Get serious and Don’t Forget to Laugh

This has been a hard blog for me to write. This is the final section of Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Big Magic. It is only seven pages long and she tells a story about the sacred Balinese dance and how tourism led to “less-sacred” Balinese dances which led to new sacred dances. The moral of her story was that

Creativity is sacred, and it is not sacred

I had the idea for this blog series on March 18th. It is now April 23rd. I have been in self-isolation for 39 days. When I started this blog series I saw it as a gift to myself to revisit a favorite book and to be inspired in a time where the darkness was creeping in. Where do I stand now?

Over the weekend I went camping for my 29th birthday. I had set an intention with my significant other, John, to practice presence. Presence is a tricky thing. With our human brain we have the ability to travel backwards and forwards in time through memory and through planning. This ability is a gift and a burden, for our brains have a default setting of forming habits. I am a person who loves to plan things, and this has served me very well. I plan meals, vacations, parties, decor, and even my verbal responses to things. Unfortunately, the negative side to this is that my brain has developed a habit of moving onto the next thing even before I’ve finished the previous thing. It’s so good at this that I don’t even know it’s happening. John will be telling me a story and I can’t remember the last minute of what he’s said because my brain is already thinking about what we are going to have for supper tomorrow. This isn’t fair to John and it’s not fair to me either! My brain has been hijacked by my ability to time travel and I’ve had enough.

camp
Birthday Camp 2020

So this past weekend John and I both set our presence intention. John would catch himself telling a story of a memory and say, “That’s enough time-traveling for one day.” I caught myself thinking of the next camping trip instead of simply being present at this one! It was a liberating challenge to say the least.

In yoga classes you’ve probably set an intention at the beginning of class. This can be very useful but if there is no integration into your daily life than eventually the intention will slip away and the work will need to be re-done. I don’t want that to be my story, so allow me to explain my experience of integrating presence. Wait…. wasn’t this blog about Divinity? What is divinity?

…the state or quality of, from, or like God or a god.

kisses to gotti
Kisses for Gotti-boy

I believe at the very center of presence is God. One of the biggest challenges I face in modern life is my ability to stay in the occurring now. The present moment is always fleeting and it is always coming. It feels both quick and slow simultaneously. How do I even grab on to it at all? Presence doesn’t really like a lot of effort. Presence would prefer you surrender into the moment; not force yourself into it. Life is happening all around you and within you all the time, and time doesn’t stop. So we cannot think that we can meet presence with stillness. Even when you are no longer moving your body, and your mind has stopped jumping around there is still one thing that continues to move, the breath. Maybe you hold the breath or retain an exhale into a state of breathlessness. Maybe then yes you are truly still, but even then the energy that is in your body cells, your atoms, is still moving. True stillness is death and that is the absence of presence.

We have this amazing ability and opportunity to be present, but it is not something we just simply choose to do. Surrender is  one of the only ways in and even that is a practice. So how do we access surrender? How do we access the control to harness our time traveling abilities? How do we become present and stay present?

ophie
Ophie hanging out at camp

The most efficient use of time, and the most effective way to come at presence is through a daily practice of meditation. Retraining the brain to practice presence is no easy feat. It takes self-discipline and will-power. It takes a commitment to a higher level of awareness and a vision for what life could be like. The practice of presence resembles the practice of meditation. When the mind wanders or slips into the past or future we must return to the here and now. The best way to do that is to return to your current breath.

Knowing how to breath is important in all this so here is a video on the mechanics of breathing. Once you have diaphragmatic breathing understood and implemented into your daily life you may want to explore additional breathing techniques. I have been using Chandra Bheda Pranayama a lot recently as this breath can energetically help us to reduce stress and to find presence in the moment. If you would like to learn this technique click here.

Having a daily practice of breathing techniques (pranayama) and meditation  influenced my ability to practice presence over the weekend. My practice is what will continue to allow me the ability to return to the here and now. What about the book, Big Magic? How does this all relate?

Throughout my experience of this book I have related the information not only to my creative life but to my overall life as well. “Creativity is sacred, and it is not sacred” reminds me to have this attitude with other areas of my life, like my spirituality. Yes being self-disciplined and a strong sense of will is important when practicing presence, but if there is no joy in it than what’s the point?

Only when we are at our most playful can divinity finally get serious with us.

If I toil over making my practice perfect than I am putting on blinders to the joy that may be hiding. We must take this seriously, and we must remain light-hearted. We must be devoted to our practices, and we must be spontaneous. Life is a paradox. The sooner you come to grips with this the better.

peace out
Peace-ing out ya’ll

In Conclusion

I am grateful for this book and for the idea to re-read it. I am grateful for the author, Elizabeth Gilbert, who shared a piece of herself so that others may find inspiration in it. I am grateful for optimism, joy, and love. I am also grateful for the darkness that sometimes accompanies our path for in the darkest places we are most able to see a glimpse of light.

Thank you for reading and may you find presence in this life. May you be courageous with your heart, enchanted by the delights of life, never forget your permission to be and to create, persistent in your pursuits, trust in your truths, and feel your own divine presence. After all, life is a gift.

 

Aum, Peace, Shanti, Shanti,

Em<3

 

The Trust Challenge

When I had nothing left, no more ideas, no more options, no way out of the current situation. The only thing I could do was trust in the present moment. Trust that my current situation would pass. This trust allowed me to surrender fully. I released all worry and doubt.

It was on a trip back from The Ananda School of Yoga & Meditation in northern California to my home in Iowa City, IA that I hit a massive snow storm that seemed to appear out of nowhere. I had just driven across Wyoming; the vast skyline views, mountains, and the open road when the weather quickly changed to cloudy and cool. Rain began to fall. I was only a couple of hours from the Nebraska border when the rain turned to sleet and finally snow. The view of the open road became more and more limited to the space directly in front of my vehicle. I chose to get off the interstate and take highways. I often choose to do this when the weather gets bad as I can drive significantly slower and not have semis whizzing by.

Wyoming
Taken during my drive through Wyoming.

It didn’t take long for a thick, slippery blanket of white to cover the beautiful scenery and the road. I was moving along at a mere 25 mph and sliding around like a monkey in socks on an ice rink. I had watched the weather progress as I had watched my anxiety and worry gain traction while my tires could not. I couldn’t pull over on these back roads as I would not be able to drive forward if I stopped, and even if I chose to stop it was freezing outside so I’d need to leave my car running. How long would this storm continue? Would I have enough gas to get me through the night and the next day? Choosing to take highway over interstate may have been safer but I was driving through a Native American Reservation area and there were no hotels or gas stations. On top of all of this my cell phone lost signal, so IF I did stop I’d have no way to let anyone know where I was. I was out of options. I was out of ideas. Like time ticking forward, I continued to inch along.

There were two ways I could continue. I could allow my worry and anxiety to consume me or I could surrender to the moment. Although at a slow crawl, I was still moving forward. I am an optimist at heart, sometimes to my own foolishness. Having just spent a month at yoga school I was well practiced in not allowing my feelings to get the best of me. Ever the observer. Instead of choosing to press onward in a space of worry and fear I chose to press onward from a place of calmness and trust in the powers that be. To help me along with this, I prayed out loud and proud. I told my higher power that I needed a way out. I needed somewhere safe that I could park and somewhere warm I could sleep for the night. I needed to know it when I saw it AND I only had fifty dollars to spare, so if it was a hotel it’d need to be cost effective. I laid it out and let it go and then just kept moving forward, inch-by-inch. I focused on the few feet in front of me that I could see, and I breathed deeply and audibly, releasing my tension as I went. This wasn’t easy, but still I pressed onwards.

blizzard
Image taken from my room window.

Two hours later…. out of the blank white canvas, twinkling lights began to appear. It was a sign. Not just a figurative sign, but a literal sign. It was a casino sign with flashing lights. “THANK YOU DIVINE MOTHER!” Relief filled my body and I hollered as loud as I could as I pulled into the packed parking lot. One way or another I was going to stay here. I parked and headed inside through the brutal winds. The man at the front desk informed me the rooms were a minimum of $175 a night, but unfortunately they were all booked. I took a long, deep breath. This didn’t make sense. I was fully trusting and I felt deeply that this was where I was supposed to be. I asked, “Do you have any rooms available? Perhaps one that is under repair? I don’t need much. I’d sleep in the lobby if you’d let me.” The man sighed and gave a kind, pitying smile. He searched on his computer. Lo and behold! “I do have a king bed room but the TV isn’t working.”

“I’ll take it!” I exclaimed, but a moment of concern passed through me. “How much?”

“I’ll discount it due to the TV, so that’d bring it to $54 after taxes and fees.”

Grateful, grateful, grateful.

If you’re going to live your life based on delusions (and you are, because we all do), then why not at least select a delusion that is helpful.

-Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic

This story is entirely true and is a reminder to me to trust and surrender to the flow of life. I may not always know the why or how of a situation, but with trust none of that matters. With trust I am able to surrender to my higher power. Maybe for you that is God or the natural flow of the Universe; for me it is the energy that lives inside me and the energy that lives all around. This energy is the comforting embrace of my Divine Mother and the steadfast power of my Divine Father.

Surrender is the most powerful feeling I have ever experienced. There is love in surrender, and there is peace and stillness too. So I remind myself to trust in my beliefs, to trust in my experiences, and to trust in my own intuition.

Part V of Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert is Trust. Trust in your creativity, your inspiration. Trust in your higher power, your belief system, yourself. Trust in your practices, your body, your mind. Trust in time. This too shall pass. You will come out the other side a new version of yourself. More resilient, stronger, and with a new level of faith in the powers that be.

What other option do we have? Succumb to the worry and anxiety which only create more worry and anxiety? Which only lead to clouded judgement, unease, and uncertainty? Pardon my language, but FUCK THAT.

parvatasana
Parvatasana (Seated Mountain Pose) “My thoughts and energy rise up to touch the sky.”

The last couple of days have been very difficult for me. I’m sure many of you can relate. I have passed through waves of contentment and waves of worry and angst during this strange new world. It has been painful and dark, but I refuse to give into it. Yes it’s there. Yes it doesn’t feel good. Yes I wish it wasn’t there, but how do I continue? I return to what I have been practicing. My yoga and meditation practice isn’t just for the good times. The times where my life is going smoothly and I have Peace in my heart. I practice at these contented times so that when shit hits the fan I have something that will anchor me. So I practice. I put my body into postures that will relieve physical tension thus releasing mental tension. I chant or sing. I pray and speak to my higher power throughout the day conversationally. The way I see it is that in my dark times I wish to feel my higher power at all times, so I talk casually to It keeping it around, keeping It near. I meditate and create deep levels of stillness that I fill, later, with Divine Joy and Peace through expansion practices and joy practices.

 

 

Positive Thinking
A wise dog will forever remind me to think positively ❤

I found this section of the book to come at the perfect time. Reading about trust in my creative process helped me to explore trust in all aspects of my life. Things are uncertain, and now more than ever we must trust in the process. We don’t get to know why this is happening or exactly how it is happening. To trust in these circumstances we must surrender. Cease resistance. I understand this is difficult, but breathe into the experience of what is. Stay present in the discomfort. It does not control you. YOU control you. You are the observer of the self. Your body may go through phases of releasing chemicals in your brain that make you feel anxious, worried, and afraid. You are not these feelings. You are the observer of them. Remain steadfast in this knowledge and trust in the process that is happening.

Here are some resources to assist you in surrender, trust, and expansion.

Surrender Practice: Please enjoy this practice with Betsy Rippentrop, owner of Heartland Yoga in Iowa City, IA on Lessening Anxiety Through Surrender.

Trust Practice: This chant has been one that I have been returning to again and again over the last couple of days: “From Joy I came, from Joy I live, in sacred Joy I melt again.” If you would like to learn about how to chant effectively click here.

Expansion Practice:

Expanding Circles

from

The Sky and Earth Touched Me

  1. Find a quiet place to sit where you have a panoramic view and also an interesting foreground. For example, sit where there are flowers and grasses and perhaps a shrub close by, trees a little farther away, and a hill, mountain ridge, or expansive prairie in the distance.
  2. Sitting comfortably, close the eyes and become aware of your body. Listen to the sounds of life around you- far away- and nearby
  3. Open your eyes and extend your awareness just a few feet beyond your body to the nearby grasses, pebbles, and insects. Try to feel that you are in everything you see as much as you are in your own body. Feel yourself moving in and becoming alive in the natural world around you. Continue this for a minute or so. Whenever your mind wanders, gently bring it back to what is before you.
  4. Extend your awareness farther to include the nearby shrubs and trees- twenty to thirty feet away. Breathe and relax. Allow your attention to flow spontaneously, from the closest grasses and pebbles to the nearest trees. Feel that everything you see is part of you.
  5. Continue expanding your visual awareness in gradual stages. Fifty yards- a hundred yards- to the distant scenery- into the vast blue sky. All the while, keep the awareness of yourself in what is closest to you, as well as all the way out to the distant view and sky. Let your awareness flow freely and naturally to whatever interests you. Feel inside yourself the sky, trees and waving grasses.

Practice Expanding Circles for as long as you feel inspired. For your first time, try the exercise for 10-15 minutes.

Don’t rush through the experiences and circumstances that have the most capacity to transform you.

-Pastor Rob Bell

I recognize the discomfort within myself and the similar discomfort in all of us. In that sense, we are in this together. This isn’t happening to us, this is happening for us. Don’t surrender to the darkness: anxiety, worry, dread. Surrender to the light: trust, joy, peace, and love. Breathe deep and know this truth. Time is ticking by, this too shall pass. Accept this experience for what it is and grow into it. Just like in that snow storm, I could only focus on the few feet in front of me. We all must focus on what is directly in front of us, inching along, until we get to safety. Breathe.

May you always see the Light within,

Em<3

Persist, Devote, Keep at it: Bhakti Bird

On a sunny day in April 2015 I was sitting in a Pranayama (life-force control) class my first time at The Ananda School of Yoga & Meditation. I had been meditating and deepening my practice for two weeks and had another two to go. I was working towards my 200-hour Yoga Certification. In this moment my attention was on my breath. As I inhaled I observed my belly expand and as I exhaled I kept my attention on my belly relaxing back into my body. My mind was quiet, my body was still. Tap, Tap, Tap, my focused-mind softened. Tap, Tap, Tap. I was becoming distracted. Tap, Tap, Tap. I couldn’t take it anymore. I opened my eyes and looked to where the noise was coming from. I noticed a couple of other students do the same. What we saw was a robin sitting on the outside window sill. Tap, Tap, Tap. He was tapping his little beak against the window pane and pulling us away from our breathing techniques. Tap, Tap, Tap. Before long everyone and the teacher were looking toward the window. The teacher walked to the window and tapped back trying to shoo the bird away. It left only for a moment and returned just as the teacher walked back to the front of the class. Tap, Tap, Tap. “It seems you will all be challenged today; devote to your practice no matter the outside circumstance,” our teacher said. For days this sweet bird returned again and again during our class time. The second day I made a joke about how Bhakti (Sanskrit for Devotion) Bird was there to help us all gain mental strength over distraction.

Garudasana 2015
Garudasana (Eagle Pose) at Crystal Hermitage Gardens in Ananda Village 2015. “At the center of life’s storms I stand serene.”

I still think of Bhakti Bird whenever I am faced with distraction or resistance. That first day that I was distracted by this small creature and its small sound, I had allowed that sound to cause resistance (lack of focus) during my meditation. The responsibility does not lie on the bird. I am the only one responsible for my mind, my thoughts, and where they go. The second day, the day our feathery friend received its name, I discovered that by switching my perspective I could own my responsibility. That sound wasn’t happening to my meditation. It was happening for my meditation. Anytime I heard the Tap, Tap, Tap I was reminded to stay devoted to the present, to my practice. I swear that bird was a Yogi reincarnated and an intuitive one at that! Every time my mind wandered good ol’ Bhakti Bird would get me back to the task at hand.

Part IV of Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, Big Magic, is Persistence. Take a moment to remember a time when you persisted on something. Perhaps it was in high school striving for a certain grade or athletic standing. Maybe a time at work when you were focused on getting that promotion or raise. Perhaps in meditation, returning to the practice again and again. This past week I persisted to clean up our yard by raking the leaves. A minor comparison, but it took me 8 hours. I don’t think it had been raked in years! (We rent.)

Once you’ve thought about that moment of persistence hold onto the feeling. You were focused on a goal and you worked at it until you either accomplished it, lost interest, or did not succeed. Notice I do not say failed here, because there is no failure in devoting yourself to something. Dedicate yourself to the creative process not the creative product. I would argue that your creativity is in everything you do, but if you disagree then look at it as dedicating yourself to the process not the product.

When we persist at anything we will always find resistance. Think back to that same memory of persistence. What circumstances or people did you have to overcome? Those moments of resistance are where you were able to practice persistence. For my example of raking the leaves the wind was my biggest foe, but don’t worry I overcame and completed my task!

paschimotanasana
Paschimotanasana- Posterior Stretching Pose “I am safe. I am sound. All good things come to me; they give me peace!” https://www.yogajournal.com/poses/seated-forward-bend

Let’s take resistance more literal. Have a seat on the floor and put your legs out in front of you. Inhale and draw the hands out and around and up over head. As you exhale slowly bring the hands to the top of the legs and begin to bend forward. Stop at the first point of resistance. Now breathe into it and experience the physical sensation of resistance. Inhale and visualize space in the area that is resisting, and exhale try to relax that area and move deeper into the stretch. Persist for 1-3 minutes, moving deeper through relaxation not through force.

We can apply this persistence/ resistance to current events. This, for many, is a stressful time. Stress is resistance. Think back to that distracting Bhakti Bird. I changed my perspective and it made all the difference. If you are finding yourself in a dark place and feeling overwhelmed by stress try changing your perspective. A TedTalk changed my entire outlook on stress. Check it out here. Joy practices are another great way to get you out of a funk and in a better headspace. Joy practices are anything that makes you feel joyful and peaceful. Examples include: nature walks, physical exercise, dancing, laughing, gardening, cooking, cleaning, fishing, etc. Try to do one a day! If you’d like a fun nature exercise suitable for children, adults, solo, or for the family check out Journey to the Heart of Nature, click here.

Persistence is a relatable topic in our everyday lives, in our creative lives, and in our spiritual lives (remember this is a yoga blog 😉 So whatever your facing today, in this moment, remember the wise words of Ms. Gilbert:

..devotional discipline is the best approach. Do what you love to do, and do it with both seriousness and lightness. At least then you will know that you have tried and that– whatever the outcome– you have traveled a noble path.

Perseverance
Affirmation for Perseverance; AKA persistence

As I mentioned before, Bhakti is Sanskrit for Devotion. I think devotion and persistence are one in the same. I have found, in these trying times, that keeping myself focused on something, anything, helps me feel sane. I have devoted myself to this blog, to raking the leaves, to my daily yoga and meditation practice. I have persisted to keep my space, our home, tidy as this helps me to have a tidy mind. I have devoted myself to exploring my spiritual practice through lots of nature adventures, new yoga practices, and reading yoga related books and materials. I strive everyday to see my God reflected in everything that I do and every creature that I see. This has been the deepest practice of all. If I can love my Higher Power through my loved ones then I am not only connecting to the deepest part of them but I am also connecting to the deepest part of my own reality. Above all I have been trying to devote myself to the light within. That light is in every living thing and finding it outside of myself only adds to my spiritual experience. Am I trying to reach enlightenment? Perhaps in some lifetime. For now, I am more focused on my current well-being and the well-being of the people around me.

Devotion is not mere sentiment; it is heartfelt commitment to something or someone.

-Ananda Sangha Worldwide

No matter what your devotion or persistence is directed towards; opening your heart center or chest can help you to open to your practice of devotion. Try this Heart Opening Yoga Routine with Melody, one of my teachers from The Ananda School of Yoga & Meditation.

Another way to encourage the center of feeling is through chanting. Check out four chants here. I especially enjoy “When I Awake” sung in the recording by Swami Kriyananda, founder of the Ananda Village and my yoga school.

alter
Having an alter helps me to have a space dedicated to my meditation and prayer practice. I like using candles, inspiring photos, chimes, and things I find on my nature adventures.

One final way to cultivate loving energy for a positive mindset and concentration is through prayer. You do not need to be religious for prayer and there is no wrong way to do it. There is power in affirming out loud or to yourself the things you are grateful for, the things you are seeking guidance with, and for visualizing the health and well-being of yourself and others. Personally, when I pray for others I visualize them surrounded by a warm-glowing light. I see them happy, healthy, and laughing. I feel that this strengthens the vibration that is sent out and the vibration I feel inside.

Many of us have been overcoming our fear of the unknown. Below is a prayer from Whispers from Eternity by Paramhansa Yogananda:

Demand to be able to Conquer Fear

Infinite Spirit, teach me to comprehend the utter uselessness of being afraid. Help me to keep in mind that even death, since come it must, at least comes only once and need not be suffered a thousand times, beforehand, through fear! When death does come it will be by Nature’s mercy. When it comes, I will welcome it in my soul, for I will understand that it is time for me to move on, lowering the curtain on this life’s drama, but traveling, perhaps, to something new and equally interesting. Let me not be a “psychological antique,” fearing change.

Teach me not to paralyze my nerves daily with the dread of some future, imaginary accident. Such dread may only invite the accident to happen!

Bless me, that I not let fear anesthetize my mind and shut off my unlimited power, as Thy child, to overcome all tests and trials. Help me to realize that, whether I am awake or asleep, alert or dreaming, Thine all-protecting presence encircles me always.

Help me to see that neither mighty fortress nor the wealth of Croesus could protect me from disease, earthquakes, and all kinds of accidents, that Thou alone art my protector, and that, though I walk where bullets fly or where swarms of bacteria abound, I am ever safe, enhaloed in Thy all-sheltering light.

Aum, Peace, Amen

Stay home, stay safe, and if you must venture out do so wisely. Persist in a positive state of mind. Focus your attention on uplifting tasks and responsibilities. Do a daily practice of Joy and meditation. We will get through this together.

Tap, Tap, Tap. Bhakti Bird is calling.

With Devoted Light,

Em<3

Permission to Be

Part 3 of Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, Big Magic, is permission. Permission to create, permission to explore one’s own interests, permission to be. You exist, and because you exist you have the right to find the things in this life that ignite your joy and create the things, moments, and experiences that feed that joy. You do not need a permission slip from me or anyone else, but in this section of the book, and in this blog, you are given one.

 Defending yourself as a creative person begins by defining yourself.

Perhaps you are a lucky one that already has found the magical things in this life that give you joy. Great! Even still, it is always good practice for all of us, even for these lucky individual’s, to continue to explore and find new ways that we can find our joy. I find the first step to finding my own joy is quieting my monkey mind. (The term monkey mind is often used in yoga to refer to the rambunctious chattering and thinking of the mind, like a monkey jumping from branch to branch.) I use meditation, and better still is a daily practice of meditation. Try this practice with one of my spiritual teachers, Diksha McCord, from The Ananda School of Yoga & Meditation.

After I’ve calmed my playful monkey mind down I like to fill it with positivity. This would be step two in exploring your joy. I do this through chanting(try this one) or through affirmation. This is how I personally use and teach affirmations:

  1. Affirmation for InspirationRepeat the affirmation LOUDLY. I find that this helps to silence any lingering mental chatter. Just like you would get the attention of a child, so too can you snag the
    attention of the mind.
  2. Repeat the affirmation in a normal speaking voice. This, I find, helps me to maintain my mind’s attention and draws the words a little deeper into my conciousness.
  3. Repeat the affirmation in a whisper. This step always feels like magic. Whispers are precious and it captivates my mind in the meaning of the affirmation.
  4. Close the eyes and lift the gaze as though looking at distant tree tops. Continue to repeat the affirmation silently to yourself and feel as though you are drawing the words inwards and upwards toward your lifted gaze.

Finally once the mind is calm and joyful I am ready for step three. I simply ask myself and my higher power, “What shall we do today?” I listen and wait in my peaceful stillness until something catches my fancy. Over the past week I have baked, danced, sunbathed, read books, took baths, and enjoyed a documentary. Some days I physically create something, like a yummy in the kitchen, a blog post, or capture a photograph, and other days I have simply found that my body wants to relax and rest.

As a living being you have divine permission to follow your bliss in difficult times and in smooth sailing. During these strange times I have found that I have a responsibility to myself to take time out everyday to further discover my joy practice. And to be totally honest, sometimes my joy practice is my yoga and meditation practice. dawgs Sometimes it’s a delicious bubble bath, and sometimes it’s a run with one of our daawgs. These long days with minimal responsibilities is a blessing for discovering my own joy practices.

This section of the book got me thinking about how important it is during this time to pursue our natural creative tendencies, but it is just as important to listen to what the body, mind, and spirit are craving. Most of us have had our lives completely changed in a short couple of weeks and that is stressful. Being away from your family and friends is stressful. Feeling consumed by worry and dread for yourself and the people around you is stressful. Feeling like you are stuck on house arrest is stressful. It doesn’t have to be.

…it is ultimately entirely up to you

Here’s a challenge for the days ahead. Spend 10 minutes a day sitting quietly with your attention drawn inwards. Once again, I recommend finding a meditation technique that speaks to you. At the conclusion of the ten minutes ask yourself, “How am I feeling?” Listen, listen, listen to your heart’s song, and do your best to be there for youTake sweet, gentle care of yourself in the coming days and weeks. Find ways to share your joy with others by creating something and sharing it. The internet is a blessed gift during this isolation period. Maybe you still have work and kiddos to see to and responsibilities up the wazoo. Take a breath. Take ten minutes just for you. You have permission and you have the responsibility to your own well-being to take care during this time and all times.

You already have permission to live your life however you choose. You already have permission to explore and find your joy practice. You already have permission to share that joy with the world however you see fit. Now is the time to make the space to explore your joy and make it a daily practice.

I hope these words find you well and that you feel encouraged and inspired to take some time for you.

With Divine Love,

Em<3

P.S.- Needing a boost of hope? Checkout this video from one of my favorite yoga instructors, Betsy Rippentrop, from Heartland Yoga in Iowa City, IA.

 

 

Fear of the Unknown

It may seem strange to title a post about Courage “Fear of the Unkown”. In yoga school I was taught to not focus on the quality I wish to release, but instead focus on the quality I wish to have in its place. Courage is an exception. To understand courage we must first understand the force which holds us back. The force that fills us. Fear.

Fear has been an interesting journey for me. Fear is what brought me to yoga. The summer before yoga school I took a two week trip cross country with my brand-new USED Prius. I had never traveled alone and I never had the means to plan my own travel. This coming of age adventure gave me moments of shaking in my boots and crying like the baby that I was. Being alone forced me to sit with my fear. These were the first moments of my own meditation practice. Have you ever sat with your fear? What does fear feel like?

I have never met someone as willing to be present with their fear as the love of my life, John. John is baffled by his fear of heights. He has no problem climbing to the top of silos, but his body does. While standing on the top of a ladder running up the side of a silo he explained his experience. His legs shook uncontrollably, his mind raced, his breath quickened, but yet he forced himself to remain at the top. He explained that his brain was creating this fear of heights, but another part of his brain gives him the inspiration to know that in these kinds of height situations the fear is unfounded. His curiosity of his experience of fear drives him to stay present with it. This man has gone sky diving, he stood at the edge of Yosemite, and he’s gone for a ride in the World’s Tallest Ferris Wheel while standing as close to the edge as possible. This experience caused him to sweat and become dizzy, but he stayed there with his fear until the verge of passing out.   The ability to not allow his unnecessary fear of heights to hold him back is courageous.

 

Image result for limbic systemThe experience of fear, as taught in yoga teachings, takes place in the limbic system. The limbic system is the smaller, animalistic part of our brain. This is where fear lives with its neighbors sex drive, fight or flight, care of off-spring and pleasure. These traits are similar to animals. The limbic system is the part of the brain that keeps us alive in day-to-day and in emergency situations. It’s the neighborhood of many of our emotions, and is an important part of the brain.

We are not animals. The major difference between humans and animals, in the brain, is the pre-frontal lobes. Yoga teaches that this area of the brain is directly related to inspiration and creativity. Ever wonder why you are guided in yoga to gaze upwards at the place between the eyebrows, the spiritual eye? That’s the pre-frontal lobes. Ms. Gilbert, you nailed it on the head. (No pun intended.) Due to this larger, frontal part of our brain we have the ability to understand our fears, come to grips with them, and move forward. Notice I did not say eliminate our fears, as this could be fatal.

Gilbert stated it so eloquently in her book Big Magic, giving the metaphor of taking fear with you on your creative road trip, giving it space, but not giving it deciding power. This, my friends, is revolutionary.

 

Ardha Chandrasana
Ardha Chandrasana- Half Moon Pose “Strength and courage fill my body cells.”

At a time when many of us feel deep cuts of fear, we must not give it our deciding power. Fear can lead to worry, anxiety, and depression. All of these can weaken the immune system. This is not the time for that. So when you feel moments of fear, take a deep breath with your belly. Recognize that you are not your fear. Your fear is their to give you pause, to slow you down so you can make the best choice for you. The next time you feel afraid close your eyes, lift your gaze, and become aware of what you’re feeling. What effects does fear have on your body; on your mind. Now breathe into that space of fear. Give fear the space it needs and in doing so release its grip over your intuition, your gut, and your decision making skills.

Fear is not something we want to eliminate. Fear and the awareness of it gives us the space for Courage.

Finally! Let’s talk about COURAGE.

Ms. Gilbert explains that we need courage when trying to live a creative life, and if you are trying to live a creative life then it will begin to apply to all parts of your life. Fear and courage are a duality, or dwaita in yogic teachings, meaning everything has its opposite. We don’t want to live without fear. We want to live courageously in the moment with our inspiration while acknowledging our fears existence.

So what is courage anyway? Well, it’s described a lot of different ways. A quick google search tells us that courage is when we overcome fear, or when we show strength in difficult times. In Affirmations for Self-Healing, written by Donald Walters or Swami Kriyananda, he explains courage like this:

There are three kinds of human courage: blind, passive, and dynamic. Blind courage doesn’t count the cost until it finds itself faced, horror-stricken, with the bill. passive courage is the strength of will to adjust to reality, whatever it may be. And dynamic courage is the strength of will not only to accept reality, but to confront it with another reality of one’s own making.

I believe Dynamic Courage is creative living. It’s where we greet the events or things that occur in our lives but we greet it with an awareness of ourselves, our life thus far, and the vision we have of our life ahead. For if we are living creatively, uncovering the hidden gems of ourselves, we have developed some level of self-awareness, vision, and resilient drive. This reminds me of Jack Gilbert. Jack is mentioned in Big Magic. No relation to the author. Jack spent a year as a college writing professor; he was also an admired poet. Jack inspired his students to be brave.

Without bravery [we’d] never be able to realize the vaulting scope of our own capacities.

-Jack Gilbert interpreted by Elizabeth Gilbert

If you want to live an interesting, exciting life than become familiar with your fear, so you can become familiar with your courage, so you can pursue the things in life that inspire you most; living into your fullest capacities.

Inspiration for Courage

I would like to offer the remainder of Swami Kriyananda’s excerpt, his affirmation and prayer to help stimulate courage. This content is all from Affirmations for Self-Healing.

There’s a fourth kind of courage: not human, but divine. Divine courage comes from living in the awareness of God’s [or Spirit’s]  Divine presence within, and in the realization that She/He is the sole Reality. Live more in Her/His, for nothing and no one can touch what you really are.

-Swami Kriyananda

Affirmation for Courage

An affirmation is a statement that we wish to absorb into life. How to practice an affirmation:

If the use of the word "God" makes you feel uncomfortable simply remove it, but understand the inner light within is the part of you that can never be harmed.
*If the word God makes you feel uncomfortable remove the word, but know the part of you that can never be harmed is a spiritual part of you. Try replacing the word God with something that suits you, like, Divine Infinite Light, Infinite Spirit’s Light, the Universe’s Infinite Light, etc.
  1. Repeat loudly to command the attention of your conscious mind
  2. Repeat in a normal speaking voice
  3. Repeat in a whisper to draw the words deeper into you
  4. Repeat silently, eyes closed, gaze lifted, and feel as though you are drawing the words up to your brain and to the point between your eyebrows.

Prayer for Courage

I look to Thee for my strength, O Infinite Spirit. Hold me closely in Thy arms of love. Then, whatever happens in my life I shall accept with joy.

In these trying times never forget your ability to laugh, the things you enjoy, and the love from your friends, family, and community.

Blessings to you,

Em<3

 

P.S.- Creative Living defined: The hunt to uncover our own capacities, aspirations, longings, and secret talents.