Forgiveness.

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I’m taking this amazing online meditation course with Tara Brach and Jack Kornfield. If you read this, and get inspired or curious, they are offering it again, and you can check it out here. The other day, I was practicing a meditation on forgiveness. In the meditation, I was guided first to acknowledging the harm and suffering I have caused myself, knowingly and unknowingly. Then, I was guided to contemplate the harm or suffering that I have caused others, and I was given the opportunity to forgive myself for that too. As I came to that moment, I felt deep regret for the times that I have been unloving, impatient, or reactive to my children, and my beloved partner. And as I dove deeper into the sorrow and shame and regret I felt, I was able to identify something that had never fully revealed itself to me before…

The suffering. The suffering of the moment. The uncomfortable suffering of a moment when the oldest brother is so unkind to the younger brother, when the youngest destroys the bathroom while playing with my makeup, when beloved partner is late from work (again). Uncomfortable, sticky, not-knowing-what-to-do feelings. There is the suffering of the moment, and then there is the suffering in how to ENDURE the moment. And here, here in this wiggly, itchy, stuck place, I heard a small voice saying “I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to fix this.” And tears began to pour from my heart. I remember times in my childhood when a situation felt wrong, or broken, or unfair, and yet there was nothing to do to fix it. I hate the feeling of not having an answer. I hate the feeling of not being able to change something into something better. Helpless. Hopeless. Disempowered.

I noticed the emotions rising, and I allowed them to be. This feeling of “can’t do anything about it, nothing can be done, no change is coming.” The shrugging shoulders, the hands up in the air, the one side of the mouth lifting in a question mark. I felt the claustrophobia, the trapped-ness, and the rage of this reality. I could feel heat rising in my body, up into my face. I could feel my breath getting short, held in. I resisted. No. I’m resilient. I’m the “find a way” girl. I’m the one strong enough to handle this. I’m the one smart enough to figure this out. And yet when that doesn’t work out, I’m the failure, I’m the weak one, I’m the idiot. Hmmm. There’s really no way to win. And I love winning.

And this isn’t just about my own life, and my own struggles, this also plays out in my relationships with my friends and family. I want to be the one that makes things better, that helps, that really “shows up,” that CARES. And yet, these efforts aren’t always successful, and often leave me feeling even less connected despite my valiant efforts. MY. VALIANT. EFFORTS.

So I hear another voice, a stronger, more clear voice ask me “Are you willing to walk with the suffering?” And I ask myself, Am I? Are you? Can you? And I don’t like the question, and I want to say NO! But I know in this moment, that if I am not willing to walk with suffering, I won’t be able to support my family or friends when they go through hard times, and I certainly won’t be able to endure whatever challenges inevitably lie ahead in my own life. Am I willing to walk with suffering? Am I willing to allow it to be there, for as long as it takes, without any answers, solutions, or changes? To just let it be? To just be WITH it? Yes, yes I am. I answer back. And it feels scary and shaky and really vulnerable. But I am willing. And to be willing feels empowering, despite what I’m signing myself up for — the unknown world of unpreventable, unsolvable, uncomfortable tragedy, hardship, or pain? Moments that will likely feel hopeless, helpless, and never-ending… Yes. Yes to all of it. YES. 

Because what other choice is there? This trying to be so helpful and resourceful and useful all the time isn’t working anyway, and I’m not solving all the world’s problems anyway and I’m certainly not full of answers and I never will be able to fix EVERYTHING exactly when I want it. And I’m tired of feeling like a failure. So suffering, yes, I’m willing to walk with you. I’m not saying I’ll like it, but I’m willing…

That night I was laying in bed with all three kiddos trying to read a bedtime story, but oldest brother was revving up baby sister, and younger brother couldn’t hear the book through the mayhem. I closed my eyes, I felt the irritation, the frustration, the anger boiling up… that this moment, which I wanted to be this sweet picture of my and my 3 sweeties all snuggled in reading together wasn’t happening, and that I had no idea how to get the older one to knock it off. Tears began to roll down my cheeks as I said yesYes to the discomfort, yes to the helpless feeling of not knowing what to do, yes to the staying, yes… My kids noticed the tears, and they all gathering in closer around me, kissing my face, holding my hands, and rubbing my head. And I was able to tell them that I didn’t know what to do, and that I was so tired and frustrated, and they all nodded as they continued to love me up. There were apologies, and more hugs. And then there was the rest of the story, and 3 little heads sticking out of the bed.

A friend going through a divorce. Another friend who struggles with an ex. A former friend that still brings itchy feelings and heat.  Wild-hearted children that are as authentic in their rebellion as they are in their loving. A deeply loving partner with his own journey towards balance. A complicated life. A big, full, beautiful complicated life. Which I can’t completely manage or control or fix…

This post rings very similarly to one I wrote a few weeks ago about “The Power of Helpless.” But I’m entering new territory, because now, I am willing to FORGIVE my SELF for not having all the answers, for not being able to fix everything… And, if I deserve my own forgiveness, I absolutely have to be willing to forgive those who have caused me suffering. “How many times? How many times should I forgive my brother?” Peter asks Jesus. And he responds “not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Seventy seven times. I’m not keeping track of how many times anymore. And I can’t hold my heart in this armor to protect it in fear of what will happen if the suffering keeps happening, and if I have to keep forgiving. Because this saying yes to suffering is allowing me to forgive, and this forgiving is allowing me to be more brave and loving, and I’m not willing to give that up. Because what I want most is a big huge brave loving heart, and I want that heart to shine out and touch all the people that I love, and even the ones I struggle with, along with all the beings in the world.

When was the last time you sat down with yourself and gave yourself a little forgiveness? Try it, like this: place one hand on your heart, and dive into a memory of something that you’ve done to cause harm to yourself (judgment, unrealistic expectations, unloving behavior of any kind), and then feel the ache, the sting, the suffering of that experience. Then say to yourself “I forgive you.” Over and over and over again until you feel it and believe it. And this might bring up tears, and short fast breaths, and then inevitably long deep breaths and sighs and gulps. And just stick with that, until you’re ready to move deeper into other areas of forgiveness. Because you deserve it. Because we all do.

And there. There it is. A tool that you can use. Simple presence. The acceptance in a moment of suffering that allows you to stay, and not have to solve, or fix, but to just allow and be. And that presence might be all that was needed all along.

Blessings to you on your path! May we all shed the armor of our hearts and shine in the way we were intended! Om. Amen. Hallelujah.

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On the Edge…

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I want to talk about intention, known in the yoga world as a sankalpa. Sankalpa, as defined by Wikipedia, is a “conception or idea or notion formed in the heart or mind, solemn vow or determination to perform, desire, definite intention, volition or will.” It is a huge part of the way I practice and teach yoga, and the meaning of this word, and the practice of creating a sankalpa has continued to evolve for me.

When I teach yoga classes, we almost always begin with a few minutes of mindfulness meditation to bring awareness to the breath. We use the sense to connect to the breath, and then we use the breath as a light to shine within the body and scan for places of tension, soreness, injury or weakness (as well as strength, readiness, and health). We then shine the light of the breath into the mind, and observe the state of the mind, and the types of thoughts that are arising. We notice, and we allow. Then we move the breath to the heart, and we shine it into the corners and edges, noticing the general state of the heart, as well as the emotions circulating there. This practice gives us some good information about where we are, and what to focus on in our practice.

We use this information to identify — as in a self-diagnosis — through self-observation what we need most from our yoga practice. It might be some physical relief from tension in the body, it might be a break from an intellectual or mental challenge that is taking up a lot of real estate in the mind, or it might be a balm to some emotional pain or suffering — and likely it is some combination of experience in the body, mind and heart.

What’s interesting is how easy it is for us to identify what we “lack” and therefore what we “need.” We are so good at pointing out our own deficiencies, aren’t we? And yet, if we are truly to explore the power of sankalpa, we have to be very conscious about the intention that we create.  I want to heal my hamstring. I want to release stress from my mind. I want to soften my heart to accept love. I want to be more loving.  I want to be more patient. I want to be more flexible. I want to have more courage and confidence… You get the idea.

What I’ve been working on specifically in that last year, thanks in large part to some amazing yoga nidra recordings, is the practice of expanding my sankalpa or intention towards my highest evolutionary potential. To paraphrase Maalika Shay Devi Dasi (check out her amazing Yoga Nidra recording here), a sankalpa, or resolve is “embedded into the conscious, sub-conscious and unconscious state, and is bound to manifest as reality in time.” This means that when we speak this intention, it becomes reality. And, if this is true, we should bring the greatest potential into reality, right? So, my intention/sankalpa has transformed from trying to bring in something I think I currently lack in my life. Another recording of Yoga Nidra, by an artist named Manuji, advises: “Take it for granted that it [the sankalpa] will manifest itself in your life. Instead of staying I will become strong and healthy, say I am strong and healthy.

My hamstrings are healed. My mind is free from stress. My heart is soft and open. I am the essence of love. I am patient. I am flexible in body, mind and heart. I am courageous and confident… Hmmm. That sounds better.

I’m pretty sure that I’ve mentioned my struggles with anger before. Oh anger you teacher you. I think there is at least some part of me that has been angry at the world since I was a child. For all the things that were unfair. For all the wishes that went un-granted. For all the prayers that appeared to go un-answered. For a world that didn’t make sense. For a life where I didn’t get what I wanted no matter how hard I tried.  That frustration and disappointment led me to a coping mechanism you might be familiar with — PERFECTIONISM. Perfectionism is the myth that if I try really hard to be really good (at everything), I can control the outcome (of everything), and have what I want the way I want it (all the time). Anger — and perfectionism– are both common “side effects” of co-dependency… the more a co-dependent exhausts themselves taking care of others and trying to “fix” everything, while neglecting themselves, the more overwhelmed and angry they get…

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Perfectionism is the drug that gets me high on the days when I conquer the world and all is right and the children say please and thank you and the husband gets home from work on time and the rooms are clean and the laundry is folded and the checkbook is balanced and surprise there’s extra $ in the bank, and we all love each other and say so out loud as we hug and kiss and hold hands. Oh, wait. That never happens (at least not all on the same day)! But I keep convincing myself it will, and the more disappointed I am that it didn’t happen, the harder I try, and the harder I try, the angrier I get.

So, after losing my shit on my son last night — OK, come on, he was terrorizing his little sister’s doll by squishing it’s plastic head in — after swinging his crutches around like weapons (that would only “by accident” hit his littler brother or sister, or maybe a lamp or a window).  I stopped myself dead in my tracks. I was so ashamed for losing my temper. But instead of allowing myself to indulge in shame about it (which gets me nowhere but deeper into the mire of self-hatred) I paused and tried out a new sankalpa.

I AM THE MASTER OF ANGER, DISAPPOINTMENT, FRUSTRATION AND RAGE. woah.

This morning — like every morning — is just a complete cluster. In about 30 minutes,  I make breakfast for 3 kids who all like slightly different variations of breakfast (cereal and milk, cereal and milk with bananas, oatmeal and milk and bananas, toast with butter, toast with butter and grape jelly, toast with butter and strawberry jam, glass of juice — no not THAT cup, the PINK cup)! I also make lunches with the same slight variations. Meanwhile, I am making sure reading logs are signed, backpacks are packed with homework, shoes, snow pants, water bottles, chapstick etc. etc. etc. There can also be arguments along the way, like the 2 1/2 year old who wants to wear a summer dress and rain boots in -8 degree winter weather. There’s a large margin for error — spats between the kids, messed up breakfast orders, a missing mitten, a homework assignment embellished with “Frozen” stickers, a black sharpie missing it’s cap… And then there’s the clock tick tick ticking away at any possible chance of being on time.

But this morning, as I felt irritation rise in different moments, I repeated my sankalpa. I AM THE MASTER OF ANGER, DISAPPOINTMENT, FRUSTRATION AND RAGE. And guess what? We walked out the door early today, and as we crossed the snowy yard my five year old look up at me smiling and said “This is the BEST LIFE EVER!” I almost cried my heart just broke open with joy. I dropped all the kids off and got myself ready for work, and had a quick meeting, where I repeated my sankalpa before discussing a slightly uncomfortable situation. On the drive home I called my insurance company to discuss my cracked front bumper and got some disappointing information. I repeated the sankalpa again. Even though I had a tight time frame, I was early to pick up the kids from daycare and school.

Usually after school there are more spats and melt-downs, but today there were none. I was even able to share some of the frustrations of my day with my husband without inferring BLAME, or SHAME, or some state of self-sacrificing martyrdom (which I am quite adept at!) And guess what? He was home from work earlier than usual, helped me make dinner, and even got the kids to help me clean it up!

I know I am new to this sankalpa. It could be beginners luck. It’s only been a few days, but I feel strong and fierce and also more tender and competent. I’m willing to overcome my inner-cynic, and assume that the universe is affirming my new intention as my truth. And this truth, that I AM THE MASTER OF ANGER, DISAPPOINTMENT, FRUSTRATION AND RAGE is allowing me to handle these feelings without having to contribute so much energy to expressing them, AND to recovering from them! Already I can feel the spaciousness and freedom.

I’ve been downhill skiing quite a bit lately. This is something that I never imagined I would be able to do. I have stood on the edge of a steep hill, a hill so steep that you can’t even see the bottom, and I have felt my fear, and I have turned my skis down that hill anyway. I have lost my balance and caught myself more than once before fear took my down. I have literally said the word NO right out loud to stop myself from falling, and have put my foot down hard into my ski and moved beyond my doubts about myself. And somehow, this dance with anger feels similar. It’s new territory, and yet, I’m ready for it. I remember telling my homeopath once that my only goal in life was to learn to overcome anger. She told me it was a very admirable goal. And after all this time, all I had to do, was claim my skill with it, instead of allowing it to overpower me.

I AM THE MASTER OF ANGER, DISAPPOINTMENT, FRUSTRATION AND RAGE. This is not to say that because I am the master of it I welcome it into my life. It just means that if and when it comes up, I will know what to do. I am no longer helpless. I am no longer a victim. I am no longer ashamed.

And so, I can’t help but wonder. What is your source of shame? What is the habit or emotion that feels so much bigger than you that you feel powerless against it? What situation or circumstance feels hopeless? And what sankalpa or intention might manifest for you the reality that you seek?

May we all become masters in this life! And may all our wildest dreams and desires manifest through our heartfelt and humble commitment to the amazing power of our evolution!

Om. Amen. Hallelujah!

 

 

 

The Power of Helpless

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Last Sunday my 10 year old broke his leg while skiing. It was his first “official” time skiing after a lesson the week before with my friend Sarah, who is an excellent ski instructor. He was a quick learner. He was excited, capable and ready. He and his Dad hopped the ski club bus with some of his best friends and their dads, and had an amazing afternoon of skiing and fist bumping fun. Until the last run. He was chugging along in his best snowplow, and an adult skier lost control and cut in front of him and they collided. And now he is in a full leg cast with a broken tibia, and will be for months. He’s been home from school for a week. And we are making the best of it. We really are.

This morning as I sat in meditation, I discovered first a sense of love and care for Max that cause my heart to break open with sobs and shudders of emotion. As I allowed that emotion to “be,” it moved deeper into regret. Regret that I wasn’t there to protect him, regardless of whether or not I could have. Then grief, grief for the loss of our regular daily schedule and activities– his, as a joyful extrovert who loves school, loves his friends, and loves his sports — and mine, as a busy working/stay at home mom with few precious hours to pursue my dreams and desires — yoga, writing, teaching (that happen during the school day). The grief stayed for a while, and under the grief I found anger. Anger that this happened to my son, that it caused him pain, that it messed up his life, his ability to do what he loves, to MOVE and to just be able to go to the bathroom without anxiety of falling. I allowed the anger to be. And then behind the anger was blame. I wanted someone to be responsible. I want to find the person who wasn’t paying attention and collided with my son, and I want to hold them accountable, make them pay somehow, make them understand what they’ve done to us.

And then another shift. Helpless. Helpless. Helpless. Helpless felt like an abyss. A big wide dark open space of nothing. I continued to name the feeling. “Helpless.” And helpless continued to be a big wide open sensation. The longer I sat with it the more I expected it to turn into something more intense or uncomfortable or upsetting. But no, there it was, helpless — just a vacant space. So I sat with helpless for quite a while. And as I sat, I realized that the feeling of helpless is the root of many of my greatest challenges with reactivity, anger and rage. I recalled times as a child when I felt completely disappointed and angry at a situation that I had no power to change. Helpless. I recalled a moment in high school where an older boy put his hand up my shirt in the back of a suburban and I didn’t want it there, but I was too terrified to say anything, afraid of getting teased or worse. Helpless. Watching my parents marriage crumble. Helpless. Watching my brother and sister struggle in the collapse of our already glued-and-taped-together family structure. Helpless.

Helpless to my husband’s over-commitment to work. Helpless to his affinity for cigarettes and old fashioneds. Helpless to my kids not getting along, not keeping their rooms clean, not doing what I want when I want them to do it. Helpless. To the hours I spend every day serving these people who don’t do what I want when I want them to, when I’d rather be doing what I want to do. Helpless.

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My innate reaction to helpless is to fight. Fight everyday. Fight with fists up, guns blazing. Fight the war of the imperfect world. Fight to make it better. Fight to improve. Fight against injustice, violence, disrespect, mindlessness, lack of effort. But this fighting is so exhausting. Many nights I lay awake replaying all of the skirmishes of the day, and already devising the plan of attack for the next day, the next week, the next conversation, the next infringement. And now I’m not so sure that this is always working. Yes, I think being an activist of life is a good thing. Always looking to improve, to heal, to make the world a better place is a noble and valiant goal. But not when it exhausts my nervous system. Not when it turns my beautiful curves to edges, my voice sharp, my heart flat. Not anymore. Not after all these years.

So I decided today, while in my meditation, and in the moments afterward, that I am going to explore this feeling of helpless with more curiosity. Because my gut is telling me that helpless is an illusion, and that’s why it is such a vacant experience. I’m ready to discover the power behind this illusion. Because I believe there is power there. The kind of power I’ve been searching for my whole life. Maybe it’s the power of acceptance. Maybe it’s the power or surrender. Whatever that power is, I caught a glimpse of it today, and I am intrigued, and curious, and excited.

This is what I love most about meditation. It always provides at least one tool when you open the toolbox. More and more as I practice, I’m able to say “I don’t know what to do.” Instead of doing what I usually do when I don’t know what to do — which is FREAK OUT!!! There is a power in the not-knowing, in the being willing to admit not-knowing.

May we all be free from the external forces that create feelings of helplessness, and may we all arise in our true sense of power, and peace.

Om. Amen. Hallelujah.

 

 

 

 

On Love and Grief.

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In memory of Emma Lilly Ritenour-Sampson 6/2002 – 12/21/2015

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Yesterday we said goodbye to our beloved Emma-dog. She was a part of our lives and our family for 13 years. She’s in the background — and the forefront — of many of our (growing) family photos over the years. Her story is interwoven with ours; moments of joy, sadness, frustration, silliness, laughter, anger, hope, all stitched together. The day I met her was serendipitous. I was a new transport to Rochester, MN (oh love – you silly thing!). I was homesick, lonely, and feeling quite forlorn in a “city” which felt nothing at all like the CITY (Minneapolis!!) where I had grown up. One day I was driving home from the high school where I worked (where I had hoped to make friends and was failing miserably), and I saw the sign “Paws and Claws Humane Society.” I turned the car around, pulled into the parking lot and went inside. I went to the counter and nervously asked the woman working what I had to do to see the dogs. “See that bulletin board?” she said, “take a look at the pictures, and if you see a dog you want to meet, just tell me their name and we will go get them for you.” I walked up to the bulletin board, and there were many dogs; young dogs, old dogs, big dogs, little dogs, and somewhere in the middle of all those dogs was the 100 watt light bulb shining smile of “EMMA.” I went back to the counter and said “I’d like to meet Emma please.”

A few minutes later, a door opened, and there was a stirring and a commotion as this little burst of yellow leapt up on the counter, spilling brochures and magazines everywhere, while dragging an employee on the other end of the leash behind her. It was love at first sight. This wild little thing stole my heart. She finally settled down (a little) and I was able to get a better look at her. She wasn’t roly-poly puppy cute. She was adolescent puppy; wobbly on new long legs and lean torso. I’m pretty sure she peed on floor right at my feet. She probably shredded or chewed something up too. But she had me by the heart. I filled out the extensive application form, which felt both appropriate — I mean a dog IS a living thing — and nerve-wracking — “what if we’re not good enough for her?” And in the meantime, heard two conversations involving other people interested in adopting this Emma. I stepped outside and called Brandon from my cell phone. He was at work “Babe, I need you to come to Paws and Claws like, now.” “What?” he said “Why?” “There’s this dog and her name is Emma and I love her and if you don’t come meet her right now someone else is going to get her because they have to meet everyone in the family and someone else can’t have her because she’s MY dog.”

Let me tell you a few things about Brandon you may or may not already know. 1. He’s a farmer’s son. Meaning, he’s a hard worker. Almost to a fault. He works. He works hard. Everyone he works with likes him because he works hard and doesn’t cause a fuss (ever) or they don’t like him because he works so hard you can tell when someone else isn’t. Hard workers don’t leave work early, they stay late. Hard workers don’t ask for special favors. Hard workers keep work at work and life at home. 2. He’s a farmer’s son. Meaning, he grew up on a farm, where animals lived happily outside, and humans lived happily in. There wasn’t mixing of animals and humans in inside places. Nevertheless, this guy got out of work early and came over to meet this dog who I was in love with. I was nervous. What if he didn’t like her? What if he could tell she was a little “naughty” and said no? He walked into Paws and Claws, still in work dress pants and shirt and tie. I explained to him a little bit more what the process was, and then they went to get Emma. She walked out like a show pony, paws touching the floor so gently, sweetly leaving slack on the leash until it was handed to Brandon. She walked right up to him, sat down, and put a paw on his knee, and looked up at him with the sweetest brown eyes ever. (Oh my gosh, was this really the SAME dog? She was so good, she was so smart, she was even better than I thought!)

Papers signed. And then we waited. Waited to find out if we were good enough for this EMMA dog from the polaroid picture on the bulletin board at Paws and Claws. We got the call. We were approved. She was ours, as long as we agreed to… (enter many things that required money and time — along with all the other things that we didn’t discuss but agreed to by default). The date was set. We were to pick her up on October 21, 2002, the day after we returned from a weekend celebrating Brandon’s birthday in Chicago. I got a call that morning from my brother that my sister-in-law was in labor with (our family’s first!) baby! I got a sub for work, and drove up to St. Paul, excited to meet this little babe (note to self – write blog post on the amazing Madeline next). The hours ticked by and she wasn’t here yet, and there was a dog in Rochester, MN that was counting on me to get her, and if I wasn’t there I was pretty sure they’d just tear up my application papers and send her off to someone else. So I called Brandon. at work. again.

“Babe, I need you to pick up Emma today.” “What?” he said. “Why?” I explained that this sweet baby Madeline wasn’t born yet or was just born or whatever and I wouldn’t be back in time to get the dog, and if we weren’t there when we said we would be there I felt quite certain they would tear up our application and give our sweet dog to someone else. “I’m not putting her in my car,” he said “she’ll get hair all over it.” “Well, babe, I don’t CARE what you DO with her, but you have to go and get her. Take her for a walk!” And I hung up. Fast forward a couple hours. I pull into the Paws and Claws parking lot, and there is my husband, (in dress pants, shirt and tie) sitting on one of those parking lot curbs, feeding our dog pork chops. Now she was in love — with HIM!

We put Emma in the car and went home. What came after was: pooping and peeing everywhere, chewing up stuff, discovering she HATED being in a kennel (so much so that she would put her teeth through the front grates and pull to try to get the door open and get out), that pork gave her the runs, and that she had what the experts call “a hard play drive.” I got up in the morning and walked that dog. I drove home on my lunch break and walked that dog. I got off work and walked that dog. We walked all over. We explored every nook and cranny, every inch and trail of Quarry Hill Nature Center. We went for “bike rides” which consisted of me sitting on my bike and her pulling me — pedaling was optional, but not necessary. We snuggled with her in OUR BED (yes, farm folks, we’ve got a convert on our hands!) We snuggled with her on OUR COUCH. We pulled over on the side of the road to see what was wrong if she looked nervous, or whined, or breathed funny when we took car trips with her.

She helped Brandon propose to me. We got home from a dinner out, and it was November and snowy and beautiful and I had been diverted with large quantities of red wine, and she took me out to the park across the street from our house and we ran and played and rolled in the snow while Brandon set up the candles and the music and the whole proposal. And we came back to the house and I knew right away and we laughed and cried and hugged and she was right there with us, wagging her joyful tail.

When Max was born, she was very protective of her big brother. If someone held her too long, Emma would sit in front of them and look them up and down, and if they didn’t give the baby back to mama, she’d bark at them. She loved our babies, even though she also sighed with jealously, and as we added to the lot, sighed a lot. But she was a proud sister, who held her head high and wagged her tail proudly when we’d walk (and we walked and walked and walked) with the stroller. Even last week, she still loved to walk, even though it was more like a slow limp. We’d make our way up to school to drop off the kids, and she’d pause every time someone passed, in hopes she might get a pat or two from some young dog-lover.

To say she was empathic is like saying Matisse’s art is “ok.” Emma felt, and she felt it all. During arguments sometimes she’d get right in the middle and bark along with us, and other times she’d curl up tight on the couch and tuck her nose under her paw. She hugged back, and there were literally times she and I fell asleep that way, my face buried in her soft neck, or her nose tucked under my chin. She licked tears off my face more times than I could ever count, all kinds of tears, but when sadness came, she came closer instead of retreating like so many humans I’d tried sharing my heavier feelings with.

And she smiled. SMILED. For real. She even smiled for cameras. I have the good fortune of one of my besties and favorite people being a photographer who is ALSO a dog person. We have photo after photo of Emma smiling. She was a happy girl, and it was so fun to watch such a joy-filled rambunctious alive being embody happiness the way she did. She also gave stand-up hugs to a chosen few of my friends (usually the most petite ones with the sweetest voices) — paws on shoulders, pinned to the wall hugs. And our friends loved her and tolerated her pee, and her poop, and her chew marks on things, and loved her TOO (not anyway, not still, not despite). Because Emma was the kind of dog you loved, even if you weren’t a dog person. No one could help it, she was just that kind of being in this world. Like a love magnet. She made the faces of strangers soften. She drew compliments and admiration. She was Miss Congeniality.

She was tolerant. Like kids riding her back like a horse tolerant. Happy to pull a kid on a sled across a snowy yard tolerant. Fingers in eyelids and lips and ear and  tail-pulling tolerant. She smiled. She accepted it as affection. She was leave me home alone for 6 or 8 or 10 hours and I won’t pee on that damn floor tolerant. She was “you’ve got three kids now and you hardly remember me but I love you anyway tolerant.” Near the end, she was in a world of pain but keeping it tucked inside so she could stay with us a little longer tolerant.

Who loves like that? I don’t. I’m fair-weather-y, stubborn, conditional. I’m all open-hearted optimist one minute, and terrified of getting hurt control freak the next. I’m temper and apologies. I’m take you for granted, regret it and try harder. I’m hugs and kisses and tears of wonder and joy and then cynical and hard-tongued and apathetic and recalcitrant. I forgive when I feel like it, or when it looks good and because it’s the right thing to do. And yes, I am also a wild-at-heart-unabashed-wide-open-brave lover of love who wants the world to be beautiful, and believes I can help make it that way. But even that, she had a part in, because she helped heal the places in me that were afraid of trusting, she showed me what it felt like to be forgiven, she gave me hope on days when my tank was empty. There are so many ways, even though she was technically the “orphan” that we saved, that she actually saved me.

Gosh I miss her so much. She was what made our house feel like a home. The jingle of her collar, the tap of her nails on the hard wood floors. She held the space for us. She kept it safe. She kept it alive. I miss her soft ears, and the way they never got pokey even as she aged. I miss the soft place under her chin, like a refuge. I miss her yellow body being somewhere, anywhere, on a couch, under a table, getting busted being on one of the kids beds, with all the bedding crumpled under her like a queen. I miss her big warm tongue and her kisses. I miss the smell of her paws (like popcorn). I miss the weight of her.

And right now I am grieving and it is heavy. I don’t know if I’ve ever felt this sad before in my life. Or maybe I’ve just never let myself feel this sad before. I remember this fall when Brandon’s beloved Grandpa died, feeling like there were just no words anymore that mattered. I was left speechless in the gravity of it. We were left speechless. And here, now this morning after the day I said goodbye to my truest most loyal and bestest friend, the world feels flat, icy, like you could make a wrong move and just slip off. There is an emptiness in the physical space that she filled, and yet my heart is brimming with love. I don’t know if I ever knew how much I loved her. No, I did. I remember claiming I would never love my own flesh and blood children as much as her. (Why did I think I would I have to choose though-? She’d never make me!)

But this is the crazy gift of loss, of grief, is that if we let it, it breaks our hearts wider open, and we see, sometimes through the lens of regret, but hopefully just through the lens of of own human-ness what a privilege it is to love and be loved. Something has been freed in me. Something wild and untamable and so very alive.

Thanks Emma. Screen Shot 2015-12-22 at 12.30.55 PM Screen Shot 2015-12-22 at 12.31.15 PM

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More isn’t always more…

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Stretched-Canvas-06587-Dolly Parton Dream More Be More-Quotes-Canvas-A

More more more. It’s funny how when you write that word over and over again, it starts to make no sense. Try it. More more more more more more more. What is MORE? And why is this our FAVORITE word? Make MORE. Be MORE. Love MORE. Care MORE. Give MORE. More. More. More. If we only had MORE. MORE LOVE. MORE PATIENCE. MORE MONEY!!!! Media tells us we can BE MORE if we HAVE MORE and SPEND MORE. Religion tells us we will be MORE HAPPY and MORE SAVED and MORE OK WITH THE MYSTERY OF DEATH if we PRAY MORE, and BE A BETTER PERSON MORE, love god MORE. Work tells us we will EARN MORE if we WORK MORE. Our culture tells us if we DO MORE we’ll keep up with each other MORE. If we give MORE away, we will GET MORE. If we practice MORE YOGA we will get MORE PEACE. If we exercise MORE we will get MORE in shape. Once we DO MORE in all these ways, we might feel MORE worthy and then we can start living as if we have ENOUGH.

ENOUGH of that shit. ENOUGH. enough enough enough enough. I am so tired of trying to BE MORE. BE BETTER. I am ready to BE ENOUGH today. I am LOVING ENOUGH to my children and husband, that even if and when I lose my shit — which might happen daily, I know in the depths of my being that the love I have given every day is MORE THAN ENOUGH to overshadow my small outbursts of HUMAN-NESS. FRUSTRATION. ANGER. EVEN RAGE. Yep, I said it. I’m a yoga teacher whose platform is all kinds of groovy self-love and compassion and healing, who also GETS REALLY PISSED and FREAKS OUT sometimes. And I used to feel SO ASHAMED. Like a FRAUD. Because what kind of yoga teacher goes out into the world preaching peace and healing and comes home and acts like a total asshole to the people they love most? My kind. The human kind. But when we submit to the shame game, and try to separate the parts of ourselves that aren’t “GOOD ENOUGH, PATIENT ENOUGH, CALM ENOUGH” we just get MORE ANGRY. MORE CONFUSED. MORE ASHAMED. MORE AFRAID. So hello, let me introduce myself, my name is Heather Courtney Ritenour-Sampson, and I am an asshole sometimes, and I am ENOUGH even then.

My husband and I just completed a 5-week Money Class for Couples by Ruth Hayden. Holy crap was it awesome. Yes, we learned about budgeting. But from a completely different angle. In Ruth’s opinion, pretty much everyone can “do math,” but the reason why we have such a hard time actually knowing how to spend and save, is because of our emotional relationship with money, which usually comes from our childhood and what we learned about money from the people that had (or had not) money. If you’ve read any of my previous posts, you might notice a common thread for me regarding money, or abundance, whatever you want to call it. I grew up in a family that struggled with money. I experienced in tangible ways what “not enough” feels like, even if, in reality it was “close enough” to keep us “warm enough,” “fed enough,” and truly “loved enough.” It feels like a lifetime assignment of learning that is finally gelling (like the 3rd time I took math in college), and I have Ruth to thank (in addition to a bunch of other wise guides and healers). Here’s what I learned. The fears about not having ENOUGH or being ENOUGH, lead to taking on MORE, working MORE, worrying MORE, doing MORE, accumulating MORE, hoarding MORE. Which leads to an unbalanced budget, and ironically the experience of LESS. Not just literally, but also emotionally, energetically, physically, somatically, spiritually.

What’s the take-away from that? 1. We MUST get REALLY CLEAR about what we REALLY WANT. Learn to listen to ourselves. Learn to speak it. Learn to ask for it from each other. Learn not to feel guilty or ashamed or UNWORTHY to WANT IT and speak it. 2. We must be willing to release what we HAVE that we don’t NEED. 3. We must be willing to BELIEVE we will get what we want. 4. We must be willing to RECEIVE what we REALLY WANT. 5. We must be willing to GIVE UP what we DON’T REALLY WANT to get what we DO REALLY WANT. 6. We need to be willing to be HONEST about where things are at, how they got there, and what the plan it for change without FEAR, SELF-PITY, BLAME, SHAME, or APATHY. 7. We need to do an honest assessment of what DO HAVE that we WANT and feel THANKFUL for it. 8. We need to be committed to taking REALLY GOOD CARE of what we ALREADY HAVE. 9. If we are in a partnership/committed relationship that is managing a shared financial reality, we have to be committed to STAYING EMOTIONALLY CONNECTED and WORKING AS A TEAM even when things feel uncomfortable, frustrating, overwhelming, or IMPOSSIBLE. 10. We have to remember that we are incredibly RESILIENT, CREATIVE, ADAPTIVE, RESOURCEFUL, EMOTIONALLY INTELLIGENT creatures that have an array of solutions and ideas at our disposal.

A couple weeks ago, a fantastic festival was celebrated in India, and across the world, called Diwali. Diwali is a festival of light, a celebration of the triumph of light over darkness, good over evil. This festival is also a time to honor the Goddess Lakshmi, who is the bestower of wealth, fortune and prosperity, both on the physical and spiritual plane. She is also the embodiment of Shri, which is the cosmic abundance and auspiciousness of the universe, manifest through grace, light, luster, beauty, splendor, and holiness. It is common during this time for those who celebrate Diwali to clean and organize their homes to “make room” for Lakshmi’s abundance. Once the house is cleaned, footprints are drawn with rice flour and vermillion powder all over the floors to show Lakshmi the way in.

It was no accident, that with the junction of the money class, and the celebration of this festival, along with preparations for hosting a 40th birthday party for my husband-lover-BFF, I dove headfirst into cleaning and purging. One night after teaching yoga, at like 9:00 at night, Brandon and I just spontaneously re-organized our whole living room. We packed up piles of stuff to give away — old furniture, books, knicky-knacks, moved furniture, dusted, washed, cleaned. Our living room felt like a NEW HOUSE. Like a photo from a magazine. Wow. Who knew we didn’t need MORE of anything to make our house FEEL beautiful, spacious, artful, warm, welcoming and cozy. That process is continuing to move through the house; the game cupboard, the art supply cupboard, the bathroom cupboards and drawers; throwing away broken stuff, giving away stuff we don’t need, organizing and fixing the stuff we want to keep. BINS of kid’s clothes given away — things I was holding on to for sentimental reasons — as if a sweater could hold the memory of a christmas better than my heart could. I went through all my drawers and closets — and piled clothes I had bought and rarely worn — things I accumulated to “feel better,” even though I didn’t love it, things I bought on sale that were “almost” what I really wanted, or that I just bought because they were such a great deal, but didn’t love. Things I used to love that I didn’t love anymore. Good-bye, good-bye, good-bye things.

Somehow,  along the way the kids started to notice. My 10 year old — of his own volition — decided to organize his “treasure” drawer in his dresser last weekend. He sorted seashells, and Pokemon cards, and soccer tournament medals, throwing things away, and organizing his treasures in little boxes and jars. He put all his marbles in a jar and placed it on the mantle in our living room. My ten year old. Granted, the 2 1/2 year old continues to “help” by cutting her own hair and coloring on things that didn’t need to be colored on, but you know, that’s where ENOUGH patience comes in. Or a little losing-your-shit mixed in with a lot of hugs and kisses and breathing.

So the financial house is on track to being in order. The physical house is incrementally nearing a state of order and loveliness it has never known before. And then my insides start to ask for attention. I start looking at my love of learning, and my love of reading, and the books and the online courses in meditation and mindfulness and yoga and MORE and MORE and MORE. And something inside me pauses and says “you know ENOUGH already, you don’t need to KNOW MORE or LEARN MORE in order to do your work in this world.” Woah. I didn’t see that one coming. I was in the middle of an online-mentoring-session for a Mindfulness Meditation course that I am doing, and it just hit me. “I (already) KNOW WHAT I AM DOING!!!!” I am ENOUGH. I don’t need MORE. And not only that, but gosh, I have a lot to share. Hell, I’m gonna say it, I’m an expert in my field!

Since that realization, I’ve been asking myself this question: “Am I ACCUMULATING or ABSORBING?” When I eat. When I practice yoga. When I am listening to someone else share something they feel, or think, or know. When I am reading. When I am listening to music. When I am snuggling with my husband. When I am talking to my kids.

Ok. Let’s take this rant full circle.

The result of all this, is that I am learning how to face my fears of NOT ENOUGH and the compulsive MORE MORE MORE behaviors that result. In my meditation practice, I have been able to acknowledge my resistance to feelings like contentment, joy, ease — because those lead to stillness, and stillness feels uncomfortable, because there is such a compulsive habit of DOING to prove my WORTHINESS in this world. So, I am challenging myself to soften those edges, and to allow ABUNDANCE to come EASY from now on. I AM DONE BELIEVING THAT THE ONLY WAY TO GET WHAT I REALLY WANT IS TO HAVE TO WORK REALLY HARD FOR IT. Joy, contentment, ease, I am ready for you. Stillness, you are invited to this party. Because in this stillness, I feel so stinking RICH. RIDICULOUSLY DRIPPING IN WEALTH. GOLDEN. LUMINOUS. INFUSED. RADIANT. And up until now, I didn’t think I deserved it. I hadn’t earned it. I hadn’t worked hard enough for it yet. I wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t real. And how about this? All the abundance I didn’t think I had yet? Um hello! Hi Heather, it’s me, you’re totally awesome blessed life! So nice to meet you!

The ottoman in our living room still has a hole in it patched with electrical tape. My refrigerator still freezes the carrots in the produce drawer. There’s a pair of black jeans with super cool zippers on my christmas list, along with a crock pot and a new muffin tin. I’m not sure how we are going to pull off what we LIKE to give for Christmas this year. My husband is driving a car that is over 20 years old that likely won’t take him safely through the winter. We’ve still got piles of medical bills from a funny eye and a broken arm and a baby girl we had talked about but hadn’t quite switched our health insurance to plan for. We’ve got big dreams of where we want to go and what we want to do, and the “in” column and the “out” column aren’t quite dance partners yet.

And not yet, not still, not even despite those realities, I am so rich. So. very. rich. I don’t need MORE. Not today. Maybe not ever. Did you know we breathe over 20,000 breaths a day? Imagine someone on their deathbed. How much would they pay for ONE MORE BREATH. 100 MORE. 1000 MORE. 1,000,000 MORE. And so, I will not squander this day. This breath. And this one! And again another! I’m still here! Still alive! Still breathing! Here is more time Heather! And MORE. And MORE!

So here we are on the eve of Thanksgiving. A time where we are SUPPOSED to feel THANKFUL. And we say we are, and we can write lists of the reasons why we are thankful. But in order to truly FEEL thankful, we have to hop off the MORE train. Because MORE doesn’t allow us to FEEL. So here’s my challenge for you, take 5 or 10 minutes today or tomorrow or whenever, and just stop the doing. Sit in dignified stillness, or lay down and rest. Feel your breath. Soften the edges. And allow, allow, allow. Allow this moment, and YOU to be ENOUGH.

 

Om. Amen. Hallelujah! And Happy thanksgiving!

I WANT vs. I AM

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I am reading this amazing book called “The Second Miracle: Intimacy, Spirituality, and Conscious Relationships” by Richard Moss. This book is blowing my mind in 108 different ways, dimensions, and planes of thought. One of the most prevalent passages I read the other night has stuck with me, and has really reflected some of the “inner work” that I am currently embarking on, and I want to share it with you. I found this book in a “Little Free Library” in the parking lot of my Homeopath’s office. WHAT? Thanks, serendipity…

LITTLE FREE LIBRARY

This work revolves around the concept of abundance, and about what abundance REALLY is. The realization of, receiving of, faith in, ABUNDANCE has been a challenge for me as long as I can remember. I experience a lot of fear and anxiety about concerns of financial ruin, emotional betrayal, not-enoughness, and the over-arching myth of inner-poverty. My yoga practice has certainly helped me to heal and soothe some of this fear and anxiety. I remember years ago standing in a temple in India, gazing at this tiny black stone Lakshmi statue (the goddess of abundance) in a candle-lit alcove, and having the most amazing realization that the whole world was literally my gift, my playground from the Divine. I have done specific yoga practices and rituals to ignite my experience of abundance, and to liberate myself from this deep-seeded fear of loss and tragedy. I have written hundreds of sankalpas, with intentions of invoking an experience of living in a state of abundance. I have worked with healers of various sorts to release the traumas that have created my fears about lack. I have journaled. I have prayed. And still, there is work to be done.

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What IS abundance? Up until I opened this book, I would have defined abundance as, having more than enough; more than enough MONEY, more than enough TIME, more than enough LOVE. I have identified how I have stood in my own way, by squandering or wasting MONEY, TIME, LOVE. And yet, the fear has remained. I would also say that abundance has meant freedom from worry, a sense of security, a fall-back plan in case the shit hits the fan. The problem is, that this definition of abundance is a moving target, which is influenced by my need to feel safe, to feel in control and to get what I (think) I want, all things that change on a daily basis due to a thousand different internal and external experiences.

So what IS abundance? Richard Moss says the “contemporary meaning of abundance is ‘great plenty, an overflowing quantity, strictly applicable to quantity only.’” This seems to fit with my view of abundance of having more than enough. Yet, Moss discovers than an earlier Latin root of the word abundance abundare, means to “flow as the river flows.” He goes on to explain that in “most early societies, the river’s flow meant life. But a river is also a source of mystery and contemplation. Rivers flow slow and deep, fast and wild; they meander; they flood and destroy, even as they replenish the soil of the valleys. To flow as a river flows suggests so much more than wealth or plenty. It suggests fluidity, strength and softness, patience, and power and, above all, movement (104).” Woah. Wait a minute. Maybe THIS is why my prayers for abundance seem to have fallen on empty ears. Because I didn’t know what to really ask for. I thought abundance would keep me safe, would prevent the unexpected, would insulate me from the unknown. Where did I learn that having lots of money would keep me “safe” and keep things from “changing?” And, is this what I really want?

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Moss goes on to discuss how our modern definition of abundance implies “a degree of immunity to change; if we are abundantly wealthy there is no anxiety about recession, and so forth.” He describes true abundance, abundare, as having a more spiritual than materialistic essence. Ok, so if abundance ISN’T just having more than enough, and if it’s actually not even a PROMISE that I always will have more than enough, than what is it that I really want? I want to FLOW like a river, with strength and softness, patience, and power. I want to MOVE. I don’t want to stay in one place, even if it means that I’ll never be afraid again. I want to skillfully and joyfully move between experiences of more and experiences of less, without creating some separation from the Divine when there is less. I want to stop interpreting the experience of austerity of any kind as some form of punishment, some karmic payback, or retribution from an act of sin – known or unknown. When did I start believing that having less meant I was being punished? Meant I did something to deserve it? Meant there was something wrong with me? 

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What if I could flow like a river right now? What if all I had to do was change my verb? This is something that HAS changed recently in my morning sankalpa/intention-making. For many years I’ve gone through periods of practicing morning puja – a simple ritual that invokes communion with the Divine through mudras, mantras and purification practices. It also includes the writing of a sankalpa, which is spoken aloud and then offered on an altar. Many of my intentions have started with the words: I WANT.

I WANT TO BE FREE FROM ANXIETY.

I WANT TO BE FREE FROM THE MYTH OF POVERTY.

I WANT TO BE CONFIDENT AND EMPOWERED.

I WANT TO EARN WHAT I AM WORTH.

Uh. Oh. All of these intentions are kind of open-ended. When? the Divine asks. NOW? TOMORROW? LATER? In an earlier passage in his book, Richard Moss discusses the challenges of prayer. He states that “humanity’s greatest ignorance can be to pray to God to ameliorate our personal suffering or fulfill ego-driven hopes, for in so doing we often obstruct our deeper growth. In our fear of nothingness and our dream of salvation, God simply accommodates us. After all, as an object-of-consciousness, this God is our own creation, becoming either loving or wrathful depending on how we are really engaging ourselves through prayer (58).” Moss goes on to discuss how eventually, as we mature, meditation and prayer “merge our personal awareness ever deeper into a more universal stream of consciousness,” until we experience life as a continuous state of prayer and union. To me, this means that it makes no sense to ask for what is already ours. It makes no sense to wish for things to “possess,” when, if we live in a state of abundare, we are constantly navigating the ebbs and flows of a conscious, fully integrated life, because that’s what GOD does, and that’s what GOD is, and that’s who WE ARE.

This awareness began revealing itself to me BEFORE I read these passages, in the sankalpas I have been writing.  I want to share some of them, though they feel so very personal, because I want their energy to inspire you and uplift you to really look at what you are asking for, and how you are asking, and IF you really need to ASK.

 

So, abundare, I am ready for you. I don’t wish for you, I don’t want for you. You are here, and so am I and we are one. And I ask you my friends, are YOU ready? Are you ready to change your “WANTS” into “BEING?” Who ARE you? What do YOU stand for? What is your greatest SANKALPA? INTENTION? RESOLVE? How is the DIVINE revealing itself to you RIGHT NOW?

OM. AMEN. HALLELUJAH.

ABUNDANCE AND BEAUTY

 

 

11 seconds to happiness, 11 minutes to peace

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Happy Monday sweet friends!

i’ve been doing some really great work with my former colleague Dorothea Hrossowyc, who is an amazing Somatic Bodyworker. She is certified as a Rosen Method Practitioner and Teacher, and in various other modalities related to trauma, empowerment, and sensori-motor therapy. I recently read an article that she wrote titled “Evolving the Brain,” and was completely enamored with the scientific research around the way our brains process “wrong” or “good.” She cites Neuro-Psychologist and author Rick Hansen, who discovered through his research that although it only takes the brain a half-second or less to process something “wrong,” it takes eleven seconds for the brain to process something “good.” ELEVEN SECONDS.

This explains why, especially when life feels a little too full or intense already (which it does for most of us), it’s so EASY to be constantly focusing on potential threats, inadequacies, or dangers to our fragile sense of security, contentment, happiness, joy. Before we can notice the “good,” our brains could have already noticed 5 or 6 potential threats, or PERCEIVED threats. The fact is, most of us DON’T live in jungles, or forests, or deserts, where TRUE threats lurk: predatory animals, dangerous terrain or weather, lack of survival resources. But our brains are still HARD-WIRED all these thousands of years later in our evolution, to be on the constant look-out for danger, because there was a time when that ability FUELED our evolution; the ability to hear and sense and see and feel and taste danger literally saved our lives, and the future of humanity.

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As a person who struggles with anxiety, I am a MASTER of identifying potential threats, to my own detriment. These threats include: inevitable financial failure (the loss of my beloved home), abandonment and neglect (my husband doesn’t really love me, or care, and he’s going to leave me), my lack of skill as a mother (my children don’t respect me or each other or our home), my unworthiness of love and companionship (my friends are too busy, and I”m not important enough for them to make time for me), my inability to live the life of my dreams (my domestic “duties” will always come between me and my passions or dreams), my imperfection (I’m not good enough to just be MYSELF — look at all the mistakes I make every day!), my not-enough-ness (I’ll NEVER have what I REALLY WANT). These are the pathways my brain is used to, and it can always find some kind of microscopic proof in almost any moment, that something dangerous or heartbreaking is lurking around the corner.

Until… until I stop and notice all that is “right” with the world. Like at the beginning of a session with Dorothea, when she says: “tell me about something good that’s happened,” and once I start I can’t stop, and I’m pretty sure I could spend the whole hour just telling her what’s good and completely forget to get on the table. When, despite my husband being a few minutes late to my son’s baseball game (again), I see past my own frustration (and alleged “proof” that he values his work over his family), to the tension in his face when he walks up late, that is relieved as soon as the kids bound towards him with totally open loving hearts. (maybe I should be more like that). To the moment when, after several cancelled plans, my friend and I sit in my yard, in the sun, in the grass, and watch our kids play together, as we talk about EVERYTHING, and support and listen and encourage and celebrate each other and our sisterhood (so – maybe I’m not so alone after all). To the most beautiful moment last night, when my daughter, who was horribly overtired, lay sobbing in her bed, and I lay next to her, equally exhausted, frustrated (annoyed with myself for not getting her to bed sooner), singing her “Twinkle Twinkle little star” and tickling her belly while I witnessed her transition from overtired despair, to singing through her tears, to joyfulness and contentment, to peaceful slumber… Wow. What a gift. And because I didn’t immediately believe the thoughts in my head that tried to point out my inadequacies as a mother (which often lead me to overreacting, and “giving up”), I was able to really see WHO I am, a REALLY GOOD mom, who loves her babies, and is able to hold space for them even in THEIR struggles, and gets to receive the gift of their vulnerability, and fragility and innocence and tender human struggle.
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I’ve been wrestling for a few months with some sleep challenges. I can’t say that life has felt overtly anxiety-ridden, and I’ve been able to really function with a general level of peacefulness and contentment despite not getting super awesome sleep, but man, when you’re not just laying down at night and closing your eyes and waking up 7 or so hours later, you feel really DEPRIVED. I’ve been dedicated to various self-care techniques that are helping, including daily self-massage with a mix Banyan Botanicals Sesame Oil and Vata Oils. I’m also taking a couple Banyan Botanicals supplements: Tranquil Mind for day, and I Sleep Soundly at night, combined with a nightly does of Quantum Nutrition Labs Melatonin. If and when I wake up (anytime between 4:00AM and 6:30AM), after only 4-6 hours of sleep, I listen to the Yoga Nidra recording: Yoga Nidra: Deep Rest Meditation for the Nervous System by Maalika Shay Devi Dasi. This recording is AMAZING. It takes you through all the layers of the body/mind/soul to create a wholistic experience of deep peacefulness. There have been more than a handful of times that I become so relaxed while listening to it that I am able to fall back asleep. And, it’s on Spotify, so you can try it out, and if you like it, you can buy it on Amazon! I’m also trying to get outside and experience the natural rhythms of the day. I’m intending to get to bed relatively early (which has been difficult because the kids are up so much later in summer), and I’m reading “A Course in Miracles” at night while listening to Dr. Harry Henshaw’s album “Sleep Music for Sound Sleeping” to get my brain relaxed and ready for sleep. All these things together are helping me “keep it together” despite the fact that my sleep varies from a few hours to a pretty normal max of 5-6 with interruptions through the night.

But last night something truly magical happened. I slept for over 9 hours. OVER. NINE. HOURS. I was able to fall back asleep repeatedly, without any agitation of my mind, or stimulation of thought. And here’s why I think it happened. I had an “inner wisdom” moment this weekend, when I wondered. “What if I start retraining my brain at night, to focus on the good?” I asked myself this question while I was inches away from the bathroom mirror one night, scanning my skin for any impurity that appeared to have any potential of being eradicated (yes, I’m a nighttime face picker). I made eye contact with myself in the mirror, and I walked away and left my skin alone. So last night, I decided, that before bed, I would set my timer on my phone for 11 minutes, and I would journal for 11 minutes about “what’s good.” It turned into a list of things I’m thankful for: my beautiful home (the kind I always dreamed of having), the sweet memories of the day (doing simultaneous cannon-balls in the neighbor’s pool with my 5 year old), thankfulness for my very comfortable bed, for the friends who literally GAVE US the mattress, for the exciting bonding my husband and oldest are experiencing this week on a fishing trip, for the wonderful students who showed up for my yoga class Sunday night, and on and on and on. The timer went off, and I felt like I had just started. And yet, I closed my journal, shut off my light, and fell asleep. And slept ALL night.

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In Kundalini Yoga, the number 11 has particular significance. Many mantras or breath practices (or combinations of mantra and breath) are practiced for 11 minutes. According to The Approximate Yogi (who cites the Aquarian Yogi), it takes 3 minutes of mediation to affect your electro-magnetic field and circulation; after 7 minutes, brain patterns begin to shift, and after 11 minutes of meditation, you begin to create change in your NERVOUS SYSTEM and GLANDS (which, by the way, produce hormones, which regulate MOOD). I remember a few years ago after attending the Midwest Yoga Conference, practicing the “Ek Ong Kaur” mantra for 11 minutes a day for 40 days. I had reconnected with an amazing yoga teacher/colleague named Katherine Austin that I had met in my teacher training, who blends Prana Flow yoga principles with Kundalini Yoga techniques. She inspired me to take on this mantra practice, which is known to bring positivity, to bring your deepest desires into fruition, to remove obstacles. I meditated specifically on my deep desire to have a daughter. By the end of the 40 days, I was pregnant with her. So, you know, this stuff might actually be TRUE!

meditation

In the work I’ve been doing with my dear friend, amazing life coach, and inspirer extraordinaire Meghan Neeley (The Manifestress), I’ve been challenged to really look at the REALITY of my life, and how my daily choices and habits truly reflect where my commitments actually lie. Meghan has shined a light on the truth that, we might SAY we are committed to: a happy healthy marriage, being a forgiving, loving, generous compassionate person, living a creative life, being a good parent or friend, but our REALITY will show what we’re actually committed to. Which is different sometimes. EXAMPLE. My husband started his own business almost 2 years ago. This followed some crazy drama with his old job. It’s been an intense couple of years, and I want to say that I have been COMMITTED to supporting him WHOLEHEARTEDLY, with faith that the choices he makes are based on what’s BEST for our family. I’ve fulfilled that, I’d say most of the time, but what I’ve also been committed to is a overwhelming FEAR that his WORK is more important than ME, and than our FAMILY. And so at times I am constantly on the lookout for PROOF that it’s true. Which makes me less than supportive of his work, less than trusting of his motives, less than compassionate, less than forgiving, less than understanding. And, this commitment, this pattern, gives me the freedom to BLAME him for why I’M NOT DOING WHAT I WANT. Because he’s too busy, I can’t do what I want. (excuse). So, if I want to be truly COMMITTED to living a WILDLY CREATIVE and DEEPLY SPIRITUAL life that demonstrates my innate ability to be a GREAT WIFE, a SUPER MOM, AND a TALENTED, INSPIRING yoga teacher and healer, an UBER-CREATIVE floral artist, a CONSISTENT, COMMITTED writer, and an ALL-AROUND HAPPY JOYFUL SPIRIT, as the birthright of my name suggests I am (Heather= Joyful Spirit), I better just get over the commitment that my husband’s work schedule is somehow holding me back. I better figure out how I am actually committing myself to NOT getting a good and peaceful night’s rest and continue to adapt my habits, thoughts, lifestyle and routines, until I am honoring my commitment to TAKE GOOD CARE of myself. And to think, that it might only take 11 seconds, or at most 11 minutes a day, to retrain my brain towards my greatest potential.

I live a very full life. A lot of people would call it “busy,” but I refuse to use that word, because it implies that I am being forced into maintaining the pace of my daily life by some external force. No. These are my choices.  I choose it. I choose it all, and I wouldn’t trade it. I am THAT soccer mom, cheering on my son’s team until I’m hoarse; I’m THAT neat-freak who loves a clean house, I’m THAT healthy eater who LOVES to cook nutritious, delicious, wholesome food for my family; I’m THAT yogi who tries to practice (almost) every day; I’m THAT yoga teacher who strives to give and be my best; I’m THAT wife who wants to have a deeply intimate relationship with my husband that is satisfying on ALL levels; I’m THAT friend who wants to connect with and challenge and be challenged by my dear ones to live our best lives; i’m THAT BRAVE WOMAN who will stand in front of a crowd and sing even though it terrifies me, because it makes me feel alive; I’m THAT floral artist who OBSESSES about which roses will match your color scheme the best. I’m the one who wants to be on time, or even early, at least over 50% of the time. I’m the one who wants to show my friends and family how much I love them and value them by spending time with them. I’m THAT mom who wants my kids to know how DEEPLY I love them, but also teach them how to DEEPLY love and respect themselves. I want to create memories. I want to have fun. I want to feel a spiritual connection to all I do and everyone I meet. I want to change the world. These things, they take TIME. But the better care I take of myself, the more COMMITTED I am to paying attention and living in a way that honors my deepest desires, the more I get to LIVE THEM. So, I’m making a commitment to myself, to practice 11 minutes of writing down “what’s good” from July 16 to August 14. This is a new moon to new moon cycle, which is the BEST time to initiate change.

JOY

Dorothea describes the process of focusing on “what’s good” as “turning the rusty gate the other way.” She says: “To get the gate swinging the other way, we have to use it that way often. So that means turning the head and looking for what is good in you, in others, in any situation. The old habit is going to be looking for what is wrong. But you can cultivate looking instead for what is good or what went well. What if you did that with the people around you? What if you looked for what is the good in each person, as the first thing you do? What if you really paid attention to what is the good in you? What went well in that last situation? What did I do well? What went well in that meeting? What went well in the family today? You already know what is wrong; you noticed that in half a second. Now take time…at least 11 seconds, to pay attention to what went well. What if you spent time actually looking for what is good in life? How would that change your relationships? How would that change you?

“Let’s get the old rusty gate swinging the other way on a regular basis! Lets see what could happen if we got lots of human beings to that tipping point. What shift might we create in the world?”

a-rusty-gate

The author Anais Nin says that “life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” I can only wonder how much more of my purpose and passion I’ll be able to live if I am brave enough to begin looking for “what’s good” as a daily practice. And I’m wondering dear friends, how big of a life do you want to live, and how brave are you willing to be to live it?

LIFE SHRINKS