What if you were perfect the way you were, and there was nothing else to do? You didn’t have to “work” on yourself, become a better person, prove how great you were to anyone. You didn’t have to “save” anyone, or knock anyone down to feel ok about who you were. Wacky idea, no?
This was the message I got at the Lovelight Festival this past weekend in Maryland. Many different voices were saying just this in many different ways. You are what you are seeking, you are perfect, there are no accidents.
One of the people who spoke this message was Shakti Durgaya (that’s her with me in the picture)! She runs the Kashi Ashram in Florida. Mukunda had great respect and love for the Guru there, Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati. So it is no surprise that Shakti Durgaya and I felt a connection last year when we first met. This year I got to spend some time in the “red tent” with her and her graduates. She passed on some wonderful teachings from her Guru who left her body two years before Mukunda. She told us Ma Jaya would say there are no throw away people, there are no mistakes. One thing that really struck me (I am afraid I don’t remember the exact words) is that we are here to allow the divine to express itself through us, act through us, etc. The rest of the time (and here is where the challenge is) we are navigating the world around us, trying to stay out of trouble and conflict, until we can be in the space that allows us to step aside and let the divine act through us once again. (Shakti Durgaya said this in just one sentence. Me, not so much.)
Later that day I offered a workshop on the Dakini Mandala of Emotions and understood why I was so taken by that idea of navigating- the Mandala is a phenomenal tool for navigating through life when we are not remembering we are the vessel for the divine. I believe all of these spiritual practices are just that- tools for navigating through the to-do lists, the societal demands, our families needs, our busy mind, until that one blissful second arises where we are simply the vehicle for the divines work. We are completely absorbed, focused, unafraid, unconcerned about how we look, feel, act, and are completely competent in what we are doing…because we are not doing it. And then, the moment passes, and we start the navigation again. If we are staying awake and aware, as we are slipping and sliding around life, we see the things that pull us into the crevices which prevent us from being the messenger of the divine, we see the triggers that move us back to the self-centered space that is quite far from spirit. When we see those places over and over again, we eventually know to take a wider arc around them as we continue the movement from one action to the next. Or we perfect our release techniques and can get out quicker. Our sadhana (spiritual practice) keeps us alert and offers us a life-line to pull us back towards the moments of absorption.
It is amazing to think of how many opportunities we have to let the divine work through us, whether it is to ease someones heart with a kind word, take away a moment of struggle, or just shine light on some darkness. We have all these opportunities, probably hundreds of times a day, yet we miss them because we are trying so hard to be better people, get better jobs, be smarter, skinnier, more flexible, stronger, have more friends on FB and more likes on Instagram. We are trying so hard to exist in an illusion we know is impermanent.
It would be quite an amazing world if we all believed and knew there was nothing left to do, and we just kept looking for the opportunity to express the divine. Being at Lovelight was like living in a little diorama of a world that was just like that; a place full of people who were looking for that moment of absorption, and once found, would smile and take everyone else with them.
I heard a very sweet story from a client today. She told me she asked God for a sign that she could in fact be of service at a time when she was in one of those crevices where all you can see is how trapped you are. She walked out of the building she was in and encountered an older person who was disabled and was using a walker. She noticed the persons shoe was untied. My client went up to her and asked if she could tie her shoe, fearing she might trip and fall. The answer was “Yes, would you mind?” And so my client knelt down and tied the shoe. Then she thanked God for the sign. It was so simple, so powerful, and she got what she asked for. Look for your signs, they are in fact all around you.
Get to know your mind
You have heard it over and over again-
So, what is keeping you from practicing? Is it because it is hard, takes time, you don't know how to do it? I am sure you can write an impressive list, but the bottom line is that list is not going to make you feel better, think better, sleep better. Nor is it going to change your brain for the better. In fact your list of "Why I don't...." is cementing your habits in place, the same habits you wish to break.
This month we will be reading from the book Mindfulness in Plain English. And it is just that, all about meditation in straight forward language. We are also offering two courses that can help you start to cross off items from the "why I can't" list. David will be offering Meditation for Beginners and I will be offering an 8 month Spiritual Studies group. David and I have been practicing together for 18 years. Of course we have our own lists too, but one thing we know to be true is that without support and a formal group, the "why I can't/wont/leave me alone" list is much more attractive. Fortunately, we have had a steady group of people to practice with and they always pull you back to read the "Just do it and stop whining" list.
So join in one of these sessions and start writing a new list of how you aremeditating, and see for yourself if you begin to think, feel, sleep and live better.
The Dalai Lama is a selfish guy
People often tell me that they feel selfish working on themselves and doing spiritual work. After all it takes time away from family and friends, and it takes money, and people naturally feel bad using these resources to sit around and seemingly do nothing. My counter to that usually goes something like this: do you think you can make positive change anywhere before you make positive changes in yourself? Gandhi said “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him.… We need not wait to see what others do.”
The biggest polluter in the world are the negative thoughts and tendencies we put into the atmosphere and into the space we all share. If you don’t believe that, spend a day or more in the company of a very grumpy, caustic personality and see how you feel after. See how your behavior is towards friends and strangers after immersing yourself in this toxicity, see what your outlook on the world is. Or hang out in an extremely manipulative environment and observe how you then act in the world. Are you really able to not bring that stuff home and spill it on your family, or dump it on your casual acquaitances and the other people sharing the highway or train that you take back and forth to work? Some of you are in these kinds of situations all the time and you may not have the choice to remove yourselves. Changing the other people in that situation really isn’t an option if you think about it. Surely, someone else thought to do that already, and if they didn’t succeed most likely you won’t either. So now what? Do you want to continue to be a carrier, or find a different option?
Just because you can’t SEE the outcome of spiritual work doesnt mean you, and everyone around you, are not GETTING something from it. Parvathi once spoke of a student she had who was convinced she wasn’t getting anything from her private yoga sessions and really wanted to stop but her family wouldn’t let her.
This consciousness-raising work is not selfish. One might even say NOT doing the work if you have the inclination, the means, and the opportunity is selfish. As my teacher pointed out on our last retreat, the majority of the people in the world are struggling daily to survive, to literally not die. Those of us who live in relative peace with enough food and a safe place to live are the minority. If we have the ability to bring light in to the world by clearing our mind, by finding our seat of authentic generosity, by not polluting the world with our negative, repetitive, old worn out thoughts and tendencies, misperceptions and envy, why would you not do it?
If you said “Well, it’s not easy…” you would be right. It takes time, discipline and courage. But please don’t think it is selfish work, because that implies that all the people who are doing it now are selfish- like the Dalai Lama, like the all of the monks who gave up worldly possesions to pray for world peace, and the priests, ministers and other spiritual leaders we are so fortunate to have in this world. Have you ever thought about what this world would be like without them? I am sometimes chilled to the bone considering it- if there weren’t so many people praying for the welfare of this earth and all the inhabitants, where would we be now? If we think there is too much darkness and cruelty in this world today, what if those spiritual beings also thought this path to be selfish? Is the world a better place because you vacuumed your carpets instead of sitting down to clear your mind?
Yesterday I had the great fortunate to spend an hour with a new client who was struggling. It was beautiful to witness her unfolding. During our session she was able to recognize her power and light in a non-threatening way, and she left smiling and hopeful because she felt she could now show her children the love and attention they crave, something that she craves too. As a result of this session I was home too late to prepare dinner. I looked in the fridge only to find that my 16 year old had prepared a beautiful salad, fresh corn and peach cobbler for our dinner. See, when you make room for spirit to emerge, the universe will support your effort. Try it and you will see.
Interested in the upcoming Spiritual Studies course? Click here
More Confessions From a Yoga Teacher......
When I was in Italy I took a yoga class in Florence with Guido (that is him above) which was pretty difficult. I didn't realize it was going to be a rigorous Ashtanga style class and that I would be, by far, the oldest person in attendance. I wanted to write a post about that class for two reasons; while Guido led a very strenuous class, he didn't push, or demand, or judge. I found him to have a deep caring energy and assumed that he has a very strong personal meditation practice and a deep dedication to all the limbs of yoga. He pushed, but was not a bully, which is a rare combination. I was also excited to find that even though I hadn't done most of those poses in a long time, my body could still do them! I appreciated the muscle memory and the level of fitness that a “yoga body” can retain, even after many years (especially since it was my body!)
I never wrote that post. I think it's because I was waiting for the other shoe to drop, which it did in July. Traveling to Italy, then the beach, and then being in retreat where I sat for 10 days straight while hosting multiple house guests for over 2 weeks really took its toll on my asana practice. Really, it took a toll on all physical practices, from tending the garden to walking to the grocery store . I have been able to sit in meditation for much longer, which is good, but that doesn’t really help to maintain the physcial body. So while my experience with Guido showed me that my body is resilient, my subsequent experience with lethargy showed me that strength gained is so very impermanent. As the end of July crept on, I found my knees hurting, my feet were so tight in the morning it took time for me to be able to walk to the bathroom, I was not able to fit into certain clothes, my shoulders were tight… on and on. (Sound familiar?)
You would think spending all day telling people to exercise, move their bodies, and tremor would remind me that I needed to do the same to maintain a level of well-being. It's not that I didn't want to follow my own advice. It's just that things got in the way, and I experienced the fallout from my neglect. Of course, this is not the first time I have “fallen off of the wagon.” But it is the first time I've done it at the age of 52, when most bodies start lose resiliency.
Personally, I don't think it's so bad to fall off the wagon every now and then. After all, when you do so, it is a good time to experience what your practice has been giving you all along. It can be hard for us to trust in a practice that is consistent and know that it's doing anything for us. Because we are consistent with the practice, it is consistently working, and we can imagine our well-being is simply a natural outcome of breathing. But think again!
Everybody is eventually lured out of routine by the allure of recklessness (and pasta, gelato and chianti!). I think very few of us escape the pull. And when we experience the fallout, we can either continue down the slippery slope of decay or jump back on the wagon. If we jump back on, and things switch back, we know for sure it is our dedication to our practice that is keeping us happy, not just good genes or happy coincidence.
As things happen, just as I was conjuring up this post, I saw this article in the NY Times which talks about what happens when you take a vacation from your exercise. Take a look if you are interested in the study.
(New York Times article: "Take a Vacation From Exercise? Your Body May Not Thank You")
So now you know, I'm not just shaking my finger at you when I'm encouraging you to come to more classes or to stick with your practice. I am shaking that finger at myself too. I will be spending August crawling back on the wagon and invite you along for the journey.
Today I finished up an intense 11 day retreat with my teacher. (Just in case you missed me during classes, I am back as of Tuesday morning). I am so grateful to have had everything in my life fall into place and allow me the time and resources to be able to attend the whole session. (Thank you so much Yoga Loka Staff and my ever-patient family!) This was an unusually long stretch of time spent together as a Sangha. We were finishing up year 2 of our training and began our final year, year 3, in the same block of time.
The training has so far included pujas, fire ceremonies, hours of sitting in meditation and hours of asana practices, reading, homework, attending lectures .... just like for any one who strives to learn something in depth, it takes a lot of time and effort. There were many years of practice and study that led up to participating in this training which included the same elements, just at a different level of understanding.
If you asked me what was the most potent thing we have worked with so far, it would be mantra. Chanting, chanting and more chanting of mantras, out loud or silently, while sitting, standing, doing asana and even dancing. The power of mantra is real, effective, and powerful, and vitally important in this lineage. It is funny in a way to have done so much, and find that it was simply the mantra after all.
It is never too late, or early, to start chanting, and there are so many wonderful ways to do that. Give it a try! You can start this Thursday at 7:00 pm with the yoga class I am leading with Girish. He will be chanting mantras for you while you move, or just sit. This is a great way to feel the mantras in your body. He will also be offering a Kirtan at Sky Island in Upper Black Eddy PA on Friday. That is when you can chant along while sitting. These two experiences are the best way to quickly feel mantra power! You will know what I mean at the end of the event. There will also be more classes in the fall that will give you the opportunity to practice, learn about, and understand the power of mantras! Stay tuned....
I love when modern science lines up with ancient knowledge. With science getting more and more sophisticated, and reports of this work becoming more accessible because of the internet, we are seeing in writing the ideas that uphold what those of us who have been studying, and trusting, yoga for years have experienced. It almost makes one want to shake their finger and say "told you so", but of course I would never do that. (Click to read the article on "the Sanskrit Effect")
Once, many years ago, there was another yoga studio in the area that advertised their classes as being "real yoga" with "no chanting at all!" I knew this was directed at classes at Yoga Loka because we chant! I also know it makes some people uncomfortable. But some people also are uncomfortable getting their teeth cleaned, exercising, getting a yearly physical, relaxing, and doing a million other things that keep them healthy, vital, and enjoying life.
Now there is this report that says chanting is good for us too. There are people who just know they like it, which is surely enough reason to just do it. But knowing you are helping your brain as you join in with your favorite kirtan wallah is like winning the lottery! OK, maybe that is too dramatic and you are not that into chanting. Just know that even listening to mantras can have an effect on your energy, your mind, and your physical brain. No need to even open your mouth. My training has taught me that mantras repeated internally actually have the greatest benefit. But joining your voice with others in community can not be underestimated either.
There are two great opportunities to hear mantras with amazing vibration the end of July. I will be leading an all level asana class with Girish chanting, live and in person, right there in the room with us. Moving to live music is amazing! It amplifies the benefits of both the mantra and the asana. The next night Girish will be holding a kirtan in Upper Black Eddy at Sky Island. Either of these experiences (I of course recommend you do both!) will give you the felt experience of the benefit of mantra, and you won't need a scientist to tell you that this is medicine. If you would like to read more about mantras and their vibration, Girish has an amazing book about mantra which you can find online (Amazon link below), or get a copy from him directly.
See you there!
Yoga With Bonnie/Music With Girish: Thursday July 26th, 7 to 8:30 pm. $35 to pre-register, $40 at the door. Click here to register, or click here to view all of our other workshops.
So what’s going to make you happy? Let’s get more specific: what’s going to make your brain happy? And let’s focus on things that are simple and easy to do instead of stuff like winning the lottery.
This article from www.thriveglobal.com notes five ways neuroscience answers that question. Try some of these techniques out for yourself;
2. Smile - and wear sunglasses
The brain isn’t always very smart. Sometimes your mind is getting all this random info and it isn’t sure how to feel. So it looks around for clues, called “biofeedback." The idea is that your brain is always sensing what is happening in your body and it reviews that information to decide how it should feel about the world.
You feel happy and that makes you smile. But it works both ways: when you smile, your brain can detect this and say, “I’m smiling. That must mean I’m happy.” So happiness makes you smile, but smiling can also produce happiness. Feeling down? Smile anyway. “Fake it until you make it" can work.
Continue reading about how to make our brains happy HERE, and then check out the rest of our upcoming workshops and events to enliven your body and being as well.
I went to India the first time in 2008. I saw this trip as a once in a life-time opportunity to travel with my teacher to her Guru's ashram for a teaching on Shri Vidyaa. I had recently separated from my first husband, moved into a new house and had two small-ish kids, but somehow, someway, I was going to make the trip work logistically and financially. I expected that this adventure would change my life in some way, as many who take a spiritual journey do. I am happy to report I was not disappointed, although I can’t really pinpoint how it changed me.
I had done a fair amount of travel before, but honestly nothing I had encountered was quite like India. For a year or so after I returned I would weep when I saw a scene in a movie that took place in India, I missed it so much. I just wanted to walk barefoot and eat with my fingers again. Many of the things I purchased there held on to a certain scent, including my journal, and when that smell ultimately dissipated, I was heartbroken.
I can’t say why I feel different each time I return. It could be the practices that I have done while there, or the teachings received and the temples visited. Some of the Gurus I met there would laugh at our earnest group of travelers, asking why did we bother to make the trip? "God is everywhere! Even back home in America! You don’t need to come all this way to find God!” (This is obviously not sanctioned by the travel bureau.) While I understand that theory technically, there is just some way that this particular western mind is able to experience that more in India. It could be that I just want that to be true, or that the energetic vortex is stronger there, or that all of the practices done over the centuries have really changed the environment. But really, I don't care what the reason is, because for me, it just is. Each time I have gone it has been the same-there is a little sigh of relief when I realize I am back home again.
I am very excited to be going back in 2019. I am equally excited that Rafa, my spiritual brother, will be joining me in sharing some of the teachings that we have both been engaged in for decades. If you have had the pleasure of hearing Rafa chant you know how he can weave a magic that slowly, but strongly, pulls at your heart strings. His devotion is infectious! Ganeshpuri is one of the sweetest places on the planet. It is one of the last places I received a structured teaching from Mukunda, and it is where he received teachings from his Guru, Swami Muktananda.
I hope if it is in your heart to join us you will find a way to make it happen. We will be offering an early registration discount up until April 24th. We do have a limited amount of spaces available in the retreat center itself, so hopefully you will be able to commit sooner rather than later, and take advantage of the discount. Please let me know if you have questions! I know it can seem like a daunting journey, but you will be happy you did it.
“Poetry is a little lens through which one can examine, at close range, some details of the universe”. — Luci Shaw.
The Subject of the month for April is poetry, in line with National Poetry month. When Parvathi was still teaching asana classes she would often read poetry while we were in the deepest of twists or bends. She reminded us that the ambiguity in poetic verses allows the mind to be free from its pull towards a usual and known meaning. That freedom allows us to almost feel and possibly taste the words rather than think about what was just said.
Here is another quote about poetry, this by Roger Housden as published in the Huff Post:
"Poetry at its best calls forth our deep being. It dares us to break free from the safe strategies of the cautious mind; it calls to us, like the wild geese, as Mary Oliver would say, from an open sky. It is a magical art, and always has been — a making of language spells designed to open our eyes, open our doors and welcome us into a bigger world, one of possibilities we may never have dared to dream of.
In addition to using poetry to soar through the open sky this month, we will practice Garuda Asana. Garuda is the fictional half-bird, half-man vehicle that carries Vishnu, the god that sustains. He serves the task of this deity well as he is often seen carrying a vessel full of amrit, the nectar that sustains life and keeps death away. He uses his super-human strength to serve rather than to dominate. Garuda is known to act as a messenger between the gods and the humans. Perhaps he uses poetry to convey these as tidings from beyond. After all, in my experience anyway, messages that come as intuition from the god-realm (or you can just call it grace) often appear as a bundle of words that require consideration and need to be felt deeply in order to be assimilated on some level, just like poetry. And of course the different levels of meaning can take us lifetimes to understand.
And as a side note, I am very proud to host my husband’s book release party on Friday the 6th at the studio. His connection to poetry has helped me to relax in to the music of words and let myself be in the place of not-knowing. I am also grateful to witness an intention come true, which was on his part to have a book published by the end of 2017. Staying true to Warren’s nature of procrastination, we received the first copy from the publisher the end of December. I am happy to say we have reached (over) full capacity for the reading, so if you have not RSVP’d already you can pick up a copy at the studio after next week or visit Amazon.
PS-He did not edit this writing, I take full responsibility for all grammatical mistakes and misspellings.
Going to Mexico to teach TRE was an amazing experience. The idea started when a friend from Mexico was visiting while two earthquakes hit Mexico City. He is a body-oriented psychotherapist who knows about David Berceli and his work with TRE. I mentioned how great it would be to be able to teach this self-regulating technique there, he agreed and just a few months later I found myself shaking with a wonderfully diverse group of people in both Mexico City and Playa Del Carmen. Everyone was excited and appreciative during these workshops, and no one, including me, was sure how the 4 hours flew by so quickly. The people at the workshops were very ripe for this type of work; perhaps it was because of the strong connection to Shamanism that is embedded in the Mexican culture, or the fact that many of the attendees are already involved in some type of self-study and consciousness raising work. Whatever the reason, everyone was happy to have yet another tool in their arsenal.
There are two stories that I wanted to share. One is about an attendee at the workshop in Mexico City. She was following along with the process but having a really hard time. Anxiety was coming up, which was not new for her. Her eyes were red-rimmed by the time the workshop was over, even though she barely tremored in the afternoon. After the workshop she decided she wanted to work privately with me. During this session we slowed down the process and she was able to watch how the feeling of pressure in her chest dissipated as she tremored. She practiced intentionally bringing in negative feelings so she could see how those feelings dispersed too, and as a result her perspective about her anxiety dramatically changed. She was able to make friends with the tremors and understands now how to use them at home to chip away and soften her familiar anxiety reaction. I credit her for being brave enough to try tremoring again, even after her uncomfortable experience with the group. Tremoring is simply a tool! Some of us need more thorough instructions on how to use tools. Some may need to go slower and focus on different things. This is one of the things that makes this process so amazing-it can work on so many different levels, in so many different ways.
This other story touched me deeply. I worked with a woman who has small children, one of whom has been struggling with very severe scoliosis. The mother and the child apparently have a very strong connection. Just recently this little girl had to visit her surgeon in the States to discuss the next step in her treatment, which understandably is a stressful trip for all concerned. One night in the hotel the child started to tremor! The nanny calls the mother in to see. (The nanny had a session with me as well, so she was also familiar with the process.) The little girl was extremely pleased to be shaking, and very proud of herself, and she calls out "Look at me! Look what I can do”. Mom and the nanny asked her how she was doing, if she was ok, and she replied that she was loving it. So here we have two primary care givers for this child familiar with shaking, and their comfort with the movement, and their own practice empowered the girl to discharge her stress in a joyful and spontaneous way. I don’t know if the girl had seen them shaking at home or not, but in either case I love this story so much because if the mom and nanny had not been familiar with the process of tremoring, and saw the girl shaking, they might have thought something was wrong, pathologized the movement, and worried themselves and the child, who was already under a great deal of stress from their trip to the doctor. Instead the girl was able to discharge her stress and reboot her resilience which will be much needed for her journey ahead. It also shows how our own practice can help with our family-whether directly, or indirectly by changing our responses and reactions.
I will most likely go back in October as the participants want to do a two day retreat to refine the technique, and bring their friends and clients. I am very pleased to be invited back. I hope to piggy back with a trip to Puerto Rico to teach TRE to people who lost so much in the hurricane and are still living without electricity and running water. So I shall continue my Spanish lessons and my own practice! And if you would like to join me in Mexico City for the retreat, I would be happy to have you come along. However it might be less expensive to join me for the TRE retreat April 7th and 8th in Perkasie, PA. Either way, if you are a TRE fan, or just curious, these extended sessions are a great way to find out how the tremors can best serve you and how to fine tune this amazing tool.
When I was in Playa Del Carmen I was interviewed by a lovely and dynamic YouTuber named Kalinda Kano. She recently switched her blogging from makeup how-tos to mental and physical self-care. Once she started to talk about it she realized how much people really wanted to hear how they can keep themselves happy, healthy and peaceful. I will post the link to the video once it is done-most of it will be in English with Spanish subtitles. Stay tuned….