Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Running in heels. . . and catching my breath

I found myself walking hurriedly through the airport this morning, rushing to the gate to catch a flight that was already boarding for my second business trip in as many days, literally holding back tears. Why was I holding them back, you might ask? Or why did I feel like crying in the first place, perhaps? If you happen to be a reader who knows me personally, you’re probably wondering why the “Queen of Punctuality” was running behind schedule to begin with.

There’s much that I’ve been wondering about lately, many a “why” that I’m trying to decipher. This morning’s near tearfest was a product of some inner discord that I’m wading through. Since the incredible experience of my recent yoga retreat, I have been feeling a deeper sense of connection and commitment than ever to my spiritual practice. All I want to do is spend my days in nature, chanting mantras, practicing asanas and keeping company with others of inspired consciousness or simply with my own contemplations. I don’t just want this because I desire to live my life on some sort of permanent vacation. I want this because it is the way I feel authentically like myself, like I am fulfilling my purpose in this life. But the fact is, no one other than me has chosen not to make this my main focus at the moment. I chose to have a career, a home, the garden variety responsibilities and obligations, a total “of-the-world” existence. Thankfully that existence incorporates spirituality and a wonderful yoga practice to a significant degree, yet it keeps a distinction between the two. They co-exist and even intermingle quite well, but they are not fully integrated, and I have begun to feel this on a visceral level lately. That is the discord I speak of.

So back to this morning. . .

I caused myself to rush to catch my flight by dawdling. I woke up early enough to have sufficient time for a little morning practice, getting ready and out the door to the airport without having to really rush, which should have given me a fine start to my day. But instead of following the schedule I’d laid out in my head, I felt extremely unmotivated, a product of my overall lack of enthusiasm about my business trip, and thus dragged my feet. This meant no time to spend at my altar and me walking out my front door at the exact moment I should have been walking into the airport. As such, I was tense and frustrated while I drove, or better, while I sped, weaved in and out of traffic, huffed and puffed, mouthed-off to red lights and all-around lost touch with the calm center of my being. While this was happening, somewhere inside I was witnessing my behavior and the thoughts and feelings that were accompanying it. I was conscious of the fact that no amount of huffing and puffing was going to force the lights to turn green any faster. I was aware that my reckless driving in an attempt to shave a couple of minutes off my commute was ludicrous when I consider that it increased the likelihood of bodily harm to others and to myself. I told myself to take some deep breaths, which I did, and to chant along with the mantras coming through my speakers, which I did, but my energy scale remained tipped toward the negative.

By the time I was approaching the gate, I had taken full stock of the morning’s events, and it literally brought up such a swell of emotion that tears came to my mascara-enhanced eyes. I held them back lest I sully my work-ready face paint. It didn’t feel good. If higher consciousness is what I am seeking, then let me start right here, right now, because that is all there is. My obligations and responsibilities don’t simply extend to paying my bills, performing my job duties well and other aspects of the mundane. They extend to me being honest toward myself and recognizing that any discord or discontent I am feeling is of my own doing. I chose to allow negative emotion to be my focus as opposed to positive, just as I have chosen to segregate my life, making a distinction between my practice and my career. I say the former fulfills and nourishes me, while the latter just doesn’t, yet that is not true. It is my attitude toward these things that dictates what my experience with them will be. My career has afforded me the means to delve deeper into my spiritual practice by giving me time and resources to study, train, travel, etc. My career gives me a unique perspective that has fostered an even deeper appreciation for all that yoga has brought to my life. How can I rightly bemoan it then? While I might ultimately hope to one day have my life’s work be a full integration and expression of my spiritual practice (translation: no more corporate job) I have the power to see my present circumstances in exactly that same light.

My tears were part release of tension, part celebration of this recognition. It is part of the inner work I must do, that I want to do, to make peace with where I am at on my journey right now and to learn all I can from each aspect of the experience, even the ones that don’t seem as inviting or enjoyable. I have it within my to find nourishment and fulfillment in them, just as I do from the overtly spiritual aspects. Therein lies the lesson that I needed to be taught today, the lesson that I want to share with you. It is all a question of our attitude and our thought process in any and every situation. There is no external cause of suffering or discord. We create it ourselves, and as such, we can also choose not to. I don’t claim that this is easy, but it is simple. Think about it.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A deep breath and a pat on the back

In the interest of full disclosure and honesty, while I am doing my best to walk down the spiritual path that I've chosen and to embody the principles, values and teachings that accompany it, I have a LONG way to go. No real surprise there, I suppose, since that is pretty much true for most all of us. And one way in which this is very obvious to me is that I still have a heck of a lot of ego to deal with. Ah yes, ego. It is a word that comes up quite often among us mindful types because we're so busy trying to sublimate it. Sometimes that can mean we feel the need to discuss it ad nauseum. But ego isn't all bad. It depends on how you look at it, and how you put it to use.

Tonight, my ego is compelling me to share a story that is going to read much like a proverbial pat on the back, and that would be because it is. I had an experience today that I find tremendously gratifying because it gave me a very clear, tangible opportunity to see that all the work I've been doing is actually paying off. I'm proud of myself! And if sharing that pride is an ego-driven act, then so be it. I'm hoping the positive effects of my attempts at humor and inspiration will help score me spirit points to offset the whole ego business ;-)

With all the reflection on love that I've been doing during the past few weeks, not surprisingly A., my ex-boyfriend, has occupied a good bit of brain span. It seems natural and reasonable enough that, when contemplating the intricacies of love and relationships, one would refer to his or her own experiences, and in all likelihood, the current or most recent one is going to figure pretty strongly into the mix. I've been over A. for a while now, technically speaking. We haven't seen each other in a couple of months, my life has moved forward splendidly, I've met some people who've sparked my interest and I am in a great place all around. From a not-so-technical standpoint, however, I've kept a little soft spot in my heart for him where I've held out a tad of hope that the time would come when circumstances would be different, we would reconnect and the spark of love that we shared would once again be fanned into full-on flames. And because I've been feeling so lovey-dovey, naturally I figured this would be a great time to put that to the test. I'm a romantic, what can I say?!?

Or maybe I'm just really hard-headed and have to have certain lessons beaten in there by brute force before I can truly appreciate them. Chances are it is a little of both. There were things about my relationship with A. that weren't making me entirely comfortable or happy even when things were amazing between us. Being in love as I was, I conveniently pushed those to the side and focused on what was so good about us. And since our relationship ended, there have been multiple instances of emotional outpourings and attempts at reconnection that just haven't been sustainable. All signs point to us not serving each others' greater good any longer, and yet it has taken me months to really internalize this. It took me until today, actually.

After yet another attempt at reconnection didn't come fully to fruition, I witnessed myself almost instantaneously process the situation from a place of total presence and mindfulness. One of the best ways I can describe this is that my higher self took control of the situation and began to drive my inner dialog. A. flaked on plans with me twice this week, which was entirely not surprising. What was surprising, or better said, really pleasing, was that rather than get upset about it, give him an earful and then require a good dose of talk-therapy with one of my girlfriends to blow off some steam and process everything constructively (which is a respectable option!), I just did it right then and there on my own. I calmly hung up the phone. Then I witnessed my mental process of running down a little checklist of things I could do "to feel better", realizing immediately that they were simply distractions and not resolutions. Higher self Jess quickly nixed those. Instead, I sat still, took a few deep breaths and connected to my center. Then I hopped on my bike, rode to the beach to the tune of beautiful mantras streaming through my headphones, journaled by the ocean and worked it all out. Far healthier than mopping around, emotional eating, thinking that this may have been a great moment to take a stab at online dating or any other diversion that I could have easily created to keep myself from really looking at what was happening so I can process it and move on.

Yoga's myriad teachings have shown me the immeasurable benefit of practices such as being present and connecting to your breath. It is one thing to incorporate these practices on the mat during an asana class, though that one thing isn't always easy either! It is entirely another thing to incorporate these practices into the challenges and trials of day-to-day living. And that is really what this is all for. When I talk about the work I'm doing paying off, I'm not talking about all the hours I spend each week pushing myself physically while I drip sweat and twist myself up like a pretzel. Cool as that may be, that is just a means to an end. The end, which I do not have any delusions of actually reaching in this lifetime, is self realization. Know thyself, know the Divine. I walk the conscious, spiritual, yogic path proudly and contentedly, knowing that the process is a huge reward in and of itself. The process provides moments like I experienced today where I feel true peace, true centeredness. Those moments offer a taste of the ultimate self realization that we are working toward. Feeling your own divinity in the form of true alignment on all levels- body, breath, heart, mind, soul- is among the sweetest nectar there is.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

In the light of love

It has been four days back at home since my time spent in Nosara, Costa Rica. I know from experience that returning to your day-to-day life after having such a spiritually charged break from it can be a tricky adjustment. I'm trying to keep myself safely in the "bhakti bubble" that marked my time away, particularly the sacred chant and yoga retreat portion. I find myself craving alone time, preferring the company of mantras, the ocean and my journal to even my closest friends. Unusual, compared to my typical, social butterfly way of being. But I have much to process, much to ponder, and it all comes down to love.

Love was the constant theme of the retreat. Bhakti is the yoga of devotion, the yoga of love. We spent our days singing about it, talking about it, feeling it and being it. We were living in the bhakti bubble. And it got better. Every aspect of the experience felt nourishing. Each day, delicious, fresh, healthful vegetarian meals were laid out for us. Nature's beauty provided a serene backdrop to our every moment. In the company of other conscious, spiritual beings you couldn't help but feel more enlightened and inspired than normal. And it was hot and sticky, with little clothing required, so you just became comfortable with your skin and your natural beauty. It was all a very intoxicating combination. It's like being high on a wonder drug where everything and everyone are love.

So if the retreat is the high, coming home is the detox. Everything has to get processed. And for me, the processing has been a meditation on love. Love. It is a small, simple word, and some even try to make it into a small, simple concept. That couldn't be further from the truth. Love is bigger and more powerful than the mighty ocean. Love is the force of life. Love is all-pervading. Social conditioning would tell us that there is romantic love, as in being in love with your significant other, and there is love of family, of children, of friends. There is even room for love of animals, of nature, of places. But each of these is a tightly defined category. Each of these has a place in the heirarchy of love. In my contemplation, I came to realize that, at least to some degree, I've blindly followed this belief, and I see now that it just doesn't resonate with my heart.

Take the retreat as an example. Here was an opportunity where everyone was in love. It wasn't necessarily romantic love, but it was love to be sure. There was powerful connection. There was a constant cycle of people projecting yummy, juicy, sticky-sweet emotions onto others and then having them reflected back, perpetuating love all around. Most of us were complete strangers, and yet we found ourselves part of connections bound by the pureness and intimacy that are the trademarks of love. And then there was the music, the most soul-stirring, trance-inducing kirtan. It all felt a bit like the kind of free love that marked the hippie movement in the sixties, only it was happening in the here and now.

So who is to say that love must be placed in a neat little box? I say love is wild, abstract and cannot be contained. I say you can be in love, fully and strongly, with multiple people at once. Being in love need not always entail a romantic connection. It can be a soul connection, a mind connection, a connection through a shared powerful experience. It can happen in an instant, and it can last for only a finite, fleeting period of time. Being in love doesn't always unfold the way we've been told it will since we were children. It isn't always about two lovers meeting, getting to know one another, building a life based on shared history and experience. Certainly this can and does happen. Certainly it can be entirely gratifying. But that isn't all there is. There is being in love as a group mentality. There is being in love with someone who deeply inspires you and touches your soul, even if only from a distance. And at the foundation, there is being in love with yourself. Taking the time to really connect to your heart and soul, to hear, see and feel who you truly are, what you truly desire and aspire to in this life. That is one of the ultimate acts of love, as it then allows you to fulfill your true purpose, which will always only benefit everyone.

As a bhakti yogi, I subscribe to the belief that we are all love, we are all one and we are all divine. So I say spread the love. Continue being part of the cycle of projecting and reflecting. I'm not saying poly-amorous lifestyles for all, though no judgment if that's your thing. I'm simply saying that we should let love flow freely and authentically rather than trying to reign it in and narrowly define it. Imagine what that would mean to our relationships, to our world! To me, it is one of the most beautiful and inspiring notions. A world where we can freely and safely express and embody love without restraint. A world where the underlying connection that we all share is understood to be love. How amazing!