Pema Chodron: Joy

The Wisdom of No Escape

At the end of this week’s class I read an excerpt from Pema Chodron’s lovely book. It is from Chapter 6 and is about Joy.

The Navajo teach their children that every morning when the sun comes up, it’s a brand-new sun. It’s born each morning, it lives for the duration of one day, and in the evening it passes on, never to return again. As soon as the children are old enough to understand, the adults take them out at dawn and they say, “The sun has only one day. You must live this day in a good way, so that the sun won’t have wasted precious time.” Acknowledging the preciousness of each day is a good way to live, a good way to reconnect with our basic joy.

IMG_0192

The whole chapter expands this theme and is well worth reading. She tells a story of a woman runnign away from tigers and she climbs down a cliff, and the tigers are above and below, waiting for her to fall. A mouse is nibbling away at the vine she is clinign on to. She also sees a bunch of strawberries near her. She takes a strawberry, eats it and enjoys it thoroughly. Pema Chodron says,

“Tigers above, tigers below. This is the predicament that we are always in, in terms of our birth and death. Each moment is just what it is. It might be the only moment of our life, the only strawberry we’ll ever eat. We could get depressed about it or we could finally appreciate it and delight in the preciousness of every single moment of our life.”

This is the message we read over and over in different forms: enjoy each moment as if it were your last. You never know what is in the future. It is hard to put this into action. Yoga and meditation help, but modern life is always driving us forwards, to achieve more and more, and not just smell the roses. So today, think about what your strawberry moment is and savour it!

The Law of Karma – in brief!

Deepak Chopra, The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success

Hi there

I promised my yoga students this week that I would write up the short reading I did from Deepak Chopra’s book at the end of class, so they can refer to it.

3. The Law of Karma, or Cause and Effect

Every action generates a force of energy
that returns to us in like kind…
what we sow is what we reap
And when we choose actions that bring
happiness and success to others
the fruit of our karma is happiness and success

IMG_2874

p.49 I will put the Law of Karma into effect by making a commitment to take the following steps:

1. Today I will witness the choices I make in each moment. And in the mere witnessing of these choices, I will bring them to my conscious awareness. I will know that the best way to prepare for any moment in the future is to be fully conscious in the present.

2. Whenever I make a choice, I will ask myself two questions: What are the consequences of this choice that I’m making? and Will this choice bring fulfillment and happiness to me and also to those who are affected by this choice?

3. I will then ask my heart for guidance and be guided by its message of comfort or discomfort. If the choice feels comfortable, I will plunge ahead iwth abandon. If the choice feels uncomfortable, I will pause and see the consequences of my action with my inner vision. This guidance will enable me to make spontaneously correct choices for myself and for all those around me.

This is obviously easier said than done, but a good reminder nevertheless. Being 100% present in our decision making is very difficult, but if we can do this for even, say, 10% of the time, then we will see the benefits and it will encourage us to start a new habit. Remembering that how we feel is always a result of decisions that we have made and not because of what other people have done is hard. But we have a choice, if someone says or does something we don’t like, we can choose to respond in kind, and then maybe feel bad about it later and not even realise why we feel angry or resentful. Or we can choose to think: that is their stuff, it’s not about me, and feel compassionate and respond in a caring way. Then we have nothing to feel bad about.

 

Equanimity

Seeking the heart of wisdom

This is the book by Joseph Goldstein and Jack Kornfield about insight meditation that I’ve only really dipped into, but I was re-reading a chapter about equanimity which seems quite apt at the moment for me. JK describes equanimity as a mountain that remains unwavering despite snow, lightning, rain. He says equanimity is being able to remain centered and unmoved no matter what happens.

“Equanimity is developed as we learn to keep our heart open through the changing circumstances of our life… A profound equanimity arises as we release our identification with this body-mind process.” Rather than greeting challenging experiences with fear or anxiety we accept that these are only temporary states. He says shamans call it Shamanic Equilibrium, which allows the shaman to travel to even the extreme realms of pain and death without fear of difficulty.

This echoes a quote that I have as my wallpaper on my laptop:

“Faith includes noticing the mess, the emptiness, the discomfort and letting it be there until some light returns.” Anne Lamott.

IMG_0192

This has helped me through many difficult times this year. At the moment, I feel as if I’ve gone backwards: the back problems that have prevented me from doing so much the last 2 years and kept me housebound, seem to be finally dissipating, but at the same time the problems with my jaw and skull that make me feel like a zombie and unable to concentrate have got worse. I’ve been feeling exhausted and stressed and this week my head felt like it was going to explode. The vicious circle is that I know that to ease the pressure I need to see an osteopath, but every time I’ve seen an osteopath in the last 2 years I’ve ended up housebound.. In the meantime, I have to accept that this state is only temporary: One day I will be able to read and see clearly, I will be able to ride my bike and go abroad, but for now, I have to rest and accept that this is part of the journey to finding a new way of living, a new me. I often think of someone once saying to me that it is unrealistic of me to think the path of healing will be an easy one, anything worth having has to be worked for. That comforts me when I’m struggling.

p 76 “Equanimity is a quality of mind and heart…that allows one to meet every experience with both strength and a softness or fluidity that doesn’t get caught by circumstances. To discover its great power within is one of the great joys of practice.” J Kornfield

I can elect to change all thoughts that hurt

Love is Letting Go of Fear

This  is a great little book that has been sitting on my book shelf unread for years. It’s by Gerald G Jampolsky MD. (Great name!)

It’s another of the many books that seem to have flourished in the 1980s around the theme of healing and being happy. Others of this era, who I’ve previously mentioned, include Bernie Siegel, Louise Hay and Elizabeth Kubler Ross. This book apparently follows the themes of the Course in Miracles but massively simplified (fortunately, as it is a huge bible of a book that I’ve only managed to read 2 pages of so far!) For anyone with a short attention span, it has very short chapters and lots of cartoons! Bite sized chunks of wisdom.

Buddha in my garden!

Buddha in my garden!

I wanted to share one of the chapters I’ve just read:

I can elect to change all thoughts that hurt

“That free will and choice are inherent attributes of the mind is something that most of us tend to forget. We have all had the experience of feeling trapped in a situation where there seemed to be no escape.

Here is a suggestion that may prove helpful under such circumstances. You can use active imagination to find a way out. Picture a wall and let it represent your problem. On this wall paint a door and hang a red exit sign above it. Imagine yourself opening the door, walking through it and shutting it firmly behind you. Your problem is no longer with you since you have left it behind. Experience your new found freedom by imagining yourself in a place where you have no worries and there is nothing to do other than what you would enjoy. When you are ready to leave your happy retreat, bring with you this newly found sense of  release from past problem-solving attempts. In the freshness of your new perception, solutions previously unavailable to you will now occur.”

Meditation on Kindness

Kindness

Following on from the end of my last post where I reminded about attempting to be kind in thought, word and deed all week, I thought I’d post a meditation on kindness today. It’s really simple and can be adapted to whatever quality you want to encourage into your life now.

The Meditation

Sit comfortably, cross legged, kneeling or on a chair, as long as you are comfortable. Place your left hand on your heart and your right hand just below your belly button. Women can place their hand on their womb. Take some deep breaths, focusing your breath into your heart and womb/abdomen/hara. This brings the focus into the body and down from the mind. You may find that you become aware of how you feel emotionally. Sit with any emotions that come up – don’t suppress them, allow them to be there. You may find you want to cry – that’s fine, acknowledge the emotion and let it go. Don’t suppress it. You may also feel a warm sense of love. Whatever it is, embrace it don’t suppress it.

Visualisation of kindness

When you are ready, start to visualise kindness flowing into your heart. (If you wish, you can visualise it flowing from God, Mother Earth, The Universal Energy, whatever works for you.) Or just focus on kindness itself. You can imagine it any way you wish, or just imagine a sense of warmth. Stay with any emotions that arise. If your thoughts wander, gently bring your awareness back to the sense of kindness. Continue for as long as you feel comfortable.

This may be enough for you. If you are doing this meditation for the first time maybe leave it here. However, you could also have a sense of sending the kindness out from you. Imagine it flowing out into the world/universe every time you exhale. Or you may wish to send it out to particular people – friends, relatives, anyone you think might benefit from it. If you are ready, you could also send kindness to people that you are having difficulties with. (This is very much like the Buddhist Metta Bhavana meditation). But this might be difficult if you are new to meditating and it might be kinder to yourself (!) to just bring kindness to your own heart for now. As we all know, you can’t love anyone else until you really love yourself. In the same way you can’t really genuinely send kindness out without being able to be kind to yourself first.

IMG_0195

My own practice

Personally, I incorporate this into my daily meditation. I have a timer app on my phone which divides 20 minutes into 5 minute segments. One of these segments is always this meditation.

Choose love not fear

Fear

This post follows a theme in a previous post about finding answers amidst our darkest fears rather than in the light, ie being courageous and going into the darkness in order to discover who we really are. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler address this theme in Life Lessons. “Our fears don’t stop death, they stop life”. More than we even know, our lives are devoted to dealing with fear and its effects. Most of what we fear will never happen, but insurance companies, the media, the news, all put us in a state where we are so afraid of dying that we don’t live. EKR and DK assert that what really lies beneath all fear is a fear of dying, if you peel the layers away.

Rejection

Ironically, when people are on the point of death they realise how much their fear has stopped them doing what they really wanted to do. Then it’s often too late to accomplish long dreamed-of adventures, but it’s never too late to tell people you love them. A lot of fear is around rejection and not being loved. Often it’s easier not to try rather than to be rejected or deal with the feelings underneath. “If we did the things we’re longing to do, we would still be old and ill one day but we would not be filled with regrets.”

The Choice Between Fear and Love

“At the core, there are only 2 emotions: Fear and Love. You cannot have both at the same time. So if you live in love, you will not be fearful. We must continually choose love in order to nourish our souls and drive away fear. All of our invented fears involve either the past or the future. Only love is in the present. Now is the only real moment we have and love is the only real emotion because it’s the only one in the present moment. Fear is always based on something that happened in the past and causes us to be afraid of something we think may happen in the future. To live in the present then is to live in love. We can work towards that goal by learning to love ourselves.”

IMG_0186

That’s all easily said, but I know from my own experience it’s not so easy to do. However, I often return to what I wrote in my earlier post quoting Jack Kornfield’s exercise about spending a week being kind in thought, speech and action to everyone. Kindness is a good starting point if the idea of loving everyone is a bit beyond you right now! Have a great week!

Live life to the fullest

Life Lessons

Like a lot of what I’m reading, “Life Lessons” by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler is about finding our true potential now, rather than realising on our death bed that we wish we’d done things differently. Something I read recently asked the question, “If you were dying, what would you wish you’d done more or less of?” It made me stop and think – actually, when you take away all the material things, the important thing is that you’ve shown love to people. Whether that is your family or friends, or strangers through voluntary work. Having an open heart. We will never wish we’d worked harder, or had more cars when we’re dying.

Lessons for now

So “Life Lessons” teaches us to think about this now: rather than wait until it’s too late to do anything about it. What is your passion? What would you really like to do if money/time/what people think was no issue? How much of what you do is because you think you ought to do it, or because you think your loved ones want you to do it?
“Once in a while give in to an urge you would usually suppress, try doing something “odd” or new.
By not doing the things that feed your soul, you are becoming someone who is squashed and won’t find their true potential. Life Lessons asks the questions:

“Ask yourself what you would do if no-one was looking?”
If you could do anything without consequences, what would it be?

EKR says your answer reveals a lot about who you are, or at least what is in your way. It may point to a negative belief or a lesson to work on before you can discover your essence.

“If you say you would steal, you probably fear that you do not have enough. If you say you would love someone who you are not loving now, you may fear love.”

IMG_0195

Next steps in finding your soul work

Maybe for you, starting to do the voluntary work you’ve always meant to do is one thing to initiate that will make you feel better – it will also make the world a whole lot better. Maybe ask yourself the question with things you choose to do now, “Will I be happy I did this when I’m dying?” I know myself that I would much rather look back and be able to say that I’d helped lots of people in my life than that I lived a very safe, boring life without much contact with society at large. Having been housebound has made me see how small our lives can become through illness and age and how much we need other people. So now I plan to give something back – I’ve volunteered to befriend a local elderly person through Linkage. I also plan to change my job when I am able to and do something which gives more back to my community. So watch this space! Let me know if you have any ideas.

And on that note, I’ve just seen this on Facebook

(Thanks to “Life Lessons” by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler for the quotes in green.)

 

Random acts of kindness

Pay it forward

Another theme I am trying to foster in my life is generosity. I know a few people who are always generous, mainly with time and energy rather than money, and never expect anything in return. For most of us, this is a challenging concept. I myself know that if I am generous and consistently don’t get recognition for it, I will then close down and say I’m not doing it again. So part of the learning is to keep my heart open and give without expectation. The ultimate is to carry out an act of generosity and not tell the person so it is entirely without recognition to you. However, you will still feel a warm glow when you think about it.

This sweet video on you Tube exemplifies this perfectly: The boy who has the least to give, gives everything:

Video

I once went to see the film Pay It Forward at the Buddhist centre. This takes this idea and moves it forward again. This is a clip from the film:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_pCtXRP1edo

It’s well worth watching, and has great actors in it – Kevin Spacey etc. It’s all about every time someone does you a favour you pass it on to someone else, then we start creating a huge chain of consciousness of giving. So if you carry out random acts of kindness, the idea is that the person doesn’t necessarily know who did it for them, but you could leave a note saying “Please carry out an act of kindness yourself”. Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could get the whole world doing this? Or at the very least, feeling more kindly towards other people. Then we don’t just keep our generosity for our nearest and dearest but for all of humanity.

Finding healing in the darkness

There are so many words of wisdom in Bernie Siegel’s books about self healing, and finding hope and love in your darkest moments. Something I read recently by him seems particularly apt to me today. I am learning in my healing process how, understandably, I avoid looking at my darkest emotions. As I’ve realised, we can avoid them, but they don’t go away – they lurk and cause all sorts of difficulties in our lives and relationships. So in order to heal them, we need to go into the darkness and face them. I’ve avoided this for so long, hoping to heal myself with the least amount of pain. Now I am learning to embrace the pain and seeing that the fear of the pain is worse than actually facing it! I’ll come back to this theme in more detail in future. For now, here’s Bernie Siegel (in relation to the cancer patients he treats):

“The mind can cure cancer, but it doesn’t mean it’s easy. The paradox is wonderfully expressed by an old Sufi story.

A stranger comes upon a man on his hands and knees under a street lamp in front of his house. He’s looking for his keys and the stranger gets down on all fours to help him. After a time, the stranger asks, “Where exactly did you drop them?” “In my house,” comes the reply. Exasperated, the stranger asks, “Then why are you looking out here?” “Because it’s dark in the house”.

The light is better in our conscious minds but we must look for healing in the dark unconscious. The doctor works in the light. He is verbal and logical. The patient’s world may be dark, but there are sources of illumination. Within each of us is a spark. Call it a divine spark if you wiill, but it is there and can light the way to health. There are no incurable diseases, only incurably people.”

This is work in progress for me so I certainly don’t have all the answers, but do share your thoughts. ♥

IMG_0206

 

 

Heart meditation #1

The Heart of the Universe

First of all, bring your focus to your heart. Imagine breathing deeply in and out of your heart. This takes the focus down from the mind/intellect, into the body. (If you have suppressed emotions you may find them coming to the surface as you do this – if so, stay with them and allow them to release with love, it might feel difficult at the time but you will feel better for it afterwards. I am often surprised at what emotions come up during these meditations)

Focus on whatever you see as the divine source – God, the Universe, divine energy. Visualise divine love flowing from the source to your heart, filling your heart with joy.

bliss yoga

I found a lovely image for this meditation recently on a website. After focusing on your heart, imagine the night sky, and take a leisurely tour around the heavens: the stars, other planets, comets etc. Use your imagination. Then imagine coming upon the Heart of the Universe – visualise this as you wish. Visualise love and healing energy flowing from the Heart of the Universe to you.

Ahh, bliss!