Navigating the New Normal

And now. A new normal.

A world where hatred, cruelty, lying and misunderstanding bubble up from the collective and seems to be welcomed as acceptable and normal and powerful.

How do we react, those of us who are loving, kind, truthful, connected and watching these terrible patterns emerge ?

I see people who are fired up and pissed off. There is vitriol and provocation. Arguing and anger. Name calling and finger pointing.

There is also apathy and uncertainty. Confusion and fear. Ignorance and ignoring. The spinning of minds and the lashing of tongues.

When you refuse another person’s right to their opinion, how can you demand a right to your own? Agreeing to disagree – now, mind you, as long as you do not try to force your values or opinion on them – is okay. I think we’re getting lost in that process.

Dr. Seuss has a story called The Sneeches. Now the Sneeches, they all look alike; and things are grand; until a few of them get to wear a star. It makes them special; different; it separates them into factions. And the trouble begins. I am not a student of history, but I am a student of human nature. Good lord, look at any sports team rivalry; it’s human to split off into groups; to compare, to judge.

But right now doing that is dangerous; the most dangerous thing of all. If we divide, the fall is going to be more horrific than we can possibility imagine. Understand that some people have not spent any time thinking of the true consequences of certain actions. Their filter of experience has not yet permitted their mind to imagine some of the things that could go down based on their choices. And by pushing them into a corner, they become even more invested in their decision.

If all you do is mock someone; deride, call names, whatever; that slams the door on discussion. It sends everyone even further apart into their separate corners. It sends them to the place where they only hear back from others the precise things that are arising in their own minds. There’s no differing opinion or perspective. No insight or refinement of theories and concepts. No stories to share; no community to engage in.

And when things begin to go really wrong; and they will; those folks will look away. They will have no connection to those different people; to those who have this opposing point of view. Because it is happening to people they no longer have a relationship with; those suffering will have become less than human. They can rationalize things that happen to “those” people.

No one wants to live in that world.

A moment to tell you how I am feeling? My jaw drops open at a country that was founded by immigrants who now wants to exclude immigrants. My heart cannot understand a country that was founded by people who wanted the freedom to practice a religion of their own choosing and now wants to discriminate based on religion. My hand balls into a fist to think that someone thinks I am less important or intelligent or capable because I am a woman. I am frankly terrified for my friends who are transgender or whose hearts cannot help but love someone of the same gender.

These opinions I am happy to debate; to discuss; to try to understand and explain. But the moment someone tries to enforce these beliefs on me or others; that is the day and the time for conscious, intelligent action.

That is the day when you have to decide that you value the peace enough to fight for it.

Not a single one of us can control what is happening in our society. But we do have control over our actions, our words and our minds. It all boils down to trying to control the thing. To over-control life and the unfolding of the karma. Do not spend all your energy trying to grab the wheel of the ship and go against the current. Conserve your energy and be ready for the real battles which will be small and meaningful and built on the foundation of real relationships amongst real human beings.

In the meantime, maximum self-care. Set aside the distractions and confusions and information because even some of the good things are complete lies and subterfuge. There is almost no way to know what is truth and untruth unless you are seeing it with your own eyes and in person – not on the internet.

What is real? Well, some of the things you can’t actually see. The things you can feel and grow with your heart. Love; compassion; connection. Stick to your practices. Reach out to like-minded people. And yet, stay willing to listen, engage and try to understand those who are different from you. At the end of the day, we’re all human beings, living on the same planet. Like it or not, the fabric of our lives and this Universe is woven together; we have SO much free will; but always remember — there are Divine hands that cradle our fate.

Shanti,

Jill

Intention

We can intend things; we can plan, scheme, dream. I have often joked that if I went to Hell, I would be in the GOOD INTENTION section. Hey, if you end up there, come visit me!

*Joking … sort of ….*

Cause, I mean to do things; I intend; I aim; and I falter. Oh Lord, I falter. Time, circumstance; laziness. All kinds of excuses. I’m always looking for forgiveness from myself and others, or at least it seems that way.

Forgiveness for not doing what I intend to do.

Sometimes intention is complicated. It has to do with expectation, really. And we have to be able to adapt and adjust. Sometimes our intention needs to be redirected; we gain new information; insight; the winds of change blow us off course, and we have to adapt.

When my eldest baby was in the hospital as a nine-month-old, I remember sitting for hours in the PICU, rocking and nursing her; for hours that child would stay latched to my breast, little blue eyes staring up at me, making sure I wasn’t going anywhere.

I fully intended to wean her at one year; that was my pre-birth plan. Cause you know, you just don’t NEED to nurse beyond that time frame. There is no medical necessity. Cause you know, it’s easy to be the most amazing mother and have all the answers before having a child of my own.

Recall one of the nurses says to me, with a twinkle in her eye — “When are you planning to wean her?” “I’m going to wean her at one-year” I chirped, still dragging my pre-birth intentions into my current reality. “Let me know …. how …. that goes ….” she said; smiling knowingly. Some moments get frozen in time in your mind, and that is one of them. I knew she was right; in that moment, I knew my world; which was already tilted off its axis; my world as a mother wasn’t going to be the world I had imagined or intended.

I finally weaned the child when nursing her was throwing me into labor with her sister, who was six weeks away from her projected birthing day. My doctor yelling into the phone, “Wean. Her. TODAY!”

I am thinking a lot about intention. About goal setting; about what I really want to do and what really matters. And how I thought my life would unfold; the intention behind some of those choices; and how it has actually unfolded in magical, unexpected ways.  So much of the foundation of my current life was not something I intended to create.

This is a brand new decade for me.  I turn 50 this year.  It is the end of an era; which means the beginning of something new.

Looking back, my 40’s were incredible. Hard as hell, but incredible. Raising my children were my focus; my greatest challenge and greatest gift. I also raised myself this decade; an unintended consequence of nurturing my children and honoring myself.

The problems in my marriage forced me to find me. After the ups and downs; and downs and downs of my late 30’s, I enrolled in Yoga Teacher Training through the Temple of Kriya Yoga. I graduated from the program, surrounded by my new tribe, precisely on my 40th birthday. Auspicious.

The age range 42 to 44 is the classic astrological mid-life crisis, and I did mine up right. In addition to opening a yoga studio, I was mothering, trying to hold a marriage and a life together and processing a few other things.  As to Uttara, I always say – if you’re going to have a mid-life crisis, a yoga studio is not necessarily the worst path to take; but it is not the easy way out. The reality has been the deep connections to spiritual seekers; the experiences, friendships, service; I cannot even begin to describe all the goodness; it has been an unfolding of things that I could never have dreamed up, nor been brave enough to intend or expect.

This decade has also been full of heartache. My marriage split; and it mended; and it split. Tearing a marriage apart is awful; to tear a marriage apart with children, well – that is an actual hell I really hope none of you experience.  In the aftermath, I fell madly in love; it was a great four years (oh; okay, 2.5), and then that also crashed, badly. Had a more recent glimpse of happiness and love; two months; and he vanished, too.

It feels like the theme of my 40’s has been that no one wants all of me; not even me. It’s too much — all of my complicated life. It seems like the only acceptable way to handle it has to be in pieces and parts. And I get that. Most days, it’s a little too much. So if those are the lessons; if the outer world reflects the inner world, is the primary problem that I don’t want all of me?

I am thinking about how I am to set an intention for my 50’s. If the paradigm is “Maiden, Mother, Queen, Crone,” I am in the Queen phase. I’ve learned so much from raising my babies; I don’t have to be the darling girl anymore; and I don’t have to spend all my time trying to keep little ones alive. Can I simply set the intention to fully be the passionate, straight-forward woman I have become; and hopefully, everyone is ready for that? Especially, me?

The shift of the last few years has been about integration. Weaving my mothering/parenting life and my spiritual life and my work life and my love life and own personal needs along with my friendships – all those things coming together. To be whole and complete and I don’t have to be one “Jill” in one my part of my life and another “Jill” in the other. I’m just my fabulous- screwed-up-perfectly-human self in all my areas of life. No mystery, no intrigue. I just get to be me. There is an enormous amount of freedom in that.

But apparently, there is work to do. I’ll be honing my intention over the next few months. And also be open to being completely thrown down another pathway.  The astrology suggests we will all be gathering a lot of information. Huge change is coming, are you ready?

We are going to have to be enormously brave to launch this new era and protect what we value and love. What do YOU want? What is your intention?  Your desire?  Plan … dream … scheme … and stay open to all of the incredible possibilities.

Shanti,

Jill

Powerful Woman

So ladies — in case no one has yet mentioned it to you – it’s on us to save the World.

Yep.

I wish I was engaging in hyperbole or exaggerating. But I am not.

We’ve tried it the patriarchal way for a good long time now. And it is not working. Our communities, our families, our systems – they are all breaking and broken. The short-sightedness; the lack of consideration for the past or the future; ignoring the children, the elders, the natural cycle of things; the lack of care and understanding of the Earth and Her forces. The worship of money and negative uses of power. All of these things have conspired to place us where we are.

We bear responsibility as well. For too long we have stepped back; we have kept quiet and we’ve turned away. We have settled. We have allowed horrors to be wrought to our children, our sisters and our friends. We have pretended it is all okay when it is SO NOT okay. We have sacrificed our deepest needs and wishes and wants and dreams in order to maintain a fragile and illusory peace.

Part of this is because we have not come together to support each other as women.

Have you ever heard the story about the crabs in the bucket? And how when one crab begins to emerge, to claim freedom, those remaining in the bottom drag it back? That is what we women have been doing to each other for generations. When someone dares to step into their power; when another woman is smart or strong or beautiful or independent or bold or any combination of these things – that woman can rest assured that there will be another woman who wants to bring her down.

Sometimes it is unconscious; I don’t think we even know we’re doing it. I suggest it stems from generation after generation of women having to appease men in order to get their children fed; having to entertain and keep men who have no interest in commitment or responsibility. We have had to compete with one another in order to meet our most basic needs.

It is one thing to have a man leave you, but another to leave you homeless, powerless and with babies to feed. There are still places in the world where women cannot own property – they ARE property. Where girls are a commodity to be bought and sold and traded. These stories and experiences are coded into our DNA; they are a darkness within us that we cannot see unless we shine light upon them.

So here’s a question for you; what IS a powerful woman?

I will tell you what she is not – she is not an imitation of a man. And look, I’m not slamming men here – I LOVE men; a little too intensely for my own good, truth be told. And they bring us to completion and we do the same for them. I’m still looking for my match and the compliment to my strengths and challenges. I know together we will be an amazing gift for the greater World and … sheesh … I wish I could find him. United strongly together the masculine and the feminine are an incredible force that becomes more than the sum of the parts. You must recognize and uphold you part, and he’s got to figure himself out too; and even when you both stumble – and you will — you both must be willing to get back up and work really hard to weave yourselves whole and then together. So again, I ask you.

What IS a powerful woman?

My (current, could change any day) opinion? A powerful woman has a capacity for love and understanding that is vast and huge. She has a work ethic AND a play ethic; she understands the goodness that flows from joy and pleasure and creativity and yet she knows that anything worthwhile requires hard work and the commitment of time. She speaks her truth, and she does it with kindness; with empathy. She knows the power of words and language and cadence and she speaks through the filter of love and honesty and respect.

A powerful woman does not manipulate people; she embraces emotions but she does not use them as weapons. She understands them, steeps in them – has no desire to eliminate them or stuff them down. She also understands those emotions must be balanced with strength of mind and strength of heart, with the large cosmic picture in mind. She occasionally gets lost in them, these powerful energies that she is recognizing, uniting with … but they are her reminder that her essence is sensitive and tender and yet large and fierce and is deeply connected to the heartbeat of the Universe.

A powerful woman understands her own nature and her own mind; she is a student of herself and her instincts. She has learned the hard lessons of ignoring her truths; of discarding her intuition; of denying the needs of her mind and the needs of her body. She may not always listen perfectly, but she is learning and she is trying.

And speaking of bodies; she has befriended her body. Even as it ages and occasionally betrays her. She no longer scans the room to see who is more or less attractive than she is or more or less curvy than she is or has better hair or a whiter smile or whateverthehell else seems to matter in that moment in the culture (ladies, I’m calling you out on this one). When she sees a beautiful woman she thinks “Wow, look at that woman, she’s beautiful.” And if she’s really in her power, she’ll go tell that woman that she thinks she is beautiful.

She embraces the fact that her body is changing and shifting day by day. She understands the passage of time and though she may resist, she doesn’t fight. She honors that her body is an incredible gift; a body that can actually grow a human being; a body that can have many many many orgasms . She recognizes that her sweet, hard-working body deserves a lover who will take the time to unlock all her secrets and all her magic; and that she gets to choose who, and she gets to choose when.

A powerful woman nurtures the tribe; she sees what needs to happen for her own good, and for the good of her babies and beloveds; but she looks up from her own life to see the larger cycles within the cycle. She remembers that her babies will have babies and that she came from a lineage too; she honors the past as she peers into the future and she filters that information into the present as she lives each moment.

She doesn’t deny the rhythms of Nature. She no longer abhors the monthly bleeding (well, okay – sometimes she does). She follows the Moon, her guiding star, and she honors the seasons. She also gives herself permission to rebel in small ways, too — maybe she wants to color the gray in her hair or wear silk and sequins in the dead of Winter. That is okay, and she doesn’t judge or compare with her sisters and their choices.

I have been told that I am a powerful woman. even though that is a title I don’t feel I can claim, though I aspire. Often for me anything resembling power feels hot and heavy and too much.

When I feel powerless, I feel small. I feel vulnerable and too complicated or too sensitive to live in this World or to be in relationship with others. What changes that; what shifts that; what makes me feel like a powerful woman is to be helping someone else – to be tending, nurturing; to feel useful. I imagine for each person, it is a different thing. And it changes. The only constant; the changing.

I would love to hear your thoughts; your experience. What does it mean to YOU to be a powerful woman? To be in relationship to a powerful woman? To raise a girl to become a powerful woman?

Your definition, January 2017: What IS a powerful woman?

Shanti,

Jill

On Giving

Many years ago, when I was still married, one of my children was attending Fishburn Park Elementary in Roanoke, Virginia. Always try to volunteer at my children’s schools, even when working full-time makes it really hard. Usually I cook, bake … things I can do off hours. But this particular year, I volunteered to take some of the special education kids swimming at the pool located on the school campus. It seemed like a sweet, easy thing to do, and didn’t require many hours.

From what I can remember I only helped out once – the weather had to be just right, there were many variables; often the adventure was cancelled.

But the time I remember, I was assigned to a sweet boy named Jesus. His name pronounced the Spanish way, “Hey-sus.”

I don’t remember what restricted him to a wheelchair; I’m pretty sure it was cerebral palsy. What I remember was seeing this limp, somewhat meek child in his wheelchair. And then seeing this fierce, strong young man in the water. Because once he was freed of that wheelchair and was paddling; the boy was transformed. He was everywhere, his arms were so strong! The freedom, the smiles, the enthusiasm – there was no comparing the boy in the wheelchair to the boy in the pool. It was beautiful to see.

I talked to the gym teacher and he casually agreed – and said that there was a special wheelchair that would give Jesus the ability to play sports on land as well; a wheelchair that would give him the mobility and freedom that the water was giving him now. So I asked, how much? I cannot recall the exactly figure. But I remember it being a number I thought I could manage through personal donation and fundraising.

I went home and asked my husband if we could help buy the boy a wheelchair; offer matching funds, pay for part and have a bake sale, fundraising, I don’t know … something! And instead he offered to purchase one outright. I was so grateful.
So for several weeks, we emailed back and forth with the gym teacher as he researched the chair purchase and we figured out the details.

The subject line of each email read “Wheelchair for Jesus.”

That sweet boy’s name changed everything about the donation for me. And it shouldn’t have. But it did.

Cause it made me think. To see that subject line. To have my mind think “Jesus” and it was really “Jesus” and why is “Jesus” different than … “Jesus?” To realize that even though what we were doing was kind and it was and I’m not telling you this story because of that … but it made me realize. I didn’t treat everyone I met as a sacred, special person. Some people I favored and other people I tolerated and others I completely ignored.

What would it be like to live a life where I treated everyone I met like they were …. Jesus?

I tell this story today because I’m about to write my end-of-the-year donations. And now that I’m not married and it’s just my salary, my donations are small. But that doesn’t make them less important or less meaningful. Even small gestures matter.

Last year I wrote small checks to multiple organizations; and I won’t bore you with their names, but every EVERY one of them spent my fabulously tiny $25 or $50 trying to get me to give them more money.

Ugh.

So this year, I’m re-thinking my donations. Where I send my money and, therefore, my energy.

I’m going to continue my monthly donation to the United Nations refugee fund. It’s an auto-debit on my credit card. It’s like $30 a month. It’s all I can offer to the greater world at large and to the tragedies that are occurring in places I can only see on a map. It feels like nothing, but I have to believe it is something.

I’m going to make my annual contribution to an organization that one of my dear friends founded, Happy Healthy Cooks. She brings healthy foods and cooking skills into the inner city; to the poverty stricken schools in our area. It is good and worthwhile work, exposing children to actual vegetables, grains and fruits. And I know the overhead is low, most of the money goes to the babes. Worth every penny.

Gonna subscribe to my local newspaper. They sadly don’t deliver to my home because I live South of Nowhere, but I’m going to get it sent to my business. Independent news is about to be the everything; who can you trust? Actual independent research and reporting are so valuable. Truth is about to become a commodity. I’m voting with my dollars for a free press and, I pray, a free country.

And finally, to the Southern Poverty Law Center. An organization that I have some limited experience with but I have known to be authentic and true and willing to come to the aid of those without. The court system is currently intact. I vote with my money that the ability to find a fair court of justice and authentic representation will help keep things in balance as the future unfolds.

I also commit myself to abundance and generosity. I commit to prayer and meditation; to creating more light, more peace, more love in the world. Oh, 2017, you have instilled great fears in me; fears for my country, fears for myself.

Sometimes it feels lonely and scary and overwhelming. And then, I remember Jesus.

Oh, 2017; I vow to give you every chance to be amazing.

Shanti,

Jill

Sangha Sadhana

uttara_octrd1-203The word “Sangha” translates as community; tribe; a group of like-minded individuals. You know when you’ve found them. You feel safe; you feel welcome; framily. These are your friends, but not your acquaintances. These are the people who really have your back.

I feel like we’ve all been seeking our tribe more ardently the last few years. We are beings who crave community; and we live in a time when community is fragmented at best, and fractured at worst.

The word “Sadhana” means spiritual practice. The definition is fluid; it will not fit in a box. For some, it is a weekly visit to church. For some it is a daily meditation practice. For some it is a way of being and doing in the world, 24×7.

After the election many people have been asking “What can we do to help?” How do we help knit together our communities; help to heal the divisiveness and separation and unknowing and distrust? One of my dear friends decided to begin teaching English as a second language; I know others who have made financial donations to groups who are working towards lifting up those who have been left behind. But we cannot always do what we aspire to do to help; we have day jobs and families and less and less money it seems.

But I know a way to help.

It’s called meditation and it’s called prayer and if we do it together, as a collective – if we send out a heaping wave of help; I promise you – it matters.

My first experience with collective prayer occurred when my first child was born. Beautiful tiny human. All my life, I had wanted to be a mother. And here she was! Perfect and amazing! And at the very first check-up, four-weeks … the pediatrician listening to her heartbeat …. Wow, he was listening for a very long time.

Thorough is good, right?

He looks up and says he would like her to see a specialist. That there’s something a little unusual about her heartbeat. The nurse comes back in with an appointment slip for a cardiologist. And the appointment is for tomorrow.

I am thinking this is not good.

And it wasn’t good. Except it was. Yes; she had a hole in her heart; and another anomaly, too. But yet, it was a “simple” repair; as simple as open-heart surgery can be. Fifty years ago, she would have died.

And with my child barely a month old, these words, “open-heart surgery,” “easy repair,” and “keep her healthy” and “feed her on demand” were so scary and so hard.

At nine months she began losing weight. Little heart rotating so much blood through the hole that it was time to fix it. Found an amazing surgeon at Duke. Best doctors, great support, good insurance coverage. Every gift, every blessing, every bit of support.

It was still Hell on Earth.

We travel; rent a hotel room; prepare. At the time I had an amazing church community in Roanoke. My dear friend Suzanne coordinated a prayer vigil. From the minute we got up to prepare for the surgery (four-freaking am …) to the minute she came out, my friend had people committed to pray for us in half-hour segments.

I still remember the alarm going off; so little, ragged sleep; the dry-mouth, the hollow stomach. The crying, hungry, sleepy baby. I wasn’t allowed to feed her; how do you explain to the nine-month-old that no, no nursing, no milk – cause they need to crack your sternum open and … yeah.

But I also remember the feeling that someone was with me. Someone, somewhere, was on their knees praying for me and for her.

I will never forget the power of that feeling.

And throughout the day; from the preliminary blood work; from the moment when she fell asleep in my arms and they allowed me to bring her into the operating room and set her on the table. So much machinery. So damn cold in that room. And a man wearing scrubs and preparing equipment and I lay her down on that metal slab and say to him “please, take care of my baby.” And I walk out and sob into my open palms. Through it all, someone was holding me who wasn’t there at the hospital. The support felt so real and huge and it meant the absolute world. I could feel it. Every minute.

From then on, I became the person who organized prayer vigils. For so many people and so many traumas.

I left that spiritual community for many reasons. And this past Summer, the concept of the power of group prayer came up for me again. When things were feeling so chaotic; when it felt like everyone was talking and NO ONE was doing, I organized a prayer vigil for peace. Just a simple post on Facebook to organize. And it BLEW UP. I was getting calls and texts and messages and in the shortest possible period of time, I had a huge group of 50+ humans committing to 15 to 30 minute slots of praying for peace.

And it was palpable. That whole day felt so amazing. We were committed. We were together. We felt connected.

SO.

All this is to ask you to commit to a daily practice of prayer and meditation. For our people. For our Country. For everyone on the planet.

Maybe; MAYBE. If we commit to a practice and we are all sending out that vibration, we can create a shift. We can weave the fabric of our humanity together.
We have everything to gain and nothing to lose.

Please consider this ten-minute practice daily. Or at least occasionally. Feel free to amend, edit, and make it your own. This is very simple. If you want a more detailed practice, then email me, please – Jill@UttaraYogaStudio.com.

And I commit to you; to sit on my meditation cushion; or maybe even stand in the shower; or relax on my couch with a cup of coffee and my eyes closed; and let my mind move through this practice and send out this vibration. It doesn’t have to be perfect or rigid. It just needs to … be.

1. Begin, comfortable seated position; eyes closed; observe your breath.
2. Say any type of prayer or invocation; AUM is always beautiful.
3. Observe your breath; each breath alone is a sacred meditation; sit in silence and relax your body, your face, your tongue, and watch your breath.
4. Imagine white light coming down from the Heavens above and saturating your body; then envision white-light roots coming down from your body and connecting to the Earth. Light flowing from above; connecting through you; and sinking into the planet.
5. Send white light to spread throughout the planet and then throughout the solar system and then throughout the Universe.
6. See a symbol that represents our country; whether it is the flag or an outline of the country on a map … whatever that is for you ….
7. Wrap that symbol in bright, golden-white light.
8. Cultivate the feeling of compassion; of acceptance; of love.
9. Then see you … YOU … sitting in front of you.
10. Wrap YOU in the same light and feel the same compassion. Healing you heals everyone. Never forget, we are connected; you and me.
11. Take a moment to send light to wrap around anyone you know is struggling; don’t send it straight at them, wrap it around them and allow them to choose to receive or reject. Do not interfere with their soul’s purpose.
12. End with a moment of silent listening; and then a moment of petition or prayer.
13. Close with chant, a prayer, whatever feels like will bring the practice to completion.

Remember, it doesn’t have to be perfect; it doesn’t have to be ANYTHING really. It’s your intention that matters; your intention is more important than the action.

Shanti,

Jill

Meditate?

Back in September I traveled to Glasgow, Scotland with my daughter to take her to University. It was our first trip there, and we had a lot to do in the short time I could stay in town. Every day was packed with paperwork, finding our way around town, and a good deal of shopping to outfit her kitchen and flat with everything she would need for the coming school year.

Weave in the intensity of taking my first baby off to college. Off to another COUNTRY to college.

Yeah.

So one morning we’re first thing on the subway, zipping into the city center to shop for bedding and kitchen items. My mind was very busy with lists and we were both steeped in the emotionality of this big change. Sitting on the train I realized; I had not taken the time to meditate that morning.

So I closed my eyes; Resurrection Breath (a quick double exhale through the open mouth over the left shoulder; it’s a Kriya technique); and began my little inner routine. Bringing in the light through my crown; letting it fill my body; growing light roots down into the Earth. Then filling the planet with light; and sending that light out through our solar system and beyond to the entire Universe.

I have a technique for protection for my beloveds; and a regular practice of various techniques to work with energy. But that morning I didn’t have much time. So, I let my mind clear with “Hong Sau” Kriya and after a few moments I wrapped up my literally four-minute meditation by posing the question “What do I need to know today?”

Most days it is a very benign thought that arises; usually encouragement or some minor insight. On this morning, the little voice said “Watch out for the man in blue.”

Watch out for the man in blue? Huh?

Okay.

Wrapped up with my prayers of gratitude, and when I open my eyes, I mention to my daughter the warning from my meditation. She gazes around the subway car. “Mom, every man on the train is wearing blue.” Ahhhh – yes, okay. Right. The train stops and it’s time to go.

Off to our first adventure in the shopping district of downtown Glasgow. In and out of shops, someone is playing the bagpipes; we’re taking pictures, soaking up the scene. My emotions are flooding me; a hot mix of excitement and fear and awe and fear and pride and fear and fear. This town, this place I’ve never been to before – this is where I’m leaving my baby!

As we are walking down the crowded street a man with a clipboard approaches me and comments on my malas – the prayer beads I wear on my wrist. He knows what they are and begins to talk to me about a kirtan camp that he leads somewhere in Scotland. Now, anyone who knows me knows I talk to EVERYONE, something that drives my children absolutely crazy. So here I am, having a little chat about kirtan. And suddenly, I glimpse over his shoulder the face of a young girl; she looks me straight in the eye and says “run.”

Run?

And I’m looking from him to her from him and to her and again she says – “Run.” In that two second gap while I am processing what she is saying, and he is talking and my mind is racing and there are crowds of people all around us. She says it a third time, though this time she is yelling. “RUN!!!”

Suddenly my mind seizes what she is saying, and I wrap my arm around my daughter and we literally begin dashing down the street. When we coast to a stop she chastises me. “Mooommmm, you do not have to talk to EVERYONE Mooommmm!”

We continue on with our shopping trip. So many decision and things to consider; what is essential, what is frivolous. Purchase pillow, blankets, bedding, silverware, cutting board, plate, mug, peeler … it goes on and on. I want to think of everything; want my baby to have what she needs.

It isn’t until we are sitting at dinner that night when my daughter casually says to me “Did you notice what that weird guy who stopped us was wearing?” I paused and thought back …. “No – was he wearing a white shirt?” “No, Mom” she replies. “He was dressed all in blue.”

Oh wow. The man. In blue.

I still have no idea what possible danger he posed. Was he a well-known pickpocket or something? Do people native to Glasgow know him as a con-artist? And who was the angel-girl who appeared to tell us to run? I don’t know.

So why am I telling you this story?

Because I want you to meditate.

Seriously. If we’re gonna save the world, we’ve got to start working with the incredible power of our minds. We need to take the time to listen to ourselves, to our guides and to our untapped connection to all of LIFE.

Often people think you have to sit for an hour to meditate; that you must have some secret technique or live in a cave. People think that those of us who do meditate sit for long periods of time with no thoughts; no mind, as it were.

Let me dispel that myth.

Most of your meditation practice is just concentration. It’s training the mind. Think of it like a puppy; if you don’t train it to sit; if you don’t train it to do certain things at certain times and in certain places, then it just makes messes. Like a puppy, your mind gets into shit it shouldn’t get into. With the untrained puppy there will be literal shit, everywhere. With the untrained mind, we unconsciously create and gravitate towards thoughts that are precisely what we do NOT want.

Mindfulness is the current sexy lingo for a meditation practice; but really one yields the other. To be absolutely present in the moment is a form of meditation. When my dear friend talks about surfing, he talks about completely being in the moment and all else dropping away – that is a type of meditation. When you’re loving on someone and you merge together, the moment of orgasm – bam – your mind stops grasping. It’s a glimpse at perfect happiness and contentment; for even just a second. That’s meditation, too.

Sitting on your cushion thinking “sheesh, my back hurts.” Yes, that happens in meditation practice, too. Cause remember – it’s a PRACTICE. You have to do it over and over and over. For me, it’s taken years of practice to be able to slip over into a meditative state with little effort. And even now, there are days when I sit on my cushion and all I do is watch my poor little brain spin on something and there is no true meditation. Not a single gap or moment of peace.

It is still worthwhile on those days because it helps me to be compassionate with myself and my mind. Even if the only place I get to is thinking “Goddess bless Jill and her little spinning brain today. She’s doing the best she can.”

That glimmer of compassion for myself is enough.

My dear friend and Uttara instructor Wendi Wagner is holding a workshop on Mindfulness and Meditation coming up on December 10 from 1:00 to 3:00 pm. If you’ve ever had an interest in learning to work with the mind; learning to harness that power and find peace and stillness within; this is a fantastic opportunity to explore.

Another option is the Guided Meditation class we have every Sunday morning at 9:15 am. It’s only $5 to drop in and take it and each week one of us is there to guide you through a half-hour meditation.

There are lots of resources online; plenty of podcasts and books and information. But one of the best ways to start is just to sit down; to close your eyes; take a couple deep breaths; and effortlessly seek out those tiny gaps between your thoughts.

They exist. I promise that they do. And those gaps of silence and space are more healing than you can imagine.

Shanti, Jill

mindfulness2016

Food for Thought

img_20160404_130730908This past Spring I attended an incredible week-long course at the Ashevillage Institute (www.ashevillage.org) in Asheville, North Carolina; it was called “Resilient Living.” The premise is this: what happens when sustainability becomes … unsustainable? That is where resiliency comes in. To be resilient means you are adaptable; how do you work with what is available to you?

Reminds me very much of what Goswami Kriyananda predicted based on astrology about this time frame in history. As the systems break down, we have to figure out what works; and do THAT.

It was like summer camp for grown-ups. And I think going back to some of the old ways, to claim a certain level of food independence and to become even more adaptable are going to be critical in the coming cycle.

So I spent a week with a diverse group of people from all over the country who had come to Asheville to learn a variety of skills that I am sure our great-grandparents took for granted. We learned garden design, permaculture and seed saving techniques. We learned about catching water and creating water systems; how to build soil and how to compost. Listened to lectures and took workshops on beekeeping, homesteading and mushroom inoculation. We studied with a master herbalist; learned about tinctures and natural medicines; and also learned all about food preservation. Canning, drying, fermenting, freezing — the works.

There were lots of written handouts and hands on experiences. A couple field trips, too. We spent a memorable day at Wild Abundance (www.wildabundance.net) with the incredible Natalie Bogwalker, work with natural building materials and see her gardens and homestead. Her fire, enthusiasm and independence were so inspiring.

We spent an afternoon with Luke “Learningdeer” Cannon (www.astoundingearth.com) learning about wild plant foraging. So much to learn from this incredible man. I can typically walk through the forest and identify a few trees and many plants and flowers. But he had befriended them all and knew their uses, habitats and how to spot them in all seasons. From him I brought home the idea of trying to eat at least one wild-growing food every day – even if it’s just the leaf from a violet. That plants that seed and grow wild have a very different vibration than plants that are farmed in neat little rows at the farmer’s discretion. One of the many fascinating concepts we were introduced to during the week.

Other inspiring teachers included Marc Williams (www.botanyeveryday.com), Asia Suler (www.onewillowapothecaries.com), and Becky Beyer (www.bloodandspicebush.com), not to mention the incredible staff at Ashevillage.

We also had a lunch lecture with Charles Eisenstein (www.charlesiesenstein.net) to discuss his book Sacred Economics. I really enjoyed listening to his viewpoints on society and the future as it relates to economics.

Interestingly enough both Charles and Asia, people I met that week in Asheville, have posted very pertinent and informative pieces on the recent election. They both offer a unique and, I think, incredibly wise ways of looking at what has happened to our society and where we can move forward from here.

Sometimes when you come across writing on the internet you are uncertain whether to trust what you are reading; you want to know the source. I feel very connected to both of these people having spent time in their presence; I really hope you will sit down and take the time to read both of these articles. They will help us through the coming days, months and years.

The Election: Of Hate, Grief, and a New Story

Your Power Can Change Everything

 

Shanti,

Jill

Who Tells Your Story?

 

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The incredible soundtrack to the Broadway musical “Hamilton” (which tells the story of Alexander Hamilton and the American Revolution) has this line:

“Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?”

I have three stories for you.

Story #1.

My son and I were playing foosball; I was getting my ass kicked, as per the usual.  The subject of the election came up.  He told me the story of how children were chanting at mock election (before the actual election) “build that wall” in the lunchroom.

I had not heard that story.

So a discussion ensues; one of the topics was that our country was founded by immigrants.  That Americans, unless they are Native American, we’re from everywhere.  I asked my son “Do you know your heritage?”  His response:  “Aren’t we from Mexico?”

Now, before you ponder that any further, let me tell you that my son is a blonde, blue-eyed boy.  And we have no family from Mexico, at least that I know of.  His heritage is England, Germany, Scotland and Ireland.

So why would he think his family tree originates from Mexico? He’s grown up hearing both English and Spanish; we still use simple Spanish phrases in our every day conversation.  He grew up listening to Spanish popular music.  We celebrated some holidays not typical to other households.  For example, Dia De Los Muertos; we have fond memories of the annual celebratory trip to the local Panaderia for pan de muertos, breads marked with a little skull and crossbones made of dough.

It was never intentional, but we have very few traditions that hail specifically from the various countries of our heritage.  I don’t have as many stories to tell that connect us to those cultures.  Yes — I burn a bayberry candle all the way down on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve; — that’s a German tradition that was passed down to me.  But most of the other celebrations; the egg-dying, the Christmas tree; they tend to be woven into the fabric of America culture.  They don’t specifically bring up tales that would connect him to these faraway lands.

The other point I recognize is that we’re not surrounded by family; it’s pretty much just me and my children; and I’m realizing that he hasn’t heard the stories of his family from a voice other than mine.

Story #2.

Fast forward to another evening; my son and I are driving and we pass a local chapter of the VFW.  It’s in a grand, old house and there is a war memorial and a tank out front.  We drive past this place often, but usually in the daylight.  That night it was late and it was dark; the tank featured prominently in the spotlight.  “Umm, Mom … why is there a tank in front of that house?”  I explained how it isn’t a house – well, yes, it IS a house – now it is a place for Veterans to gather.  And that the tank is a memorial to remember that real men and women died. “Oh” he calmly replied; “Maybe we need more of those.”

 I’ve heard some stories of war from my parents, but none directly from my grandfather who served in World War 1.  I have heard some stories from my brother, who did tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan.  But those stories have never reached the ears of my son; the horrors of war are far removed from him.  Even the tales from my parents of blackouts and shortages and there not being enough food; he doesn’t know those stories.  All he sees is a tank.

Story #3.

A conversation with a new friend; we were discussing the flu shot and I casually mentioned that I don’t get them.  He began to feel me out on the topic of vaccines.  You know, being Ms. Crunchy Yoga Girl some people might assume that I am anti-vaccine.  But that would not be true; I  believe in vaccines, just not the flu vaccine for me, personally. You have to dig beneath the surface; you need to know the filter of my experience.  The story of how my mother contracted polio as a child, the symptoms were recognized early; she received immediate medical care and she suffered no permanent paralysis.  The story of my mother’s brother dying of tetanus — a teenage boy who fell out of a tree and broke his arm. The doctor forgot to administer the vaccine; he contracted tetanus and died of lockjaw.  These stories shaped my viewpoint and informed my decisions.

I wonder, have I told my son these stories?

In our communities and in our nation, we have lost track of each other.  Our insulated and casual electronic connection means broken communication.  Lost connection with friends and acquaintances.    Our interactions with strangers has become more and more defensive.

We’re afraid of each other.

And because we are cut off from each other, the exchange of ideas has ceased.  We are separating off into groups.  I’m black; you’re white.  I’m rich; you’re poor.  I’m blue; you’re red.  I’m wrong; you’re right.

And that right there is the danger.  We have become less than human to each other.

When we become less than human to each other, society breaks down.

When we become less than human to each other, that’s when people start getting carted off to be put in ovens.  When we become less than human to each other that’s when people get strung up in trees and nailed to crosses and burned at the stake.  When we become less than human to each other, that’s when good people can get lost and do horrendous things.

So much of what is happening is happening BECAUSE we don’t listen to each other.  We talk and we post and we tweet and we spout and we offer opinions through the filter of our experience; but we don’t listen; we don’t have the back and forth exchange of conversation.   We spend less and less time interacting with people who are different; we spend little time considering what it is like to walk in the other person’s shoes.

Often because those can be some damn uncomfortable shoes.

We are, right now, at a tremendous crossroads.  We are writing the first chapter of a new story.  Will it be about community and connection and healing and understanding and doing what must be done for the good of all?  Or will it be about warring and factions and death and hatred and separation and so much SO much pain?

You have the power right now both to tell your story and to write the new one; so, tell me; what’s your story?

Shanti,

Jill

Division

So in my lil’ ole neck of the woods there have been a LOT of Trump/Pence signs going up this week. Even my son noticed; we discussed it tonight in the car. It made me think of a friend of mine who has been adamantly online in social media blasting Trump; calling out racist views. Very vocal, opinionated.

And I get it. This is important.

But I resist such expressions. And it causes a conflict in my soul. I actually do deeply fear Donald Trump becoming our President. For a lot of reasons, but mostly because he appears to have that very powerful combination of smart enough to be mean and mean enough to be smart. We all remember our high school bullies. He reminds me of them in every evil way.

My soul wants peace. I don’t want to fight – with anyone. I have friends, family – people I admire and respect – who are very sure that Trump is the right choice. And then there is Hillary Clinton. Who, I am so sorry, I just do not trust. I do believe she is a better choice than Donald Trump; I actually believe she is a very smart woman. But I also believe she is a choice that simply locks us back into the status quo; of the powerful retaining power; of politics as usual; of keeping us at war.

What to do?

I do not pretend to have the answers; but I have made a decision. I will vote; and I will vote for Hillary Clinton as I pinch my nose. But I’m not digging in on either side. I am not rejecting my friends who strongly support either candidate. I’m staying on the side of peace; on the side of connection; on the side of “okay, you think this and I think that … can’t we still talk? Can’t we still be friends?” Even if it relates to really large issues that push ALL my buttons. For example, I truly cannot understand disliking or judging someone from the color of the skin or their choice in religion.

But I also know that we learn what we live and so many of us have been steeped in hatred and it is hard to let it go.

I really do not believe that my simple opinion will be enough to sway anyone; we all need to think for ourselves. But I do believe my life and my actions speak for me; that my talk and my walk line-the-hell-up, at least most days. And that THAT speaks louder than my words.

The answer to all this conflict lies in this connection from person to person. Do you see me? Do I see you? We are losing our communities; we are losing each other.

A sweet moment occurred last week as I was teaching at Roanoke College. I teach a yoga course there, this is my second year. It is a great gift to bring this powerful practice to these “children” who are about to launch into the world.

Last week a young man stayed after to talk. He talked about how interesting the course had been, which was sweet and made my soul sing – and then he asked if I had ever traveled and yes, I responded, yes; I sure have tried to see some of this amazing world.

He said that he used to think he had all the answers; that he understood how things were and how there really wasn’t anything out there to see or learn. And then he traveled to London, and everything changed; he realized there were other valid ways of thinking; other viewpoints. And that was the catalyst that led him to taking yoga to find out more about Eastern thought and philosophy. And he learned this just by going to London, an English-speaking place. So interesting.
It was a sweet reminder of how I have always told my children “I will never take you to Disneyland; but I will show you as much of the world as I can.”

And I have.

When you travel; whether it is 20 miles away or 2000 miles away – you have new experiences; you are a stranger in a strange land. It helps you to have new perspective. To meet new people, to be uncomfortable; to be the only white person or the only blonde person or the only brown person or the only English-speaking person … or maybe even just the only person who doesn’t know where the hell the subway is … Traveling helps connect us to our humanity; to our need for connection; to our need for each other.

When you meet someone from another country you might take the time to find them on a map; when there’s an earthquake, you think of them. When there’s a bombing, you worry. The planet; the universe; it shrinks.

So, maybe this is a very long way of saying – my friends are my friends. I hope no matter what the outcome this Fall, we will still be there to support each other. I hope that our personal connection will be greater than some philosophical division. I hope that everyone will realize that people are people are PEOPLE and it doesn’t matter if they have red hair or brown eyes or curly hair or worship Durga or adore Jesus or kneel to Mohammad.

I don’t judge you decision this Fall; we’re all struggling, we’re all hoping, we’re all trying. But maybe the answer isn’t about our decision. It’s how we treat each other. Less division, more inclusion; less fear, more faith; less short-sightedness, more consciousness. And hopefully, heaps more love and … some day … some day my dear friends … peace.

Shanti,

Jill

Lost or Found

Earlier this Summer I wrote this piece … and for whatever reason it seems now is the time to post it….

There are times of great change; of huge shifts. The thing is, we cannot always perceive them clearly. Enormous change sometimes occurs in tiny little cracks; in the briefest of encounters; we go right instead of left; we say no or we say yes; a new destiny is formed in the smallest decision.

Look back at your life; at the momentous moments; the BIG shifts. Sometimes the events are cataclysmic; but often, they are so tiny. Like a mosquito, it just doesn’t seem like it’s that troublesome or important but then….

Such are these times.

I went for a walk tonight; just down the street. My new home, it is very far out; in the woods; on a mountain. I can sometimes forget the majesty that exists outside my own windowpane in the hustle and swirl of my life and responsibilities. Sometimes I forget to look; and even if I look, I forget to see.

This past Summer I traveled in Europe; went to beautiful, famous places; saw incredible mountains, lakes, rivers, vineyards; timeless cities, historic places; I made some amazing memories with people that I love.

But tonight, I simply went for a walk; probably 1,000 footsteps, just a wander; wasn’t meant to be an adventure. Two of my cats following along, so I didn’t want to stray far. Just the three of us and my deep breaths; and tens of thousands of trees; and the barely-wet grass; and the steaming pavement; and the wildflowers; and the cicadas; the first blinking of stars; and the mountains. Oh my goodness! Soft, green, sculpted mountains; the mountains that are my home; that have been my home for … well …. I never intended to stay in this town; yet I have lived here for 27 years; this place; these mountains; these TREES; they are my home.
Fog coming off the ponds; the tiny hum of the train in the distance; the queen anne’s lace and the song of locusts.

So often lately, I feel so lost. A moment on Facebook or looking at the news and I am crushed with fear and apprehension. Lost in doubt and misunderstanding.

Why is it so hard to remember; all I ever need to do is simply step outside; and I am found.

Remember that all is an evolutionary process; that we only have our small part to play; but play that part! Live that life! Breathe that breath! Love that love! BE that PEACE.  Do everything you can to stay grounded; unplug your television; put down your phone.

Our minds will not save this word; but our hearts? Well, they might …

Turn off the noise; step outside; breathe; LIVE.

Shanti,

Jill