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

 

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

Enchanted With an Idea

Enchantment: the state of being under a spell; magic.

Inspiration Finds Us

The last few days of reading Part 2 of Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, Big Magic have been enchanting and eye opening. As I have stated in previous posts I have read this book many times, and this time I have been reading up and researching yoga teachings regarding each section of Big Magic: Courage, Enchantment, Permission, Persistence, Trust, and Divinity. Enchantment is probably my favorite section in Big Magic. This section is all about the process of inspiration and where it comes from. Much like falling in love, becoming inspired with an Idea is an enchanting journey that thrives on trust, openness, and gratitude. Elizabeth Gilbert has an imaginative way of explaining Ideas. I capitalize the word “Ideas” here because she refers to Ideas as alive. Gilbert shares an experience of an idea for a book knocking on her creative door. After months of research and an outline she had to put the project away for two years due to ‘life’. When she returned to the project her research and outline were right where she left them but that creative inspiration was nowhere to be found. She goes on to explain that left unattended ideas will find new partners to work with.

..that ideas are alive, that ideas do seek the most available human collaborator, that ideas do have a conscious will, that ideas do move from soul to soul, that ideas will always try to seek the swiftest and most efficient conduit to the earth (just as lightning does).

-Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic

Have you ever experienced an idea this way? One moment your casually eating your oatmeal then BAM you have an ingenious idea of how to solve the water crisis by purifying ocean water, or whatever it may be.

Gilbert would explain this experience as an idea passing through you, enticing you with itself. The process of inspiration doesn’t end here. If anything, inspiration is only the initial “spark” of your relationship. In this moment you must decide if this is an idea for you to manifest into this physical world. That is all an idea desires. Ideas come to us, seeking a partnership, where we may work together to manifest that idea into the physical world. If you say no then the idea and inspirational spark will soon pass. Sometimes this is best. Not every idea is meant for you, and you’re not always meant for every idea manifest. If you say yes, as Gilbert explains, then you are agreeing to work with the idea tirelessly, devotionally, and to your best ability until the mere thought becomes reality.

three bodies
https://www.instagram.com/p/B3WX5iinyKS/?igshid=fzt6i2smdj18

In yoga teachings, we each have three bodies- (The word body here signifies any soul encasement, whether gross or subtle.) the gross physical body, the astral body, and the causal or idea body. I want to focus on the causal body in this post as it reminds me a lot of Ms. Gilbert’s idea theory.

The causal bodied being remains in the blissful realm of ideas.

-P. Yogananda, Autobiography of a Yogi

Each of the bodies mentioned above are progressions we must each pass through to return to our truest form, the Universe’s Infinite Bliss. Yoga teachings state that this takes thousands and thousands of years as we reincarnate into new forms to dissolve and work through our desires on each of these plains (physical, astral, and causal). WAIT. If I have lost you already or you’re quickly losing interest, take a breath. To some people this will seem much too hippie-dippy. I understand, I use to roll my eyes anytime my mom would mention her experience of the subtle spiritual world. If you are the kind of person that needs science to continue reading, let me bait you with this: https://www.newscientist.com/round-up/physics-questions/ .

something unkown quote
https://libquotes.com/arthur-eddington/quote/lbl9b3k

There are things that science, quantum physics in particular, cannot explain and the way we find the answers to those mysterious questions is through creativity. Hang in there and let’s get some creative juices flowing!

 

Back to the Causal Body! The causal body is a part of your physical and astral body until it is released after many lifetimes. Once only the causal body remains, yoga teachings state, they reside in the causal world or plane.

Causal desires are fulfilled by perception only. The nearly-free being who are encased only in the causal body see the whole universe as realizations of the dream-ideas of God; they can materialize anything and everything in sheer thought. Causal beings therefore consider the enjoyment of physical sensations or astral delights as gross and suffocating to the soul’s fine sensibilities. Causal beings work out their desires by materializing them instantly. Those who find themselves covered only by the delicate veil of the causal body can bring universes into manifestation even as the Creator. Because all creation is made of the cosmic dream-texture, the soul thinly clothed in the causal has vast realizations of power.

-P. Yogananda, Autobiography of a Yogi

While doing all this research I had a magical idea of my own. Perhaps, these causal, idea bodies are exactly what Gilbert was talking about in her theory of how ideas come to us. These souls that have released physical, mental, and emotional desires are working through their final desires with their own power of manifestation. Could their ideas of a story or painting, or way of doing something pass through time and space to our physical plane and grace us with inspiration? I’m not sure why they would choose to work through our world and I’m not sure it matters. If someone asked me, “Hey Emily, would you mind helping me make this pie? I only have 7 of the 8 ingredients.” I would say, “Of course! I love home-made pie. Let’s find a way to make it work and then we will both get to enjoy it!” I’m really not sure, but I like the idea!

Creativity is a gift to the creator, not just a gift to the audience.

-Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic

Fishing for Inspiration

So how do we get more bites of inspiration? Well, ya gotta make your bait look appealing to the ideas that are out there, just swimming around looking for a partnership. Enough fishing metaphors. Whether you believe the explanations given above or not, you can still find inspiration with the activities mentioned below.

Quieting the mind gives space and stillness to attract ideas. Meditation is my favorite way of quieting my own rambunctious mind. Unfortunately, I do not have internet and with self-isolation I am unable to upload a current yoga or meditation video at the library, but I do have this meditation video from 2017. Please enjoy this 17 minute practice with me here.

His causal being finds expression when man is thinking or diving deep in introspection or meditation; the cosmical thoughts of genius come to the man who habitually contacts his causal body.

-P. Yogananda, Autobiography of a Yogi

trees

Nature has always helped me to still my thoughts and gain perspective. This can be very appealing for those fishies of inspiration. (Sorry, I said no more fish metaphors.) The Sky and Earth Touched Me by Joseph Bharat Cornell is filled with all sorts of activities you can do in nature to help still the mind and reconnect with the world around you. For a yummy Forest Bathing Exercise from this book click here.

Additional ways to calm the body and quiet the mind could be:

  • yoga practice
  • breathing exercises
  • quiet activity like fishing, walking, or playing a familiar instrument
  • chanting or spiritual singing
  • any activity that helps you to become quiet and calm

Remember, stilling the mind  is giving room for inspiration to come-a-knocking.

The Creative Perspective for Success

Living a creative life doesn’t mean we have to live enslaved by our creative life force. It is all in your perspective. If we choose to see inspiration and magical ideas not as our own but outside of ourselves we are eliminating the responsibility of ownership of an idea. We can simply create without too much pressure of what it is we end up creating. When we practice openness, trust, and gratitude with the ideas that come our way we allow for a light-hearted courting and a friendly, joyful partnership. For anyone wanting to live a creative life where you awaken your own creativity throughout your everyday, and for the individual wishing to create masterpieces, this is the perspective to carry.

..merely making things, and then sharing those things with an open heart and no expectations..”

-Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic

Please tune in next time for an exploration on Part III of Big Magic: Permission. Thanks for reading!

-Em<3

 

 

 

 

 

Positively Attuning Thoughts

Over the past weeks I have had a heightened awareness of the duality of positives and negatives. Being a duality both sides of this coin are equals in the value of the universe. In the post below I attempt to communicate my thoughts on the matter thus far. This is not a completed thought, but I wanted to share the bits I have formulated so far.

I feel that without knowing sadness I would not have the benefit of valuing happiness. Without financial hardship I would not value a dollar. Without illness I would not value good health. The list goes on. The obvious trait these examples give is that experiencing both sides of this coin allow one to see the entire coin and thus experience life more fully.

I do not believe that the duality must be experienced personally on both sides to develop this understanding. For example, a person who has only experienced loss or grieving through supporting others that are dealing with this can develop a value for the people in their life. It also seems that we naturally develop this understanding whether or not we are aware of it.

If illness is labeled as a negative, including the flu, a cold, viral and bacterial infections, or any other contagious illness then what is the duality of this? What else is contagious and seen as a positive? I find that when people are kind to me I want to share that kindness with someone else. When I feel inspired I want to share that inspiration with another. It seems to me that the other side of this contagious coin is kindness, inspiration, perhaps also, gratitude, and acceptance. If contagious illnesses take affect on the body then contagious positives take affect on the mind.

It is taught in Yoga philosophy, and some research shows, that having a positive outlook and positive self-talk can help to heal and rid the body and life of things we quantify as negative. Could it be that one step further is sharing that positivity with others? Sharing or spreading things like kindness, inspiration, gratitude, and acceptance. If one can build up their immune system to block illness can one also close themselves off to the contagious experience of the positive counterparts? That would then imply that one must be open to receive and experience someone else’s kindness, inspiration, gratitude, and acts of acceptance.

Being open to experiencing situations and each other allow us the opportunity to further experience ourselves. This opportunity of openness can also allow one to experience kindness, inspiration, gratitude, and acceptance, and thus, feel compelled to spread these qualities, and their like, to others.

I hope to further explore these ideas in the coming weeks. Thanks for reading and experiencing my thoughts.

Emily Basili