our duty, our roles, and to find our soul. And to support each other in this, to share and to witness, nine of us together.

We packed up on the third day, after a glorious sharing of gratitudes, after a brilliant sunshine morning of fabulous egg scramble and a warm campfire in the cool shade, after a sweet soft eyed gazing at eagle’s flight, butterfly’s flit, graceful deer, and the tide taking its long out-breath to reveal the seaweed green beach. We packed up and we were merry, and there was more lifting and stuffing, and lugging, but not nearly so much stuff. And we paddled back and the wind calmed, and we worked our way out of the choppy areas, and watched the ferries pass, and we glided with the current’s help, and passed the seals’ curious faces, and the rocks revealed by the tide. And we came home: happy, wilder, and very grateful, nine of us together, our wonderful wad of women.

Yin and Yang- Bringing Balance

We are moving into summer and I just love it. The long light filled days, the progression of blooms, the warm weather and all the opportunities for outdoor activities. It is easy to overdo, though, as the call of nature is especially strong. And there are so many deeply disturbing things that we need to address, finding a way to be present and productive is essential.

As always, it comes down to finding balance. In Chinese medicine, key concepts are yin, yang and the balance between them. In life and health, this can show up as a balance between the inner and outer worlds, between integration and action, between activity and rest, between assimilation and movement.

As individuals, we have a set point regarding our inner and outer lives. Some people experience life as a deep, private, rich evolution of the soul. Others look to life to provide a photo album of activities and relationships that they have participated in which give life meaning and purpose. Most of us fall somewhere in the middle, we have a full outer life, that we call to us and manage, but we give ourselves time to integrate, to plan, and to appreciate. We look for outer rewards, but spend time aligning our focus on what we want, so that less effort is needed to manifest it. When we want to make a difference, we need to make sure our actions line up with our values, and that we set our intention clearly so that we move forward engaging all our resources and potential, both inner and outer.

Finding this middle ground means going with the flow as yin and yang transform into each other, and recognizing the time and place for all things. Our culture, unfortunately, tends to encourage us to stay in high gear all the time. The summer can be particularly challenging in that regard, as there are so many social opportunities, so much to be done, and the days are so darn long- so much time to do things. And it is natural to be more active in the summer; it is a more yang phase of the year. But finding time for quiet and integration is still really important.

All our activities are important because of how they fit into the fabric of our lives. How we feel about something is the most important aspect of the thing itself. We can only find satisfaction with our lives if we take the time to reflect, cultivate gratitude, and integrate our experiences into our inner sense of self. We can be on an endless quest for more, more, more, unless we give ourselves the time and space to take in what we have. The pause between things allows us to appreciate things that much more. And if we are a change bringer, we can become very dissatisfied if we don’t consciously cultivate the habit of appreciation.

It so important to nurture our inner bounty so that we have more of ourselves to bring to our outer life. Taking care of ourselves, in all the important ways, is crucial, and that means stopping to smell the roses, prioritizing meditation time, and giving ourselves the blessing of enough rest. It also means time for reflection, and scheduling empty space into our days.

Are you over booking yourself and racing from one thing to another. Do you have enough alone time and are you using it to build up your inner resources? Do you have a way to thoughtfully review your days or are you just focused on your to do list and what comes next? Are you so motivated to make a difference that you burn out and stop trying to “be” the difference?

Try pausing in between things to look around and appreciate the moment. Write a few things in a gratitude journal, so that you cultivate an awareness of all that you have, not just all that you need to do. Spend some time in meditation, just witnessing your thoughts flow by and not taking any action at all. Treat yourself to an acupuncture session and a loving energetic tune up. Give yourself a few hours each week when you don’t have anything planned and you aren’t trying to take care of business- instead turn to that most important inner business of allowing, receiving, integrating, and appreciating, so that you can return to your active life renewed, energetic, and in a healthy balance. And despite the challenges of living in this world, don’t forget to laugh and have fun along the way. Today is all we have- make the most of it!