Saturday, April 5, 2014

P.D. Me

Hello from my little corner of the world to yours!

I'm fresh off of the remarkable experience of nearly two weeks spent at Kashi Ashram, a sweet, sacred space in Sebastian, FL. I was gathered with an amazing, assorted group who all came together to take a Permaculture Design Course (P.D.C.). I bet quite a few of you out there reading this are saying a "permaWHAT??" which is more or less how I initially felt about it.

Before I happened to fall in love with Mr. Permaculture himself, I had a sense that it had something to do with gardening, which, conveniently, was something I had precious little experience with and only slightly more interest. Enter Mr. Permaculture, and I began to learn it can have A LOT to do with gardening, among so many other facets and disciplines. It turns out I actually DO have interest in gardening, among those many other things. Wonders never cease!

And what is more wondrous than evolution? How fascinating the way Nature innately progresses and proliferates! How humbling and needed to receive a lesson reminding me that I, Jessica; I, Gauri; I, flesh, bone, heart and soul, am as much a part of Nature as any flower in any garden.

For the many beliefs I hold about myself, my identity and the roles I play, I can see how, despite supposedly knowing better, I've held myself at a quite a distance from Nature in many ways, and have gone against my own Nature in others. Case in point: I've long believed myself to be "not interested" or "not inclined" toward a lot of things, never realizing I was putting all these self limiting labels into my reality simply by speaking them. "I'm not into math and science". "I can't keep a plant alive". "I'm not a big crier [lately]". And there are other things I've subconsciously told myself I can't or shouldn't do. "I shouldn't quit my job" or "I can't fully follow my heart".

Take away "not", "can't" and "shouldn't" and you'd be amazed at what you're left with.

I was left with the knowledge that I am very into this particular Applied Ecological Design Science (P.D.C. brownie points for that one!) known as Permaculture. I am very committed to not just keeping plants alive but nurturing them so they flourish for the benefit of Mother Earth and all her children, which includes not only me, but you and hundreds of generations of souls of all sorts to come! And yes, I do still have a good cry in me, even if it had been a while since I felt safe enough to let it out. And letting it out has a lot to do with considering that I can and should fully follow my heart. More on that later. . .

It's been many years now of me walking a conscious path, seeking communion with kindred souls and actively evolving into better versions of myself. But this path is not straight, because, as I learned in my P.D.C., there are no straight lines in Nature. Nature curves, winds, spirals, scatters and forms all sorts of other remarkable patterns that, even in their seeming randomness, make perfect sense when you really start to observe and understand them. So it makes perfect sense that I've experienced many a curve, and sometimes a curveball, along the way. It fits that there have been moments best described as a downward spiral, only to emerge again and wind my way a little further down the road.

That road has brought the practice of active, conscious gratitude into my life. It has filled my heart with a deep faith, anchored in the spiritual traditions of the East, while providing me with much of what we deem success in the West. Yet even as I stand in tremendous appreciation for what my Western success has afforded me, my soul calls for a simplicity that up until now I'd associated more or less exclusively with an Eastern way of life.

Permaculture is a paradigm shift. For me, it represents a way to bring East and West together. That's not how it is described in any book I came across thus far, but it is what I feel to be true in me. Permaculture doesn't come from India or Tibet. It comes from Australia, as a matter of fact, and was birthed by your "average white guy", not little brown men in robes. And while it does include getting your hands in the soil and creating lush, thriving gardens and food forests, it is about SO much more. It is about community, connection, compassion and caring. And who doesn't want to be cared for?

Care for the Earth. Care for the People. Care to Share the Surplus.

Those are the ethics that underly permaculture. And those very same ethics could, and I offer, should, underly any spiritual path. The earth is our Mother. We as people, and all the other sentient beings, are her children. Certainly her children have a right to share equitably in the abundance of Nature in all ways.

But we do not. Just as I fooled myself into believing self limiting labels about who I am, where my talents lie and what I'm capable of, we, as children of the Earth, have bought into a massive heap of lies. We have come to believe it is acceptable to have a grossly inequitable distribution of resources among our population, to have the masses governed by a select few whose agendas include nothing of general welfare, to abuse our Mother to the point where she is breaking down before our very eyes. We do not live simply or sustainably, and we are running out of time.

Let me lighten them mood by saying that, of the 36 classes that comprised the P.D.C. only one of them was focused on expressly discussing the world's problems. So this was not an experience of doom and gloom. Instead, it was an opportunity to learn to see the solutions inherent in these problems. We had the chance to come together, a diverse group of individuals walking seemingly different paths, and collaborate on ways to regenerate Nature and provide abundance for ourselves, our communities, our world, not just now but well into the future.

I walked away from that experience happy, hopeful and feeling very connected- to Spirit, to Mother Earth, to my new premie family and especially to Mr. Permaculture. I found a science I like! I actually do like having dirt under my fingernails and my bare feet padding along the earth! And now about that cry. . .

The morning after the course ended I found myself sitting in front of my work computer, smack in the middle of suburbia and feeling like I was living the antithesis of what I had learned and experienced during my P.D.C. I felt anything other than the happy, hopeful, connected sensations I had held dear just a few hours prior. I felt frustrated, bored, scared. I've invested over a decade working in corporate America. I've built a career, my personal finances and a significant aspect of my identity around an environment that is so misaligned with my personal values and interests it's almost comical in its irony. But I wasn't laughing. I was crying.

The overwhelming sensation brought on by the dichotomy fell on me like a thick cloud of smoke, smothering me with its toxic density. This is not the life I want yet I must own the fact that it is the life I chose. That was then. This is now. And now that I am choosing differently, I am faced with making my way out into the clear, fresh air. While that may sound like a no brainer, wanting it is one thing, and doing it is another.

I hear the call of my heart so very clearly. I've been hearing it for quite some time and yet continued to live what is increasingly coming to feel like a double life. I fill my spiritual account in one world, my bank account in another. I appear so very immersed in the conscious community I prefer to connect with yet struggle with the fact that I'm still keeping up appearances in the corporate world I've come to rely on. My heart wants out but my fear keeps me in.

So the self-proclaimed non-crier had herself a good cry. And Mr. Permaculture held me and held space so I could begin to feel into my fear and my grief, which is what I need. I've spent enough time in my head about all this. Pre-permaculture, the practical choice was glaringly clear: stay with your job because that is stability Anything else would be nuts. Post-permaculture, the opposite is clear: continuing to feed into the very system that has turned our world so terribly upside down is nuts. Find a way to be the solution in the problem.

My heart holds the truth. It is the key to unlock the door of fear keeping me in a space that no longer serves me. And I am nudging it open, slowly, but surely. I've been at that for a while in ways, but the push is so much stronger now. The call is so much louder. The path is so much clearer. And I have the experience of my P.D.C, which I'm fondly reflecting on as P.D.Me, to thank for that.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

If you put your mind to it. . .

If traveling to India again felt like a homecoming, hoping over to Nepal was a departure into the unknown, this being my first time here. There's a special tingly excitement that rings through you when you know you're about to have a "first time" of any sort. First kiss. First day. First taste. First glimpse. There is no recreating that first. You are gifted that opportunity, and it is never to be had again.

That might seem a sad statement to some. But if I've learned anything from the spiritual wisdom I've been exposed to, it's the imperative value in making the most of every single moment, otherwise known as mindfulness. Being mindful and present for each moment gives you the gift of infinite first times. So while you may not experience that exact same tingle, you can choose to recognize and revere every first as unique and sacred.

The path of mindfulness is the path of the Buddha, and being here in Nepal where Buddhism is so very prevalent, interwoven gracefully with Hinduism, I feel particularly charged and plugged into mindfulness practices in a near effortless way. The sacred is non-different from the secular here in this corner of the world, which to me makes it much easier to have the clarity and presence of mind that truly allow for veneration of each and every moment.

Here monks and nuns weave through the crowds with tourists and locals, all of us going about our business while flowing along a common current. Morning time around Boudha Stupa, where I am staying, is a beautiful display of reverie. It's a parade of prayer beads, wheels and flags sending their vibrations out into the ether, Tibetan rites being performed, incense burning, offerings made, mantras chanted. This isn't a special occasion. It's not a holiday. It's everyday. It's life. And life IS sacred. Life is worthy of being present for. Yet so many of us are not.

I include myself in that "so many" much of the time because it is just so easy to go on autopilot. For instance, how many times have I walked or driven somewhere, glued to my phone or some other distraction, and literally not known how it is that I got from A to B? On how many occasions have I taken a loved one for granted, or not recognized a blessing that lays right before my eyes?

The other night as I was walking back to my hotel, I stepped outside and the first thing I did was gaze up between the buildings to the darkened sky, marveling at the brilliance of the stars. Kathmandu is a valley with its fair share of smog, so it struck me to see the night sky clear enough for such a beautiful display. The stars twinkled brightly and just about half a moon lit up the vastness. Then as I approached the Stupa, I stood for a moment to take a mental picture of how it looks lit up with candles against the near black backdrop of night, a stark contrast from its daytime facade of sun-drenched whitewash.

These were little firsts for me. I've never seen the stars from Kathmandu before and I may never again for all I know. Even if I walk out to the Stupa at the exact same time another evening, it simply will not and cannot be exactly the same as that night. In fact, tonight it is adorned with strings of electric lights, looking even more spectacular, though still not the same as that first time. Just being mindful of that fact imbues me with a sense of presence and gratitude that fills my heart.

Now the work is to be just as mindful of the mundane as well. Can I rise to the challenge of appreciating the sanctity of life's little moments when I'm not standing on holy ground under a breathtaking sky in a foreign country? Can I literally dance with joy over a hot shower and electricity on demand when I'm back in a place where both are readily available to me 24/7?

With mindfulness I know I can.

I've learned to cultivate gratitude as a practice, and as more time goes by, the more effortless giving thanks becomes. Mindfulness and gratitude go hand in hand. When you are truly aware of the sacred blessings you are receiving every moment of every day just by simply being alive, how can you be anything other than grateful? Yet, while mindfulness fosters an all-encompassing gratitude, selective gratitude is not the same as all-encompassing mindfulness. That is the practice I seek to delve deeper into.


Monday, March 3, 2014

Krsna's Love

That I haven't the slightest clue what day it is really says something about how easily I've slid into this beautiful break from the reality I know. The journey to India feels like it was ages ago, though I know I've been here less than a week I believe. Filling those days with the sounds, sights, tastes and smells of this land that is at once so familiar and so unknown has me lost in the conventional sense of time and place.

A big part of why I love traveling to other countries is that it makes it effortless for me to suspend my judgements and presuppositions. There is no sizing people up when you haven't a clue about cultural norms. There is no clinging to what should be once you've committed to opening up to what simply is. So despite the constant stimulation and the packed schedule I've been keeping since arriving here, I feel relaxed in a way I seldom experience back at home. . . a particular mental relaxation that comes from letting go.

I've relaxed into the mood of Krsna, this particular pilgrimage very much focused on deepening my connection to this Beloved form of the Divine. Years ago, I began my spiritual journey on a different branch of the path, an impersonal one stemming from a Shaivist tradition. But the further along I've come, the more I've been exposed to, Bhakti has taken over and an impersonal relationship with the Divine simply doesn't resonate with my heart. When I chant and pray, I am calling out to my Beloved or to my Mother, not to abstract representations of the Universal Consciousness. I am yearning for union, connection. I am calling out to Krsna, reaching out for the Divine Mataji, and my call has been answered by bringing me here.

I began in Puri, sacred home of the Jagannath temple where Krsna is worshipped in a state of explosive, expansive love. And now I am in Mayapur at the ISCKON Kirtan Mela, which is basically like being at the Vatican of Krsna Consciousness for a massive sacred music festival. I also happen to be on the banks of the river Ganga, Holy Mother, so both of my heart's deepest understandings of the Divine are embodied here. I'm immersed in a sea of devotion, and in that sea there is no place and time. There is only Love.

If you disconnect from that Love, the noise, crowds, dirt, etc. can overwhelm you and you might find yourself very much in a place and time that feels unpleasant, even confrontational. It's a lot to be somewhere that seems so radically different from the comfortable Western world we know. But when you see and feel the Love in all, when you understand that everyone and everything are representations of the same divinity, the world becomes impossibly beautiful. The sea of devotion is infinite and letting go into its currents propels you forward toward bliss.

For me, bliss is being so merged with the vibration of a kirtan that no one voice or instrument is separate from all the rest and every sound melds together into the purest harmony. It's feeling embraced by that collective vibration, plugged into the sweetest emotion, knowing that the Divine hears your call. Yesterday, despite having gotten sick and feeling quite weak and tired, I sat for hours in the temple soaking in that very energy. I knew there was nowhere better I could possibly be. And I felt like my strongest, healthiest self when we moved into the center of the kirtan hall and I was so totally lost, yet so totally held, by the ecstatic expression of thousands of devotees calling out to Krsna. There is no remedy like bliss.

This journey has been a revelation for me. I realize that I was holding onto guilt about straying from the original branch of the spiritual path I'd been walking. When I started in the Sivananda yoga lineage some 7 years ago, I clung to it like a life raft because I needed something bigger than myself to hold onto and it was there. Aside from a yoga asana practice, Sivananda introduced me to mantra, japa, pujas, arati, all the ritualistic aspects that I so love. I was first exposed to kirtan through Sivananda and Sivaratri in 2009 was my first experience of staying up all night chanting to the Divine, experiencing for myself the magnificence of being immersed by the energy of hundreds of souls calling out in a space of Love.

As I've continued forward on my path, evolved as an individual, softened and healed pieces of me along the way, I found myself less aligned with other aspects of the Sivananda lineage, while simultaneously feeling so at home among the Krsna family. Reconciling this took time. It almost felt like cheating on my partner. Just as fidelity and loyalty are things I prize in my intimate relationships, I value them in this aspect too. So it has taken a long time for me to make peace with the fact that this isn't a case of infidelity. This is a case of me having progressed to a place where I know my heart far better than I ever could have when it was shrouded under layers of pain and suffering. My heart wants nothing more than to Love. That is my True nature. There is no other way. And to me, calling out to Krsna is the ultimate manifestation.

So here I sit, early morning, surrounded by nature, morning prayers carried over loudspeakers, Ganga at my back, ISKCON in front of me, Divine Love all around me. In losing my sense of place and time, I've found that I am in EXACTLY the right place and this is EXACTLY the right time. No guilt. No regret. No shame. Only Love. Only Krsna. And by seeing him in all, loving and serving him in all, I know deep in my heart that I cannot help but walk the path of my Truth.

Jai Sri Krsna!!!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Home, Redefined

Another chapter is being written as once again I am setting off for Mother India, traveling east toward a land that draws me in with magnetic force like none other. As a seeker on the path, which I have very much considered myself to be, India had been calling. Just a little more than a year ago I was making this journey for the first time, heading to Delhi to begin my pilgrimage in this magical place. I remember feeling so bold, striking out on my own to a place unknown, a touch of trepidation mixed in with overwhelming excitement. Now that India and I have a personal relationship, and I know with every fiber of my being how much I adore her, I feel like I'm heading home even though I am set to explore all new parts of her glorious being. I will arrive in Kolkata, spend time in Puri and Mayapur, then head north to Nepal for a few days. these are hardly places I can call home in the traditional sense, yet I know the feeling will be present.

Home is an interesting concept for me right now. For the first time ever I don't have one, in the technical sense anyway. If home is where the heart is, as that lovely little saying goes, I could argue that I make my home wherever I go. Or I could say my home is as scattered around the globe as the ones I hold dear. Perhaps it's where my immediate biological family resides in northern California, though I've never actually lived there. I guess the closest thing I have to the common understanding of home is a house in south Florida where my beloved is staying, along with some of my worldly possessions, in between travels.

A few days ago I moved out of the townhouse I'd been calling home for four and a half years. I'd dubbed it my bachelorette pad when I moved there following the end of my marriage, and it served me so very well in that regard. I created a space that was my own, both physically and energetically. I got to know myself in that house, and through a process that involved a lot of breaking down to build back up, I healed, grew and emerged as an ever-more authentic version of myself. It wasn't always pretty and it definitely wasn't always easy, but who said the seeker's path is supposed to be? I wrote a very profound chapter of my life in that house, and learned that as you seek, so you shall find.

Now that house is no longer mine and that chapter has come to a close. I no longer have need for it. My work there is done. This journey to India marks the start of a journey into a newly anointed partnership with a man I love in ways I didn't even know to dream possible, and with him, I will make my home on the road, for a while anyway, as we set off to travel to places near and far. He, the professional gypsy as I like to say, and me, the professional who has only dabbled in gypsy life, are co-authoring now, and home is truly where the heart is.

A piece of my heart is flying east through the night sky, and a piece is with him since this particular portion of the journey is one I am making alone. Since January 1st, when we came into each others' worlds, colliding with considerable force and changing the paradigm for us both, we've been together far more than we've been apart. And that will certainly be the case for quite a while to come. But for the next two weeks, I will be on one side of the globe, he on the other, each traveling to a different land and having our own adventure.

When I reflect back on how I felt in past relationships, there was an insecurity present that would have had me uncomfortable with this sort of separation, especially so early on. That isn't something I'm proud to admit, especially since I've long believed myself to be very secure and solid in who I am. But in retrospect, I must acknowledge those pieces of me that had gotten broken along the way, and the relationships I attracted into my life in order to reveal and heal them. Partners I didn't feel completely secure with were a part of that experience. I needed to learn to feel wholly safe in and of myself in order to feel that with someone else. And I am finally there. What an amazing place to be!

One of the things I most adore about my beloved is his integrity. My sense of security in this relationship comes from the work I've done on me, yet it is also being handsomely rewarded by having a partner who lovingly creates that for me. Since the very first moments of our connection, every single thing he has said, he has done. He has shown himself to be a man of his word, and to be a man unafraid to make big, bold statements, not only in word, but deed as well. It's not for everyone to enter so quickly and deeply into a love like this. It's not for everyone to live outside the box and commit to building the kind of world many of us say we want to live in, but really only dream about. It's not for everyone to allow themselves to be seen, raw, real and vulnerable, by the eyes of another. And so he is not for everyone. He is for me, and I for him.

Firmly grounded in this Truth, I travel with lightness in my heart, peace permeating my every cell. I am no longer seeking where love is concerned. I have found what my heart yearned for, and that has awakened me to new possibilities. I feel so wholly secure in this love regardless of physical proximity because it is alive within me all the time. Whatever wounds we are meant to heal together, whatever lessons we are meant to learn, this is not one of them. This we already know. All we need and want to do where love is concerned is spread it around with limitless generosity.

Knowing that I am love and I am loved, I make my return to the land that I love, ready for whatever this adventure has to offer. I eagerly await a spiritual infusion as I occupy sacred spaces, keep company with conscious souls and spend my days as a living, breathing offering of devotion to the Divine. And whatever I am meant to both give and receive during these couple of weeks, I trust fully that it is all for the highest good of not only myself, but my beloved and all beings everywhere. When you align with the Truth, you align with the knowledge that all that happens is conspiring toward the highest good of the Universe.

So be it. And so it is.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Not this body

Yoga has taught me to love my body, every curve, every muscle, every perceived flaw.  Yoga has taught me to move my body in ways I never imagined, to flow like a prayer in motion, to tap into strength and flexibility I never knew I possessed.  And most importantly, yoga has taught me that I am not my body, that I am something beautiful and Universal beyond this limited human form. Go figure!

So I am not my body, but I use my body- as an instrument, as a vehicle, as a shelter. I teach, feel and love with my body. It contains this idea of “me” the way any good vessel holds its contents- safely, securely yet decidedly separate from the contents themselves. Toss coins in a jar. Does the jar become currency? Place flowers in a vase. Does the vase sprout leaves too? No. The separateness remains.

All of this is at the front of my mind because of an unpleasant experience I recently had practicing yoga. The words “unpleasant” and “yoga” are seldom, if ever, in the same sentence for me. I love yoga! Chanting mantra, breathing my way through pranayama, sitting for meditation, flowing through asana. . . you name it, I love it! It’s my happy place, so to even think about unpleasantness creeping in just doesn’t seem feasible.

But it happened.

It started innocently enough. I got a call from a friend and business partner asking if I’d do some paddleboard yoga in front of a private waterfront residence that is being featured on a television show. They wanted to showcase some of the fun aspects of living in the “Venice of the Americas” as canal-heavy Fort Lauderdale, FL is sometimes called. And since I am the proud owner of Ocean Om, a standup paddle yoga business in that very community, who better than me, right?

I quickly said yes, got the address and time, and then went about my business, which of course includes lots of yoga.

The appointed day and time arrived. I strapped my BOGA YOGA paddleboard onto my car, plugged the address into Siri, and off I went; surprised to pull up in front of a lovely home with a driveway full of men milling around.

Um, ok.

I asked for the contact whose name I’d been given, and only then did I realize these men were all involved in the production of the show. Call me na├»ve. I just didn’t realize this was such a big deal. It was real TV stuff going on! Not just a single camera, but whole crews. Production assistants. Catering. Props. Walkie-talkies came out, waivers had to be signed, a mic concealed inside my top. What did I need a mic for? I thought I was just some eye candy in the background of some minor affair.

Turns out that is EXACTLY what I was, but the affair wasn’t so minor, for me anyway. What I hadn’t considered beforehand was just how inauthentic and uncomfortable I would feel using my body, the vehicle driving me along the journey of yoga in all its glorious facets, for something so commercial.

I felt naked, exposed and fragile. And that is saying something given that, for a rare change, I was actually fully clothed on my board. I regularly practice in a bathing suit or small items of form-fitting clothing, and there are pictures of me on the water that I cannot deny are provocative. It is my business, after all, and so promoting the experience of yoga on the water, something I genuinely love sharing with others, means I also promote myself as the owner and principal teacher.  All of this is to say that the strong, flexible vessel I inhabit is one I am accustomed to showing off in a certain way.

But THIS certain way, I didn’t like. I didn’t feel strong even though I was holding the poses. And though I am definitely flexible enough to move through the flow, I walked away with a sore back. Serves me right! No matter how many deep, three-part breaths I took or how many mantras I repeated during the roughly 90 minutes I spent on my board behind that house, I could not relax. I could not enjoy myself. I could not shake the feeling that I was pimping out the sacred wisdom and practice of yoga.  

You see, regardless of the fact that there are many public images of my body to out there to promote my company or my board sponsor, all of that is done in the context of spiritual work. Every class I teach incorporates mantra (sacred sounds, prayers and names of the Divine), fuses philosophical discourse with the postures, fosters a sense of awareness to the Truth that we are all One and provides students an opportunity to connect to nature and their true Self in an environment that is stimulating yet safe. The body facilitates this exchange, but is not the focus, for me any way. It is an honor for me to be a conduit for this experience for my students. And though I may be in the business of yoga, what I know for sure is that I am not comfortable with spirituality being for sale.  This might seem contradictory to some, which I can appreciate, but I hope you’ll allow me to clarify.

Because I am not the body you see on the board (or on the mat) it doesn’t really matter what clothing I am wearing. It doesn’t really matter what posture I am executing. What matters is the intention, bhava or buddhi in Sanskrit, among other words, that the work is being done under. That intention reflects the state of my soul, the shape of my Divine form. And my intention every other time I step on my board is to share, generously and freely, the gifts of yoga that have been given to me by my teachers and all the great masters and sages who came before. My intention is to teach. It is a pure intention. On the day in question, stepping onto my board to be eye candy for this show, I must admit, my intention was not pure.

This wasn’t by design. It was innocent, unthinking, really. I said yes to an offer I hadn’t fully considered, which was a consequence of not practicing mindfulness. I didn’t realize that just because my body would be doing “work” it knows how to do, doing it in this particular setting, for this particular purpose, would feel so wrong. Yes, I get paid to teach yoga to students who seek me out for that particular reason, but that is not the same as putting the outward manifestation of my yoga practice on display for something as commercial as this was. Now I know the difference. Live and learn.

All told, I am grateful. I learned so much through this experience so there is nothing to regret. I’m nursing my sore back and I’m refining my practice of mindful awareness. I am consciously cultivating bhava that is honorable and true to my yogic path. And I’m leaving the eye candy gigs to the other twisty bodies out there that find it conducive to their spiritual evolution. To each his or her own!