Pregnancy’s Butterfly Effect

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“Let everything go.  Allow your worries, your thoughts, your anxieties to float away and for a few moments, just be here in this moment.”  How many times do we hear this yoga jargon in classes, especially the opening and while lying in Savasana?  I remember listening to similar cues in a class about a month ago and thinking, “I have a baby growing inside of me.  I am a mother now and no longer have the luxury of completely releasing because this little person is a part of me and my actions impact another now.

Long ago my mother started to teach me about how my actions had consequences that impacted other people, but growing a human inside and realizing -this body is not just attached on the outside of me with skin around it that attaches us, but truly growing in the center of my being- did my perspective take a huge shift in what parenting will entail.

As I began to think more and more about this idea that what I do can have significant impacts on another is certainly not a new concept, but it just brought up this idea with greater magnitude.

A few examples:

The substances I put in my body (food, drinks, and if I were to choose, other substances…you know, like gum) impacts my energy level, my moods, clarity of thought, lifespan, self-image and even health.  This can impact my productivity, relationships with others, and availability to work or engage.  How often do we think about these things as the fork covered with salad or the wonderful smelling donut is going in?  

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As you get dressed and prepped for your day, how often do you look in the mirror and ask: what do I want my appearance to say about the type of person I am and does this appearance communicate who I really am: be it confident, professional, warm and gentle, a lover of the earth, etc?

Do you set plans or goals for years, months, weeks, or each day that help you spend time being and becoming ever more who you really want to be in the grand scheme: whether this includes the types of relationships you invest in, service, professional, physical or educational pursuits?  Are you living in a way that truly makes you happy?

For this little window of pregnancy, I have the opportunity to be pulled into a vacuum of reminders that if I don’t eat frequently enough (or the right foods), it makes a more significant impact than  I realized – i.e. nausea, waking up in the middle of the night, random impulses to cry, etc.  This is preparation for remembering the importance of regularly feeding the little person who is about to come out and be a very significant part of my world for the rest of my life.

We don’t always have such blunt reminders in front of us that say: “Your actions directly and indirectly impact others!” But they do.  The words we speak and how we express them can be a pivot point in another’s day- and how many others can a grumpy or very cheerful person impact: from how they drive, to glances, to words they share with the people around them? dadreadtochild

Do you sit down to watch a tv show (that will inevitably suck you into at least 2 more) after work tonight or walk your dog who is already harassing you to get outside?  Do you tell your kids to go play so you can catch up on emails after dinner or spend a few minutes reading and maybe singing with them before the bedtime routine begins?  Do you check another gossip column online or call an old friend who has been on your mind lately?

We have so many choices every day and while we can’t see most of the consequences, we can remind ourselves that each choice makes a difference.  So even if your most recent decision wasn’t one of your best, you always have the next one to make more of the impact you want to share with the world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

108 Ways to Feel Grateful

 

Fat, frozen snowflakes falling on my tongue, the crisp, cold smell in the night air, snowmen and sleds, these were many of my childhood cues to know: winter is here!  While these signs of the season undoubtedly still excite me, I have come to appreciate the joy of celebrating each season with its commencement of solstice  and equinox.  This past autumn I was introduced to the idea of 108 Sun Salutations to welcome in the season.  I loved the physical challenge and mind-quieting nature of this moving meditation.  So last night, less than a week since my husband and I started moving into our new home (we’re still in the process), I began a new tradition of hosting a 108 Sun Salutation Winter Solstice Soiree.  

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My hope is that we’ll honor each season’s  passing/inception with this yoga tradition of honoring the sacred count of 108, but last night I gained a whole new appreciation for how and why.

How do you count 108?

My first experience with this count was a solo project at home: breath, move and count.  I lost track of how many I had done several times and rather than potentially cut myself short, I always played it safe by doing another 1-2.  I saluted the sun for nearly 3 hours, moving slowly, growing sore, and fumbling to find modifications that didn’t hurt.

Before we began last night, some friends who had gathered to join me were discussing and reading about why we do 108 specifically.  My personal favorite reason for this is that the distance from the sun  to earth is 108 times the sun’s diameter.  Nancy, the math-savvy (an engineer) of the group, had several counting ideas.  “There are 26 letters in the english alphabet,” she pointed out, “so you can count by going through the alphabet 4 times, then just add four.”  She also suggested thinking of something you’re grateful for with each salute.  I decided to combine her two ideas for my practice.   

WOW!  What a vastly improved experience!  

A Little History on the Appeal

japamalaI have japa mala  (that rosary-like strand of beads hindus and yogis often don) hanging over my rearview mirror in my car.  A friend gifted them to me after visiting India just following his yoga teacher training a couple of summers ago.  I love the smell of the sandalwood beads, the idea of having a piece of the other side of the world (physically and culturally) in my mode of transportation, but mostly they hang in front of me as a reminder to feel gratitude.  When I’m anxious about rush hour traffic or whatever event I’m headed to, or I find a grey cloud of negative thoughts looming overhead, I grab the japa mala and think of something I’m grateful for with each bead my index finger and thumb roll over.  Sometimes I get through the whole strand, often just a portion, but regardless,

the exercise sets my intention and thoughts in a positive and calm place.

Last night I took that 108 gratitude count into my sun salutation.  It took a bit longer than just rubbing the beads (maybe 20 minutes with the beads, just over an hour for the salutations), but I found myself smiling, even laughing in my heart at times as I thought of different points that brighten my life.  The first time I ever tried this meditation was exhausting: physically and mentally.  It was really tough to stay focused and get all the way through.  This time, it flowed smoothly and sweetly.  

How I Structured My Gratitude Flow

My first two rounds I simply allowed concepts or ideas beginning with each letter of the alphabet to come: Appreciation, Balance, Compassion, etc.  

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With each breath, I thought of ways I’m grateful for how that word has taken meaning in my life.  Thoughts like: “I’m grateful for the ability to feel appreciation.  To be appreciated and hear and learn that others appreciate me.  I’m grateful people can express appreciation to each other, and for the joy that fills our hearts when we allow the sense of appreciation to permeate through us…..”

My third round became body-focused, from feeling gratitude my dad was able to get a new hip and his surgery went well (for H), to mustaches (for M) and how I love to laugh and enjoy all the whimsical and funny ways they can be shaped.

For the fourth and final round I decided to name people who have impacted my life for good.  Old college friends I haven’t spoken to in years, teachers, family members, dear friends, the wonderful people flowing in the room with me, all were in my heart and hopefully getting little spirit hugs from me as I pondered how they have helped shape my life with their light.

gratefulpiglet Sometimes even thinking of the next idea in time was a little tricky, but something always came.   I felt such a sense of peace, joy, and calm as I honored this universe,  the guiding life force of season all around, and ideas, experiences, and people who edify the world around them.

If ever you feel so inclined for a truly cleansing and uplifting meditation, I invite you, with gratitude, to salute the sun.

Perhaps you will join me in Spring!

Namaste

Manifesting Your Magnificence

Brightly shining rays  

Masked by “should be’s” and “to-do’s”  

What will you peel off?

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Do you realize how great you are?  How awesome your talents, passions, quirks and curiosities are that make you you?  For a long time, I didn’t.  I pined for compliments but struggled to actually let them in.  It wasn’t for a lack of love from others.  It’s just hard to feel love from outside  when you don’t accept yourself.  As I’ve worked towards appreciating and accepting who I am, it has helped to consider what traits I particularly value in myself and others, and letting those shine.

American yogi, Baron Baptiste, poses the question:

“What do you want to manifest?”

As I began to contemplate and journal about this, I pondered what manifest means.  How often is the term used as “how others perceive someone”?  Yet, consider for a moment, how manifesting something isn’t just acknowledged, but how it actually impacts people.

Looking at the sun, one might say it manifests light.  My perception is that I see light.  Yet my skin feels warmth.  Plants receive nourishment.  Your emotions can actually be lifted to a more cheerful state and alert/wakefulness is more prone to align with light than darkness.  These are just a few ways the sun’s light impacts us.  So…

 How could you make a difference in the world through what you emit?

Think of Gandhi, a human with true purpose and sense of self.  Can anyone know all the details of responsibilities he held, relationships he maintained, words he spoke?  Yet, consider how many people know what his sense of purpose was.  He was a bold human rights activist.  His life centered around bringing awareness to others that people with brown skin should be treated with the same liberties and respect as people with lighter colored pigmentation.  He manifested human dignity, progress through pacifism and equal rights.  These ideas were not just people’s perception of him.  These were the rays he spread, brightening the world so that others felt his passion and joined in the movement.  Change came to India, the British Empire and the world because one person, to start out, was willing to recognize and unabashedly share his passion.

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There was only one Gandhi.  I certainly don’t aim to replicate who he was and all he accomplished.  You and I can, however, decide what we want to manifest.  Day by day, with focus, we can hone in on how to shine with a sense of purpose.   We can peel away distractions, responsibilities we put on ourselves that aren’t really necessary, biases or prejudices, fears, habits and even addictions that prevent us from remembering, expressing and being what we truly want to be about.

So far, I’ve narrowed down that I want to manifest love.  I surmise that this yearning to share love is strong due to years of depression, self-loathing and a sense of inadequacy.  I know all too well what a lack of love feels like. I know many of us can relate by being in or having been through that lonely place.  So I want to give and facilitate for all people a sense of self-love, acceptance, and openness to feel the love of others.     That is what I wish to spread on the earth.

What do you want to share?

Plethora of Perspectives

Do you ever find yourself analyzing a situation, resolving it in your mind, and growing emotional about how someone’s choice that impacts you in the situation is clearly “wrong”?  Whether it’s with politics, work, your friends or family, we all run into moments of disliking the choices another makes that impact us in some way.

Why are we so convinced that our own perspective is right?

I recently read an adaptation of Rumi’s poem “Elephant in the Dark” and found it eye opening on this matter.  A group of people, curious about what creature has be placed in a dark room, decide they cannot wait, but must reveal the room’s contents.  One by one they enter, each eager to uncover the mystery, each sure of what she has found.  One feels the ear- like a large fan.  Another feels its long, curving trunk-it must be like a snake.  Someone else encounters one of its thick, strong legs-it is solid and wide like a tree trunk.  Each person  is sure he leaves the darkness with a firm understanding of what the creature is.  Yet with their limited perspectives, none grasp the full measure of the elephant.

This past weekend, I found myself in several situations in which the involved parties grew emotionally charged and all had their own perspectives: with colleagues reflecting on a workshop, my partner as we discussed communication styles, even my dog as we walked. 

A small illustration: Last night, Naya, my dear canine companion, was absolutely convinced that she needed to lick whatever was stuck to the street.  I had no idea what the substance was, but a) I was sure I didn’t want her tongue running along the foreign substance and we had somewhere else to go –right then– as I saw it.  I called.  She tried to hold her stance.  I started to walk away, she continued anxiously licking.  What was more important in that moment: moving on or embracing what I perceived as appalling and perhaps sickness inducing, or what Naya thought was an absolutely delectable road treat?  She licked and scraped.  I walked forward.  Eventually she followed and fortunately no sign of sickness has appeared- at least yet.  We certainly saw things differently.

I often present my  challenges to one or two people to hear their opinions when I’m upset about something, just to get some alternate views.  Like looking through a fly’s eye.  Consider how many different angles and slightly different views a fly perceives when looking at a given image. If we’re being “open minded,” we may consider more than one side of any situation, but how many opinions and perspectives are we actually willing to consider?

How often do we remember to consider and look through others’ lenses?

While perusing some of photographer Jon Sanwell’s recent work from Myanmar, I encountered a series of photographs of betel leaves in baskets, including the one below.  Just from my own lens, I initially thought about the beautiful shades of jade green, the eye-catching angle of the shot, the juxtaposed glossy leaves and natural matte finish of the wicker baskets.  I wondered why someone would so carefully stack all the leaves in spirals around the containers.  But perhaps some people look at these leaves as the means to fitting in (chewing betel is a popular social practice in the region), the destroyer of their loved one’s health (betel is carcinogenic), or maybe just a really unique way to capture a part of Southeast Asia.  That’s just some of what I considered.  What are your thoughts looking at this photograph?

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So the next time you find yourself frustrated, hurt, confused, or even elated, consider how others are impacted by the situation and your actions.  Perhaps you will listen and learn a thing or two from someone with a different take.  Remember, everyone’s lens is unique.

 

Finding Home

 

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“Home is the love that lives inside you….” –Heidi Barr

Do you remember when you first felt at home?  I remember even in childhood, I sought to find a place that truly seemed like where I belonged.  I recognized that the place I lived my entire life strangely did not seem like home. In my twenties, I started to feel a sense of home as I followed my heart.  By gradually growing into the person I wanted to be, I found increasing happiness. But it was only after a very difficult series of events at the conclusion of my third decade of life when I truly found that comforting sense that I had sought for so long.  Only recently, I began to recognize that such grounding is not about a physical location; it is a product of pursuing my dreams and accepting myself and others as beautiful: flawed and flourishing, just the way we are.

This sense of home was not an easy discovery though.  It came after going through years of incredible struggle that allowed me to develop the inner strength required to eventually walk away from everything. I moved away from my home of over a decade and close proximity to all of my close friends I had developed in that time.  I quit a job of 7 years in a community I truly loved in order to pursue a Ph.D..  The next step was choosing to love myself enough to care for my needs: physical, emotional, and spiritual.  I stopped overeating and started jogging.  I set boundaries for how I wanted to be treated, which led to the end of a devastating marriage.  I then let go of starting grad school at that time because I knew that with all its stress, it would probably be more harmful than helpful in light of the other changes in my life. Eventually I chose to leave a religious community that had once felt comforting but over time, became a place in which I felt incredibly isolated and unhappy.

This sense of home was not an easy discovery though.  It came after going through years of incredible struggle that allowed me to develop the inner strength required to eventually walk away from everything. I moved away from my home of over a decade and close proximity to all of my close friends I had developed in that time.  I quit a job of 7 years in a community I truly loved in order to pursue a Ph.D..  The next step was choosing to love myself enough to care for my needs: physical, emotional, and spiritual.  I stopped overeating and started jogging.  I set boundaries for how I wanted to be treated, which led to the end of a devastating marriage.  I then let go of starting grad school at that time because I knew that with all its stress, it would probably be more harmful than helpful in light of the other changes in my life. Eventually I chose to leave a religious community that had once felt comforting but over time, became a place in which I felt incredibly isolated and unhappy.

Needless to say, there was a lot of change in just a few months. Sure I had moments of self-doubt, fear of the future, and even overwhelming grief.  I didn’t dwell in them though.  I  allowed them to come, be acknowledged through tears, prayer and reflective writing, then I let them pass.  I focused on the task at hand. I kept my plate pretty light in order to heal, but wasn’t entirely crippled.  I recognized that only through a hike can we truly appreciate a summit. I knew that someday there would be a series of summits and hikes that felt more manageable ahead.  Sometimes we face those Everest type journeys in life.  I certainly didn’t want to get stuck on a snowy cliff, so with one gradual step at a time, the hike was eventually concluded.  Now I feel like I’ve made it down safely and headed out on several wonderful adventures since then.  None quite so intense, but then, I’ve grown stronger from each trip.

So wherever you are in your journey, whether struggling up an Everest or gliding down a Dinky Hill, I hope you breathe deeply enough to enjoy the aroma, look around enough to appreciate the view, and pace yourself so your next step can move in the direction you desire.

And find someone to smile at each day.

 

Thanks to photographer Hristo for the incredible summit view.

Dare to Dream

 This week my partner and I walked our dog down the dimly lit streets of our neighborhood, bantering about what we might do had we won this week’s Powerball.  He encouraged: “Everyone has to dream.”

Sometimes it takes an opportunity to utilize one’s imagination.  There are those dreams that we can and some of which we ought to fulfill, like building a dream career, falling in love with a wonderful person who treats you the way you deserve, or developing a hobby that interests you.  Then there are those dreams, like holding a family gathering without awkward drama, living in a nation free of political corruption, or raising your child in a world in which there are no longer religious wars.  These loftier dreams may not actualize in your lifetime, but how energizing to the human spirit is it to hope, imagine and ponder?

What do you believe is possible?  

This past week I read to my students Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by Doreen Rappaport and Bryan Collier.  The book was thought provoking even for a group of 3-5 year olds who are just starting to grasp the concept of inequality.  But even with such deep-rooted societal problems that racism causes, these young children grasped the heart of Dr. King’s dream.  As one of my students shared with her family over breakfast the next day: ”Love is the key and it doesn’t matter what your skin looks like.”

What do you value?

Imagine how Dr. King would feel hearing those words today from such a young child?  Our world still has a long way to go, no doubt, before racism is completely eradicated, recent Oscar nominations attest to that.  However, a world in which a mixed-race man can be elected president of the USA, or where people from any ethnic background can legally marry, when we see people of all colors in every stratum, it shows that some people’s dreams, through working together, can and do shape the world.

What changes do you see?

It is not always easy to go after our dreams.  We only reach them if we dare to stretch beyond our comfort zone.

So whether you want to become a writer or find a cure for AIDS, I hope you will ask yourself:

What do I dare to dream?

Living Life Fully: Today and Every Day

As I sat in a leadership session at work about 16 months ago, my boss dispersed gifts to each staff member: copies of Daniel Rechtschaffen’s book: The Way of Mindful Education.  Gradually, I’ve dabbled in it for over a year, but the last few weeks have been a time of stepping into a life more cognizant of and aligned with my goals and what truly brings me joy.  One of my great loves is uplifting, contemplative reading.  So the Mindfulness book has become a frequented part of my daily quiet time.

In a culture that focuses on multi-tasking and increasing productivity, slowing down to focus on the present moment and surroundings seems  counter-intuitive.  But research is picking up on this concept and finding that it actually develops greater focus and productivity, on top of some other spiffy perks including lowering blood pressure and decreasing anxiety.

“Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment. Mindfulness also involves acceptance, meaning that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them—without believing, for instance, that there’s a “right” or “wrong” way to think or feel in a given moment. When we practice mindfulness, our thoughts tune into what we’re sensing in the present moment rather than rehashing the past or imagining the future (Greater Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life).”  

Recently I found a quote on a friends FB page that really hit home the importance of fully embracing the moment.

“Oh my God, what if you wake up someday, and you’re 65,or 75, and you never got your memoir or novel written: or you didn’t go swimming in warm pools and oceans all those years because your thighs were jiggly and you had a nice big comfortable tummy: and you were just so strung out on perfectionism and people-pleasing that you forgot to have a big juicy creative life of imagination and radical silliness and staring off into space like when you were a kid?  It’s going to break your heart.  Don’t let this happen.”  -Anne Lamott

So what are you wanting to try that you haven’t yet?  What have you put off or been too afraid to attempt?  If it’s laughing more often, pick up a funny book (I recommend my recent gem of a find, Parenting is Easy: You’re Probably Just Doing It Wrong by: Sara Given).  Want to try your hand at poetry, take 15 minutes and just try to write a haiku verse about whatever is outside your window.  Plan on your attempts being full of flaws initially, but if you don’t try, you will never master something, let along know if you even enjoy it.  So embrace the moment, listen to the sounds, smell the surrounding aroma, acknowledge how you feel, and take in the view before your eyes.  Now is the time to enjoy your life.  So consider how you want to spend your time and go for it.  What have you got to lose?

For some great illustrations and a simple step-by-step mindfulness exercise, I really like the blogpost by hworsham: Mindfulness: An Excuse to Eat Asian Food .  

Grit: The Beauty of Overcoming

“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.”

Maya Angelou

While heading home late on Christmas Eve, I asked my driver: “What inspires you?”  He thought for a moment, then answered: “Stories of overcoming.”  That was it! I thought to myself.  That is what makes this holiday so significant.  That is what  draws people to reality shows like Biggest Loser, or even the title of Survivor speaks to what is accomplished, and the dramas are all about skilled people who overcome one challenge after another.  We find hope for humanity in witnessing success after a difficulty.

Consider the story of Rudy, the classic tale of a young man who has a dream, a love, a great flaw, but he perseveres unflinchingly until his dream of playing football at Notre Dame comes true.

To be honest, I always questioned how this story was so loved because it focused on supporting someone’s dream that seemed (to me) pointless because, let’s face it, Rudy never became a great player.  But maybe that’s the whole point I’ve been missing.  Maybe pursuing a dream isn’t just inspiring because someone becomes great.  I wouldn’t want children to only try in classes that they are going to earn A’s.  Growth and strength tend to develop through the experience, the practice, the journey, not the ending point.  These trying moments along life’s path are what increase what is being called “grit.”  Author Paul Tough points out that psychologists list grit as one of the most important characteristics of successful individuals.  They may not be highly successful at everything they try, but those failures and challenges that are part of the human experience are what develop happier people, individuals who have learned how to overcome difficulties (http://ideas.time.com/2012/09/05/why-grit-is-more-important-than-grades/).

Today’s helicopter parenting techniques prevent this development.  Parents trying to sway a teacher or even college professor’s grade selection for their child doesn’t exactly help a child learn about his or her own merit.  I once learned that the mother of a job candidate (who had no connection to anyone at the school) called the office to encourage the director to hire her daughter.  Talk about an effort leading to the opposite result that parent desired!  If a parent picks up her child every time he falls, how are his legs ever going to be strong enough to get up and walk independently?

How will such a generation solve challenging problems at work or overcome difficulties in relationships?  How will it handle deep questions like: Do I truly make a difference in the world?” or “Am I doing enough?”  

A little piece of advice from the educator Dr. Maria Montessori :“Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed.”  And for adults- may we try harder, stretch higher, and attempt to walk a few more difficult trails than ever before.

Here’s to a year of developing greater inner beauty and strength!